Ireland will introduce a specific offence of forced marriage as part of the Government's new strategy for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, it has been announced.
The issue of forced marriage is not currently dealt with directly by Irish law but the proposed offence category, which may become active by the end of next year, will target the “intentional conduct of luring an adult or a child . . . with the purpose of forcing [them] to enter into a marriage”.
The strategy further clarifies that any new offence of luring a person abroad for a forced marriage “would need to be indictable”.
The Department of Justice has already announced plans to abolish exemptions for underage marriages, which is expected to have the additional benefit of protecting minors against forced marriage. The move comes after the UK introduced laws for cases of forced marriage 18 months ago.
The 2016-2021 national strategy for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence makes reference to various legislative changes, with Bills on domestic violence, victims of crime and sexual offences all expected to be enacted by the end of 2017 at the latest.
These will allow for the extension of interim barring orders where such crimes have been committed, and judges will also have the power to refer domestic violence perpetrators to rehabilitation programmes.
It follows on from the first national strategy for the area, which ended in 2014, and the new version aims to bring together state agencies including the Department of Justice, the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) and An Garda Síochána to tackle what Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald described as "pernicious evils" in Irish society.
Initial funding of almost €1 million has been set aside for an awareness-raising programme.
Many of the proposals contained within the new document aim to further embed a changed culture in the Garda over its treatment of domestic and sexual-based crimes, perpetrators and victims.
Gardaí investigating reports of this nature will now be obliged to personally call to victims within a seven-day period, and the minister will support legislation for gardaí to wear body-mounted cameras when responding to potential domestic violence incidents in order to gather and use evidence.
It is hoped that the latter action will be implemented by 2018, subject to government introducing the necessary laws.
Commenting at the launch of the strategy, the Minister said the increasing number of barring orders issued by courts for such offences was “disturbing”, but the proposals would bring about improved service to victims by the Garda in particular.
“I do believe that we’re in a new era in relation to how the gardaí deal with domestic, gender and sexual-based violence,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
“Practice has to continue to improve, it’s not going to happen overnight, but I am confident that it’s going in the right direction in terms of improving the service to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.”
The National Women’s Council of Ireland has welcomed the strategy, and its director, Orla O’Connor, said the Government’s pledge to continually monitor its implementation was “particularly encouraging”.