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Political will required to address domestic violence – Ó Snodaigh

27 February, 2007


Sinn Féin Justice and Equality Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has formely moved a Sinn Féin Dáil motion aimed at ending the domestic violence nightmare in Ireland. Speaking in the Dáil this evening Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "This government and successive governments have failed to treat crimes of domestic violence with the priority they require." Deputy Ó Snodaigh went on to say that all that is needed is the political will to greatly reduce domestic violence in Ireland and to provide victims with the support and protection they need.

He said, "I am commending this Sinn Féin motion to the House and I am confident that everyone here who is genuinely determined to address domestic violence will support it.

"This Government, and the Minister for Justice in particular, pose as though they are tough on crime. But they are nothing but posers. Because men, women and children are being beaten in their homes tonight and very little is being done about it. This government and successive governments have failed to treat crimes of domestic violence with the priority they require.

"The following statistics, both national and international, gathered by Women's Aid along with those detailed in the motion give an indication of the scale and extent of crimes of domestic violence. Almost one-quarter of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are intimate partners or ex-partners. One in eight pregnant women experience abuse while pregnant. On average a woman will be assaulted 35 times by her partner or ex-partner before reporting it to the police. Of 1,203 people charged in relation to domestic abuse in 2003 just over 50% were convicted. And domestic violence has the highest rate of repeat offending.

"The motion we have tabled today calls for the introduction of an effective and consistent sanctioning system and this is essential if offenders are to be held accountable for their crimes and if the incidence of such crimes is to be reduced. A clear message must be sent to domestic violence offenders that there will be serious consequences for their actions. Therefore the Gardaí and DPP should treat domestic violence as they would other violent crimes. Wherever possible they should build cases to try crimes of domestic violence on indictment. Indictable offences have much weightier penalties attached than is the case where offenders are merely pursued for breaching a civil protection/safety order. Or where in the first instance an application for an order is the sole justice response to crimes of violence which have already been committed.

"The positive news, I believe, is that in today's Ireland the incidence of domestic violence can be greatly reduced and victims can be afforded the support and protection they need. All that is required is political will - the political will to lead, to legislate and to resource. And that is what the Sinn Féin motion is all about. I urge all in this house to stand united against domestic violence and in support of victim safety and offender accountability. I call on all to take united action and vote in support of the Sinn Féin motion." ENDS

Full text of speech follows:

PMB - SF motion on Domestic Violence

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

27th February 2007

I am commending this Sinn Féin motion to the House and I am confident that everyone here who is genuinely determined to address domestic violence will support it.

This Government, and the Minister for Justice in particular, pose as though they are tough on crime. But they are nothing but posers. Because women and children and men are being beaten in their homes tonight and very little is being done about it. This government and successive governments have failed to treat crimes of domestic violence with the priority they require, if they had there would be no need for this motion today. Victims would have faith that the judicial system from the Gardaí to the courts, would protect them, defend them and ensure that they as victims are paramount. That is not the case and that is why many victims continue in abusive situations, that is why many women and men put up with the daily hidings, the physical and psychological abuse, why they lie to family and friends about their injuries. They are afraid, afraid for themselves, their kids and feel all alone. If this motion is taken seriously they should no longer feel that society doesn't care.

Issues of gangland crime and non-criminal anti-social behaviour which are popular topics for media coverage have prompted no end of government speeches, press statements and legislative proposals, most of which it should be advised are both ineffective and unnecessary. Yet this most prevalent of serious crimes - Domestic Violence - rarely features at all on their agenda. Where is the government's plan to secure convictions against these most violent of offenders? Where is the Minister's 50 point proposal? Is it any wonder the justice system fails to treat domestic violence as the serious crime that it is when this government fails to do so itself.

The following statistics, both national and international, gathered by Women's Aid along with those detailed in the motion give an indication of the scale and extent of crimes of domestic violence. Almost one-quarter of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are intimate partners or ex-partners. One in eight pregnant women experience abuse while pregnant. On average a woman will be assaulted 35 times by her partner or ex-partner before reporting it to the police. Of 1,203 people charged in relation to domestic abuse in 2003 (the most recent year for which Garda figures are available) just over 50% were convicted. And domestic violence has the highest rate of repeat offending.

The motion we have tabled today calls for the introduction of an effective and consistent sanctioning system and this is essential if offenders are to be held accountable for their crimes and if the incidence of such crimes is to be reduced. A clear message must be sent to domestic violence offenders that there will be serious consequences for their actions. Therefore the Gardaí and DPP should treat domestic violence as they would other violent crimes. Wherever possible they should build cases to try crimes of domestic violence on indictment (e.g. assault, assault causing harm, threats to kill or cause serious harm). Indictable offences have much weightier penalties (including custodial sentences) attached than is the case where offenders are merely pursued for breaching a civil protection/safety order. Or where in the first instance an application for an order is the sole justice response to crimes of violence which have already been committed.

Variation in Garda practice must also be addressed and the Garda domestic violence policy must be monitored, supported and applied consistently. Garda practice varies from doing it properly (gathering information, asking the right questions and being thorough i.e. producing a book of evidence) through to nothing more than asking an offender to go for a walk to cool off or sending a woman home from the station to sort things out with her husband herself. Who would ever dream of telling someone who walks into a station reporting a common assault to go find the stranger who mugged them and sort it out themselves! Furthermore to reflect the new level of priority that we are advocating, An Garda Síochána Policing Plan for 2007 needs to be revised to explicitly name domestic violence and sexual violence as policing priorities. The current Policing Plan gives priority focus to terrorism, road traffic law and illegal immigration but not domestic and sexual violence. This telling deficiency must be rectified in the plan for 2007 and in future Garda plans.

The positive news, I believe, is that in today's Ireland the incidence of domestic violence can be greatly reduced and victims can be afforded the support and protection they need. All that is required is political will - the political will to lead, to legislate and to resource. And that is what the Sinn Féin motion is all about. It was drawn up on the basis of consultation with the expert organisations working in the field, some of whom made impressive and compelling contributions to the Oireachtas Justice Committee last month. These organisations work in the field alongside, and in support of victims, they are well placed to identify the legislative, systems and funding shortcomings that inhibit the achievement of victim safety and offender accountability. The motion builds on their learning.

This government, along with the rest of the House, need to lead by making it unambiguously clear that domestic violence is a serious crime and that it will be treated as such. We need to legislate to give the relevant agencies, including the Gardaí, the DPP and the Probation Service, clear statutory roles and responsibilities; and to eliminate overly-restrictive requirements which prevent certain victims from accessing legal protections. And we need to resource the frontline services who are working on a shoe-string to meet the needs of victims. One extremely dedicated worker in the Dublin 12 Domestic Violence Service worked in the absence of employment security on successive contracts lasting a month, three weeks and then 3 months due to the ad hoc nature of funding available to this crucial community service. The government must guarantee core funding to front-line services on a multi-annual basis to allow for the strategic development and delivery of these essential supports.

My Sinn Féin colleague Deputy Martin Ferris will now make the case for the legislative and systems reform that we are proposing. Tomorrow evening Seán Crowe will outline the need for longer-term funding guarantees and Arthur Morgan will examine the failure to meet the emergency, transitional and long-term accommodation needs of victims of domestic violence.

Once again I urge all in this house to stand united against domestic violence and in support of victim safety and offender accountability. I call on all to take united action and vote in support of the Sinn Féin motion.

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