WATCH: Debate on Domestic Violence & the Pandemic

19/11/20: Patrick Costello TD speaks during ‘Combating Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence: Statements’.

Full Speech Transcript:

Covid-19 has really highlighted the virus of domestic violence. We have seen a report tracking the shadow pandemic that shows that almost 3,500 women and almost 600 children who had never sought support or safety before are now reaching out to support services. That is a huge number of people who are reaching out, on top of people who may already be linked in and who may already be trying to survive through lockdown and through these moments, and where any social supports that are so necessary and that are often cut off very deliberately by perpetrators are being cut off due to the lockdown.

We all accept the idea that domestic violence is a very important issue and something that we need to respond to. We have seen from excellent work by the Garda and from awareness-raising that it is an issue that we all need to be aware of and provide support to.

Since 1996, 230 women in this country have died violently, with 61% having died in their own homes. The numbers are terrifying. I am not saying nobody is taking it seriously but this is where this kind of violence can lead us to. It is a very dark place. Long before we get to that, it is a dark place for the families and children involved.

I am very glad to see both Ministers responsible for this area here in the Chamber. I have been saying for a while to both of them and their predecessors that the divisional protective services units within An Garda Síochána are an excellent development and will provide an excellent service but I feel strongly that social workers, particularly duty social workers from Tusla, need to be seconded to and work full time in these units. Domestic violence is a family problem; it affects the victims and their children. We need different supports for different cases. We need to acknowledge the affected children, who are suffering just as much. They are victims also. It is only by providing a link between the social work services and the Garda protective services units that we will ensure a holistic approach. This is a really good model in terms of combatting child abuse generally and I hope it may be expanded to take in all issues where the work of social workers and the Garda overlaps. It is a model that has worked in other countries quite well. It is a model on which I wrote my thesis when doing my master’s degree in social work, which was too long ago. I have spoken to both Ministers about this and I acknowledge they are taking it very seriously, but I want to take the opportunity to put on record again that the model would comprise a very positive service innovation if we could deliver it.

A positive innovation that we cannot deliver quickly enough, on which I know the Minister for Justice is working, is the new Family Courts Bill. Often perpetrators make excuses for their behaviour, perhaps blaming alcohol or passing it off. Sometimes we see judges, lawyers and gardaí buying into this. Specialist training in and sensitivity to domestic violence will help to address that. Specialist judges and specialist family courts will help to provide safety and security such that the system will not re-traumatise victims. I appreciate the Minister understands this and is working on this issue, but it is important to put it on the record.