The Citizens’ Assembly has heard a number of submissions to address what has been described as an epidemic of gender-based violence.
Among them were calls for a single authority to deal with gender-based violence, a victims’ commissioner and a government minister to oversee policy in this area.
The Head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, said that there is currently no body, no person or office dealing with what she described as “the widespread prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland”.
“Therefore, as a consequence, there are delays in bringing this epidemic under control,” she said.
“There are delays in reducing the size of the problem. There are delays in increasing safety, in increasing equality and we’re also likely to be wasting public resources.”
She said that the issue is currently dealt with in a “piecemeal way”.
The call for a single authority was echoed by a number of NGOs, including the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, whose Executive Director Dr Clíona Saidléar also called for a commissioner to deal with gender-based violence.
Dr Saidléar said such a role would help champion the causes of victims who have been failed by the system.
She told the assembly: “We ask survivors to become experts overnight in this very complex system.
“We can put in place a lot of the supports around it to try to inform and to support people as they move through that system, but invariably there will be there will be failures.
“There will be times when survivors are failed, when the system fails, when the transition from one system to another fails.
“Victims need a champion essentially. That is what a victims’ commissioner does, they are the champions really, picking up those pieces.”
Meanwhile, the CEO of the domestic violence organisation Safe Ireland said that Covid-19 has created a unique opportunity for people to understand the isolation facing victims of gender-based violence.
Mary McDermott also said that Ireland has the potential to be a world leader in dealing with the issue by using what it has learned from the recent laws around coercive control.
“We’re beginning to understand the real subtleties and moving away from clichés and stereotypes, as to the nature of violence and assault or coercion and that it is gender driven in many ways,” she said.
“This gives us greater insight and so we do feel it is a time of hope, and we really believe that Ireland could be a forerunner in responding to domestic violence at a national level because internationally it’s quite a mess.”
Women’s Aid, a group tackling domestic violence in migrant communities, the Union of Students in Ireland, the Men’s Development Network and a number of academics also made submissions to the assembly for consideration.
The Citizens’ Assembly has been meeting since February last year to consider how gender equality can be advanced.
The issue of gender-based violence is the last of the topics that it is considering. Next month, recommendations will be put before the 99 members to vote on.
The final report will be sent to the Oireachtas, where it will then up to politicians to decide whether they act on any of the recommendations.