Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Justice and Equality
Domestic Violence Policy
399. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the progress of the key commitments in the Istanbul Convention ratified in July 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11561/20]
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention, is a significant international legal instrument. In addition to protecting women from all forms of violence, the Convention aims to ensure the design of a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of such violence.
Ireland signed the Convention in November 2015. A number of legislative and administrative actions were identified as necessary to enable Ireland’s ratification of the Convention. These actions were incorporated into the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021, which was launched the following year.
I agree with the Deputy about the importance of this subject and my Department coordinates the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, which is a whole-of-Government approach addressing the many actions necessary to address these matters fully.
The Strategy includes input from relevant community and voluntary groups as well as other stakeholders across the sector. This is achieved through a Monitoring Committee composed of stakeholders from all sectors working together in partnership; as well as ongoing cooperation between the Department and frontline services and industry partners.
Overall, the Strategy aims to considerably strengthen the law and structures in Ireland targeting domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and considerable progress has been made in addressing these issues through the Strategy which facilitated the ratification by Ireland of the Istanbul Convention in 2019.
A central element of the progress to date has been the landmark Domestic Violence Act 2018, which came into force on 1 January 2019. Through creation of the offence of coercive control, the Act recognised in law the devastating impact that emotional abuse can have on those it is inflicted upon. The Act also improves victim’s access to barring orders and provides greater supports for victims in the court process, in areas such as court accompaniment and to be able to give evidence by live television link. Aggravating factors in sentencing are also now provided for.
Other significant legislative developments in this area include the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, which introduced a statutory definition of consent, and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, which provides a wide range of measures and services to protect and inform victims during the progress of their case through the criminal justice system.
A range of other relevant actions and projects are being pursued in this field, for example:
my Department has agreed with the Central Statistics Office that it will conduct a major National Sexual Violence Prevalence Study, which will look in detail at the experience of women and men of sexual violence and abuse in Ireland, with repeat large-scale surveys every decade, to provide a robust evidence-basis for Government policy; an independent study on domestic homicide and familicide is being carried out; a Working Group review, chaired by Tom O'Malley, BL into the adequacy of measures available to protect vulnerable witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences is nearing completion; public awareness campaigns have been organised on domestic abuse ("What would you do?" which ran from 2016-2018) and sexual violence ("No Excuses", which commenced in 2019 and is scheduled to run until 2021); an expanded Victims Charter has been published, providing information on the supports and services available. This is available online at ; An Garda Síochána is also continuously improving its specialist services and Divisional Protective Services Units are now being rolled out with specially trained officers responsible for investigations, including engagement with victims.I understand that 16 DPSUs have now been rolled out in 15 Divisions nationwide.
I would stress that implementation of the Second National Strategy is monitored on an ongoing basis and actions may be added to it by agreement of the Monitoring Committee, which as mentioned is made up of representatives from state agencies and the community and voluntary sector.
The Deputy may also be interested to note that my Department is currently leading efforts to identify lessons which can be learned from the inter-agency plan which we put in place to address domestic abuse, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. This process includes input from the community and voluntary sector working in this area. I hope and expect that this will offer the opportunity to further strengthen our national response to the issues of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
Finally, the Deputy will also be aware that the draft Programme for Government contains a commitment to conduct an audit of statutory responsibilities in this area.