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Orla O’Connor: Why is ending violence against women not an election issue?

Published: Sunday, February 02, 2020

One in four women in Ireland experience physical and sexual violence, yet we have heard precious little on the issue throughout this 2020 general election campaign. 

While the nature of abuse means this may not be an issue that comes up frequently on doors, it is unacceptable that political parties have not made ending violence against women a red line election issue. 

Throughout the leaders debates and on the airwaves, we have heard a lot about gangland killings, and parties being tough on crime. While this is of course an issue that warrants discussion and debate, the fact remains that domestic homicides have outpaced gangland murders by almost two to one in the last three years, and the juxtaposition of media attention between the two is stark. 

Violence against women is not an issue that will go away without concerted focus put into protection of women, prosecution of perpetrators and of course, prevention of violence in the first place. Much more needs to be done by the State to ensure that women and their children are safe in Ireland. Ireland signed the Istanbul Convention in March 2019, which states clearly that it is the responsibility of the State to build a society free from violence against women.

We need to ensure our next Government prioritises its full implementation, including strengthening legislation and investing in frontline services, and ensuring Ireland has enough refuge places. As it stands, Ireland only has one third the recommended refuge spaces for women fleeing violence, as recommended under the Council of Europe convention. Furthermore, it is crucial that our housing policy supports women and their children who are made homeless by domestic abuse and that such supports are capable of meeting their varied and unique needs.

We also urgently need substantial reform of the family court system. As things are women are let down by both the criminal and family law - this needs to change.  It is critical also that the next Government to commit to establishing domestic homicide reviews, so that we can develop a best practice response in relation to domestic violence including risk assessment and risk management. 

The issue of data cannot be ignored - if we are serious about tackling violence against women, then we need reliable and accurate data on domestic abuse. It is unacceptable that it is left to underfunded and under-resourced frontline services to carry out this important and crucial task alone.  The Government should want to know the extent and reality of domestic abuse so they can actually begin to address it. 

Lastly, we welcome the recommendation yesterday by Dr. Shannon interim review where he calls for a National Rapporteur on Gender-based Violence and Exploitation, this would show that Government is serious about the violence that does, or will, effect the women of Ireland. 

In order to ensure that the next Government puts ending violence against women at the forefront of its political goals, it is crucial that voters know where parties stand on the issue, and what their policies are to protect women and ensure perpetrators are punished.

Gardai will respond to 500-600 domestic abuse calls alone in the final week of the campaign. We are calling on political commentators to question parties on their policies to change Ireland’s record on violence against women. We cannot hide from this issue any longer. 

Orla O'Connor is Director of NWCI