Home > Seanad Éireann debate - Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022: second stage.

[Oireachtas] Seanad Éireann debate - Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2022: second stage. (23 May 2023)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/seanad...

Minister for Justice Simon Harris: I am very pleased to bring the Bill before the Seanad this evening. As colleagues know, this is a wide-ranging Bill that will improve our criminal law. It will help combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, DSGBV, tackle organised crime, enhance public safety and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our legal system.


Given its wide scope, I will only touch on the most significant provisions in the time available. However, I am very happy to address specific provisions in more detail as the Bill proceeds through the House. I will turn first to measures on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Last year, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, launched the Zero Tolerance plan, the third national strategy on DSGBV. Its aim is to bring about a change in attitudes and in systems to ensure there is zero tolerance in society for such violence. Part of achieving this is ensuring that our criminal law is fit for purpose; with the right offences in place, to reflect the crimes that are, sadly, all too commonplace in our society, with perpetrators punished in a way that reflects the harm their actions cause, and with appropriate protections in place to protect and support victims and to prevent escalation.


To that end, the Bill will introduce a stand-alone offence of stalking under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. I acknowledge the work of Senator Lisa Chambers in this regard and the engagement that we have had. Stalking is an extremely serious and invasive crime that can cause devastating psychological distress. It may also be a precursor to acts of direct physical violence. While stalking behaviours can be prosecuted as harassment under the 1997 Act, the evidence shows that having a specific and stand-alone offence of stalking leads to greater awareness, an increase in the number of victims coming forward and an increase in the number of prosecutions.


The new offence will cover any conduct that puts someone in fear of violence, or causes serious alarm and distress such as to have an adverse effect on the person's day-to-day life. It will carry a maximum sentence of ten years' imprisonment. As Senator Chambers is now arriving, I again acknowledge her work on this matter and the engagement that we have had.


The Bill will also significantly widen the existing harassment offence. This offence remains important, covering harassment behaviours that are broader than stalking. It is committed where the perpetrator's persistent conduct seriously interferes with another's peace and privacy, or causes alarm, distress or harm. These criminal offences will be complemented by civil restraining orders. These are vital additions to the law, which will allow earlier intervention and do not require a criminal prosecution. They may be applied for by the affected person or by a member of the Garda on their behalf. Procedurally, they are similar to the system already in place for domestic violence orders, but they will apply in a broader range of circumstances.


I acknowledge the work that Members of this House have done in on these issues, in particular Senator Lisa Chambers. With her, I have also had the opportunity to meet Eve McDowell and Una Ring, the founders of Stalking Ireland. Eve and Una have shown incredible bravery in recounting what happened to them and sharing their experiences, supporting others who have been affected and, most crucially, in pursuing their tireless campaign to bring these issues to the fore. We do this for them and as a result of their work and advocacy, and to ensure greater protection and safety for women and all people in the country.


[For the full debate, click here to the Oireachtas website]

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