Dáil debates

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Domestic Violence

4:10 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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The pandemic has reinforced the need for progressive change in the area of paid leave for victims and survivors of domestic abuse and domestic violence. I am sure the Minister will be aware that yesterday National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, launched the university's domestic violence leave policy. It is a really good piece of work and I recommend that the Minister take a look at it and engage with some of the people involved. His colleague attended the launch with me yesterday. I thank, in particular, Nata Duvvury, Sinéad Wynne and Daniel O'Hara, who were central to the creation and publication of this policy. I thank also the people within the trade union group in NUIG who worked in partnership with management and ensured that this was brought forward. It is very important we legislate for this. I listened to the Minister's Cabinet colleague talk about how progressive and fantastic it was that NUIG was leading the way, how wonderful it was that it was taking the lead on this and how he would like to see it established in other higher education institutes. It is that kind of commentator-style behaviour on the part of the Government, almost as if this is not within its gift or power to do, that I think people find a little hard to take at times.

As the Minister will be aware, our party leader, Deputy McDonald, and I tabled legislation in the form of an amendment to the Organisation of Working Time Act to provide for ten days' paid statutory leave for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. I do not think there is any disagreement between us about the necessity for legislation. I think we fully agree on that. I think there might be a slight disagreement between us about the timing. I think we should progress this quickly. I do not think there is any need - or any excuse - for further delay in this area. An Teachta McDonald and I brought forward the legislation because we had consulted with stakeholders, campaign groups and victims and survivors. We were in receipt of a huge amount of correspondence in the immediate aftermath of the introduction of that legislation from people who really wanted to see it happen: the trade union movement, employers and victims and survivors, who contacted us individually to say they really wanted to see some progress in this area.

I sometimes doubt that the Government is serious about this. I had that doubt yesterday when I attended virtually the launch at NUIG. Now we see Danske Bank, in conjunction with the Financial Services Union, and NUIG, in consultation with the women's studies centre, the trade union group and HR, moving ahead and the Government not moving at the same pace. That is regrettable. The text of this Topical Issue matter refers to "the need to provide a statutory entitlement" to paid domestic violence leave. We agree on that. We do not need to discuss the need for it; we know there is a need for it. What I want to hear from the Minister is whether he will work with me to progress the legislation I have introduced or indeed whether progress can be made in some other way.

While I am on my feet, there is a Bill before the Seanad that is effectively a carbon copy of the Bill I introduced in that it is an amendment to the Organisation of Working Time Act. It relates to leave for early bereavement in pregnancy. That Bill is being taken by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I wonder, therefore, whether a Bill which is essentially the same has fallen between two stools and whether that is why progress is not happening. Perhaps it would be better if it were moved to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I am not sure. I would welcome the Minister's view on that.

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I welcome the opportunity to come before the House to discuss this incredibly important issue. I thank Deputy O'Reilly for raising the matter and I acknowledge her own work on it.

Since its formation, the Government has made clear that tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is a key priority. A range of measures to tackle this has been outlined in the programme for Government. It contains a commitment to investigate the provision of paid leave and social protection provision to victims of domestic violence with a view to establishing a statutory entitlement to paid domestic violence leave. The Government agreed on 8 December 2020 to examine establishing a statutory entitlement to paid domestic violence leave and to provide a report within six months with legislative proposals to follow within a further four months.

My Department is advancing work on this proposal. It is preparing a report and recommendations which I hope to bring to the Government in the coming weeks. This will be followed by legislative proposals. The report will include a comparative examination of domestic violence leave provision internationally to identify best practices. As part of this work also, a targeted consultation process has taken place with relevant stakeholders and social partners to examine how a scheme of paid leave should operate to effectively address the needs of victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Consultations have taken place with the monitoring committee of the second national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, employers' groups and trade unions, as well as with stakeholders of the national equality strategy committees which fall under my Department’s remit.

I have directly participated in a number of these consultations, engaging with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Financial Services Union. I am aware of the work taking place and the pressure from trade unions for this legislation to be introduced. I also engaged with employers' groups to understand any concerns they might have in order to properly address them. Written submissions were invited from relevant stakeholders and these submissions are currently being examined. They will form part of the report and recommendations I will bring to the Government.

The purpose of this engagement is to develop a scheme for domestic violence leave which will fully address the need for victims of domestic abuse to be able to access the leave they require, while also being mindful of the role that employers will have to play in sensitively managing vulnerable staff members, along with protecting and respecting their privacy.

The economic impact of domestic violence is not always at the forefront of people’s minds when they consider the effect on victims. Experiencing domestic violence can be a contributing factor to women experiencing homelessness and poverty. Lack of economic independence can also be a factor in preventing a victim from leaving an abusive situation. Support for victims who are working, in the form of paid leave, could be crucial to ensuring they retain their employment and have the economic capacity to escape abuse and rebuild their lives.

I am happy to be able to provide to the House this update on the ongoing work to provide for this legislation.

4:20 pm

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I do not disagree. Support is absolutely essential. I experienced this personally when I was a workplace representative. Very often people in a domestic violence situation find the abuse is not confined to home. In fact, their workplace becomes a site of abuse. The Minister and I know this happens.

While I respect a consultation process is under way, the Minister must also respect that for a long number of years this issue has been on the agenda for Sinn Féin and others. However, there already has been a delay. It was agreed on 8 December, six months ago. That is now delayed and it will be another four months until there is legislation.

It would be useful and good for those who desperately need this legislation to believe that there is a sense of urgency coming from the Government. I genuinely do not feel there is, however. It feels like the Government is going back over old ground. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The proof is in the fact that State and private sector employers, along with workers and their representatives, are already moving ahead of the Government. We know there are international examples. There is no way the Irish Government will lead internationally on this. National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG, launched its policy yesterday, meaning such leave is now available to men and women working in the university. Danske Bank did the same, as have Vodafone and other private sector companies. Yesterday, the Minister's colleague indicated he would like to see more HEIs, higher education institutions, do it.

The Minister is consulting about an issue that we all know needs to be addressed. I have produced legislation to deal with it. The simple fact is everybody else is moving ahead. They could be forgiven for thinking there is no sense of urgency coming from the Government in this regard.

Photo of Roderic O'GormanRoderic O'Gorman (Dublin West, Green Party)
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I strongly disagree with the Deputy's comments on the priority that my Department has placed on this issue. She named a number of individual employers which are bringing in schemes. I absolutely welcome this and commend their work. However, we are looking at a scheme that will be statutorily applicable across all employers. That is a much bigger order of magnitude. It is important we put in the proper research and engagement with all relevant stakeholders to ensure we get the process right.

We have done this in a tight timeline while my Department is advancing gender equality in the workplace on a range of other fronts as well. We brought in the family leave Bill to increase parental leave. The Gender Pay Gap Information Bill was passed by the House two weeks ago and will be in the Seanad soon. We have committed to engage in research on the issue of leave for miscarriages, as well as the extension of breastfeeding leave. Significant work on a wide number of fronts is being undertaken in my Department in terms of protecting families and, most particularly, protecting women.

The introduction of paid domestic violence leave is a key part of that. We set out a tight time period for it and we are working to achieve the first element in terms of a report and a proposal for the Government. There will then be a four-month timeframe in bringing forward that legislation. I have engaged with the stakeholders. They understand what we are doing and see the Government's commitment to address this issue. I look forward in the near future to steering legislation on domestic violence leave through the Houses of the Oireachtas.