Tuesday, 21 June 2022
Proposal for a Directive on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence: Motion
That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to take part in the adoption and application of the following proposed measure: Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on combatting violence against women and domestic violence, a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 7th April, 2022.
The Ceann Comhairle will listen to me speak anyway.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating this motion. Today, the Government approved my request to seek the House's approval to opt in to this European Commission proposal for a directive combating violence against women and domestic violence. Commission President von der Leyen's political guidelines highlighted the need to prevent and combat violence against women, to protect victims and to punish offenders as a key priority for the Commission. The European Parliament has also repeatedly called on the Commission to propose legislation on violence against women, domestic violence and gender-based cyberviolence.
Violence against women is gender-based violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes all acts of gender-based violence that result in or are likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering. Domestic violence is a form of violence against women, as it disproportionately affects women. It occurs in the family or domestic unit irrespective of biological or legal family ties, either between intimate partners or between other family members, including between parents and children. Women are disproportionately represented as victims due to the underlying patterns of coercion, power and control, or all of these, with such violence being a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women. It was fitting, then, that this proposal was published on 8 March this year, which was International Women's Day.
The proposal aims to make the current EU legal instruments relevant to combating violence against women and domestic violence more effective by filling identified gaps in protection, access to justice and support for victims of these heinous crimes. It also seeks to align EU law with established international standards, most obviously the Istanbul Convention, which is widely recognised as the most far-reaching legal instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. While Ireland ratified the convention in 2019, the current EU proposal aims to ensure the application of minimum standards in all EU member states, including those that have not yet ratified it, and those that are considering withdrawing. Currently, no specific EU legislation comprehensively addresses violence against women and domestic violence. This directive will be the first act specifically addressing this type of violence.
All member states address violence against women and domestic violence in legislation and policies, albeit to different degrees. The different approaches can create legal uncertainty about rights for such victims across the Union. While the EU already supports member states in addressing this kind of violence by using funding, policy measures and relevant horizontal legal instruments, further targeted legislative action at EU level is necessary to make the existing measures more effective and to further strengthen EU instruments to combat violence against women and domestic violence by laying down minimum rules. For the member states that are parties to the Istanbul Convention, which Ireland is, the EU measures would support the convention’s implementation. The current proposal would enable further co-ordinated measures across the EU and enable EU-level enforcement. With the proposal, the Commission aims to strike the balance between ensuring that the obligations it lays down are effective and leaving flexibility for the member states to take into account national specificities and needs when implementing its rules.
In January, this House debated a motion on violence against women, where it was recognised by all Deputies that we need to do more. However, shifts in long-held mindsets and changes in behaviours do not occur over weeks, or even months, and we need to continue to work as hard as possible to see real changes happen. Tackling domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in all its forms is a priority for this Government. It is also a personal priority for me and as Deputies will know, I have been working for the past 18 months on the goals and desired outcomes of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which I will bring to Government in the coming weeks. I know the House is as committed as I am to achieving our goal of a society where there is zero tolerance for all forms of violence against women and the strategy will be the most ambitious one to date. Realising this goal requires a range of actions and a collective effort. In tandem with the strategy, we must also be part of a collective effort at an EU level. I do not need to remind anyone of how often the issue of violence against women comes to the fore. There have been too many tragic cases and too many times when we have we called for more to be done. I have met many victims and their families, and the level of trauma and pain they have experienced cannot be described.
Violence against women and domestic violence are pervasive throughout the EU and are estimated to affect one in three women, with one in five women having suffered domestic violence. Looking at the more specific types of violence, the Fundamental Rights Agency’s 2014 EU-wide survey on violence against women outlines that one in ten women reported that they had been victims of sexual violence, and that one in 20 had been raped, which are extraordinary figures. Cyberviolence is just as prevalent. In 2020, it was estimated that one in two young women experienced gender-based cyberviolence. It is well established that women in general more frequently experience cyberviolence based on their sex or gender, in particular sexual forms of cyberviolence. Cyberviolence particularly impacts women who are active in public life, as Deputies in this House can probably attest to. This can have the effect of silencing women, hindering their societal participation and undermining the principle of democracy as enshrined in the Treaty on European Union.
I am pleased to say that many of the measures proposed in this directive are already part of Irish law, such as: the offence of rape based on consent; the criminalisation of female genital mutilation; and the criminalisation of certain forms of cyberviolence. The directive also calls for preventative measures, including by raising awareness and by training professionals who are likely to come in contact with victims. My Department regularly runs awareness campaigns in this space, including the Still Here campaign, which we ran during Covid restrictions, and which garnered positive feedback. The training of professionals is also a big aspect of my Supporting A Victim's Journey plan, so again, what is being proposed is not new for Ireland and we welcome it.
The directive is comprehensive and as such there are some measures required that may require a tweak to existing law and practice, and some are more targeted at civil law countries which will need to be fully explored. Since the UK's departure from the EU, Ireland is the sole country with the Protocol No. 21 article, in other words, where we have to opt in as such.
It is essential we utilise this at an early stage to ensure we can participate in the discussions and that the final text of the directive takes account of our unique position as much as possible and is shaped to accommodate our common law system as much as possible.
There is a strong reputational aspect to be considered for opting in to this directive. Along with publication of the third national strategy in the coming week, under Ireland's presidency of the Council of Europe I will host a conference of Council of Europe justice ministers on the topic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence this September. Given the crossover of timelines between this opt-in and the new strategy, and the significant public attention on this issue in recent months, promoting work on this issue domestically but not agreeing to a common approach at EU level may appear contradictory to our EU partners, particularly at a time when solidarity is more important than ever. We should demonstrate to the EU how we are serious about tackling violence against women and domestic violence, and utilise our Protocol No. 21 opt-in to participate in this measure. I commend the motion to the House.
The motion to opt in to the proposal for a directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence is welcome, as is the opportunity for us to discuss and scrutinise same. It is our hope that the proposal complements and will reinforce the State obligations under the Istanbul Convention, rather than acting as a substitute for them or duplicating them.
I pay tribute to Catherine Casey and the work carried out in the Adapt centre in Tralee, which provides a 24-hour service by telephone, involving well-being, domestic violence advocacy and a complete wrap-around service. There were 90 admissions in 2021 but only 30 to 32 bed spaces. County Kerry should be prioritised in any accommodation review that takes place.
Although the State has ratified the Istanbul Convention, there is a decent argument that we do not live up to much of it. Domestic violence shelter provision is perhaps the most glaring example, though I commend the Minister's personal passion for this type of activity and hope it continues into the future. She informed the justice committee not long ago that the Department would be examining the establishment of services directly, which will address the dearth of places around the country. Direct involvement by the Department would be most welcome, rather than outsourcing to anybody else.
The proposal at least sets out minimum standards regarding certain offences, although crimes against women are not crimes as set out within the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Strictly an approach of criminalisation will not work and provision of shelters will be key. More broadly, access to decent employment, social protection payments, housing, childcare and wrap-around services, as evidenced by Catherine Casey and her team in Tralee, all help. When women can access the resources, they are less dependent on abusive partners, so the Government's responsibilities in those areas are crucial for vulnerable populations and people such as abuse victims. Sinn Féin's Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill 2020 was crucial in this respect and prompted the Government to move its own legislation in the area. The Bill enjoys broad support across parties and in the NGO sector. Women's rights are workers' rights and vice versa. In addition to domestic violence leave, progress should be made on a child maintenance agency, which would speed up the payment of maintenance, reducing poverty and vulnerability among single parents who have experienced an abusive partner. Some colleagues of mine have made proposals in this area and the Government's own plans seem slow to come forward.
Another area I am glad to see being addressed is the collection of data on violence against women. We just spoke on this in the justice committee. The collection of data in relation to sexual offences and violence is most important. That should be moved on and improved. The deficit in that is pronounced across the EU but is especially troubling in Ireland.
Today is the longest day of the year but every day must feel like the longest day of the year for women and their children enduring domestic violence. Men are victims too and often have a great reticence about coming forward because of the stigma around that but the fact remains it is mainly women who are the victims of domestic violence. There is the thump because he was in trouble at work, the dig because she spoke to her mam or sister or the slap or pull simply because he can and the children hiding behind the sofa, under the table or in the wardrobe wondering if it is their fault that Daddy is so cross with Mammy. Maybe they could have behaved a bit better. Their poor mother is thinking at the same time, "Well, at least when he's walloping me, he's leaving them alone".
Teach Tearmainn is a refuge in my country of Kildare and it gives a first-class service to women at the receiving end of violence in the home. However, it needs more space, investment and staff. It has four apartments and they are gorgeous. I was at their opening but four is not enough. Three of the counties surrounding Kildare, namely, Laois, Offaly and Carlow, have no refuges. As well as taking an overflow of women fleeing from Dublin, Teach Tearmainn is also taking women and their families from these counties. Transitional housing is needed and with the housing situation being so bad, it affects refuges across the State. Women and their children have nowhere to go and some have sadly decided to return to an abusive partner because at least then their children have a home.
I listened to the Minister on the way over with the help of the app, and she mentioned the Supporting a Victim's Journey plan. It needs to look at transitional housing as well because, with the disaster that is our housing system, there is a shortage of houses to rent. It is inexplicable that a Government that says it is committed to protecting women and children has no dedicated capital expenditure budget line in any Department for domestic violence safe accommodation provision. It is extraordinary that the Minister for housing has decided the primary responsibility rests with Tusla. That does not make sense, though, to be fair to Tulsa, it has advised that at least 60 new family units are urgently needed.
The Department of Justice has stated that the State is meeting its obligations under the Istanbul Convention to provide adequate accommodation with wrap-around services, such as psychological care and childcare. I hope the Minister will agree with me that there is something of a Disney quality to that statement and a sense that if we say it, maybe it will happen. We know to our cost in housing and health that this is not the way it goes. Women and their children should not have to put up with this. I acknowledge that the Minister has been positive in respect of this issue and has demonstrated and expressed that she wants to improve these things. I welcome that.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the proposal for a directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence. It is important that progress is continually made in responding to violence against women but it is also important to ensure we have a range of supports for victims that are comprehensive and accessible. The key elements of the proposal include: first, the criminalisation of rape, female genital mutilation and cyberviolence; second, safe reporting and risk-assessment procedures; third, respect for victims' privacy in judicial proceedings and right to compensation; fourth, support for victims; and, last, better co-ordination and co-operation. These are minimum standards and their importance cannot be overemphasised but minimum standards should not be exhaustive. We should aspire to greater standards for prevention policy, supports and care.
We need to know if the third strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence will include a timeframe and budget for the urgent delivery of additional family refuge places and wrap-around services such as psychological supports and childcare. The ability of people to plead domestic violence can be made more difficult by difficulties accessing emergency housing due to the shortage in housing supply. The Minister for housing said the primary purpose of homeless current expenditure is for councillors to provide accommodation for those unable to provide it from their own resources, not specifically to provide for victims of domestic abuse or violence. Neither is there a dedicated capital expenditure budget line in any Department for domestic violence safe accommodation provision. Capital funding for approved housing bodies, including services that provide refuge accommodation for victims of gender-based and domestic violence, is provided by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. It is the current position of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage that the primary responsibility for the provision of refuge capacity is with Tusla. Such an overlap in terms of departmental responsibility hampers our ability to meet demand and people who are fleeing domestic violence pay the price.
While the capital assistance scheme is available to local authorities and approved housing bodies for refuges, the Department is one step removed from being proactive in this regard. This distance between the Department and people's needs is reflected in the acknowledgement by the Minister for Justice that Ireland is not meeting its obligation under the Istanbul Convention to provide adequate accommodation with wraparound supports such as psychological care and childcare. On top of that, earlier this year, we learned how Cuan Saor had been operating at full capacity since the pandemic began, resulting in the centre being unable to meet demand. What can we expect of the third national strategy as regards refuge spaces? Will a budget be provided so that our ability to meet the immediate needs of victims of gender-based and domestic violence is not dependent on fundraising at a time of rapidly increasing inflation?
I am glad to speak for Labour in the debate on this opt-in and I welcome the opportunity to do so. As we know, it has now been just over three months since the Commission published the proposal for a directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. That was on International Women's Day and, of course, it is now midsummer. It is very welcome to see this proposal. Preparations have been extensive and have included stakeholder consultation and a detailed impact assessment report. The purpose of the initiative to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence is to combat sexual, domestic and gender-based violence, to ensure the effective prevention of such violence and to ensure that sexual harassment and cyberviolence with cross-border dimensions are addressed effectively.
What is most remarkable is that, as the Minister has said herself, there is no EU legislation that comprehensively addresses gender-based violence and domestic violence and that this directive will be the first to address specifically this type of violence. It is remarkable that is still the case in 2022. I suppose it reflects the reality that, for a long time, domestic violence was not taken as seriously as other forms of violence within the criminal justice system not just in Ireland but elsewhere. Many of us who have practised criminal law over the years will recall phrases like "It was just a domestic" being used to belittle or diminish the significance of the harm caused. I have worked for years with Women's Aid, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Safe Ireland and other great organisations on the front line that are providing services for survivors and victims. When speaking with survivors and victims, it is evident that, for far too long, there has been a culture in which violence against women and children in the home has been essentially tolerated and certainly not tackled with the urgency required.
In recent years, with the #MeToo movement and the move against sexual harassment with the horrific murder of Ashling Murphy and the outcry around the country earlier this year, we have seen an understanding and a renewed intent to ensure that this sort of violence will be addressed effectively. Measures have been taken. I am thinking of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018. These were major reforming legislation. We also passed legislation to criminalise female genital mutilation on foot of a Private Member's Bill I brought forward. All of these things were done in the last few years and have greatly improved the position of survivors. I am proud to be the chairperson of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality. I am grateful to the Minister for her engagement with the committee, particularly on recommendations 37 to 41 of the Citizens' Assembly, which seek to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. The assembly recommended that, among other things, all Government action to prevent such violence should be co-ordinated by a Cabinet Minister with direct responsibility for a national strategy. It is therefore very welcome indeed that the Minister has taken that on and is that Cabinet Minister.
Of course, we are very anxious to see the publication of the imminent third national strategy, which has been promised for some months. We had hoped it would be with our committee in March or April so that we would be able to review it. We certainly hope it will be published imminently. The Minister might be able to say precisely when because, clearly, it is crucial if we are to build on the other improvements and measures. I acknowledge the welcome that stakeholders have given to Supporting A Victim's Journey and to other initiatives like the Still Here campaign the Minister referenced. However, we need to see the publication of that strategy and the resourcing and funding of refuges. All of us are very conscious that there are nine counties in Ireland where there is no refuge. Everywhere in the country I have been in recent months, I have heard about the scarcity of places and resources for those seeking to flee violence in the home.
The other question we all have to ask in a debate like this is a more fundamental question about tackling a culture in which it is still the women and children who typically have to flee the home while the perpetrators of so-called domestic violence remain there. I recall a justice committee hearing on domestic violence many years ago where a survivor disclosed the abuse he had suffered as a child and asked in anguish why it was that women and children were still forced to flee and why we could not see the perpetrator removed from the home. That would require a fundamental shift in culture but it is necessary.
We met today with an Australian Labor adviser, Stephen Donnelly. He told us about the emphasis Labor in the state of Victoria puts on violence in the home. They call it family violence rather than domestic violence to emphasise the more human side of it and that this is violence of the most intimate nature perpetrated within the home and usually within the family. The key message Labor had to tackle this was that, if this sort of violence was perpetrated against women and children by strange men, there would be an urgent, immediate and effective set of measures implemented to tackle it and stop it happening. The Minister spoke about zero tolerance. I entirely agree with her. We must bring a zero-tolerance approach to bear and see this as the deeply harmful and deeply destructive behaviour that it is. We must move swiftly to see the publication of the national strategy and measures taken to address this horrific sort of violence against women and children.
I strongly support opting in to the EU directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. It outlines key principles around support for victims and survivors, better co-ordination in State services, safe reporting and respect for victims' privacy in judicial proceedings. All of these have to form the basis of a State architecture that is designed to respond to the needs of women, children and men affected by domestic violence. However, I am regrettably sceptical that the directive will have any practical impact. There are large gaps between our international commitments and our policies in this area. For example, as we all know at this point, the Istanbul Convention standard is one refuge space for every 10,000 people while Ireland provides one space for every 10,000 women, leaving us with 50% of the recommended capacity and very little infrastructure for male victims. The need for more domestic violence refuge spaces is abundantly clear but, instead of ensuring we meet the international benchmark, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth refer to a clause in the convention that allows fewer refuge spaces. The Minister will, therefore, forgive me if I am cynical about the difference this directive will make.
If we want to make real and sustained progress, we must be guided by the work of support and advocacy organisations. Women's Aid, Safe Ireland and many smaller organisations such as YANA in north Cork are at the coalface of this very complex issue. They are the experts and we need to listen to them. The Government has to provide the resources and adopt the policies these organisations are seeking. They have concrete proposals that will make a significant difference to the lives of vulnerable women and children.
The West Cork Women Against Violence Project recently launched its report, Listen to me. Support me. Believe me. Help me: Listening to Survivors of Sexual Violence and their Supporters in West Cork. This report includes recommendations based on the lived experience of survivors and their supporters. The report highlights the importance of a comprehensive, intersectional and accessible support service in west Cork and has lessons for all other rural areas that lack specialist supports. It recommends training on trauma-informed approaches and survivor-focused procedures for front-line staff, management and other professionals. This obviously includes An Garda Síochána, Tusla and the Judiciary, but also GPs and staff in local authorities and social protection offices. All officials with whom victims and survivors have to interact need suitable training. The report also calls for a relationships and sexuality education and awareness campaign. Current relationships and sexuality education is completely inadequate and inconsistent and features antiquated opt-outs for parents and schools. Moreover, it is unclear how committed the Minister for Education is to reform in this area.
In November, the Government passed but delayed the progress of a Social Democrats Bill guaranteeing comprehensive and evidence-based relationships and sexuality education. At that time, I urged the Government to allow the Bill to go forward.
In January, I repeated my call. Five months later, I am calling for it again. We need proper sex education that will contribute to a culture of change in how women and girls are viewed and treated.
The report recommends resourcing appropriate community-based prevention and early intervention. This is about a whole-of-government approach and providing support at the point of need. State services need to be available locally and need to work with community organisations. Through the leadership of organisations such as West Cork Women Against Violence and You Are Not Alone, YANA, this is happening in Cork. However, all stakeholders need capacity to deliver comprehensive and interlinked structures.
GP practices are often the place where women go for assistance. However, these practices are overstretched as it is and out-of-hours cover is a problem in rural areas. Family resource centres are an invaluable asset for all in the community, but especially for those fleeing domestic violence. They are hubs for a variety of services and are vital to reaching those vulnerable groups. The support and funding they received from the Government in no way reflects their local importance.
Currently, both Bandon and Skibbereen family resource centres in my constituency are in search of a permanent home. One of them has moved seven times in the last few years, which uproots all the services they provide to people who are really desperate and particularly women fleeing domestic violence. I am working with them to find solutions but it should not be this way. The Government needs to recognise their value and fund them accordingly.
The directive on combating violence against women in domestic violence is only as good as the policies and the resources deployed. If the cost-of-living crisis and housing crises get worse, the risk of increased domestic violence rises. Support services have outlined the solutions; it is now up to Government to implement them.
In welcoming this proposal for a directive, I fully agree with the Minister that gender-based violence directed against a woman is because she is a woman. Such violence is a manifestation of historically unequal power relationships between men and women. We should bear that in mind every time we look at this subject because there are so many aspects of trying to address that problem in the sort of society that has grown up over hundreds of years of relying on women to reproduce the next generation at no cost, to do the care in the home at no cost and to devalue and undermine the role that women play in society in general. It is a legacy issue but it is one we can address with a lot of action.
For most people, it is disappointing that despite signing the Istanbul Convention in 2015 and ratifying it in 2019 when Deputy Flanagan was Minister, in 2022 we are still way behind in facilitating the spaces and supports required for women and children who are fleeing domestic violence.
I want to give a shout out in a proud way to two areas. One is Carlow, where our local councillor, Adrienne Wallace, has been doing wonderful campaigning work. Carlow is one of the nine counties that has no refuge. According to Councillor Wallace's figures, in the first nine months of 2021 it was revealed that 500 incidents of domestic violence were reported to the Garda in Carlow and Kilkenny. While there is a refuge in Kilkenny, it is totally inadequate as we can see from those figures. That can be repeated throughout the country. Based on the 2015 Istanbul Convention, we should have 472 refuge places but we only have 143.
There is an urgency in dealing with issues in the courts, such as the victim-blaming experiences that women have, being asked about their sexual histories, how much they had to drink, etc.. Even their private counselling notes are being used in cases. Therapy notes are not allowed to be used in the context of prosecutions relating to any other crime.
There is the outstanding issue other Deputies have mentioned, namely, the need for a proper, non-ethos-based sex education system. In the previous Dáil, we tabled a Bill on this matter. I believe other Bills are still waiting to be dealt with. It would be great if this initiative came from the Government, but we cannot afford to wait for it.
There is the important practical issue of having a safe home to live in. One of our councillors in Dublin City Council ,Hazel de Nortúin, has advised that in Ballyfermot alone, dozens of houses have been abandoned by women and children, particularly during the Covid crisis, because they had to get out. Some 70% of those women and children are in homeless services. The same is true across the country. We need to strengthen the legislation for local authorities to be able to intervene and decide that a family home is a family home and no abuser within that home should be allowed to stay but the family itself should stay. We need to do a considerable amount to raise awareness on this issue. We need supports that are localised. Local authorities should have liaison officers. In Dublin City Council we are trying to get a liaison officer who actually knows the families, deals with them and ensures that they have the wraparound services.
I want to finish on an issue I raised with the Taoiseach some time ago. Poland has very severe legislation that refuses abortion on the grounds of rape until a person goes to court and proves that they had actually been raped. That is impacting on hundreds of women who fled the war in Ukraine, who were raped and who are now living in Poland but cannot procure abortions. A Bill will be debated before the Polish Parliament today and on Thursday. On Thursday at 1 o'clock, we, the National Women's Council of Ireland, a number of feminist groups and others will be protesting outside the consular section of the Polish Embassy on Eden Quay. We are asking people to support that protest. The protest is against what the Polish Government is doing. The EU and justice ministers, including the Minister, Deputy McEntee, need to shout out about this. It is a war crime to rape a woman. There is no way they can prove that they were raped by Russian soldiers and, hence, there is no way they can procure abortions. This points to hypocrisy within the EU. This is happening under our noses as a consequence of a war crime. We should be shouting about it and really putting pressure on the various states to ensure that practice is ceased. Women should have proper access to reproductive care, but particularly in the case of the war crime of rape.
I welcome that this proposed directive is trying to strengthen the Istanbul Convention, which indicates that there have been weaknesses in how it has been implemented across the EU.
I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on the proposal for an EU directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence. I support it for number of reasons. It modernises our procedures and, as the Minister said, standardises them to a minimum standard, at least, across the European Union.
I wish to focus on three areas. It is good that there is an emphasis on cyberspace. People need to realise that these types of crime do not just occur in the real world but can also occur in the virtual world. There is an emphasis on cyberstalking, cyberharassment, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and also incitement to hatred and violence in cyberspace. It is good that it is codified and standardised across the European Union.
I am pleased that the directive places emphasis on safe reporting and risk-assessment procedures. All Deputies recognise that this type of crime lends itself to under-reporting. There is emphasis on improved and increased pathways so that a female victim can report this type of crime and can do so in a child-friendly, accessible manner, especially online. That is a good way because sometimes female victims might not be able to leave the house without exposing themselves to further danger.
Healthcare workers are no longer bound exclusively by the right of confidentiality. If a healthcare worker comes across a situation where they believe there are reasonable grounds to believe that a female victim is likely to sustain further or physical abuse, they can report it to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible.
There is provision here that full compensation is payable to a female victim even during criminal court proceedings. It is good that female victims can claim damages and can claim back their healthcare costs. They can claim damages for physical or psychological harm or even for loss of income. That is a definite step forward.
I welcome the motion, but I echo the comments of other Deputies to the effect that prevention is better than cure. These are all punishments and sanctions, and rightly so. However, the emphasis should be on the education aspect which is so important and should start as early as possible with a change of culture and a change of behaviour. I welcome the directive and look forward to its swift implementation.
I, of course, welcome any initiative that will help to combat violence against women. Domestic violence should be fought at every level. We must ensure we make a home a happy and safe place for everybody.
In saying that, I must talk about the services we have in County Kerry. We are grateful for the resources we have but we will always be seeking more. I am speaking of services such as the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre. I compliment Ms Vera O'Leary from that centre and the excellent people who have worked with her over the years and who work with her now. I sincerely thank Ms Catherine Casey from the Adapt service which is much needed. I hate the fact that the service is much needed. We need more resources that will act in a complete and encompassing way and a wraparound service, working in conjunction with the people in housing. We need sheltered housing provisions to be put in place because we must ensure that people are safe at all times. Of course, people should not have to leave their homes. One's home should be a safe place.
I also sincerely thank the Garda in Kerry for the purple tie day it organised on 29 April. I thank Garda Fidelma O'Leary and all the gardaí in Kerry who attended that occasion, along with many people from other services and politicians, including Deputy Pa Daly and others. We were there to support them on a special and good day. It showed people who are vulnerable or in unsure circumstances that in our county, we are all there to support and help them. I respectfully call on the Minister to ensure that at all times as much funding as possible is available.
The proposal is a good compromise and addresses cyber-violence against women as never before in a binding legal instrument. As is the case in respect of every legislative procedure, it could have been better but it could also have been much less ambitious. The advancement of technology has enabled us to connect and share important information, to speak up and raise awareness of human rights violations. However, it has also provided additional fertile grounds for gender-based violence against women and girls to an alarming extent and with little accountability. It has fuelled the perpetration of insidious, harmful actions by partners and ex-partners but also by anonymous individuals. It has created an environment in which violence against women and girls seems to have been normalised by society.
Lockdowns imposed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic only amplified this long-standing problem, with a high number of instances of online sexual abuse. Both men and women can experience instances of online violence and abuse, as was clear during the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp court case. However, women are considerably more likely to be victims of repeated and severe forms of harmful actions online and with the help of technology. Every day we hear about women and girls who have been victims of, to name but a few, non-consensual images or video sharing; intimidation and threats via email or social media platforms, including threats of rape and death threats; online sexual harassment; stalking, including with the use of tracking applications and devices; impersonation; and economic harm via digital means.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on this subject. All too often, our laws are just not tough enough with regard to sexual violence against women or online threats and harassment. All too often, we hear of cases where there is undue leniency. We need tougher laws. We need to ensure we can curb this type of behaviour and prevent it. The only way we can prevent such behaviour is by having a tough response. Unfortunately, the responses are in many cases not tough enough. That leads to women having to suffer and that is not right in the Ireland of 2022.
I commend the Garda for all it does. Our domestic violence services across the country, and particularly in my constituency of Laois-Offaly, do fantastic work. The real gaps exist in the justice system and the lack of justice for women. There is a need for much tougher laws.
I do not welcome the opportunity to talk again. "Welcome" does not seem the right word. I do welcome the directive and the fact we are opting into it. I welcome the fact that opting in will give us a voice in the final drafting of the directive. It will do away with the gap that exists in respect of effective legislation. There is a patchwork of legal instruments in place at present. There are positive things in the directive and I have no difficulty supporting it. I do, however, have a little difficulty as a result of my cynicism at this point. That is a luxury I cannot have as a politician because one stands here to tell people that things can be done and things can change.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive speech which set out much of the legislative background. After the UK's departure, it is significant that we are the sole country with an Article 21 protocol. I thank the Minister for all of that. I take exception to the portion of her speech in which she stated, "However, shifts in long-held mindsets and changes in behaviours do not occur over weeks, or even months, and we need to continue to work as hard as possible to see real changes happen." We did not ask for anything to happen overnight. I have repeatedly referred to the task force from a quarter of a century ago when former Deputy Eithne FitzGerald was the relevant Minister of State. The task force produced an excellent report that highlighted all the things that needed to be done and how they should be done. Unfortunately, it never happened. I recognise the Minister's bona fidesand she has confirmed that repeatedly in the Dáil. That report was produced in 1997, which was 20 years after the first refuge came into being in Ireland as a result of an enormous struggle by women on the ground. None of the services for women suffering domestic violence or gender-based violence has ever been proactive. They have come as a result of women, children and good men, and their suffering.
The task force that was established in 1997, which is a quarter of a century ago, was supposed to change everything. It set out that a strategy was needed. The one recommendation that jumps out to me is that programmes for violent men that confront violent behaviour must be developed and expanded. That was stated a quarter of a century ago. That is one of the major aspects with which we have not even begun to deal. I have mentioned before in the Dáil the collaborative effort between the Rape Crisis Centre and the Manuela Programme in Galway to roll out to the schools an educational project. I gave the Minister some details of that and I am not sure what follow up there has been in that regard.
I apologise for my cynicism but it is difficult because following on from that report, many promises were given. There were three items, part of a trinity, of which the audit of interdepartmental structures was one part. We finally got that audit and it identified how fragmented the services had been. The second national strategy ran from 2016 to 2021. The Department of Justice's audit of structures found a lack of effective oversight of implementation of the second strategy, a fragmented approach and a lack of action on decades of recommendations. Oversight responsibility was held by an interdepartmental senior officials group which is nominally accountable to the Cabinet but in practice has never reported. That was the second strategy. I could outline many other criticisms.
Now we have two parts of the trinity, namely, the general audit I have mentioned and the audit on structures. We are still waiting for the third national strategy. It was due at the end of 2021. That was changed at the end of March and we were told it was coming within a few weeks. As each Deputy asked, we were told it was coming soon. We are still told that is the case. If the Minister can be bluntly honest with us, what is the delay in producing the strategy? We need to know that before we even begin to talk about the implementation of the strategy. What is causing the delay six months after the end of the other strategy? We must remember the history involved and the serious crimes that are being perpetrated on a daily basis against women and children; violence that is also being watched by children.
If I am to have trust in the Minister, and I told her I would work with her, then words have to mean something. When will the strategy be published? What has caused the delay?
I thank Deputies for their unanimous support for this motion to opt into the Commission proposal. As I said out the outset, it is absolutely vital that we opt in, not just to show that we are committed to dealing with this issue but also to make sure, at the very outset, that we are part of the discussion and conversation regarding any changes that may be necessary as this protocol is developed and legislation is drafted in order that it will work with our domestic legislation here and with the legislative basis that exists here.
More generally, there is a lot of work happening. To respond to Deputy Connolly, the strategy will be published with an implementation plan. It is not the case that we will publish the strategy and then have to work it out. What is almost complete - it is in the final stages of sign-off before being published in the next week or two - is a very detailed implementation plan with dates, actions, information on the Departments carrying out those actions, information relating to funding and so on. The plan will be very clearly set out and will take into account all of the things Deputy Connolly mentioned, including the audit, the restructuring that is needed and the drive we need in order to implement change. What is different this time is that it is not a strategy without an implementation plan. We will have all of that together. I appreciate that it is taking longer than people would like but it is a whole-of-government strategy with quite a number of Departments involved. I am sure everyone appreciates that when so many Departments are involved and when one engages in consultation with the public and others a number of times because one wants to get it right, it does, unfortunately, result in delays. It will be published very soon, in a matter of weeks. Definitely before the Dáil finishes up for the recess but probably in the next two weeks.
More generally, a great deal of work is under way in any event, irrespective of the strategy, some of which Deputies have already mentioned. Again, I thank Deputies for their support. This is an other opt-in that has come at short notice. We were not given too much time to pass it through the Houses, but it is really important. We have already opted into the Istanbul Convention. However, there are countries that have not yet ratified it or that are considering pulling out. It is important, therefore, that we show leadership in this regard and are at the table and seen to be leading on what all Deputies here have identified as such an important issue.