CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY

 

Speech by Minister of State David Stanton, T.D.,

at Launch of Women’s Aid Impact Report 2017

Wood Quay Venue, Dublin City Council Offices

 

17 April 2018

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to thank Margaret Martin and her staff for inviting me to launch the Women’s Aid Impact Report 2017.  Being here gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable work this organisation does, to outline some of the initiatives the Government is progressing in the area of Domestic Violence, to hear first-hand the issues from both Margaret and Ursula, and most importantly to listen to the testimonies of some very courageous women.

 

Since 1974, Women’s Aid has been working to achieve a very important objective – an objective everyone in this room shares – to stop Domestic Violence against women and children.  For over forty years, the organisation has been working tirelessly on the frontline to support women and children affected by this appalling violence.

 

In that time, Women’s Aid have been doing what the whole of Irish society needs to be doing - listening, believing and supporting women and children who are experiencing Domestic Violence.

 

I think we can all agree that the Ireland of 2018 is very different to the Ireland of 1974.  We are more open, more willing to listen to uncomfortable truths, and more willing to confront issues such as Domestic Violence.  Much has been achieved, in no small part thanks to the work of organisations such as Women’s Aid.  We should acknowledge that, but as evidenced in the Impact Report, there is much work to be done if we are to achieve our shared goal.

 

The figures in the Impact Report for 2017 are concerning – 15,833 disclosures to Women’s Aid of Domestic Violence against women in 2017 and 3,552 disclosures of child abuse.

 

The title of the Impact Report is ‘Against the Odds’.  This Government is committed to ensuring that the odds are turned in favour of victims of Domestic Violence.  We want to end the menace of Domestic Violence and make Ireland a safe place for all.  In this regard, the Programme for Partnership Government commits to the full implementation of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence and the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.

 

Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence and Domestic Violence Bill 2017

 

I would like to acknowledge the role of NGOs, including Women’s Aid, in the monitoring and implementation of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016 - 2021.  The strategy is a whole of Government response to Domestic and Sexual Violence and contains a range of actions to be implemented by Government Departments and agencies.  The bulk of the Strategy’s actions are rightly concerned with holding perpetrators to account and improving services to victims.  In relation to the national strategy, I would like to thank Women’s Aid for their ongoing input and say thank you to Margaret Martin for her expert contributions as a member of the strategy’s monitoring committee.  It is my view that the community and voluntary sector, in collaboration with the State agencies, has a crucial role in helping deliver a successful strategy.

 

A key action in the Second National Strategy is the Domestic Violence Bill which will represent a significant improvement in legal protections available to victims of Domestic Violence.  The voluntary sector has been important in the development of the Bill and I would like to acknowledge their contributions in strengthening its provisions.  It is heartening to see the endorsement of the Bill in the Impact Report and I want to thank Women’s Aid in particular for their input.  The Bill enhances the legislative measures available within the civil law system to support and protect victims including measures required to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

 

The Bill improves access to barring orders.  Access to an interim barring order for 8 working days in an emergency or crisis situation will be extended while the person will also no longer be required to have a greater or equal interest in the property from which the perpetrator is being barred with the possibility of renewal upon application to the court.

 

The Bill will also recognise the serious impact of Domestic Violence upon children and the Bill contains new provisions pertinent to children when deciding a Domestic Violence barring order.  When considering such applications the court will now be obliged to consider factors such as whether the child is in danger of being exposed to violence, whether there is a history of violence in the home and the severity, frequency and escalating nature of such violent behaviour.  Children will have the opportunity to make their views known to the court where an order is sought on behalf of a child or relates in part to a child.  The courts will have the option of appointing an expert to assist the court in ascertaining the views of the child.

 

Further, the Bill provides greater supports for victims in the court process in areas such as court accompaniment.  Support in court by a Domestic Violence service worker or other person of an applicant’s choice does much to make the Judicial process less daunting and intimidating.  Women’s Aid provide this immensely important service, having attended court sessions on over 250 occasions in 2017 offering support to victims.  The Department of Justice and Equality are supporters in this endeavour having provided funding of  €100,000 for court accompaniment for victims of Domestic Violence through our Victims of Crime Office in 2017, an increase of nearly 10% on the previous year.  Under the new Domestic Violence Bill the victim will be able to give evidence by live television link and there will also be new restrictions on attendance at criminal court proceedings, and protections for the victim’s anonymity.

 

From the 1st of January 2018, the financial contribution required from applicants for civil legal aid in Domestic Violence cases in the District Court has been removed.  This practical change will help ensure that victims of Domestic Violence feel confident about turning to the courts.  The decision to approve this change also acknowledges the representations made by interested NGOs in this regard and the fact that the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women has recommended the abolition of the legal aid contribution in such cases.  This change removes a barrier to access to justice.

 

The Domestic Violence Bill includes for the first time the recognition of Coercive Control.  Too long Domestic Violence has been seen primarily as a physical abuse.  Coercive control can involve emotional abuse, humiliation or intimidation . Such behaviours may not be physical in nature but their effects may be as harmful to victims as physical abuse because they are an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship.  Creating a specific offence of coercive control sends a clear, consistent message that non-violent control in an intimate relationship is criminal.  Explicitly capturing this in legislation will also help victims identify the behaviour they are suffering as wrong and encourage them to report it, and cause perpetrators to rethink their controlling behaviour.

 

Aggravating factors in sentencing are also to be provided under the Bill.  An intimate relationship between victim and perpetrator will now be regarded as an aggravating factor on sentencing for a wide range of offences.  Offences committed by one intimate partner against another are especially grave in nature.  The new provision sends a message beyond the courtroom that society will no longer tolerate the appalling breach of trust committed by one partner against the other in an intimate context.

 

Istanbul Convention

 

The Istanbul Convention is a significant legal instrument in the fight against Domestic and Sexual Violence.  Ratifying the Istanbul Convention remains a Government priority.  The remaining actions necessary to enable the ratification of the Istanbul Convention are the Domestic Violence Bill which is currently awaiting Report stage and the provision of legislation for extraterritorial jurisdiction.  My colleague, Minister Flanagan, recently made a commitment that the legislation on extraterritorial jurisdiction will be published in the coming months.

 

Awareness Raising

 

The National Awareness Raising Campaign “What would you do?” commenced in November 2016.  It is a multi-annual campaign initially focusing on Domestic Violence, to change societal behaviours and activate bystanders, to prevent Domestic Violence.  A social media initiative #MyDoorsOpen also went live on the 15th September of last year, reaching out to 1.9 million people and viewed just under 900,000 times.  We have entered a partnership with the Irish Times to promote articles through print and digital channels.  We are developing localised campaign messages which carry specific Domestic Violence statistics for each individual county to paint a more intimate picture of Domestic Violence in every county around the country.  These statistics are in cinema now and will shortly be appearing in credit unions.

 

Every person has a role in overcoming Domestic abuse and at this stage of our campaign we are expanding from a solely awareness raising objective to also including an educational aspect.  There is an increasing focus in letting the public know the ways of helping people experiencing Domestic Violence from a bystanders perspective.

 

An Garda Síochána – Divisional Protective Service Units  

                   

Further initiatives have been taken within An Garda Síochána with the creation of a Garda National Protected Services Bureau and countrywide Divisional Protective Service Units currently operating in Louth, Dublin and Cork city.  A major commitment established in An Garda Síochána’s Modernisation and Renewal Programme, these units seek to deliver a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of specialised crime types, including Sexual crime, human trafficking, child abuse and Domestic abuse.

 

Divisional Protective Service Units will also focus on the provision of support for vulnerable victims of crime, including enhanced collaboration with the Child and Family Agency to safeguard children.  In May 2017, An Garda Síochána launched 4 Divisional Protective Services Units in 3 divisions of the 28 divisions nationwide.  The plan was for another 4 divisions to have Divisional Protective Services Units introduced in 2018 but I am informed that An Garda Síochána hope to roll out 6 later this year with a complete rollout to all 28 divisions in 2019.

 

Conclusion

 

Domestic Violence occurs in all social classes, all ethnic groups and cultures and among people of every educational background.  We all know that it can have devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims as well as society as a whole.

 

The way forward is for State, community and voluntary services to work together to reduce its prevalence and effects, by educating the public, supporting the victims and dealing appropriately with the perpetrators.  There will be challenges but I’m confident that those challenges can be overcome by all actors fully engaging.  I think the Second National Strategy and the Domestic Violence Bill give us a roadmap to make Ireland the safest place and that this is an opportunity that is too important for us not to grasp.

 

Women’s Aid is an important organisation.  This organisation’s experience and expertise can help victims of Domestic Violence take those first crucial steps to healing and recovery.  Acknowledging that a partner’s behaviour is not OK can be very powerful.  Listening without judgement, assuring someone you believe them and supporting them makes a huge difference.

 

Primarily you support thousands of women and children.  I have no doubt that this organisation has helped save lives.  You also serve to remind us all that despite improvements there remains much work to be done.  You play a vital role in keeping this critical issue firmly at the forefront and I thank you for that.

 

ENDS.