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Law favours dogs over people

ANIMALS enjoy more protection under the law than adult victims of domestic violence in Ireland, a prominent Clare politician has claimed.

Senator Tony Mulcahy, who previously revealed his own childhood had been destroyed by domestic violence, has called on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to introduce more stringent penalties against perpetrators of this crime.

The Fine Gael Senator made the plea noting that someone who inflicts cruelty on a dog can be fined up to €250,000, or face up to five years imprisonment, while there is far less protection for someone over the age of 18, either male or female, who is a victim of domestic violence.

A person convicted in the district court of causing harm can receive a maximum fine of €1,500 or up to 12 months in prison.

“If we can introduce law to protect animals, we should be able to protect a man or woman that is being brutalised in their own home,” he said.

“Friends of mine in the gardaí pointed me to the 2002 Children’s Welfare Act and the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. They outlined that the animal welfare legislation provides for penalties, including powers of detention, imprisonment and fines.

“If I give a dog a kick up the backside, I can be detained for seven days, with a fine of up to €250,000 or five years imprisonment but there is little or no provision to protect someone over the age of 18, either male or female.

“We already have the powers in the acts. I plead with the minister to ensure that we introduce the legislation this year,” he said.

While the 2002 Children’s Act protects children under the age of 18 from domestic abuse, Senator Mulcahy insists existing laws do not offer enough protection for adults from this abuse.

Acknowledging that it is impossible to stop domestic violence, he stressed increased penalties would help reduce the incidence of this crime. He said domestic violence goes beyond a man and a woman, to include grandparents, uncles and aunts and any form of violence in the home.

While Clare Haven manager Denise Dunne has welcomed Minister Fitzgerald’s commitment to introduce the Istanbul Convention later this year, she called on the Government to reverse the cutbacks that have seen a €98,000 slash in their funding since 2009.

Ms Dunne said Clare Haven has been forced to concentrate on providing its core emergency services for victims of domestic violence and has had to abandon several activities, such as training with community groups and information sessions in schools.

She said it is vital for the Government to properly fund all support organisations, such as the Safe Ireland Network, to ensure its new laws can be implemented.

Highlighting the need for a new integrated approach, she called for the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee to deal with domestic and sexual violence to co-ordinate the implementation of new laws between the Department of Justice, Environment and Tusla, the new family and children’s agency.

She said, last year, the refuge accommodated 78 families and 157 children. However, it was unable to cater for another 128 families due to the lack of capacity, the longer length of stay for victims of domestic abuse and the lack of available accommodation in the private rental sector.

The service also provided 778 support visits to victims who required assistance from a support worker to deal with a wide variety of issues, such as processing requests for legal orders.

Senator Mulcahy has previously described his father as a “thug and a bully”, after outlining how he and his siblings felt let down by the law and the gardaí they looked to for help. Mr Mulcahy said when he was 16, they took matters into their own hands and put their father out of the house.

Addressing a Seanad debate on Tuesday, Senator Mulcahy said he was speaking on behalf of the many thousands of victims and victims-to-be who are out there and looking for a permanent solution in this problem.

In addition to introducing appropriate penalties, fines and periods of detention, he said there is a need for proper recording of the crime to ensure evidence is collated in a proper fashion.

As a member of the Justice Committee, Senator Mulcahy said he has been told by domestic violence campaigners that he has raised the bar quite considerably by campaigning for reforms in this area.

He requested the minister to implement the EU victims’ directive, ratify the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence and implement the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on domestic violence.

Senator Mulcahy also wants to replicate in this jurisdiction the DASH risk identification and assessment model, which operates in Northern Ireland.

Having sent a copy of this system of recording all crimes of sexual or domestic violence to the minister and new Garda Commissioner, Noirín O’Sullivan, he stressed this is a far more effective method compared to using an “old black notebook” or putting details on the Garda PULSE system.

“The perpetrator of domestic violence is the person, not the victim, who should be looking for the bed and breakfast. The victims and families should be left in the family home,” he said.

After the incident, he said an order should be put in place to remove the perpetrator for whatever term is needed.
Minister Fitzgerald said the Government is committed to the introduction of consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation in a way that provides protection to victims.

She said it is important to have one consolidated piece of legislation, rather than the various Acts introduced in the past.
“The Garda Commissioner has announced plans to develop a system of risk assessment for victims of domestic violence who come to the attention of the gardaí. The Garda Commissioner has announced a series of initiatives on the reorganisation of how child protection and sexual and domestic violence are dealt with by the gardaí.

“That will also help to deal more effectively with reports of domestic violence and domestic abuse, as well as the decision to allocate two officers in every division with responsibility for victims. That is an extremely good initiative,” she said.

By Dan Danaher

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