As has been said before, the Minister was totally right to say we need zero tolerance on the issue of domestic and gender-based violence. This is a scourge that still haunts our country and still exposes many people, many women and girls, to threats, violence and death. Their very lives are at stake here. This Bill proposing to establish a new agency is incredibly important because it allows us to provide a sharp, laser-like focus in this regard. It allows us to act in a way in which this zero tolerance aim can be made a reality and be a priority.
To achieve this, we must ensure that, along with the focus, we are giving the agency the proper resources as well. We must focus on the fact there is a challenge in regard to resourcing now. Numerous Deputies will talk about how their counties and areas do not have a refuge for women or girls fleeing violence to seek safety. We need to examine the calculation of need under the auspices of the Istanbul Convention. We have signed up to this agreement. We have signed up to achieve more in the area of domestic and gender-based violence. Yet we are still failing to provide, or falling short in terms of providing, the adequate number of refuges. I know there is an argument about how the Istanbul Convention is to be made real. We can argue the semantics of the language in this regard until the cows come home, but the reality is there are women and girls at risk who are not being provided with proper refuges. I welcome this new agency and this renewed focus, therefore, as well as the renewed commitment to zero tolerance. This focus and commitment, though, must be accompanied by the provision of resources to achieve what we need to achieve.
Additionally, while this new agency is very welcome, we also need to look at the underlying legislation concerning domestic violence and the Domestic Violence Act 2018. I wish to focus on one aspect in particular. There is a reality where there is a challenge in respect of section 11 of this legislation. This section allows Tusla to seek orders on someone else’s behalf. If somebody needs the safety a safety order or a barring order would provide but due to threats or intimidation is not in a position to apply for such an order, Tusla can use section 11 and apply to the courts on behalf of the person concerned. This is a very important protection to help overcome intimidation. Section 11 of the Act, though, states Tusla can provide for an “order for which the aggrieved person” may have applied for in his or her own right. The challenge in this regard comes when Tusla is seeking to protect someone aged under 18. This is because the Domestic Violence Act 2018 is structured in such a way that the language is certainly ambiguous as to whether someone aged under 18 can actually apply for a safety order or a barring order. It is then also ambiguous whether Tusla can apply for such an order as well because that organisation can only apply for an order for which the aggrieved person could have applied.
Tusla is in a position, as the corporate parent acting in loco parentis for a child in care, to apply for an order as a parent. Parents, however, can only apply for an order to protect a child where the violent person is the partner in the relationship and is the other parent. There is, then, no vehicle for a parent, whether that is the corporate parent in the form of Tusla or an actual parent, to seek an order to protect someone aged under 18 and potentially experiencing violence, abuse or coercive control within a relationship. As I said, whether this is a lacuna or an ambiguity, there have certainly been challenges for Tusla in operating section 11 and this leaves a large section of the population without the protection of this legislation.
We want to stamp out domestic and gender-based violence and we need this new agency to help us achieve this aim and to give us focus in this regard. This focus and ambition, though, can only be achieved if we match the proper resources to the agency. This focus and ambition can also only be achieved if the rest of our domestic violence legislation is robust enough. I am willing to provide the Minister of State with further information on the exact workings of section 11 and the challenges Tusla has faced in its operation. There are also other areas in which we can improve our domestic violence legislation, but this new agency is a welcome start. It is a good step and the right one to take, but we must match it with resources and improve the rest of the legislation.