Justice Minister Helen McEntee has said new stalking and non-fatal strangulation laws will “hope” be enacted by the end of the year.
Speaking at a Shared Island Dialogue event on Friday on measures to address gender-based violence and abuse, Ms McEntee said she hoped the maximum sentence for assault causing harm – “which is the most common criminal offense associated with domestic violence” – will also increase before the end of the year,
“Ending gender-based violence is very much in line with the vision of the commitment of the [Belfast] agreement, which was wholeheartedly supported north and south of the border,” she said.
Ms Long said there was a need for a ‘radical change’ in the way women are treated on the island
“While the details of the policy and the approach in jurisdictions may differ, there are many things where it is much the same.”
Ms McEntee described steps the government has taken to end domestic and gender-based violence, such as appointing special judges to deal with domestic and sexual violence.
“And it’s beyond that. He will introduce legislation in the next few weeks on a new family court bill, a new family court structure and the supports it needs. There are many actions in the plan that are already progressing.
Speaking at the same event, Stormont’s outgoing Justice Minister Naomi Long compared Northern Ireland to a rudderless ship in choppy waters.
Ms Long, leader of the Alliance party, said she regretted that she could no longer speak in her capacity as justice minister. “You are aware that since last Thursday evening, I am no longer a minister. In fact, we are without a minister; something of a rudderless ship in extremely choppy waters,” she said.
After a last-ditch attempt to restore Stormont Assembly failed last week, a new election is due to be held no later than January 20. Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed on Friday that no election would be held before Christmas.
Ms Long said there was a need for a radical change in the way women are treated on the island. “We need to have a zero tolerance approach to abuse, misogyny and the culture of entitlement that exists in many places,” she said.
The issue of gender-based violence was a priority for her when she was justice minister, she said.
“I was aware that our laws and practices in this area lag far behind most other jurisdictions. This has made it more difficult for the justice system to be able to prosecute cases, but has also eroded trust in the justice system for victims,” she said.
Ms Long said the political hiatus in the North had a real cost.
“The strategy to combat domestic and sexual violence and abuse is a cross-cutting strategy. It cannot be finalized without an executive. There is urgency in this,” she said.