Stalking to become standalone criminal offence in Ireland

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A pledge by the Irish Government to make stalking a standalone criminal offence has been welcomed by victims.

Una Ring and Eve McDowell, backed by Fianna Fail senator Lisa Chambers, have led calls to make stalking a standalone crime under Irish law.

Both women have spoken publicly about their experience and were at Government Buildings on Thursday as Justice Minister Helen McEntee said she hopes legislation on stalking and non-fatal strangulation will be passed by autumn at the latest.

But campaigners say legislation is only the first step in tackling the issue, calling for more training for gardai.

The man who stalked Ms Ring, a work colleague, was sentenced to seven years in prison, with two suspended, for attempted burglary with intent to commit rape after stalking her for months.

Ms McDowell said a man who attended her university stalked her before he broke into her home and attacked her housemate with a hammer.

He was charged with aggravated burglary and harassment and was sentenced to seven years in prison, with the final two years suspended.

Ms McEntee said the planned legislation is “very much part of mine and Government’s goal of zero tolerance on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence”.

She added: “What is really important is that we have clear and strong laws and it has always been a priority of mine that victims know they can come forward and that they will be supported and that the law will be there to protect them.”

Under the planned changes to the law, courts will be empowered to issue orders restraining stalking behaviour without a criminal prosecution, while procedural protections for victims of stalking during the court process will be strengthened.

The Department of Justice said stalking can cover everything from following or communicating with victims to interfering with property or pets.

An offence can also be committed by a single act, with no persistent or repeated behaviour required for a prosecution.

Ms McDowell said she believes such legislation could have helped avert her experience of stalking.

“I believe action could have been taken before what actually happened,” she said. “Maybe it wouldn’t have culminated in a break-in, my housemate being attacked, I would have had a lot less trauma to deal with.

“That earlier intervention could have made a world of difference to my life, my friends’ lives, my family’s lives.”

Helen McEntee
Justice Minister Helen McEntee said she hopes the legislation will be passed by autumn at the latest (PA)

“When I went to the guards [Irish police] initially about this, they hadn’t heard of many cases, I wasn’t able to get a civil protection or restraining order.”

Ms Ring said it had taken a lot of “hard work and determination” over the last year to get to this point, but she praised the reception the campaign had received from the Department of Justice.

“Lisa Chambers was instrumental, her determination in getting us where we are today,” Ms Ring said.

“I do believe if it was any other Minister for Justice, bar Helen, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

But she stressed new training for gardai would be “crucial” in investigating and prosecuting offences.

“I know a lot of cases, the guards just didn’t know how to react to somebody, how to handle somebody, made inappropriate comments, stuff like that.

“Just basically how to talk to people and how to handle people.”

Ms Chambers praised the work of Ms Ring and Ms McDowell.

She added: “It is not every day you get to change the law. It is not every day you get these successes.”

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