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Dublin: 17 °C Thursday 30 October, 2014

Legislation being updated to help end ‘epidemic levels’ of domestic violence

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that certain laws need to be updated before Ireland can ratify the EU Convention on domestic violence.

THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice is currently reviewing legislation to help victims of domestic abuse.

Certain laws need to be updated before Ireland can ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence – something we signed up to in 2011.

Speaking in the Dáil recently, Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger called on the government to move quickly, noting: “Gender-based violence is at epidemic levels and one in four women in Ireland has experienced domestic violence.”

The newly-elected Dublin-West TD also raised concerns that constitutional property rights can prevent women from getting barring orders against violent partners.

Coppinger said she was worried that “our very old Constitution would prove an impediment to women in terms of their being able to gain access to emergency barring orders”.

It is quite incredible that constitutional change on property rights would take precedence over the rights of women and their lives, health and children. I hope constitutional change will not be required.

She said she was not surprised that there was difficulty in implementing the Convention “given the bedraggled condition of refuge services and services addressing violence against women in this country”.

Refuge demand

Coppinger noted that the Solas Family Resource Centre has said that demand for a refuge place is four times greater than supply.

A one-day census conducted by SAFE Ireland last November found that 467 women and 229 children were receiving accommodation and support from a domestic violence service.

“Many refuges around the country have had to beg for money from their local councils because of government cuts. I would imagine that considerable investment is required if Ireland is to be in a position to sign the convention,” Coppinger stated.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said that she would be meeting with junior ministers Kathleen Lynch and Jan O’Sullivan to discuss issues around housing and refuges.

I accept that women need to use refuges very often. Having more supported services for women in their local areas is very much preferable, as is the effective use of court sanctions against those who perpetrate violence against women.

Fitzgerald noted that her department is working with Cosc - the national office for the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence – and other departments to compile an action plan to enable Ireland to ratify the convention provisions.

She said this was “a matter of priority” for her.

The legislation under development to allow us ratify the convention includes the government commitment to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation, in a way that provides protection to victims.

The minister said that “substantial progress” had been made on the issue to date. The government has until November 2015 to ratify the convention.

Fitzgerald noted there was “some concern that our legislative provisions on barring orders might serve as a constitutional impediment to signing [up to the Convention]“. However, she said that this will most likely require legislative change as opposed to constitutional change.

She added that it was “not unusual for constitutional sensitivities to be raised when bringing forward important legislation like this”.

Societal change

Coppinger said that refuges are a “last resort” for abused women, noting that societal change was needed in Ireland and abroad to help tackle domestic violence.

We need massive structural, cultural and social change in society in order to end violence against women, not only in Ireland but also around the world. This, however, does not absolve the government of its responsibility to provide emergency services for women who need them.

She stated that austerity has “hit women and children in particular, making it more difficult for women to leave violent relationships and gain access to the help they need”.

Fitzgerald said that there was “no room for complacency on the issue of violence against women”.

She noted that drug and alcohol use were two areas that needed to be addressed as they often play a role in abusive relationships.

The minister added that Ireland is “only one of nine member states where the ratio of shelter beds relative to population is higher than 1 per 10,000, that being the recommended rate”.

Ireland has 1.29 shelter beds per 10,000 people.

Read: 467 women and 229 children received domestic abuse support in just one day last year

Read: Why some women have “little option” but to stay in a violent home

Read: Opinion: ‘On one occasion she punched me in the face numerous times’

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