Welcome for First Programme for Government to recognise the epidemic of domestic and sexual violence

Safe Ireland, the national policy and services hub for 39 frontline domestic violence services across the country, gives a cautious welcome to the draft Programme for Government which acknowledges, perhaps for the first time in such a programme, that there is an “epidemic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence” and that the infrastructure in place to address it has to be examined. 

Mary McDermott, Co-CEO of Safe Ireland, said that while the sector’s call for a dedicated Minister with responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender based violence was not specifically responded to at this stage, the proposal to conduct an immediate audit of how responsibility for DSGBV is segmented across different government agencies is an acknowledgement that the current infrastructure is not fit for purpose. 

She said, however, that in advance of any such audit it was important to put in place a recognised lead actor – ideally a dedicated Minister – with profile and visibility, a whole of Government reach and responsibility and the resources needed to ensure that this audit is far reaching and transformative. 

“Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of the state infrastructure and the deep fault lines that have existed for decades in the state’s response to domestic violence,” she said. “While the commitments in this new Programme for Government answer some of the issues that the sector has raised for many years, it does not address the need for fully resourced coherent oversight, nor the systemic difficulties and challenges that survivors face every day. This programme is a welcome acknowledgement that what we have been doing has not been working and that we can do things differently.” 

“This programme is perhaps the first to send a message to thousands of women and children across the country that they are beginning to be heard,” she said. “It’s a message that they have been waiting for, from successive governments, who have never fully grasped the seriousness and complexity of gender-based violence and have not been prepared to acknowledge that our system for responding to them is broken and needs to be transformed.” 

She said that Safe Ireland welcomes particularly the commitments to include a National Prevention Strategy in the development of the next National Strategy on DSGBV and the commitment to a comprehensive training programme on the crime of coercive control.  It is also encouraging to see that there will be a plan for future refuge space, she said. Safe Ireland is also pleased to see the commitment to investigate paid leave and social protection provisions to victims of domestic violence, as acknowledgements of the financial abuse that pervades domestic abuse and the financial trap that too often stops survivors from finding safety and freedom. 

Finally, Safe Ireland welcomes legislative commitments to introduce Domestic Homicide Reviews and to enact the Harassment & Harmful Commitments Bill to outlaw image-based sexual abuse.

The network will now review the entire final Programme for Government, including the intersection of domestic violence in areas such as health and justice programmes, with its 39 members.