We use cookies to collect and analyse information on site performance and usage to improve and customise your experience, where applicable. View our Cookies Policy. Click Accept and continue to use our website or Manage to review and update your preferences.

No class immune from domestic-violence scourge – AG
Authors Keith Walsh and Sonya Dixon Pic: Paul Sherwood Photography

11 Apr 2024 / family law Print

No class immune from domestic-violence scourge

Domestic Violence: Law and Practice in Ireland by Keith Walsh and Sonya Dixon, launched last night (10 April) at the Law Society, will be an invaluable resource and a highlight of the Bloomsbury Professional catalogue, attendees heard.

Re-appointed Attorney General (AG) Rossa Fanning, who launched the volume at the Blackhall Place event, said that domestic violence had been a silent scourge in Ireland, but that perceptions were changing.

Fanning said that author Keith Walsh was one of the most prominent family-law solicitors in the jurisdiction and was both a ubiquitously cheerful presence and an impressive and frequent contributor to public debate on family law.

Likewise, Sonya Dixon had developed a significant family-law practice over two decades and had lectured extensively in the field, he said.

Significance of topic

The AG continued that, unfortunately, the topic of the book could not be of greater significance to thousands of Irish citizens, since it was estimated that one in three women globally were likely to experience violence at the hands of their partner or another perpetrator.

“There is no community that is not affected by this topic, and no social class is immune from it,” he said.

Research shows that the incidence of domestic abuse increased during the COVID-19 pandemic because of increased isolation from support networks and prolonged proximity to perpetrators.

In 2020, there was a 25% increase in criminal charges for breaching domestic-violence orders, and a 16% increase in domestic-violence callouts with 43,000 incidents registered, the AG stated.

“It's in that context that, at the start of their book, the authors observe the reality that domestic-violence cases are difficult for all involved,” he said.

The volume traces the important changes introduced by the Domestic Violence Act 2018  and critically analyses such reforms, usefully setting the Irish legislative approach against an international context.

Unfortunate truth

“The unfortunate truth is that it was not until the 1970s that the Irish State began to legislate specifically to protect the victims of domestic violence at all,” the AG stated.

In the decades since, the approach had significantly moved on from the rudimentary barring-order structure contained in the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act, 1976.

Efforts to legislatively address the problem had intensified in recent years, he added.

“The Programme for Government recognises that domestic violence was for many years a silent epidemic,” he added.

That employers were now developing domestic-violence leave policy was a recognition that the issue was not just a private problem, but a public concern, the AG said.

The legislation accepts that advance notice is not always possible for domestic-violence leave, and employers are encouraged to act with sensitivity in confirming and verifying such time off, he added.

District Court President Mr Justice Paul Kelly, who wrote the book’s foreword, said that, every day in Dublin’s Dolphin House, there was a queue of people, mostly women, waiting to make ex-parte applications for protection orders.

“That is an indication of how prevalent the problem is,” he stated.

Unmanageable adult children

He pointed to an increasing trend of parents applying for protection against unmanageable adult children.

“For each of those applicants, it's a personal tragedy. For each of them, it’s the most important and urgent thing in their life at that particular moment.  

“It beholds the justice system and the District Court, to whom the overwhelming majority of those applications are made, to be able to deal with them as expeditiously, as compassionately, as sensitively, and as accurately as possible,” he said.


The judge added that he was shocked at the rising figures for deaths of women because of domestic violence.

“As I've said in my foreword, it's not restricted to any one class of society or not restricted to any one part of the country,” he said.

Domestic-violence legislation had now assumed an even greater importance in the court system, thanks to laws against coercive control, as well as enhanced victim-support facilities, the District Court President said.

He expressed his gratitude for the eight extra judges appointed to the District Court last year, with another six expected this year.

The judge stated that a pilot for remote protection-order and interim-barring-order applications had been very successful, and would be rolled out to other parts of the country.

Judges were also, through the Judicial Council, being trained in domestic-violence issues and in trauma-informed practice, he said.

The upcoming Family Courts Bill would allow for specialised judges in this arena, if properly funded, Mr Justice Kelly added.

Author Sonya Dixon commented that awareness of domestic violence was growing, though it had traditionally been a secretive and taboo topic.

Author Keith Walsh added that "sunlight was the best disinfectant for the problem of domestic violence".

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland