Calls for a Government minister who would have direct responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence have been heard by the Citizens’ Assembly.
Safe Ireland, an agency working towards ending domestic violence, said the separation of policy, planning and service provision across government departments and agencies is crippling work.
A number of presentations and submissions were made to the assembly, which met online, from advocacy groups and academics on how to tackle gender violence as part of its discussion on gender inequality.
Mary McDermott, chief executive of Safe Ireland, said the Covid-19 pandemic had “provided us a sort of backhanded gift” because people have a greater understanding and empathy towards what lockdown and confinement mean.
The organisation called for the appointment of a minister as well as the establishment of a national domestic sexual and gender based violence services development plan.
Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said there should be "a central focal point in Government" established which would co-ordinate "all actions needed to bring about a society free or at least intolerant of sexual violence".
Ms Blackwell said there is no body, person or office in charge of managing the sexual violence epidemic, "let alone get rid of it".
“The response to sexual violence in policy terms and in practical terms has grown up nonetheless but it’s been in a piecemeal way and very often led by advocacy groups,” she said.
“There are a number of plans out there, there are strategies, services, initiatives but they stretch across a really wide range of government departments and agencies.”
Ms Blackwell said as a consequence of not having one person or body responsible to tackle sexual violence, “there are delays in bringing this epidemic under control”.
Clíona Saidléar, chief executive of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, said along with a national authority, there should be a victims’ commissioner put in place by the Government, which would be “an independent advocate and voice for victims”.
Dr Saidléar said when someone finds themself a victim of sexual violence they encounter a system that is “deeply complex” and requires engagement across a number of departments.
“In essence we ask survivors to become experts overnight in this very complex system,” she said.
“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 and something fails and victims need a champion essentially.
“That is what a victims’ commissioner does, they are the champions really, picking up those pieces.”
Monica O’Connor from UCD’s School of Social Policy, Social Work & Social Justice said it would be a measure of Ireland’s progress to insert a clause in the Constitution which makes gender equality “a value of Ireland and recognises all citizens as equal”.
Dr O'Connor also said the Ana Kriegel murder trial, where the use of pornography emerged "very strongly", should be "a wake-up call".
“We need to protect our girls and our boys from these forms of the model of sexuality that is being portrayed and the violence that is being portrayed in the online world. And I think we should include pornography and all of these forms within the national plan of action on violence against women and we should demand of the tech giants more online responsibility,” she said.
The Assembly also heard presentations and submissions from Dr Pauline Cullen, NUI Maynooth, Men's Development Network, Women's Aid, the Union of Students in Ireland and AkiDwA, a national network of migrant women living in Ireland.