Monday, 8 March 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister to the House. The pandemic has had devastating consequences for women and children living in fear within their own homes. Across our State, the silence from homes where abuse is taking place is deafening. We know that connection to community and visibility helps to prevent incidents of domestic violence, and the environment created by this pandemic has been a breeding ground for an escalation in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Homes should be places of refuge and instead they are frequently places of fear. On International Women's Day I think of all of those women who we cannot see who live in daily fear.
The programme for government was the first to call out domestic violence as an epidemic. Little did we know that things would only get worse over the last year. In Galway domestic disputes for which no cause is noted in the joint policing committee report went up by 40%. Breeches of barring orders went up by 25%. An increase of €4.7 million to €30 million was committed to in Budget 2021 to deal with this epidemic, with €2 million to help support services during the Covid crisis. I am aware the Minister has also committed to domestic abuse leave. An audit of the segmentation of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence responsibilities across the Departments was also committed to, along with the development of the third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. I would like the Minister to outline the progress of these to date and how it aligns with our commitments under the Istanbul Convention. I also want to hear about progress of the implementation of the O’Malley report in addressing the fact that many feel retraumatised by our court system.
I thank all of those services which have continued to operate, including Cope Galway, Galway Rape Crisis Centre and Domestic Violence Response. This is an epidemic that affects women and children more than men, although men should not be forgotten. I am reminded of a lecture once given by Margaret Atwood in which, and I paraphrase, she said that perhaps the source of men’s fear of women is a fear of being embarrassed, but women fear men because they fear being killed. For too many women in our country this second part of her comment rings true.I thank Senators Pauline O’Reilly and Seery Kearney for raising this issue and I welcome the opportunity to respond. Again, it is particularly apposite that we are discussing this issue on International Women's Day.
As the Senators noted, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence can occur in many different forms and can be experienced by any one of us but it is indisputable that girls and women are disproportionately affected by such acts. The Minister for Justice has lead responsibility for co-ordinating policy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence but ensuring an effective infrastructure to respond to it is also a very significant priority for my Department. I am actively working with the Minister for Justice to fulfil the commitment in the programme for Government to conduct an audit of the segmentation of responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence across Departments and agencies. This audit is under way and I am hopeful that it will shortly provide us with proposals on the required infrastructure to ensure all issues with domestic, sexual and gender-based violence are dealt with in the most effective and holistic manner possible. We really need to provide the best service to those who need this type of support.
Tusla, which falls within the remit of my Department, has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. It provides funding for about 60 organisations across the country, including those providing emergency refuge for adults and children fleeing domestic violence, 16 rape crisis centres and a range of community-based domestic violence supports. In 2021, I increased Tusla's allocation for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence by €4.7 million to a total of €30 million, €28 million of which is core funding for the services, while a further €2 million is Covid contingency funding to help address the increased demand referred to by both Senators with regard to the pandemic. This is a very significant increase in core funding and indicates the real importance that this Government places on this issue.
Investments in recent years have seen the roll-out of child-centred services for younger victims of domestic and sexual violence. Senator Pauline O'Reilly will know about the Barnahus pilot project in Galway for child and adolescent victims of sexual violence. It is a very positive development and we plan to expand this service to locations in Dublin and Cork as well.
Last December, I got Cabinet agreement to commence a process to introduce paid domestic violence leave and benefit. Consultations on this proposal are ongoing. I spoke with trade unions and employers' groups about this issue last week and I will bring forward proposals to Cabinet by the end of the year.
Senator Seery Kearney raises a particular report with regard to Garda statistics in the Dublin South Central area. Tusla has advised me that almost €1.5 million of the €4.7 million additional funding is being directed to services in the greater Dublin area - Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare. Tusla has also advised me that additional domestic violence outreach services are being rolled out in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and County Wicklow to enhance supports for both women and children experiencing domestic violence, with additional outreach planned to come on stream in the Dublin South Central area. The number of Safe Home accommodation units with support services in Dublin will reach 20 in 2021, which is an increase of 13 from last year. Tusla has provided additional resources to the national 24-7 domestic violence and sexual violence helplines, which are operated by Women’s Aid and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Senator Pauline O'Reilly referred to COPE Galway. It opened a new and improved domestic violence refuge in the city supported by Tusla. Saoirse Women’s Refuge also opened a new refuge in the south Dublin area in early 2020.
Both Senators will be aware that Tusla is currently undertaking a review of emergency accommodation, which will consider the current level of provision and the configuration of accommodation that may be needed. It is the intention that this review will inform decisions around future investment in refuge accommodation for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.