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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Women's Rights

Taoiseach says there is an 'epidemic' of violence against women

The government today ratified the Istanbul Convention which obliges it to protect women from all forms of violence.

LAST UPDATE | Mar 8th 2019, 1:00 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS said there is an “epidemic of violence against women” and the government is working to put measures in place to stop it.

Leo Varadkar was speaking after a special Cabinet meeting for International Women’s Day and the ratification by Ireland of the Instanbul Convention, which was confirmed this morning.

The convention is a significant international legal instrument which requires criminalising or legally sanctioning different forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment and psychological violence.

Ireland, which signed the convention three years ago, has now become the 34th Council of Europe Member State out of 47 to ratify the Convention.

Varadkar said Cabinet had this morning agreed a number of measures to promote greater gender equality and one of the most significant memos related to gender-based violence. 

I think a lot of people will realise that there is an epidemic of violence against women and that needs to stop. Today as part of that we ratified the international convention on violence against women, which is the Istanbul Convention.

He pointed to changes in law that have already been made like the inclusion of a definition of consent and the recogition of coercive control as a form of domestic abuse. 


Formal ratification of the Istanbul Convention by Ireland took place at a ceremony at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg this morning. 

Council of Europe Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland, welcomed the ratification, saying: “We welcome Ireland’s ratification as yet more proof of the success of our convention, which helps to prevent violence, helps victims, and ensures that perpetrators are brought to justice.

“All our member states need the Istanbul Convention to more effectively prosecute perpetrators and to provide support and protection to their victims and to implement measures that will help prevent the violence from occurring in the first place.”

Domestic violence

Commenting on the ratification, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said that protecting and supporting victims has been a key priority for this government.

“Domestic and sexual violence can have devastating consequences for victims as well as society as a whole. Ratifying the Convention delivers on a Government commitment and sends an important message that Ireland does not tolerate such violence. That message is all the more appropriate given that today is International Women’s Day,” he said. 

The Istanbul Convention is a broad-based document which covers a number of Departments’ policy areas. 

In October 2015, the government approved an action plan to deal with outstanding actions that were identified as being necessary to enable Ireland’s rectification of the Convention. A month later, Ireland signed the Convention, however, campaigners have criticised the government for slow progress.

The minister said the National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, which was published in January 2016, adopts a whole of government strategy to the outstanding issues that needed to be addressed. 

Women’s Aid, the national organisation providing frontline support to women experiencing domestic and dating abuse, has welcomed today’s progress. 

“The ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a major milestone in tackling domestic, sexual and gender based violence.  At the heart of any progress there must be the increased safety and protection for women and children affected by domestic violence,” Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin said.

However, Martin said that urgent movement is needed in State prosecution of crimes against women. 

“Now that we have comprehensive and binding legal framework, there is no reason not to prosecute and properly sanction offenders,” Martin said. 

Making the change real for women and children and increasing their safety should be the most important priority. 

Similarly, Safe Ireland, the agency representing 37 domestic violence services also said that the ambition of the Istanbul Convention would only be realised if the Government also committed to putting in place the specialised supports and services that women and children need to be safe from abuse and control.

“Ultimately, we have a choice. We can ratify the Convention and then revert to piecemeal business as usual, or we can ratify it and say, now let’s put in place the wrap-around resources, training, policies, support infrastructure, awareness programmes and whole of society response that will make Ireland the safest country in the world for women and children,” Safe Ireland programme and communications manager Caitriona Gleeson said.

Key actions

Key actions contained in the plan include the training of public sector officials, the implementation of the Victims Directive and the enactment of key legislation such as the Victims of Crime Act 2017 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018. The recent enactment of the Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Act 2019 was the final legislative action required to enable today’s ratification to proceed.

Flanagan said today’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a significant step in tackling these issues, and is the result of much work from many people over a number of years.

“Ratification does not mean the end of our efforts. The implementation of the actions of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and gender-based Violence is ongoing. The government will continue to work in providing protections to victims of domestic and sexual violence and holding perpetrators to account. The prevalence of this violence means we cannot lessen our efforts in this regard. Rather ratification signals a renewal of our commitments,” he said. 

Some of the key elements of the Convention include running regular awareness-raising campaigns, setting up treatment programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for sex offenders, ensuring adequate police intervention and protection is in place, as well as specialised support services, in addition to making 24/7 telephone helplines free of charge.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) has also welcomed Flanagan’s announcement today. 

“Today’s ratification will be the end of the journey of preparation and the beginning of a journey of implementation of the steps required by the Convention, which is the first legally binding treaty identifying violence against women as both a human rights violation and as downright discrimination,” DRCC CEO Noeline Blackwell said.

“It is particularly significant that the ratification will happen on International Women’s Day which this year focuses on better balance. This convention can be an important way of achieving that balance.”

With reporting by Hayley Halpin and Michelle Hennessy

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