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Domestic Violence Incidence (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 2

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  4 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter] I believe it is crucial in the context of the family courts that there are adequate consultation and in-house mediation facilities such as those operating on a pilot basis in Dolphin House. It is important that when there are issues between estranged parents they are encouraged to deal with matters relating to the welfare of their children and resolve these issues through mediation without the necessity for court proceedings. We must put in place a careful and sensitive approach, one that is already reflected in the family courts system in Australia. The House may be interested to know that we have arranged for the president of the Australian family court to speak at the seminar taking place in early July.

Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor: Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor I was delighted to hear the Minister’s plans for this area and that he agrees the family court system needs a radical overhaul. Behind each of the figures released today by Women's Aid is a woman or a child living in fear of being beaten, ridiculed, abused and emotionally battered. While the Government has plans to hold a referendum to provide a unified system of family courts, there is no doubt that the family court structure is falling apart and many women involved are in great need of help. I know the Minister is holding a consultation forum in the next few months, on which I commend him.

The Women's Aid report has given us an idea of the scale of the abuse being suffered in this country. It is up to the Minister and to us in government to offer these women the protection they deserve and to facilitate them in rebuilding their shattered lives. I do not want to attend the Women's Aid annual report event again next year to hear the same or worse statistics. Let us make a real difference.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The Minister claims I am consistently disappointed. I will remain disappointed so long as Women's Aid produces reports that reflect such statistics. Not only I but many women and citizens will remain disappointed if the Minister continues to delay the introduction of consolidated domestic violence legislation. Will the Minister take the opportunity today to give a date for the introduction of this legislation? Will he also respond to the call from Women's Aid for an on-call system for accessing emergency barring orders that would afford women and children 24-7 security? Will he elaborate on his reluctance to sign the European Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence? I cited the Minister’s reply to a parliamentary question that I tabled in which he referred to concerns about emergency barring orders and property rights as his rationale for not ratifying the convention.

I do not want to be disappointed on this issue. Instead, I want to be encouraged and optimistic that the Government will take the right actions and not drag its feet on these matters. Will the Minister set out his concrete plans for introducing the consolidated legislation and on-call emergency barring orders and signing the European convention? Offering concrete dates for these three items will give some sense not just to Women's Aid but to the women who rely on its services that they are being heard and, when their experiences are recounted in this Chamber and elsewhere, that their stories are not falling on deaf ears.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Again, I thank the Deputies for their contributions. There is no one in this House who does not share the concern to ensure we have the best possible legal architecture to deal with domestic violence issues, as well as the necessary social and other supports for victims of such violence. As in other areas, however, we are constrained by the State’s financial difficulties. We do not have an open pot of money so we must make judgments as to what is necessary and what can be done in the context of our limited financial capacity.

In other countries there are not, as far as I know, 24-hour court services for accessing emergency barring orders. Here, if someone is forced to leave his or her home because of domestic violence, it is possible in emergency circumstances to seek a protection order in the courts within 24 hours.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald There is no capacity. The current services cannot cope.

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter A protection order can be sought, whether or not Deputy McDonald is aware of it, at District Court level by way of an ex parte application by a wife who is a victim of domestic violence. By simply attending the District Court, a wife in such circumstances is afforded every assistance by the District Court clerks and these applications are dealt with in camera before District Court judges. As a family lawyer, on many an occasion I have made that type of application on behalf of a victim of domestic violence. In that context, a protection order is helpful.

  I am an enthusiast for the European Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and would very much like Ireland to be a party to it. There is an issue, however, surrounding it. Where an individual is the sole and only owner of a home, an issue arises of whether that individual can be barred from the home under our Constitution. Successive Attorneys General have advised the Government that this is the only barrier to our signing the convention. I am not happy about this. Instead, I would very much like to be in a position to enact legislation that prescribes that where someone is the victim of domestic violence and resides with the perpetrator, then the perpetrator, even if he or she is the sole owner of the home, can at least be temporarily barred from it. There are difficulties, however, arising under Article 43 of the Constitution in this regard and I cannot ignore the advices on this.

  I do not want to make any promises that I cannot deliver upon, but these are issues that we will explore further when consolidating legislation in this area as best we can. I cannot give the Deputy a definitive date for the publication of the Bill, but it is my aspiration that we publish it in 2014. Behind the scenes, a substantial amount of work has been done on a whole rake of reforms in family law which I hope will see the light of day in the coming months. I earlier referred to the proposal to provide for a separate and unified system of family courts that will inevitably result in our having to hold a constitutional referendum. Substantial work has been undertaken in my Department on a family, relationship and children Bill. There will be engagement with other colleagues in government on this. This Bill will bring about substantial reforms in family law and will be of great benefit to children and couples in a variety of different circumstances.

  It is my aspiration that we will make substantial progress in these areas as we go through 2014. I look forward to the constructive contribution to the development of this legislation from Members. Indeed, I look forward to their constructive engagement in what I anticipate to be discussions and debate on the final structure of a new family court system and the constitutional provisions that should apply to it, as well as the manner in which we should deal with a whole range of family law issues, from child abuse to marriage breakdown to gay partnerships breaking up to custody and access disputes that occur between both marital and non-marital parents. There is an agenda of work on which I look forward to engaging with colleagues.

  I thank the Deputies for raising this important and appropriate issue on the day Women's Aid has published its annual report.


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