Dáil hears claims that single gender schools are contributory factor in domestic violence

Aodhán Ó Riordáin says ‘toxic male culture’ can grow and create ‘warped sense of power’

Single gender schools are a contributory factor in the “toxic male culture” that leads to domestic violence, Labour’s education and enterprise spokesman has claimed.

Aodhán Ó Riordáin said he was not attempting to be provocative or destructive but they had to drill down into the root causes of toxic masculinity and why domestic violence appears to be getting worse in Ireland.

There can be a toxic masculinity that grows up in a single gender male school and can create a “warped sense of power”, he said.

He was not suggesting that every school was like that or that it was not being called out but he said Ireland had a disproportionate number of single gender schools that was “completely out of kilter with European norms” with 17 per cent of primary school students and one third of secondary pupils in single gender schools.


“Nobody can convince me that that isn’t part of the problem,” the Dublin Bay North TD said, pointing to significant numbers of young women born since 2000 who are experiencing violence.

“That is part of the problem that we separate children on the basis of gender disproportionately.”

He said “it leads to a society that is very gendered and views the other gender with a slight level of curiosity or insecurity and lack of ability to interact properly.

“Within that can come a situation where power and dominance is sought,” he added.

Mr Ó Riordáin was speaking during a private member’s debate on a Sinn Féin Bill to provide 10 days paid leave to victims of domestic violence.

The Government will not oppose the Bill but will immediately begin a six months examination of, and consultation process on, paid domestic violence leave and will prepare legislation within four months of the completion of that process.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she hoped the Dáil and Seanad would next week pass legislation to criminalise image-based abuse, which she said she would refer to as "Coco's law" in memory of Nicole Fox Fenlon who took her own life after years of online bullying.

The Sinn Féin legislation aims to assist victims of domestic violence to take the necessary time off work and keep their jobs to seek support, find accommodation and attend court in a structured way.

The party’s enterprise spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said a lot of work had been done on the Organisation of Working Time (Domestic Violence Leave) Bill which was first introduced in the Dáil a year ago.

She described the legislation as a “workers’ rights issue” and said the party had consulted widely with heavy involvement from those who worked in this area.

It needs to be implemented “as quickly as possible to make it a reality for the men and women who really need it”, she said.

Pointing out that Australia, New Zealand and some provinces in Canada provided some form of paid leave for victims of domestic violence, Ms O’Reilly said of the issue that we “don’t want to see it deflected and kicked down the road”.

Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman said the principles of the Bill were “sound” but he was concerned that the Organisation of Working Time Act “may not be the best vehicle for such a scheme”.

He added that the role of the Workplace Relations Commission would also require close examination.

Ms O’Reilly said that under the legislation victims would not have to provide proof of abuse because that would prevent them coming forward but the Minister expressed concern around issues of privacy where victims could be obliged to reveal personal information in order to access the leave.

Acknowledging that “we must of course act promptly” he said the Government would begin the examination process immediately and he will publish a report within six months of the process.

He pledged that based on the findings he would bring legislative proposals to Government to create a statutory entitlement to paid domestic violence leave.

Mr O’Gorman added that while for too long Irish society turned a blind eye to domestic violence “I do believe we are seeing a sea-change to how this issue is approached”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said some victims of domestic violence “carry the physical and emotional impact of the violence into the workplace” because they fear losing out on badly needed pay.

She said many cannot face going to work because of physical injury or because of the deep mental scars and as a result they lose income and face aspersions about their reliability.

Sinn Fein Cavan-Monaghan TD Pauline Tully said it was really shocking that one in four women encounter violence at some stage from a current or former partner.

Her Galway West colleague Mairéad Farrell said there was an increase in breaches of barring orders while

Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns said 3,450 women and 549 children had sought assistance for the first time this year because of domestic violence.

Ms McEntee said many people are hiding emotional, physical, psychological and financial abuse at the very hands of those who are supposed to be their loved ones.

The Minister added that she hoped an audit into the provision of services across Government and all agencies would result in a more comprehensive and efficient system for people to access supports.

She added: “We’re also working on a national consent campaign to be launched next year.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times