8th May 2013
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also give my full support to this motion and thank the Labour Party group and Senators Maloney and O’Keeffe in particular, who have proposed and seconded it. I can wholeheartedly endorse everything they have said. The first point I wish to raise pertains to the Istanbul convention, that is, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. It has been open for signature since May 2011 and as Senator Moloney has stated, 29 Council of Europe member states have signed the convention but only four have ratified it to date and it requires ten ratifications to come into force. The convention is the first legally-binding instrument providing a legal framework to protect women against all forms of violence and includes obligations on the State with regard to prevention, protection and provisions of supports and assistance. It recognises violence against women as being gender-based violence and discrimination. It also recognises that equality between women and men is a prerequisite for prevention. Moreover, the convention obliges the State to address fully all forms of violence and to take adequate measures for prevention, protection and prosecution.
In preparing for today’s debate, I tried to work out the reason Ireland will not ratify this convention because these are all laudable and worthy aims, which everyone in this House has echoed thus far and which also are echoed within the counter-motion. My understanding is that Article 52 of the Istanbul convention, which is relevant to emergency barring orders, has some conflict with property rights under the Irish Constitution. I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on what precisely are the problems. As Ireland is part of the Council of Europe, why was this issue not raised when the convention was being drawn up? Can our laws be clarified to ensure its ratification because it is unacceptable to me that Ireland is not in a position either to sign or to ratify this convention? Consequently, I seek clarity and am all too tired of hearing that the Irish Constitution is a block to doing good things and to doing the right thing, as this is the right thing to do.
Previous speakers have mentioned the situation for women and for men. Given my background in children’s rights, I have all too often seen the direct effect of domestic violence on children, either directly or as witnesses to direct domestic violence. The Safe Ireland figures from last year showed that nearly 8,000 women and more than 3,000 children sought safety from domestic violence in Ireland. I will focus on that word, “safety”. I tried to put myself into that position in the context of looking the resources available and the laws in place in Ireland. Were one to be in a situation of domestic violence, the likelihood is it could be at a weekend. Addiction issues often are an intertwined problem, whether it be gambling, alcohol or drugs, and consequently they also can play a part. Where are the services and supports in respect of such issues? When one calls for the Garda to help, what can gardaí do? Members are aware of the pressures on Garda resources. Where are the refuges? Several previous speakers have mentioned the issue of refuges. There are none in many rural areas or where they do exist, they are being run by volunteers, that is, by dedicated women who have come together to provide a local support but who are receiving no support from the State. Moreover, the person concerned, who in the most usual case is a woman, must give a statement either there or within 24 hours. I refer to the facilities for so doing in an appropriate place where the children will not be a witness to that statement. What of all these intertwining issues, including psychological and counselling services or safe refuge? Moreover, this should not be limited to the city of Dublin, as such safety and places should be available nationwide for those in an abusive situation who pick up the telephone. Such situations are not planned and while people might say those involved have their wallets or could check in here or could do this or that, such situations can arise.
I will counter by noting that in 2007, the then Office of the Minister for Children, which has been incorporated into the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, produced an excellent report entitled, Listening to Children: Children’s Stories of Domestic Violence. What alarmed me in that report was that several mothers reported violent episodes while they were holding young children. This raises obvious concerns for their physical safety and child protection concerns. One mother of two children, who were aged four and six, outlined an incident in which she returned home from hospital with her newborn baby. As this State report notes, she stated:
He took to ranting and raving and screaming and shouting around the bed … I was holding [the baby] in my arms and I was feeding him … [The father] jumped out of the bed and he came over and he grabbed [the baby] and he had him out, like this, so that his little head was hanging down and his little legs were … [it] was very traumatic for me because I sort of felt that I am a mother now and I couldn’t protect my own child.
When such a woman seeks help, what are the resources the State has in place? How can such resources be ensured because it is known that domestic violence involves repeated victimisation? The woman does not necessarily pick up the telephone and get everything sorted out on the first call. Members are familiar with all the reports and the figures and it is a question of where will one will get help.
It also is a question of where should attitudes be changed. On that issue, I recently related a story on domestic violence to a colleague and am still stunned by the response. The colleague asked me whether they would not give the relationship a second go. This attitude must be challenged in society. I refer to suggestions that the woman should give the relationship a second go or perhaps was a little more complicit or perhaps had she the dinner on the table, it would not happen. As I stated, there are many countering factors and one must ensure the provision of adequate responses with both refuges and the wrap-around supports and services for the women and for the children. They also should be in place for the men whether they are victims or equally, are abusers. It is known that young children in particular have conflicting emotions. They love their dad and still want to be part of it. Is it safe that they are still there and will the dads be supported? This must be considered as a family issue and not simply in isolation. Consequently, I wholeheartedly endorse this motion.