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shocking figures Covid-19 pandemic sees massive surge in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence

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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

A massive surge in domestic, sexual and gender-based violence during the Covid-19 pandemic was raised in the Seanad this morning by Senator Sharon Keogan. 

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said Covid-19 has “highlighted an issue that existed long before now” and is a “priority".

The minister welcomed recent convictions for coercive control which she said, “is something we’ve seen for the first time”. Coercive control became a criminal offence in Ireland in 2019.

“I hope as more convictions follow, others will feel confident to come forward and tell their story”, she said.

The Minister said providing for the physical and emotional needs of victims is an “absolute priority”, and said the Justice plan 2021, launched in February will help deliver these goals.

Minster McEntee said one of the “key actions” being undertaken is an audit on how domestic, sexual and gender-based violence policy and services is organised. She said this work together with an audit of accommodation undertaken by Tusla will address any “gaps” in the approach and ensure that it is “effective and victim centered”.

The Minister added that she and Mr O’Gorman met with the auditors last week and “look forward to receiving the report shortly”.

Minister McEntee said she met with the implementation group last week and addressed the concerns raised by Senator Sharon Keogan that in Family court there are often civil and criminal proceedings happening at the same time.

Senator Keogan said there has been a “dramatic increase in instants of domestic violence, with vulnerable women and children bearing the brunt of this.”

Senator Keogan said, “Family law system further endangers woman and children experiencing domestic violence. Abusive parents can be granted unsupervised access to children, victims concern about child abuse are minimised. Custody arrangements which escalate domestic violence can be ordered by the courts.”

The senator asked if there has been any response from the oversight group for reform for the family justice system regarding regulation of appointed child welfare assessors.

She added that the assessors are unregulated at present, and the court service do not maintain any database of them.

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“Involvement in preceding’s in the criminal court, the family court in the child protection system are not unusual in families that are affected by DSGBV, which can lead to considerable difficulties.

“A mother may be required by Tusla to leave an abusive partner to protect her children while in family law the parental rights of the abusive partner may supersede the child’s rights to safety, sometimes giving rise to unsupervised access to abusive partners.

“This re-traumatises the affected child or abused mother and places them in direct conflict with welfare conditions arising from involvement with Tusla.

Minister McEntee said that this “is something the department is “very conscious of” and “looking to address”.

The minister added that all gardai involved in the Divisional Service Protection unit have received their training, and there is “work underway to ensure all gardai receive updated training when it comes to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.”

Minister McEntee emphasised the that the service of the Still here campaign is still available “regardless of the level of restrictions – restrictions on movement do not apply to people seeking help as a result of domestic abuse”.

The minister added that the department is providing “Covid specific funding to organisations working in the area of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence” which is separate to funding that would normally be provided to these organisations.

She said the department are also working on a model that would see organisations receive funding on a multiannual basis and this is part of “mapping a victim’s journey” and will “require commitment longer than a year”.

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