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Question

155. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Justice her views on the introduction of new criminal legislation to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. [57738/21]

164. Deputy John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Justice her views on the introduction of new criminal legislation to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. [57821/21]

171. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Justice her views on the introduction of new criminal legislation to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57790/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I propose to take Questions Nos. 155, 164 and 171 together.
As the Deputies will be aware, the Government has considerably strengthened the law and structures which target domestic violence, as part of the second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021.
Central to this is the landmark Domestic Violence Act 2018 which came into force on 1 January 2019 and which, among other things, introduced the offence of coercive control. Putting the offence of coercive control on a statutory footing was an important step in recognising the effect of non-violent control in an intimate relationship.
The introduction of these measures also supported Ireland’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe Convention on the prevention and combating of violence against women and domestic violence.
As the Deputies will be aware, domestic violence covers a broad spectrum of behaviours ranging from non-physical behaviour such as harassment, to physical behaviour such as assault and sexual violence such as rape. Violence in a domestic setting is a criminal offence and such behaviour is provided for in the Non-Fatal Offences against the Persons Act 1997. Sexual violence is also a criminal offence, as is intimidating behaviour such as threats to kill or cause serious harm.
Another important provision contained in the Domestic Violence Act 2018 allows an intimate relationship between a victim and perpetrator to be regarded as an aggravating factor in sentencing for a wide range of offences, including those under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act.
Our laws in supporting victims of domestic and sexual crimes have also been significantly strengthened by the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 which introduced a statutory definition of consent. In addition, The Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017, provides for a wide range of measures and services to protect and inform victims during the progress of their case through the criminal justice system.
In February of this year, the Oireachtas enacted Coco’s Law, or the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act. This legislation creates two new offences which criminalise the sharing or threat to share intimate images without consent. Threatening to share intimate images is often employed as a form of coercive control in relationships and this legislation ensures we now have appropriate punitive measures in place to challenge such behaviour.
I can also inform the Deputies that a scoping exercise for a new Sexual Offences Bill has been completed and work has started on drafting the Heads of a General Scheme of a Sexual Offences Bill. This is on foot of recommendations contained in the O'Malley Review to examine what reforms might be introduced to protect victims of sexual violence during the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.
Earlier this month I announced planned new legislation to strengthen the management and monitoring of sex offenders in the community. The Sex Offenders (Amendment) Bill 2021 includes a number of amendments to the sex offenders register notification requirements, including a prohibition on convicted sex offenders engaging in certain forms of employment.
I can assure the Deputies that my Department keeps all legislation under review on an ongoing basis.
Lastly, An Garda Síochána is continuously improving its specialist services in this area, to respond effectively to the needs of victims. Divisional Protective Services Units with specifically and specially trained officers responsible for investigations, including engagement with victims, have been rolled out nationwide. They support the delivery of a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual and domestic crime.