WATCH: Statements on Domestic Violence

Deputy Costello speaks on the failings of the Irish state in respect to victims of domestic violence.

Full speech transcript:

I want to start by pointing out that the programme for Government refers to domestic violence as an epidemic, and that was long before Covid hit our shores and long before we saw, as Deputy Paul Murphy said, a pandemic within a pandemic. Many Deputies present in the House today have quoted the figure from Women’s Aid of a 43% increase to its helpline, and the Garda is reporting a 22% increase in domestic assaults. The pandemic has heightened and highlighted the challenges we face in terms of dealing with domestic violence.

It has also highlighted in many ways the inadequacy of our response to domestic violence. According to Safe Ireland, we have one third less refuge space than we should have, based on our population figures. Tusla has told me there are nine counties with no refuge at all. We heard from Deputy Ward about the failure to fund Men’s Aid so it can provide even a freephone helpline. These are all examples of how we are not taking domestic violence seriously and how we are not doing enough on domestic violence. These are all issues that need to be addressed quickly.

When a victim of domestic violence makes that difficult and dangerous decision to leave and to escape, we need to ensure the help is there for him or her, that there is housing, refuge and supports, and that when he or she picks up the phone and dials 999, the call will be answered instead of being cancelled. Quite simply, we need to do more in terms of domestic violence.

I think we are doing some things right and I want to dwell briefly on some of these. With regard to the Garda, the roll-out of the district protective services units is an excellent initiative and it provides a great resource for front-line gardaí, many of whom are doing great work in this difficult and challenging area of domestic violence. There is an opportunity missed in not having Tusla ensure social workers are seconded into or linking closely with the district protective services units. I appreciate this is not within the remit of the Department of Justice but of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. It is something I have raised repeatedly with the Ministers from those two Departments when given the opportunity to speak. I understand there is roll-out of the Barnahus model from Tusla, which is an excellent model for dealing with child sexual abuse, but we can do better by ensuring there is a link between Tusla and the district protective services units. I appreciate this is an issue for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth because, as I have said before, when we want someone to dance, we have to make sure they have been asked and that they are invited. While I will, of course, say it to the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, I would encourage the Department of Justice to reach out to that Minister and to Tusla to ensure creative ways are found to ensure the social work and child protection elements that are needed within the district protective services units are in place. Let us face it: as well as the victims, the children in the home are as much a victim of the emotional abuse perpetrated as part of domestic violence as the person receiving the physical abuse.

I want to take a moment to highlight the story reported in the Irish Examiner this morning about the treatment of a female solicitor by, it is to be hoped, a small handful of members of the Irish Prison Service. I understand this incident was investigated and, although I do not know what the next steps are, certainly what was reported in the Irish Examiner is very concerning. It is particularly concerning when it comes on top of other stories that have been reported to me by people within the Irish Prison Service of deep-seated sexual harassment within that service. I am concerned that more stories will be coming out, and I hope, if more stories do come out, we respond to them properly. I hope the Minister will reach out to the woman at the heart of the story in the Irish Examiner to ensure this does not happen again and that any deeper issues within the Irish Prison Service that it speaks to can also be addressed.