More must be done to support people experiencing domestic violence

TD Fiona O’Loughlin spoke last week in a debate on Domestic Violence and castigated the Government for its woefully inadequate response to the victims of domestic violence and the danger its inactions put thousands of women and children in every year.
“None of us can imagine the courage it takes for a woman to walk or run away from an abusive partner. The toxic power struggle these women endure is unimaginable but we must do it for them, to imagine ourselves there. To be drowning in a life of fear. To never be able to relax in your own home. To never know what’s coming next, an assault, an attack, your children being attacked or for them to witness you being attacked.
“According to Safe Ireland, the national social change agency working to end domestic violence, on 3,256 occasions last year, victims of domestic violence had to be turned away as services were full – an average of nine requests per day. Teach Tearmann in Kildare turned away 78 women and 114 children.

126 women were killed in the last 32 years by a current or former partner. The Garda Commissioner said last week that domestic homicide is outnumbering gangland murders by 2 to 1. The Gardai respond to 500-600 calls every week.

“What do you do when you have walked out of your home, away from your abuser, sought refuge, been denied it because of the failures of your Government -the abject, callous inactions of an inept administration – the only place you can go is back to that house, back to that abuser? Is it any wonder that the figures for femicide are so high?”

The Istanbul Convention, that Ireland signed up to in 2015, was only ratified in March of this year and has still not been implemented. Ireland as a signatory to the Convention has an obligation to provide refuge spaces for victims of domestic violence. The number of refuge spaces that are provided by a State is determined by the population of the State. There should be 472 places available, but there are only 141.

“Something the Government could do to help these women and children would be to listen to the calls made for a new Family Law court in Smithfield with new facilities and services. We need not only a properly funded and resourced Family Law Court in Smithfield, we need them rolled out across the country.

“The leniency of sentences handed down to men accused of abusing their partners needs to be highlighted. A Women’s Aid report from this year showed 3 in 5 men get suspended sentences.

“We need a refuge in every county, and not have a situation like we do in Kildare where women from Carlow, Offaly and Laois and even Tipperary are trying to get into a refuge with only four apartments.

“We need full time Court Accompaniment Workers for every refuge, so that frontline staff are not pulled away from their vital work when they go with women to their court appearances. Every refuge must open on a 24 hour basis. Women do not decide to leave their partners and their homes solely between the hours of 9-5.

“Refuges are about much more than providing a place of safety – they are the foundation stone to a woman piecing her life back together – a life that has been shattered by years of mental and physical abuse. Refuges help women get their benefits, regain their financial independence – some of them for the first time in years – and help them bring their cases to court.
“We need to look at the court system – and the staggering chasm between orders sought and orders granted. The future of a woman’s life, of her safety, of her children’s lives and safety can come down to the decision of one judge.
“Women seeking legal aid are only entitled to one application per annum. If she needs to go back to the courts for maintenance or access, she has to wait a year to do so or pay for it herself. It is blindingly obvious that this restriction should be immediately lifted.”