Statements on Combatting Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence
Dáil Éireann - Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee; TD
Check against Delivery
19 November 2020
I very much welcome the opportunity to make a statement here today on combatting domestic, sexual and Gender Based Violence, which is an area of work I have prioritised since my appointment as Minister for Justice. This Government is fully committed to combatting Domestic Violence in all its forms and to ensuring that anyone who is a victim of this most heinous type of abuse is empowered and supported to come forward to seek help.
This is evident in our Programme for Government commitments, it is evident in the considerations taken into account as priorities in the context of managing the pandemic and it is evident in the work being undertaken as a priority within my Department and in conjunction with other Departments, agencies and stakeholders. Since I became Minister for Justice, I have sought to engage as much as possible with those working across the sector and with victims. Unfortunately, due to the Covid restrictions, that has not been as easy as I would have liked.
I would like to assure those who do fantastic work with victims and those who have advocated for change and reform in this area that, as restrictions are lifted, I am determined to meet you in person and in your workplaces, where you do so much good. However, a number of things have become clear in the engagements I have had so far, such as when I met with Victim’s Helpline this month. One of those is that public information campaigns do make a difference.
Requests for help from victims and those in vulnerable situations increase when information campaigns are underway: when there are advertisements in television, radio, social media and elsewhere. We have said on a number of occasions throughout the pandemic that even as we asked people to stay at home because of the restrictions, we know that home is not necessarily a safe place for all of us.
The ‘Still Here’ campaign is about getting the message out that services continue to be available to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and that Covid travel restrictions not apply to persons who are in a domestic abuse situation and are seeking help. Further information on the organisations involved is on the website www.stillhere.ie. We are also midway through the ‘No Excuses’ campaign, the Department of Justice’s national awareness campaign to tackle domestic and sexual violence.
The campaign is a key action of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021 and its aims are:
to increase the awareness of domestic and sexual violence,
to bring about a change in long established societal behaviours and attitudes and
to activate bystanders with the aim of decreasing and preventing this violence.
Domestic violence has sadly increased during the pandemic. In 2020, in response to the impact of the pandemic on frontline services funded by my Department, an additional €327,590 in covid specific funding has been made available.
This funding has been used to help organisations adapt and continue their services during this period. Under budget 2021 I have secured an additional €400,000 to continue this Covid specific funding which will help organisations working to support victims of crime, including victims of domestic abuse. While this has undoubtedly been an awful time for so many, it has brought about permanent changes in how the State can help those who need it. One of the first pieces of legislation I brought to this House as Minister for Justice enabled the courts to make greater use of live video links and remote hearings.
We had a welcome development last month when, for the first time, a domestic violence protection order was secured in the district court by a woman via video link from her own kitchen. I know too that that tackling domestic, sexual and gender based violence is also a priority for the Garda Commissioner. An Garda Síochána have shown this commitment by completing the national rollout of the Divisional Protective Services Units in September. The Divisional Protective Services Units will support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual and domestic crime. In addition, all serving members of An Garda Síochána engaged in front line policing will receive specialist training for engaging with victims of sexual crime and vulnerable witnesses
Both of these are recommendations made in Supporting a Victim’s Journey Supporting A Victims Journey - A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases, which I launched recently. It is a comprehensive roadmap for implementing the O’Malley recommendations. It outlines a range of measures and supports to protect and help vulnerable witnesses, during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. Giving full effect to the actions contained in Supporting a Victims Journey is a priority for me.
I am committed to ensuring that victims are supported, informed, respected and treated with the utmost compassion and professionalism by trained personnel at every step of the criminal justice process. Combatting Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based violence requires a variety of supports and services being available. It requires a proactive and appropriate approach by our agencies, such as the Gardaí, the Courts, and the Legal Aid Board, it requires appropriately funded community services and of course it requires robust underpinning legislation to ensure that perpetrators are held to account for their actions.
It is because of the need for a truly joined-up approach, this Government committed to conducting an audit of how the services for victims of domestic, sexual gender based violence are segmented across different government agencies. I have just published a request for tender for a suitably qualified independent expert to undertake this audit who will, as part of their work, be required to take account of the views of those working at the frontline. The results of this independent audit will provide us with comprehensive analysis to inform how we develop proposals for the most effective future infrastructure. In line with our Programme for Government Commitment it will be completed by the end of March 2021.
Domestic abuse is not just about violence. Coercive and controlling behaviour, whilst more difficult to identify, can have similarly devastating effects on victims. The landmark Domestic Violence Act 2018, which came into force on 1 January 2019 created the offence of coercive control to recognise in law the devastating impact that emotional abuse can have on those upon whom it is inflicted. Last week we saw the first conviction before a jury in the State for the offence of coercive control. It takes immense courage to come forward and follow through on such a prosecution and the bravery of the victim in this case is to be commended. I hope that as more convictions follow, others victims of coercive control will feel confident to come forward.
I know we all share a deep concern for victims of domestic, sexual and gender based violence and a desire to provide the most effective system to support them. I thanks the Deputies are here today to discuss the range of actions taken across the Justice sector and I welcome the opportunity to listen to the views expressed because I know we have a shared objective.
Ceann Comhairle, if I may, just before I pass the floor to my colleague Minister Browne, I wish to address all victims of domestic, sexual or gender based violence and emphasise that there is help and support available. I urge them to reach out when it is safe for them to do so. I also urge anyone who is concerned that these offences are being committed to please report this to the authorities. To conclude my opening remarks, I can tell assure you that I am fully committed to combatting all forms of Domestic, Sexual and Gender based Violence. I will work with all colleagues and with our dedicated community and voluntary organisations to do this in the way that serves the needs of the victims of these crimes best.