Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 31 May 2016

Ireland brings in measures to combat violence against women and girls

Published 04/11/2015

Frances Fitzgerald asked civil servants to bring in new measures
Frances Fitzgerald asked civil servants to bring in new measures

Ireland tomorrow makes a significant first step in committing to eliminate violence against women and girls.

The Istanbul Convention is expected to be signed which will define and ultimately criminalise forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking and physical, psychological and sexual violence among others.

It also sets parameters to provide helplines, 24 hour shelters, medical care and legal aid for women who have suffered rape or other attacks.

Margaret Martin, director of Women's Aid, said it will ratchet up pressure on the Government to bring in new laws to protect women, including on all forms of stalking.

"Even with all the criticisms it is a big step forward. It's a State commitment. And t hey are going to have to report on it - so there's a pressure to deliver," she said.

The Law Reform Commission is currently examining cyber crime but Ms Martin urged the Government to reform laws to deal with online abuse in relationships or from ex-partners alongside the physical act of stalking.

About one quarter of women who leave an abusive relationship continue to be targeted by their attacker.

Women's Aid also warned that Ireland has only one third of the family spaces in refuges which would be required under the convention and emergency barring orders are not yet in law.

Ms Martin added: "The issue (of violence against women) has never really been seriously addressed and adequately resourced. I would hope the Istanbul Convention would change that as it is putting pressure on the Government."

Peter Gunning, Ireland's permanent representative to the Council of Europe, is expected to sign the convention in Strasbourg making Ireland the 26th country in the bloc to do so.

It demonstrates Ireland's commitment to reforms. It does not impose a deadline for full ratification but means the Government is obliged to avoid any actions that would defeat the treaty's objectives.

The reform has been sought by Women's Aid, Amnesty International and the National Women's Council of Ireland, which said Ireland mirrors findings from the European Fundamental Rights Agency, which showed one in five women reporting sexual or physical violence since the age of 15.

There are 38,000 calls to helplines from women each year in Ireland.

After the UN last year warned over Ireland's record on women's rights, including violence against women, access to safe and lawful abortion, institutional abuse and dealing with survivors of symphysiotomy, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald asked civil servants to prepare a package of reforms to allow Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

Her department is also in the process of legislating to transpose the EU Victims Directive which had a deadline this month.

The Council of Europe was set up in 1949 as a human rights body and has 47 member countries and is distinct from the European Union.

The secretary general of the council, Thorbjorn Jagland, welcomed Ireland's move and said it was "a step to ratification as soon as possible".

The Department of Justice said the legislation on domestic violence should be published early next year with plans to enact it "as soon as possible thereafter".

Orla O'Connor, director of the National Women's Council of Ireland, said the reform was a historic day.

"The Istanbul Convention is a blueprint for best practice in the area of violence against women. It is an opportunity for Ireland to finally rise to the challenge of violence against women and meet the scale of the problem," she said.

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