Dáil debates

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]


8:20 pm

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I do not think that, 20 years ago, many people in Ireland would have heard the word "familicide". Unfortunately, that is not the case today. Familicide applies to circumstances where a member of a family kills other members of that family and, in many circumstances, then proceeds to commit suicide, although it is not always the case that familicide is accompanied by the suicide of the perpetrator.

Although it is a rare, tragic and complex crime, unfortunately, it has occurred all too frequently in Ireland in the past 12 years. The Dunne family of Monageer were the victims of familicide in April 2007. Kathleen Chada's sons, Eoghan and Ruairí, were killed by their father in July 2013 in an act of familicide. There was also the tragic case of Ms Clodagh Hawe and her three sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan, who were murdered in August 2016 by their father and her husband who went on to commit suicide.

This issue was catapulted into the public eye by the powerful interview given to RTÉ's Claire Byrne in February of this year by Clodagh Hawe's sister, Ms Jacqueline Connolly, and her mother, Ms Mary Coll. That interview had a significant impact not only on the Irish public but on all of us as policy makers and Members of the Oireachtas.

Familicide is not a crime that is unique to Ireland. Unfortunately, it is a crime that is known about in the western world in particular. Much research has been done in respect of it in the United States and Australia. It is also the case that familicide has happened all too frequently in the United Kingdom and, as a result of the occurrence of that crime there, the UK law changed a number of years ago to provide for a domestic homicide review on a statutory basis.

I had an opportunity to look at some of the research that has been conducted on familicide in the United States and there is a significant amount of it. Unfortunately, it indicates that the most common type of killer who is involved in committing the crime of familicide is a possessively jealous type of man. It is also noted that one of the best indicators of whether or not a man - it is predominantly men who commit this crime - is likely to commit this crime is previous engagement in domestic violence with his wife or partner.

We also know from the research that there are some social and demographic factors that are related to all forms of family violence except sexual abuse. Those are issues such as poverty, unemployment and family stresses, which include disagreements over money, sex and children.

In Ireland, we need to recognise that we have traditionally dealt with these tragic events by calling them a great tragedy for the family and suggesting there is nothing more we can do about it. That was an understandable response which sought to protect the privacy of the remaining, surviving family members. It also sought to avoid embarrassing any family member by giving too much detail and coverage of the crime. We need to recognise that is not the correct approach to this serous crime.

What usually happens in cases in which the perpetrator has killed himself is that An Garda Síochána take statements from those people who came upon the scene of the crime. The only reason for the Garda statements is for the purpose of going to the Coroner's Court where the function of the coroner is to determine how, where and when the individuals died. That does not give us much useful information and we, as a society and a State, need to recognise that we need to do more to ensure we can learn from these tragic murders and events. If we do not, we will find ourselves going from one rare, tragic event to another without learning any lessons in the interim.

We need to look at the situation in the United Kingdom because we can learn from how they have dealt with the situation. Since 2004, the UK has dealt with domestic homicides through legislation that it has on its Statute Book. Obviously if the person who perpetrates the acts of familicide is alive, as was the case in the circumstances of Kathleen Chada, the perpetrator will face the rigours of the law, will be prosecuted, brought to justice and punished. However, if the perpetrator also took his own life, we are left in a vacuum at present with the exception of the work and inquiry conducted by the coroner. The UK introduced legislation in 2004 to provide for the establishment and conduct of domestic homicide reviews. This legislation, although enacted in 2004, only commenced in 2011. In the aftermath of a tragic murder, such as those to which I have referred, the UK authorities take a multidisciplinary approach to identifying any lessons that can be learned. The UK legislation specifically states that its objective is to identify any lessons that can be learned. The police, social services and local authorities, the latter of which have much broader powers in the UK than they have in Ireland, get involved in trying to produce a report on how these events occurred. It is important to point out that the function of these reports is not to attribute blame. The place for the attribution of blame is before our criminal courts but, if the person who is responsible for these heinous crimes is not alive, the attribution of blame does not rest with the courts and it certainly does not rest with the persons carrying out the domestic homicide reviews.

In the aftermath of the interview conducted by Claire Byrne with the family of Clodagh Hawe, other members of Fianna Fáil such as Deputy O'Loughlin and I decided it was necessary for us to try to put in place legislation mirroring that in the UK such that we could have domestic homicide reviews in Ireland. We decided to bring forward a Bill to amend the very successful Domestic Violence Act 2018 which was enacted by the Government and the Oireachtas more than a year ago. The purpose of the Bill is to empower the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Garda Commissioner or the High Court, in the case of it having determined a criminal prosecution for murder or manslaughter, in cases where they are of the opinion that the death of the person resulted from violence, abuse or neglect perpetrated by a person to whom the deceased was related, with whom the deceased was in an intimate personal relationship or who was a member of the same household, to appoint a person with appropriate qualifications to conduct a review that would assist in identifying and learning lessons from the death.

I note the clock has stopped which is slightly confusing for me because I am sharing time.

8:30 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has been speaking for ten minutes.

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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I did not realise I had been speaking for so long. Deputy O'Loughlin will address other aspects of the legislation.

I welcome the announcement on 14 May by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, that he would set up an independent specialist in-depth research study on homicides within families and domestic homicide reviews which will be chaired by Ms Norah Gibbons who is very well qualified in this area. It is important that research is carried out in respect of this matter. Obviously, the Bill was introduced on First Stage before the Minister made the announcement. I recognise that it would be illogical for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality to deal with legislation such as this at pre-legislative scrutiny stage in parallel with Ms Gibbons carrying out the study. My concern is that the Minister indicated that the report must be produced within a year, although I am conscious that it may take longer. I wish to ensure the Bill does not drift into the great morass of issues which are under review. For that reason, I am concerned about the Minister's amendment which seeks to adjourn the Bill for 12 months. I am not proprietorial about this issue - we need to ensure we get it right - but I would like greater urgency given to be given the legislation. Perhaps the review could be completed by the end of the year. It is important that we work in harmony on this. It is above party politics. We must ensure that we do what is right for the people and, in particular, the very brave families who have suffered from these terrible crimes. I would like legislation to be considered and possibly recommended by Ms Gibbons' review group.

I note there are concerns about the legislation in the UK, but it is very important that we do not just get reports but rather get legislation in place such that in future families will not have to go through the trauma suffered by Clodagh Hawe's family in being obliged to go to the national broadcaster and give a very powerful interview in order to catalyse Members of this House into action.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I have been pleased to have worked on the Bill with Deputy O'Callaghan. We are here to discuss legislation that I wish we did not need. I wish that names such as Clodagh Hawe and Celine Cawley, or the dreadfully violent circumstances of their deaths, were not known to us. They are but two of the 225 women killed in Ireland by a partner, ex-partner or husband in recent years.

The Bill originates from the tragic murders of Ms Clodagh Hawe and her three sons - Liam, Niall and Ryan - in August 2016, and the very powerful interview given by Clodagh’s sister, Ms Jacqueline Connolly, and her mother, Mrs. Mary CoIl, to the RTÉ broadcaster Claire Byrne on 25 February 2019. The eloquence of Jacqueline and Mary in spite of their grief and anger is one of the reasons we know that we absolutely need this legislation. One of the most shocking things for those watching the interview was the lack of information available to Clodagh's family. Having so many questions about the murders is clearly one of the hardest parts for the family as it leaves them with no peace. A legal request by Mary and Jacqueline for copies of the Garda files from the investigation into the murders was refused, which is profoundly unjust.

Families living with the trauma of family murders have repeatedly called for reviews of domestic homicides. These families need support, advice, counselling and, above all, answers. It was with that in mind that Fianna Fáil proposed the Bill to amend the Domestic Violence Act. A systematic multi-agency review of domestic homicides will not bring a loved one back to his or her family, but it may give the family some answers and allow the State to learn lessons on how to better protect vulnerable women. Domestic homicide reviews are a rich source of information on the nature of domestic homicide, the context in which it occurs and, most important, the lessons that can be learned from these tragic events. Common themes and trends emerge which help in risk assessment for Government agencies and police forces. They help in drawing up better training programmes for gardaí and to encourage and facilitate inter-agency co-operation. Every person has the right to live a life free of fear and violence. For one in five women in Ireland, that human right is denied every day.

I wish to mention Women's Aid and the incredible work it does. I attended the launch of its annual report this year, at which its representatives spoke of 16,994 disclosures of violence against women and almost 200,000 visits to its website. Behind these stark statistics are women we meet every day - our sisters, neighbours, friends and work colleagues who put on a brave face in front of their children, families and work colleagues. When we have the opportunity to speak to them through an agency such as Teach Tearmainn in my county of Kildare, Women's Aid or, increasingly, in Members' advice and constituency clinics, we hear how they are trapped in abusive relationships. We hear that they are in relationships they are unable to see a way out of and where they are at the mercy of controlling and abusive partners and isolated from families and friends. The figures increase every year. Increased safety and protection for these women and their children affected by domestic violence must be at the heart of any progress we want to see. Of course, there are men who are impacted. However, the figures show that 95% of those who come forward are women.

There is much we need to do, such as improved access to refuges and longer term support, a new family law court in Dublin and increased services to refuges. I thank, in particular, the women whom I met in the Dolphin House family law court for their bravery and courage in talking to me about their lives. I am often full of fear that I will someday hear their names mentioned by the media and know they were victims of the worst possible crime, namely, murder.

The purpose of the legislation is to introduce a new section providing for the establishment and conduct of what are referred to as domestic homicide reviews. The Bill will allow the Minister to order a domestic homicide review following the death of a person which appears to have resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a relative, a partner or a person with whom the deceased was in an intimate personal relationship. As Deputy O'Callaghan stated, such reviews have been required in Britain since 2011.

It is a sad reality that one in four violent crimes reported internationally involves a man assaulting his wife or partner.

All international research consistently shows that a woman is more likely to be assaulted, injured, raped or killed by a current or former partner than by any other person. It also shows that where there is control, violence, even if it a low level of violence, and separation there is a 900% increase in the potential for homicide. The red flags exist, but too often action is not taken on them. With regard to the murder of women in Ireland, since 1996 almost two thirds of women who have died violently were killed in their homes. We also know from the experience in the UK that the introduction of these reviews has been instrumental in identifying shortfalls and addressing them.

Domestic homicide expert, Dr. Jane Monckton Smith, says we must change the way we talk about abuse and fatal violence. The term "crime of passion" that is often used is totally inaccurate as none of these murders is about love or passion. They are about control and a feeling of entitlement. If we do not examine trends, patterns and histories we will remain in denial. More importantly, we will be letting down both past victims and the future victims whose names we do not yet know. The case for this legislation has been made. We need to know, if we are to stand any chance of learning how to protect women from the most dreadful of fates.

8:40 pm

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:"Dáil Éireann resolves that the Bill be deemed to be read a second time this day twelve months, to allow for the report of the independent research study on familicide and domestic homicide reviews commissioned by the Department of Justice and Equality to be prepared, and to allow for that report to be then taken into account in the consideration of the Bill."

I wish to accommodate Deputy O'Callaghan and the House insofar as I can. With the agreement of the House, I propose changing the word "twelve" in the amendment to "nine" to accommodate Deputy O'Callaghan in view of what he said. Can I propose that amendment?

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister can amend amendment No. 1 if the House agrees. Is the amendment to amendment No. 1 agreed to? Agreed.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Members. I thank Deputy O'Callaghan for introducing this Bill and acknowledge the contribution of his colleague, Deputy O’Loughlin, and the public utterances of Senator Clifford Lee, as well as those of many other Members of the Houses.

On 8 March last, International Women’s Day, Ireland ratified the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence. That marked the culmination of a four-year action plan across the Government, but it did not mark an end to the work of eliminating the horror and scourge of domestic violence in our society. The reality is that among women who are victims of homicide, three in five are killed by a current or former partner. Domestic homicides are rarely isolated acts; they are the ultimate expression of a pattern of violence within the home. It is hard to conceive of more shocking and distressing crimes than those we are discussing this evening. I warmly welcome the commitment expressed across this House to make every effort to prevent them and to ensure those who have suffered these horrors are properly and compassionately supported. It is a commitment I unequivocally share.

Protecting and supporting victims is and has been a priority for the Government. I have listened carefully to the views expressed both inside and outside these Houses on how best to achieve this. I do not believe there are quick or easy answers, but there are things that the State can do, and can do better. With that in mind I have commissioned the independent research study into familicide and domestic homicide reviews that I announced last Tuesday and which I wish to outline to the House. This Bill will be an important feature of that study and at an early date I will forward a copy of the Bill together with Deputy O'Callaghan's opening contribution to the chairman of the study.

I acknowledge the role of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, in both the provision of supports to victims and advocating on their behalf. I also acknowledge the powerful testimony of the families of those who experienced horrific loss when their loved ones were murdered by the person with whom they should feel safest. The nature of the expert study I have commissioned was very much informed by consultation with bereaved victims, NGOs and people considered to be experts in this area. In particular, I acknowledge the submissions made to me Mrs. Mary Coll and her daughter, Jacqueline, whom I have met twice in the past few months to discuss their concerns about a variety of issues in the aftermath of the killing of the late Clodagh Hawe and her three sons, Liam, Niall and Ryan, by Clodagh's husband, Alan Hawe, who subsequently look his own life.

It was clear to me that familicide, a rare and appalling crime in this country, requires a special, tailored response. For some time I had been contemplating the best approach to domestic homicide reviews in this jurisdiction. I have combined these two related issues into a two pillar expert study that will involve wide consultations, including with NGOs and bereaved families, and recommendations for best practice. I thank all those who helped to shape the terms of reference, including Mary and Jacqueline, Women’s Aid, Safe Ireland, AdVic and Support after Homicide. I also thank them for their support for this approach, which is a sincere attempt to ensure the State does not let people down in these horrendous cases.

The expert study will be led by Norah Gibbons, with support from a specialist team. Ms Gibbons will work with families of victims and other stakeholders, as well as the relevant State bodies. The study will operate independently. Ms Gibbons will be free to recommend any course of action which she considers appropriate. I have asked her to provide a report within 12 months. I took great care in choosing the right person to lead this study. Ms Gibbons has vast experience of leading the examination of sensitive issues in both the voluntary and State sector, as well as of cross-agency work. Of particular note, she was a member of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, chaired the Roscommon child abuse inquiry and was the first chairperson of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. As I said when I announced the study, she brings not only experience and expertise but also great humanity and compassion to this work. I have every confidence she will engage sensitively with those affected by this unimaginable loss and will provide meaningful and constructive policy recommendations that will guide the Government and the Oireachtas.

The study will examine two separate but related areas. The first, dealing with familicide, will look at the supports provided to those affected by these crimes, identification of potential warning signs and provisions for information sharing. While it is the case that the family victims receive a range of different supports across different agencies and services in trying to cope with the ordeal which is inflicted upon them in such circumstances, we must examine how these supports can be strengthened. It is very important to examine how these supports can be provided across relevant State and other services in a more systematic and integrated way. This study will seek to set out how we can better ensure that family victims of familicide are supported to the fullest extent and in as compassionate and timely a manner as possible by the State. To ensure this, it is necessary to examine existing arrangements and establish appropriate protocols and guidelines to govern such cases. I am asking the study team to have a particular focus on this area. I am also asking the study to examine how local communities can be best supported in dealing with the impacts of familicide cases that take place in their area and to examine the role of both the traditional media and social media in reporting cases of this nature.

The second area the study will examine is the operation of domestic homicide reviews. As Deputy O'Callaghan mentioned, these have taken place for a number of years in England, Wales and elsewhere and have been important in determining the effectiveness of interventions. I can understand the desire to adopt the English model in Ireland, but it is not as simple as it seems. The approach we are taking is the correct one. We are asking Ms Gibbons and her team, in consultation with stakeholders, to look at the experience of domestic homicide reviews in the UK and elsewhere and to define international best practice.

I wish to refer briefly to a number of other legal measures, and I acknowledge the support of Deputies O'Callaghan, O'Loughlin, Ó Laoghaire and others in ensuring the Government was in a position to ratify the Istanbul Convention earlier this year. I refer specifically to the Domestic Violence Act 2018, the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, which explicitly recognises for the first time in Irish law the rights of victims of crime, and the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which introduced a statutory definition of consent to a sexual act.

It also addressed a number of evidential issues to protect child and adult victims of sexual assault from any additional trauma or upset arising from the criminal process.

Legislation is, of course, only part of the answer. My Department is providing a sum of €1.7 million this year to fund services for victims of crime. Tusla, the primary State funding agency, is providing €23.8 million to support services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. An Garda Síochána continues to develop policies, procedures and practices to inform its approach to domestic homicides. This includes a domestic homicide review team in the Garda National Protective Services Bureau examining a small number of domestic homicides for review. The purpose of these reviews is to improve the response of An Garda Síochána in the handling of domestic violence and abuse and includes examining potential changes to relevant policing practices and procedures.

Tackling domestic violence is central to my work as Minister. It is an area that receives ongoing priority attention in my office and this will continue. In this House we have worked together constructively legislating in this area in the past and I am hopeful we can continue to work together on shared priorities across the House.

I am sure Ms Gibbons would be happy to meet the justice spokespersons and I appeal to colleagues to encourage anyone known to them who can make a contribution to the study to come forward once Ms Gibbons issues a call for submissions. I expect such a call to be advertised in the national media within the next couple of weeks. I believe it is sensible and reasonable to allow this expert study to take place before we embark on legislation and initiate a parallel process.

I acknowledge the importance of this debate. I again thank Deputies O'Callaghan and O'Loughlin for the work that went into the preparation of this legislation. I acknowledge the contributions of all Members. I assure the House that, as Minister, I will continue to engage on these issues, and tonight is a welcome opportunity to do so. I am sure we will return to this matter at a later stage.

8:50 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí O'Callaghan agus O'Loughlin as an reachtaíocht seo a thabhairt os ár gcomhair. Beidh Sinn Féin ag tacú leis. Tá sé tábhachtach. Is ábhar é atá sa nuacht faoi láthair de bharr cásanna áirithe tragóideacha uafásacha. Tá gá le cur chuige cosúil leis an gceann atá molta ag an Teachta O'Callaghan, b'fhéidir le roinnt bheag leasuithe.

We will be supporting this legislation. In February this year my colleague, the Sinn Féin president, Deputy McDonald, asked the Minister if he would consider introducing legislation to provide for domestic homicide reviews similar to those in place in England and Wales under section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Act. At that time, the Minister stated he had no plans to amend the law but that the matter would be kept under review. Following a meeting with the family of Clodagh Hawe later that month, the Minister announced his intention to commission a study into the supports available to families affected by familial homicide and the experience of domestic homicide reviews in other jurisdictions. That was clearly welcome. Clodagh's sister, Jacqueline Connolly, and her mother, Mary Coll, should not have had to take to the national airwaves to make their voices heard but often that is the way things work. It is a fundamental human rights principle that those affected by policies implemented by Government must be given a voice in the development of those policies.

The right of women and children to be protected against domestic violence and death is underpinned by various instruments of international law, including the Istanbul Convention. If the Government is truly committed to the provisions of the convention, then it must create a space for victims and their families to inform and shape policies, legislation and adequate budgets. Before we consider our own views of the appropriate framework for the introduction of multi-agency domestic homicide reviews, we should first listen to the families affected by this horrific crime.

I had the opportunity recently to meet Kathleen Chada and some other people who have been bereaved in the most appalling way. It is so difficult for a person who has never been affected by this to even begin to imagine the horror that must be involved and how it must follow those affected every day. Lives are changed forever.

One of the groups I met was Sentencing And Victims Equality, SAVE, an advocacy group established by families affected by domestic homicide.

We are particularly focused on the 27 cases of familial homicide in recent times. While they are closely or inextricably linked, there is a wider context of domestic homicide generally. There have been 225 such cases since 1996. Nine in ten murdered women are murdered by someone who knows them. Half are killed by a current or former partner. Some 61% are killed in their own homes. We have a serious problem in this regard, although the problem is not only in Ireland. It is something that we must attempt to understand to properly deal with in a policy way. That is clearly what this policy proposal is about.

SAVE has been calling for the introduction of domestic homicide reviews similar to those in place in Britain. The following is their demand of us:

We all have many questions around the circumstances of the murder of our loved ones. Many of these questions may never be answered but knowing that someone may have some of these answers but chose not to tell us just adds to what is already an incredibly difficult time. To think that there is information relevant to our loved ones being kept from us is difficult to comprehend. It adds to our pain. We believe the introduction of domestic homicide reviews would show that at a government level the needs of victims and their families are on a par with the needs of the perpetrators. Such reviews must be under the guise of a completely independent body that can work on a multiagency basis, independent of present state bodies.

As the families of victims of domestic violence, we are often not looking to blame. We trust the judicial process will take care of that. But we will often be left with questions that cannot be answered by the Garda or the coroner. The answers we seek may not seem relevant to a potential court case or inquest, but would bring a level of comfort to us. Domestic homicide reviews place the victim at the centre of the process, at a time when it can often feel that they have been shunted to the side lines. Trust in the judicial system can often be shaken for us, so knowing there is a state body whose sole agenda is to simply get answers would be welcomed by us.

Like SAVE, Safe Ireland, Women's Aid, the National Observatory on Violence Against Women, the National Women's Council of Ireland and other front-line service providers have all called for the introduction of multi-agency reviews. This statutory model of review has been operational in England and Wales since 2011 and is due to be introduced in the North shortly. The family violence death review committee was established in New Zealand in 2008. Again, this body is underpinned in legislation. A number of Canadian provinces also have statutory and non-statutory systems of domestic review in place.

Earlier this month Deputy McDonald and I produced a policy paper committing Sinn Féin to the introduction of an independent multi-agency domestic homicide review model. I believe I sent a copy of that document to the Department. If I did not, I will do so shortly. As with the British model, reviews would be automatically established on a regional basis following a domestic or familial homicide. Currently, reviews must be initiated by the Garda Commissioner and are limited to the examination of the adequacy of Garda policies, their interactions with other external agencies and with the individuals and family concerned. Our model of review includes all relevant State agencies, for example Tusla and the HSE, domestic violence service providers, families of the victims and their friends and work colleagues.

There is another element and I hope the Minister's process takes this into account. Often in these processes, data sharing can be used as a form of obstruction or a reason not to proceed with sharing of information and experience and knowledge. Obviously there is legislation governing all of this. We believe there is a need for a specific element of the review to examine whether there is need for change in legislation or policy to ensure that domestic homicide reviews can be as effective as possible and that all the information that it is possible to share can be shared. This could allow families to benefit from the information being shared by the review.

The system of review we are advocating, and that this Bill advocates, is not a replacement for a criminal investigation or an inquest and would not seek to apportion blame. Independent multiagency domestic or familial homicide reviews provide invaluable data and information on the circumstances leading up to the crime and how agencies can improve responses to better protect women from future attacks. The Office of the Chief Coroner in Ontario, Canada, has had a multidisciplinary death review committee in place since 2003.

The motto of the office is "we speak for the dead to protect the living". This process advances policy development, operational practice and inter-agency co-operation. It also provides a neutral independent process for victims’ families to participate in which can provide them with the answers they need. This will require legislation and a budget line to shape the review process, provide for inter-agency data sharing, and deliver the regional framework and accompanying staff. This legislation must first be informed by the families impacted by domestic homicide, victims of domestic abuse and violence and the organisations that advocate on their behalf. We will support this legislation and we welcome its introduction. As the Deputy has acknowledged, he will ultimately need the Government's imprimatur if the legislation is to fully come to life and to reflect the British domestic homicide review model. If the purpose of this legislation is, as the Deputy has stated, to replicate what is permissible in Britain, there will need to be an organisational framework and staffing required to deliver properly on this commitment. In effect, this will mean the legislation would be a money Bill. I hope the Minister will row in behind this Bill to ensure it is everything it can be.

Under the British legislation reviews are commissioned by community safety partnerships following the domestic homicide of a person aged 16 years or over. These multi-agency structures are established in each local government area. A fundamental pillar of the British model is that it is independent. Local review panels include an independent chair and representatives from statutory and voluntary agencies. Family, friends and work colleagues are also encouraged to participate in the review. Reviews are not automatically established after a domestic homicide in the Fianna Fáil Bill, as we would like them to be. The legislation keeps the process of review tightly within the gift of the Garda Commissioner or the Minister for Justice and Equality. It provides that the Minister may direct the Garda Commissioner and other agencies, such as the HSE or Probation Service, to co-operate with or participate in the review. Under this proposal the Minister is again directing the review process. Families can make a submission or provide information to the review but cannot engage in the review process itself. A reviewer appointed by the Minister or the Garda Commissioner may seek information or documentation from a person or legal entity. Non-statutory organisations such as Women’s Aid or Safe Ireland can only contribute to the process if the reviewer seeks information from them. As Deputy O’Callaghan stated in the Dáil last month, his legislation will require the resources and involvement of the Department of Justice and Equality if it is to progress. As there is an arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, I hope the Deputy has secured some form of agreement with the Minister and that we will see some progress. I appreciate the amendment. I would personally rather proceed to Committee Stage as soon as possible, but that is within the gift of the sponsor of the Bill.

The Minister’s establishment of independent study on familicide and domestic homicide reviews in respect of supports for families and to examine practices in other jurisdictions is welcome, although its completion date of June 2020 is a while off. I appreciate the need to get it right, but there is an appetite and an interest in this area, so I would rather that was progressed quicker. Families of domestic homicide victims want the issue of additional funding supports to be placed front and centre. Support services are woefully inadequate and the lack of multi-annual funding streams negatively impacts on non-statutory services' ability to develop appropriate supports for them.

I take the opportunity to pay tribute to those families I have met who have lived with the pain of losing their loved ones, whether it be a daughter, a sister, a son, a husband or a wife, including Jacqueline Connolly, Mary Coll, Kathleen Chada and so many others. We owe them a debt because despite their enormous grief, deep hurt and pain, they are active in this area, seeking legislative change and lobbying both Opposition politicians and the Government to force the political system to step up to its responsibilities and to legislate. There is an epidemic of domestic violence in Ireland and many other countries, yet the Government has not adequately prioritised the protection of women and children in that regard. Women and children are being murdered in their homes by men known to them. Thousands more are living with abuse, sexual assault and violence every day. Our actions in this House can and must reflect this grim reality. There has been progress such as the Domestic Violence Act 2018, but in some respects we are still catching up with what has been in place in other jurisdictions for a decade or more. There is a broad consensus on the need for and value of independent multi-agency domestic homicide reviews. I hope can progress to becoming policy and that that consensus will give comfort to the families affected and be of value to women living with a violent partner today. If we can advance this model of review with ambition and determination, it can be used to apply lessons, change policies and ensure this violence and murders are minimised.

9:00 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank Fianna Fáil and Deputy O'Callaghan, in particular, for bringing this Bill before the House. It is very important and I am not sure why it has to be postponed. I thought the report and the Bill could have progressed in parallel to each other. We would have allowed various people to come in, make submissions and the report would have then been completed. However, it is welcome that the delay is now nine months instead of 12.

In welcoming the Bill I pay tribute to Women's Aid. I am not going to list out women's names because Women's Aid has done that for us and if we pick one woman, we ignore somebody else. I am going to deal with some of the figures instead. Domestic violence kills and Women's Aid has set out for us what that means completely. Domestic violence kills both women and children and the people who work for and volunteer with Women's Aid hear from women about the types of abuse and behaviour that precede it every day. When women call Women's Aid and tell us they are afraid for their lives, we believe them. Women's Aid, among other organisations on the ground, has been telling us and successive Governments for a very long time that domestic violence is prevalent, very serious violence that leads to murders year after year. Every step of progress was forced by pressure and, unfortunately, another death.

It is difficult as a woman to read out the total figures to date. We have learned from the femicide watch project, something I cannot believe we need in 2019, that seven women died violently in 2018 and that was only by November. It goes on to tell us that ten women on average die violently every single year in Ireland, which is almost one a month. I will not exaggerate. Some 225 women have died violently between 1996 and 2008, with 16 children, leaving 125 children without mothers, although I do not have the up-to-date figure.

I said I would not read out the names, but it is worth reading out the ages. We are discussing this against the backdrop of an ongoing case that I am not going to comment on except in relation to the age of the victim, who was 14 years old. The women who have been murdered in the last while range in age from 13 up to women in their 60s. The women who died in 2018 were a 43 year old, a 49 year old, a 22 year old, an 18 year old, a 31 year old, a 39 year old and a 29 year old. They were all victims.

I am uncomfortable with using the word "welcome", but I am welcoming this legislation against the backdrop of inadequate funding for domestic and gender-based violence, in the context of inadequate provision of refuges for women where they can go for safety and a narrative that focuses on the woman as someone anonymous in all of this. The reporting talks about what an unusual act it was for the perpetrator at a given time.

It spoke of what an unusual act it had been and said he was a pillar of society, among other things. There were details of the murder of the woman and nothing about her life or how she lived but a complete apology for the man who did it. They are my views but also those of Women's Aid which, in its Femicide Watch 2018, made specific recommendations for the Government. The first was exactly what Deputy O'Callaghan has asked for, namely, a domestic homicide review to be set up on a statutory basis with the appropriate specialists. Domestic homicide reviews are in place in the UK, New Zealand and many other jurisdictions, including Canada, Australia and the United States; therefore, there was nothing to stop this or previous Governments from introducing this mechanism and doing the research before this Bill if they had taken domestic violence and murder seriously. Clearly, that has never been the case but I welcome the fact that the research has taken place at last. I have always had a difficulty with the reporting of "domestic incidents". They are not domestic incidents, but the most serious assaults, some of them culminating in murder. It is time we changed the narrative because if we do not, we will never learn, even if we set up homicide review mechanisms.

Women's Aid has also made 13 recommendations on media reporting and I ask journalists and the Government to look at them and consider the narrative of these cases. Women's Aid asked for positive and responsible reporting on domestic abuse and homicide to improve the public's understanding and support those affected. If we do not do that we will simply not learn or make homes safer places for women and children. There has been talk about the press council working in partnership and I recommend that the Minister and his speech writers read what they have to say and learn. We cannot be political in any way about this and we cannot have any more murders without learning from them. I pay tribute to Women's Aid on this point.

There is a lack of funding, a lack of refuges and a lack of evidence-based figures, because we cannot rely on the Garda figures. The Central Statistics Office was before the Committee of Public Accounts recently and its representatives said the statistics were published under reservation so we need accurate statistics. It has taken us three years for this Dáil to force the Government to review the SAVI report, which was conducted in 2002. It worries me that we set up a scoping report first to delay the process. That was produced on 18 April 2018 and it will be a long time until the review is completed as it will not begin before summer 2021 and will take a few years to complete. If we were seriously interested in dealing with domestic violence, abuse and murder we would have started this much sooner and done it more quickly. I understand the Central Statistics Office has 75 vacancies and the impact that might have on carrying out this very important research concerns me.

I do not like to talk about the costs to the economy of domestic violence, abuse and murder, but it is €2.2 billion per year. The Minister told us that €23.8 million was given for victims of domestic and sexual violence and the Government might be congratulating itself on this but Safe Ireland and NUI Galway research estimate that the cost is much higher. The research is ongoing and looks at the economic and social costs of domestic violence across three phases of a survivor's journey. I am not here to lecture but because I know intimately the effects of domestic violence on children, women and on the wider society. We need to look at this and to allocate sufficient funding because €23.8 million is not a figure about which the Government can boast when the cost to the economy is in billions of euro. As the programme manager with Safe Ireland said, if we allocate adequate and targeted resources to prevention and support for survivors of domestic violence, we save lives, we restore futures and we save billions. I ask the Minister to read that piece.

I support the Bill. I am not sure why it has to be delayed, but I understand that it is in agreement with Fianna Fáil. I welcome the initiative from Deputy O'Callaghan.

9:10 pm

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I join the Minister in thanking Deputies O'Callaghan and O'Loughlin for their work and other Members for their contributions. I express sincere condolences to those who have suffered the unimaginable tragedies about which we have spoken this evening and I commend the extraordinary courage and selflessness which people have shown in seeking to ensure their experiences are not endured by others. Domestic homicides must be taken in the broader context of our response to domestic violence, which must take into account concrete State actions and deep-rooted social and cultural change. The State's ratification of the Istanbul Convention was a milestone but significant reforms are continuing.

The Minister has gone through some of the legislation that has been enacted recently, such as the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018, in which the new criminal offence of coercive control was introduced. I was very much involved in that legislation in the Seanad and in my role as Chair of the committee in the last Oireachtas, when we produced a major report on the whole area. We are the third country in the world to introduce the new criminal offence of coercive control, which is very important. Another significant piece of that Act was the fact that the relationship between the defendant and victim can be taken into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing for certain offences. That was new, was called for and is very important.

Legislation is only one element and implementing the second national strategy on domestic and gender-based violence is ongoing. The Department of Justice and Equality is providing €1.712 million in funding for services for victims of crime and Tusla will provide a further €25.3 million in 2019 for support services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The budget increased by €200,000 in 2016, with a further increase in 2017 to €22.1 million, rising to €23.8 million in 2018. There has been an increase of €3.4 million, or 17%, in funding since 2015.

Housing is vital for victims of domestic violence and according to a report of the Council of Europe Ireland is one of only nine member states where the ratio of shelter beds relative to population is higher that 1:10,000, which is the recommended rate. Ireland has 1.29 shelter beds per 10,000 of population. While refuge places are very important, however, we should also question if they are the best answer. The Domestic Violence Bill will increase access to court protection for victims of domestic violence. Making orders easier to obtain should increase the number of women who can stay in their own home. Why should the woman have to be the person to leave the home? The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has issued guidance to local authorities on how to assess victims of domestic violence in need of housing.

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This guidance has been brought to the attention of local authorities in order that they are familiar with it. It draws attention to improvements in housing legislation to assist the victims of domestic violence. Ultimately, the funding of places in refuges is a matter for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla.

As the Minister for Justice and Equality outlined, the Department has commissioned a research study, led by Ms Norah Gibbons, to examine the provision of supports for families that are victims of familicide and the introduction of domestic homicide reviews. We need to have a stronger collective State response in supporting families that experience such traumatic ordeals. This study will examine in an in-depth and independent way how such supports can be provided across relevant State and other services in a more systematic and integrated way.

I note the views expressed by Deputies regarding the introduction of domestic homicide reviews in the UK. I have no disagreement in principle, but as the Minister outlined, a direct transposition of the UK model would not be workable without appropriate tailoring to the structures that are in place in Ireland. This is also the view of the NGOs and officials on the ground. It is necessary to define best practice in an Irish context in order that reviews here can be effective. The study will examine in a comprehensive and independent way the experience of reviews operating elsewhere. Based on its findings, it will be able to make recommendations on how we can effectively introduce such measures in Ireland.

Prior to the Minister's announcement of an expert study, he and his officials had been laying the groundwork for several months. This underlines the seriousness and care with which the Government is approaching this sensitive issue. It is just a week since the Minister announced the appointment of Ms Gibbons and published the terms of reference, and already offices have been secured on St. Stephen's Green and the fitting out with ICT and so on is almost complete. Arrangements to appoint a small expert support team to assist Ms Gibbons in her work are at an advanced stage. The Minister and I look forward to the support and engagement of Oireachtas Members. At the launch, the Minister and Ms Gibbons expressed the hope that affected families would engage with the study. We see their experiences and views as being central. I echo that call.

I draw attention to the fact that the first pillar of the study seeks recommendations on arranging enhanced information and supports for those affected by these crimes and the identification of potential warning signs and possible responses and actions, including the development of protocols to allow relevant information to be shared. I hope the study will also focus on the important issue of prevention. Is there information on warning signs that could be shared earlier? I know of a few instances where, if that had happened, a tragic event might have been avoided. Another consideration is the development of clear protocols by State agencies and other agencies and individuals for the sharing of information with immediate family members. These are sensitive but very important issues. The development of an emergency team protocol would bring together key officials as soon as possible after an incident to review information known at the time, identify agencies that might hold relevant files and, crucially, identify what supports were needed by families and communities and who was best placed to provide same.

It is important to ensure the perpetrators of homicide cannot benefit financially. This is an area where there is ongoing discussion between the Department and the Office of the Attorney General in the context of Deputy O'Callaghan's Civil Liability (Amendment) (Prevention of Benefits from Homicide) Bill 2017. The pre-legislative scrutiny process in March highlighted just how complex the relevant issues were and how easily unintended consequences could be introduced.

The fundamental goal of the Bill before us which is to improve our responses to domestic homicide is one that the Government supports and the amendment is proposed to facilitate the completion of the study. When it has been completed, we will inform the Government and the Oireachtas on our future approach to the Bill. I understand colleagues have already agreed to it.

This is an important and a sensitive area, one on which the Government has been working and for which it has been legislating, but much more needs to be done. Tonight's debate has been important, effective and timely, but the study is ongoing and we have agreed to postpone further work on the Bill for nine months until the study has been completed. The study team will take into account this legislation and give a view on it. The Minister and I are anxious for this legislation to proceed after getting the advice of the study group following its work.

I congratulate Deputy O'Callaghan on the Bill and look forward to the rest of the legislative process in time.

9:20 pm

Photo of Jim O'CallaghanJim O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank those Deputies who have contributed. Their contributions have been useful and informative. It is worth pointing out that there appears to be universal agreement in the House that this country needs operations such as domestic homicide reviews. We do not have them at present and every Deputy who has contributed recognises that we should. Sinn Féin produced a paper on this matter recently. That is indicative that there is support throughout the House for the establishment of domestic homicide reviews. They need to be put on a statutory basis. If they are not, then they will just be ad hocand lack the necessary legal power to be conducted in the way we want them to be.

I will start by addressing two legitimate points raised by Deputies Ó Laoghaire and Connolly, who stated that they would prefer if this legislation was pushed through. They were concerned about why I was agreeing to adjourn it for nine months. I will let them know my thinking. Obviously, if I pushed the legislation this evening, we would have a vote next week and I believe I would get the legislation through. It would then go to Committee Stage. As Deputy Ó Laoghaire knows, the Select Committee on Justice and Equality is busy at present and we would not be able to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill until October. At that stage, the committee would have to decide what witnesses to call for the purpose of apprising ourselves of what type of statutory scheme we should have in place. Necessarily, we would want to include people such as Ms Gibbons and others working on the review, which would have been up and running by that stage for five months. It would be confusing to have these two processes running in parallel. It may have been more politically astute of me to push the Bill on and say that Fianna Fáil had got it to Committee Stage, but it would not be tenable to have pre-legislative hearings in the justice committee in October where we would call witnesses who had presumably also contributed to Ms Gibbons's review. It would not be conducive to achieving an harmonious outcome to this important issue.

There is another worthwhile reason to delay this Bill. The reality is that, unless there is Government and, in particular, Department of Justice and Equality support, this will not get on the Statute Book. My hope is that, once we get the report from Ms Gibbons, we will be able to proceed with legislation and that the legislation I have drafted will be of assistance in trying to identify a pathway forward. I am sure the same applies to every Deputy, but I am not proprietorial about being identified as the drafter of the new legislative mechanism. It is about us getting this right.

Everyone recognises that this is a complicated area. As identified by other Deputies, this country has serious problems which can be summed up as "violence against women". People have highlighted the relevant statistics, including the ages of the victims. On many levels, we need to ensure that steps are put in place to reduce this violence as much as we can. I am concerned by the extent to which young men, not just in Ireland but also around the world, are developing their initial views on women and sexuality from pornography to which they are exposed on the Internet. No previous generation has ever been exposed to pornography to this extent thanks to its prevalence on the Internet. The Internet has had a major impact on commerce, education and knowledge. Similarly, I regret to say it must be having a major impact on the development of young people's sexuality. I do not know whether that will have a significant impact in terms of increasing violence against women, but it appears to be the case that pornography that proliferates on the Internet presents women in a submissive and malleable way.

It seems to highlight the control that some men seek to exert over women. Deputy O'Loughlin put it very well when she said control was at the heart of violence against women. She was correct when she said this was something that needed to be tackled.

The research that has been conducted as part of domestic homicide reviews in other countries seems to indicate that many of these vicious murders are prompted by events in a man's life which he finds humiliating. In the past, a man's financial or personal humiliation, or some identification of wrongdoing being carried out by him, has been an explanation - not a justification - for why someone who never previously got involved in violence got involved in violence. We need to be conscious that we live in a world where people can be exposed to humiliation. We need to transmit the message that regardless of how difficult or negative the news about a man is, he should be able to cope with it. It is probable that in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators of these crimes are violent bullies who wish to exert control over women. We need to find out the information in such cases in order to have knowledge available to us that can act as a deterrent, teach us how to ensure we protect women in this country as much as possible and enable us to learn about the indicators of these types of crimes.

I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate. I am prepared to agree to the amendment for the reasons I have outlined. Ultimately, this House should aim to have legislation in place within a short period of time. I know that it is complicated and that it has to be distinct from the English legislation. The draft I am proposing today is distinct. Obviously, there are domestic homicide reviews in the UK. This legislation is not based exclusively on the English legislation. It is designed for the Irish legal system. It is important that Ms Norah Gibbons and the Members of this House be aware of the need to drive forward to get legislation enacted as soon as possible to ensure these types of heinous crime are deterred in the future.

9:30 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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The House has already agreed to an amendment to amendment No. 1. Therefore, we must decide whether the amendment, as amended, is agreed to.

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

The Dáil adjourned at at 9.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 May 2019.