Domestic abuse must carry stiffer penalties

DOMESTIC violence is a “hidden” and “heinous” crime which must carry more serious penalties for perpetrators, opposition parties stressed last night.

During a special Dáil debate on domestic violence, the junior minister with responsibility for women’s equality, Frank Fahey, told the Dáil that domestic violence can occur in every house, suburb, town and village and is a “crime that is without cultural class.”

He stated that proposals would “shortly” come before the Government highlighting the need to establish a Domestic Violence Agency which will provide for a more holistic and comprehensive response to domestic violence.

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh who tabled the private motion on the subject of domestic violence said there was an urgent need to provide guarantees of funding for frontline services such as refuges, outreach, counselling, court accompaniment and transitional housing.

“We need to resource the frontline services who are working on a shoe-string to meet the needs of victims,” he said.

Mr Ó Snodaigh maintained that as International Women’s Day approaches, the urgent need to strengthen legislation to prevent domestic violence must be addressed. However, he insisted that the Government lacked political will to reduce domestic violence and provide victims with the support and protection they need.

“Of 1,203 people charged in relation to domestic abuse in 2003 just over 50% were convicted.

“Domestic violence has the highest rate of repeat offending,” said Mr Ó Snodaigh.

“A clear message must be sent to domestic violence offenders that there will be serious consequences for their actions. Therefore, the Gardaí and DPP should treat domestic violence as they would other violent crimes.”

The Sinn Féin TD further called for increased legislation which would give the relevant agencies, including the gardaí, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Probation Service, clear statutory roles and responsibilities.

Last night’s motion was widely supported by Independent TDs, the Green Party, Labour and the Fine Gael party which described domestic violence as a “creeping paralysis” throughout the country.

In December, the Irish Examiner revealed that gardaí were no longer collecting specific data on domestic violence. The decision by the Department of Justice in January to review the funding of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency was also debated in the Dáil last night, with the junior minister stating that a review of the agency was being considered.

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