Three pictures

Meg Walsh

Rachel O'Reilly

In February of this year, Sinn Féin introduced the following Private Members motion:

"That the Dáil,
recognising that:
— the grave threat to life and limb and to the mental health and quality of life of women, children and men posed by domestic violence is undermining the fabric of our society and our belief in equality;
— an estimated 1 in 5 Irish women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives;
— of 126 women violently killed since 1996, 81 were killed in their home and just under 50% of victims whose cases have concluded were killed by their partner or ex partner;
— in 2003 on average more than 23 incidents of domestic violence were recorded by Gardaí each day compared with an average of 11 other assaults recorded;— more than a third of all calls to the Women’s Aid national phone help-line went unanswered due to inadequate funding in 2005;
— women are 70% more likely to be raped, severely assaulted or murdered after they access the legal system and attempt to leave their abuser and therefore victim safety and offender accountability must be at the centre of every intervention; and
— there is an unjustifiable shortage of refuges and other front line provisions;
believes that:
— an effective sanctioning system is essential if the incidence of domestic violence is to be reduced and therefore law enforcement bodies and agencies involved in the administration of justice must prioritise the prosecution of domestic violence crimes on indictment where possible rather than simply as breaches of orders;
— the variation in Garda practice across the state and within stations is a serious problem and can impede women from making complaints or even undermine the cases that are brought forward, and therefore the existing Garda policy on domestic violence and practice must become subject to monitoring, support and supervision to ensure it at least achieves the level of response expected and set down by that policy;
— consideration should be given to the appointment of a Commissioner within An Garda Síochána tasked with ensuring domestic violence is treated as a serious criminal matter, and domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse crimes should be named as crime priorities in the Garda Annual Policing Plans;
— greater investment should be made in specialised training and ongoing in service training for Gardaí given the distinct nature of crimes of domestic and sexual violence;
— guidelines should be introduced detailing criteria for the granting of safety, protection and barring orders, as should regular information seminars for the judiciary on the dynamics and impact of domestic violence, the latest international research into effectively stopping domestic violence, and responding to the needs of victims, children and offenders;
— all key agencies, including the HSE, Probation Service, Courts Service and Housing Authorities, should be obliged to develop and implement, in conjunction with the expert agencies, a domestic violence policy and training to govern their work;
calls on the government to:
— make the necessary provisions for the introduction of an effective and consistent sanctioning system;
— publish and schedule time for legislation amending the Domestic Violence Act 1996 as a matter of urgency, including amendments to:
— remove the restrictions caused by residency requirements;
— list the name of the agency/practitioner responsible for taking sworn information, for serving orders and/or summons and providing evidence to the court regarding the response of the respondent;
— provide for the immediate communication to the local Garda station of the granting/extension of an order for priority entry onto the Pulse system;
— provide for applicants for orders to automatically be given a copy of their sworn information;
— provide for the immediate seizure of any firearm legally held by a person against whom an order has been granted; and
— clearly specify the data protection provisions governing the sharing of information by agencies;
— re introduce and resource a role for the Probation Service in family courts producing safety reports and risk assessments to inform judges’ decisions;
— ensure the supervision of child access where necessary to protect against further abuse;
— make provisions for the extension across the state of the inter agency work model developed by the NDVIA and the systemic changes achieved by them in the pilot areas of Dun Laoghaire and Bray District Courts;— prioritise and guarantee core funding to frontline services including refuges, outreach, counselling, court accompaniment and transitional housing on a multi annual basis to allow for the strategic development and delivery of services; and
— introduce measures to overcome language difficulties and other barriers, including the prospect of deportation, experienced by immigrants, ethnic minorities and others attempting to access services and protections."

Believe it or not, this was the only debate on domestic violence in the life of the 29th Dáil, despite our justice and equality spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh regularly calling for one.

The Government, unsurprisingly, defeated our motion, replacing it with their usual self-congratulatory muck about how much they had already done and promising to do more - just not as much more as we were calling for.

One wonders whether those promises would have been made at all if not for our motion. With SF effectively gagged in the 30th Dáil, we won't have the opportunity to initiate another such debate, and little opportunity to "remind" them to stick to their promises.

In the meantime, we can only hope that justice will be done for Rachel, Meg, Siobhán, and all the other women killed or maimed while the Government is busy patting itself on the back for its meager achievements.

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