The report released by Women’s Aid today shows that domestic violence continues to be a blight on the life of many women, children and men in Ireland and shows the importance of the community and voluntary sector in the provision of appropriate responses to social problems in Ireland. The community and voluntary sector, which includes organisations such as Women’s Aid, comprises no fewer than sixty domestic violence services in this country offering helplines, emotional support, information, court accompaniment, onward referral and refuges. A key support offered to those who avail of these services, including male victims who contact Amen, is safety planning. This supports the person to plan a safe and speedy departure from their home at a pre-determined time or when the situation demands. This is a sensitive area as violence can intensify where a victim gives signs of leaving the home or the relationship.
The domestic violence sector in Ireland spent €31.2m according to annual accounts for 2011. The sexual violence sector spent an additional €7.8m in that year. In 2012, the HSE, the main state funder of the sector contributed €14.5m. to the domestic violence sector, and granted a further €4m to the sexual violence sector. The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government also provides significant state funding, primarily to fund voluntary sector refuges.
The issue of domestic violence is one that this Government takes very seriously. Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, is continuing to co-ordinate the implementation of the National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2010-2014. The remit of the strategy covers men and women, including older people. One of Cosc’s key objectives on its inception in 2007 was to improve awareness of the issue and the services available and to encourage family and friends of victims to recognise the problem and help them to get appropriate assistance from the state and from organisations such as Women’s Aid. In that sense it is encouraging to note that more people are seeking help in dealing with these problems.
Since coming into office I have been able to bring through important amendments to the Domestic Violence Acts 1996 and 2002 through the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011. The net effect of these changes has been to extend the protections of this legislation to a wider number of people and circumstances
The first amendment allows for a parent to apply for a safety order against the other parent of their child, even where those parents do not live together and may never have lived together. This amendment ensures that the protection of the law is available where access to a child is an occasion of intimidation or even violence between disputing parents.
The second amendment extends the protections of the Acts to same-sex couples who have not registered a civil partnership, on the same basis as had previously been available to unmarried opposite-sex couples “living together as husband and wife”. These same-sex couples are no longer required to have lived together for at least six of the last twelve months before one of them can obtain a safety order against the other.
In addition during our Presidency of the EU, Ireland successfully negotiated an agreement with the European Parliament on the European Protection Order, a civil law measure which will ensure that victims of domestic violence and other forms of violence, harassment and intimidation can avail of national protections when they travel to other EU Member States. This sends an important signal that domestic violence, harassment and intimidation are unacceptable throughout the EU.
Work to develop further responses to help children affected by domestic violence are expected in the context of the new Child and Family Support Agency, which will replace the HSE as the core funders of domestic and sexual violence services, and which will fall under the remit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.