Michael Pattwell: 600 domestic abuse calls each week to guards: just shocking

If my words will prevent even one instance of domestic violence and disharmony then my effort in writing it and your effort in wading through it will be well worth it - so says Michael Patwell, in his weekly column, which this weeks looks at domestic violence
Michael Pattwell: 600 domestic abuse calls each week to guards: just shocking

VICTIM: Domestic violence is even more prevalent as Christmas nears. Posed by model

I SINCERELY hope that my column this week doesn’t cause too much upset. I have, however, most years since I started writing this page, returned to this theme as we approach Christmas.

I do so for the very simple reason that if my words will prevent even one instance of domestic violence and disharmony then my effort in writing it and your effort in wading through it will be well worth it.

I also return to this sad theme at this time because I am aware from what I had to deal with in the course of my work, over the years, that domestic violence and disharmony can peak in the run-up to and during Christmas.

For many people — those who are filled with the true Christmas spirit — that might sound incredible. It is not, however, an exaggeration and this time of year can be pure hell for many families. Through all the years I worked as a judge in the District Court, dealing with family law, I came to dread the weeks leading up to Christmas and even more so the weeks that followed.

There was a time — not too long ago — when domestic violence was not treated with any degree of seriousness. When a victim finally plucked up courage to seek the assistance of the gardaí, the complaint wasn’t always treated with the seriousness it deserved. I have heard the phrase “just a domestic” frequently used to describe incidents. I’m happy to say, not so much in more recent years.

The current Garda Commissioner has, I’m glad to say, addressed the issue on a number of occasions. In November last year he announced that gardaí are to adopt a risk assessment tool to help them identify women most in danger from domestic violence and put together security and social supports to protect them. The tool was then being piloted in two divisions and was to be evaluated by Trinity College Dublin, with the intention of rolling it out nationally by the end of the year.

It is one of a number of measures Garda Commissioner Drew Harris pledged to implement to tackle domestic violence-related injuries and murders after figures were released showing more than half of women who die violently in Ireland are killed by their current or former husband or partner.

Recently, at a conference organised by an organisation entitled The Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women, Mr Harris returned to the subject. Domestic homicides, he said, have outpaced gangland murders by almost two to one in the last three years but still generate far less coverage and discussion. The trauma of domestic violence “ripples through society,” he said, “and gardaí are now responding to 30,000 domestic abuse calls each year or 500-600 a week.”

I find those very shocking statistics but beyond that I know it has to be the tip of the iceberg. The unfortunate truth is that very many victims of domestic violence do not go to the gardaí, nor, indeed, do they go anywhere else for help either.

Why is that, I often wonder. Is it because the victim is emotionally dependent; is it because she is economically dependent or are there other social pressures that militate against a victim standing up for herself? In my experience, I have come to recognise that very often the victim is ashamed and even sees herself (it could be ‘himself’ too but in a minority of cases) as a failure.

I’m glad to say Commissioner Harris added: “This is mainstream work for the garda. There is a constant drumbeat of this type of call.” Domestic abuse, he said, has long been a priority area for him and he will continue to focus on the issue during his time as commissioner in terms of resources and manpower. That has to be good news.

He had startling figures on the issue of domestic homicides. According to the Commissioner: “There were 40 domestic homicides between 2016 and 2018. During the same period, which included the most violent period of the Hutch-Kinahan feud, there were 26 homicides relating to organised crime. He went on to say that there is a huge amount of conversation and media coverage about organised crime murders. “And undoubtedly they’re all terrible incidents, I’m not denying or minimising them to any extent, but there’s far less conversation about the domestic homicides and what should be done in respect of those. Some of the figures are truly shocking.”

In the last 32 years, 225 women and 16 children have been murdered: 88% of the women knew their killer and 56% were killed by a current or former partner. Of the women killed by a relative, 80% were killed by their son.

Regular readers will have seen the following poem before, but I usually repeat it on this page at this time each year. I wrote it, not about any single incident, but from a number of stories I have heard over the years

There Will Always Be Flowers

In the beginning

There were flowers,

Red, yellow, and pink roses,

Daffodils trumpeting love messages,

Exotic orchids in delicate china vases,

With cards, toys and tokens,

Vivid coloured sashes,

Lilies with gold and scarlet flashes.

On the first St. Valentine’s Day,

Twelve long stems and a real vellum card.

Delivered by a liveried man

In a white limousine.

In the good days

Sprays and bouquets,

Wrapped in lace.

Spring brought

Golden tulips

Struggling for space

In cut crystal.

Summer was

Sun and intimacy.

Blue forget-me-nots,

Woven game-keeper style,

Gave witness to ecstasy.

Three children later

True love hides its face

In the depths of red weals.

Blue and ochre eyes

Spill tears of pain

From wounds make-up conceals.

He doesn’t mean it.

I see his sorrow.

He cannot help it.

We’ll be grand tomorrow.

Making up with

Never-again promises and

Petrol-station posies.

Followed by cruel reality

Bringing new pain

In predictable seriality.

At the end

The veins in his arms

Stood out, purple and prominent.

The pale ivory of her skin

Turned pink,

Then never-to-be-forgotten blue.

Crimson crescents of blood

In her finger-nails

Betrayed her fight to live,

As the colours of the spectrum



And faded to black.

Come Eros, come Cupid,

Come out from your bower,

Come tend to her grave.

Let her memory empower.

Bring seeds and bring roses,

Bring sunshine and showers,

So that year after year

There will always be flowers.

The Women’s Aid 24hr National Freephone Helpline, 1800 341 900, offers confidential information, support and understanding to women in the Republic of Ireland, who are being abused by current or former boyfriends, partners or husbands. Use it.

I am in great danger of being regarded as a killjoy or spoilsport. Very many people will have beautiful family Christmases and homes will be filled with love and happiness.

Some years ago, when Mairéad, my wife, was alive, we attended a carol service in one of the city churches. I was looking around me, of course, always interested in what other people are doing, when I saw a small family of two parents (I assumed) and a teenage girl who had all the appearance of what one might describe as ‘special needs’ come up the aisle and take seats very near the front. The following poem tells the rest of the story:

A Christmas Story

She was about fourteen

when she trailed up the aisle

with ungainly gait.

Her glasses were askew

and a mite too big

for her solemn face.

Her hair was shoulder length

clean but unkempt,

an untypical teenager,

with a look of innocence

as she gazed around her

and laughed at someone

in a pew, somewhere behind us.

A brother, perhaps,

Too shy to come the whole way up

To a front seat, all but one.

I had come for the music

A serious faced Dad.

“Kinda cross”, I thought,

and Mum seemed sort of distant.

She wore a white beret.

It made her appear

distant and severe.

In the front seat, all but one,

they sat very close together.

She was in the middle

and she tucked her arms,

almost proprietorially,

under the arms of her parents.

One on either side.

I had come for the music.

When the organ hummed,

then burst into life,

the choir sang Oh Holy Night

and Cara’s voice

rang through the rafters,

uplifting hearts

hardened by years of non-belief

and the keen blades

of disappointment and discontent.

The child smiled.

First to her Dad

and then to her Mum.

They smiled back

and I could see the love and acceptance

and the uninhibited joy

of a family,

in tune with one another.

I had come for the music.

I left with a Happy Christmas.

The first poem, There will Always Be Flowers, is from my first book, Flaghopping, published in 2010, and A Christmas Story is from my recently published book, After Sunset.

Contact Michael at pattwellsverdict@eircom.net

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