Ireland accused over women's rights

The Government has been accused of allowing Ireland to fall even further behind European nations in defending women’s rights and protecting against violence.

A week since the United Nations issued a damning verdict on the state’s record, organisations lashed Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald for failing to follow the example of 36 other European states and sign up to new ground-breaking rules.

From tomorrow the Council of Europe will bring into effect a blueprint of measures to prevent and combat violence against women, including in the home, protect victims and prosecute attackers.

The Istanbul Convention defines and criminalises forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking, physical and psychological violence and sexual violence.

It also sets parameters to provide helplines, shelters which are preferably 24 hour, medical care and legal aid for women who have suffered rape or other forms of violence.

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), said the Government’s refusal to sign up was failing the women of Ireland

“Frontline shelters are having to turn people away, and even facing threats of closure,” she said.

“These life-saving supports are too often treated as optional rather than essential services – legal obligation would change that.”

One of the main issues with the convention is a clause which would allow women to seek an emergency barring order which are not available under Irish law.

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

The report by the UN Human Rights Committee on Ireland’s record found one third of the issues it examined related to women’s rights exclusively, including violence against women, access to safe and lawful abortion, institutional abuse and dealing with survivors of symphysiotomy.

The Department of Justice said Ms Fitzgerald was treating the issue of violence against women as a priority and asked for civil servants to prepare a package of reforms to allow it to ratify the convention.

It said “substantial progress” has been made on several pieces of legislation including consolidated and reformed domestic violence laws to address threatened violence, intimidation and provide protection to victims.

“Ireland will be able to proceed with ratification when it has measures in place which match the requirements of the Convention,” it said.

The department also said laws to transpose the EU Victims Directive will be done by the deadline November 2015.

The NWCI pointed to data, published in March by the European Fundamental Rights Agency, which showed one in five women reporting sexual or physical violence since the age of 15. It said the figure is mirrored in Ireland.

Eleven European countries are bound by the convention from tomorrow. More will follow in the autumn.

This ongoing fear is a reminder that one of the most compelling reasons for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention is that if we do not put the proper supports in place then women who experience violence will continue to suffer a second violence in societies’ failure to protect or support them.

Betty Purcell, acting chair of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said she hoped the planned legislative reform will be finished as quickly as possible.

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