The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has today announced Ireland’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention). The Convention is a significant international legal instrument which requires criminalising or legally sanctioning different forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment and psychological violence.
Announcing the ratification following a special Government meeting held to mark International Women’s Day, Minister Flanagan said:
Protecting and supporting victims has been a key priority for this Government. Domestic and sexual violence can have devastating consequences for victims as well as society as a whole. Ratifying the Convention delivers on a Government commitment and sends an important message that Ireland does not tolerate such violence. That message is all the more appropriate given that today is International Women’s Day.
Formal ratification took place at a ceremony at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg this morning. Council of Europe Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland, welcomed the ratification, saying: “We welcome Ireland’s ratification as yet more proof of the success of our convention, which helps to prevent violence, helps victims, and ensures that perpetrators are brought to justice. All our member states need the Istanbul Convention to more effectively prosecute perpetrators and to provide support and protection to their victims and to implement measures that will help prevent the violence from occurring in the first place.
Ireland signed the Convention in November 2015. While much of Irish legislation and administrative practice already implemented many of the provisions prior to signing, a number of pieces of legislation and other actions needed to be carried out before formal ratification could take place. These outstanding actions were identified in an action plan in October 2015 and included in the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, which was published in January 2016.
Key actions in the Strategy include the training of public sector officials, the implementation of the Victims Directive and the enactment of key legislation such as the Victims of Crime Act 2017 and the Domestic Violence Act 2018. The recent enactment of the Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Act 2019 was the final legislative action required to enable today’s ratification to proceed.
The Minister added,
Today’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention is the result of much work from many people over a number of years. Ratification does not mean the end of our efforts. The implementation of the actions of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and gender-based Violence is ongoing. The Government will continue to work in providing protections to victims of domestic and sexual violence and holding perpetrators to account. The prevalence of this violence means we cannot lessen our efforts in this regard. Rather ratification signals a renewal of our commitments.
Note for Editors
The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, commonly known as the Istanbul Convention, is a significant legal instrument in combating sexual and domestic violence. The Convention was formally adopted by the Committee of Minister’s Deputies at the Council of Europe on 7 April 2011. The Convention entered into force on 1 August 2014.
Ireland becomes the 34th Council of Europe Member State (out of 47) to ratify the Convention. States that have ratified the Convention are legally bound by its provisions once it enters into force.
Purpose of Convention
The Convention is a broad based document which covers a number of Departments’ policy areas. The purposes of this Convention are to:
a protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence;
b ensure the design of a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of violence against women and domestic violence;
c promote international co-operation with a view to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence;
d provide support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to effectively co-operate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence; and
e contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and promote substantive equality between women and men, including by empowering women.
Legislation and other measures introduced to enable formal ratification
Ireland signed the Istanbul Convention in November 2015. Prior to signing the Convention, much of Irish legislation and administrative practice already implemented many of the provisions contained in the Istanbul Convention. The outstanding actions identified as being required for ratification were identified and formed an Action Plan which the Government approved.
These actions were included in the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016 – 2021 which is currently being implemented.
The actions included education/training of target groups in the public sector, the implementation of the Victims Directive, the development of a risk assessment matrix by An Garda Síochána for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and the provision of 24 hour helplines for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
The Domestic Violence Act 2018 was a key action in progressing the ratification of the Istanbul Convention as it delivered on a number of Convention requirements including extending access to barring orders, giving judges powers to refer perpetrators to programmes and providing for an offence of forced marriage.
The Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Act was the final legislative action required under the Convention. This technical piece of legislation provides for the prosecution of violent crimes committed abroad by Irish citizens and residents in other Istanbul Convention states. The Bill completed its passage through the Oireachtas on 28 February and was signed into law by the President, paving the way for Ireland’s ratification of the Treaty on 8 March, International Women’s Day.
Key elements of Convention
The Convention aims to ensure the design of a comprehensive framework, policies and measures for the protection of and assistance to all victims of such violence.
Some of the key elements of the Convention are to:
- regularly run awareness-raising campaigns;
- set up treatment programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence and for sex offenders;
- call on all members of society, in particular men and boys, to help create a Europe free from all forms of violence against women and domestic violence;
- ensure adequate police intervention and protection as well as specialised support services;
- ensure general social services understand the realities and concerns of victims of domestic violence and violence against women and support them accordingly in their quest to rebuild/resume their lives;
- ensure victims have access to adequate information;
- make available 24/7 telephone helplines free of charge;
- set up easily accessible rape crisis or sexual violence referral centres;
- introduce a number of new offences which criminalise the various forms of violence against women (Female Genital Mutilation, forced marriage);
- ensure the effective investigation of any allegation of violence against women and domestic violence;
- carry out judicial proceedings in a manner that respects the rights of victims at all stages of the proceedings and that avoid secondary victimisation;
- implement comprehensive and co-ordinated policies involving government agencies, NGOs as well as national, regional and local parliaments and authorities;
- conduct or promote awareness-raising campaigns on the different manifestations of violence against women and domestic violence;
- ensure that preventive measures address the specific needs of child victims;
- ensure that the rights and needs of child witnesses are taken into account when providing protection and support services to victims;
- ensure that child victims and child witnesses are afforded special protection measures at all stages of investigations and judicial proceedings.
Ratifying the Convention will open Ireland up to International monitoring. GREVIO (Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) is the independent expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.
GREVIO will draw up and publish reports evaluating legislative and other measures taken by the countries to give effects to the provisions of the Convention. In cases where action is required to prevent a serious, massive or persistent pattern of any acts of violence covered by the Convention, GREVIO may initiate a special inquiry procedure. GREVIO may also adopt, where appropriate, general recommendations on themes and concepts of the Convention.