Belfast Telegraph

UN tells Dublin to re-write proposed laws on domestic violence

Justice chiefs have been told to re-write proposed domestic violence laws to make abuse of a wife or girlfriend a specific offence.

The United Nations committee against torture warned the Government to revise promised legislation to include the crime of physical and psychological attack of a woman in a relationship.

It said all allegations of domestic violence should be recorded as such by gardai.

Alongside calls for new data gathering on the extent of the problem in Ireland, the UN said women who are victims of domestic violence should not have to pay any contribution for legal aid if they cannot afford it.

In a report published by the UN following a review last month, it said: "T he Committee remains concerned that a significant percentage of Irish women reported having experienced physical and/or sexual violence and at reports that there are many cases in which the authorities have not sought appropriate punishments for perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence."

The Department of Justice told the committee during last month's hearings that it "considering the possibility" of amending the Domestic Violence Bill.

The UN Committee also called for adequate funding for women's refuges and supports including legal advice, counselling, safe emergency accommodation and shelters.

On Ireland's strict limitations on abortion, the committee said it was concerned at severe physical and mental anguish and distress experienced by women and girls who undergo terminations abroad.

The UN noted a referendum is expected on access to abortion but it called on the Government to e nsure women who go through the procedure either legally or illegally get the necessary healthcare.

The committee also examined issues relating to abuse in Church and State-run institutions.

Despite Dr Martin McAleese reporting in 2013 on the state's role in Magdalene Laundries, the UN said the Government has not done what was required.

The committee said the Government ignored its call to investigate allegations of ill treatment of women in the Catholic workhouses or to prosecute perpetrators of abuse and ensure that victims are compensated.

It noted that 25.5 million euro has been paid to 677 women who spent time in the laundries.

But the UN said the Government should ensure that any woman who was put in a Magdalene workhouse has the right to sue even if they have been granted redress.

The committee also called for all Mother and Baby Homes to be investigated for alleged abuse, including forced adoption.

And reviewing the fallout from the Ryan report into abuse in State and Church-run institutions, the UN asked for a report on all criminal investigations, prosecutions, convictions and sentences handed down since it was published.

On other criminal justice issues, the UN raised concerns that suspects in garda custody do not have the right to a lawyer while being interrogated as a law enacted in 2011 to allow for the reform has still not come into force.

The Garda Ombudsman's office should be strengthened, the report said.

It called for new independent and unannounced inspections of garda stations and other places of detention and systematic CCTV monitoring of garda interview rooms.

On prisons, t he UN committee welcomed work done to stop jailing people for fines and the end to incarceration of teenagers in St Patrick's Institution the Mountjoy Prison complex.

Fifty-six inmates still slop out, the report said, with efforts to end the practice by next year.

The UN raised concerns that the most recent annual report of the Inspector of Prisons was published in 2014 and covered only seven of the country's 14 facilities.

The committee said it was concerned about the violence in the Oberstown campus for young people and the use of effective solitary confinement for children.

On immigration issues, the UN criticised the detention of asylum seekers and migrants in prisons and garda stations alongside remand and convicted prisoners.

It criticised the delay in opening a promised immigration detention centre at Dublin Airport. It is due to open a year from now.

The Government was also attacked for not having any data on the number of people who were denied "leave to land" in Ireland last year and who were subsequently not allowed into the country as asylum seekers.

The UN said asylum seekers should be detained as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and in an appropriate place, not in a prison.

The UN welcomed the work of the Citizens' Assembly on abortion and whistleblower rights under the Protected Disclosures law.

On the domestic violence issues, Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said: " The recommendations are sensible, balanced and modest. They can be implemented if there is political will to do so."

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