Lack of refuge places must be urgently addressed, committee hears

Nine counties have no refuges for those fleeing domestic violence.
Lack of refuge places must be urgently addressed, committee hears

By Rebecca Black and Cate McCurry, PA

The lack of refuge place for those fleeing domestic violence must be urgently addressed, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Ireland does not have enough refuge places available to meet the Istanbul Convention standard, and nine counties do not have a refuge.

There are no refuges for men in the State.

Women’s Aid highlighted a 43 per cent increase in calls during the coronavirus pandemic.

The numbers were described as being “the tip of the iceberg”.

The call came as groups that support victims of domestic abuse gave evidence to the Joint Justice Committee.

Hawe family inquest
Left to right: Alan Hawe with his wife, Clodagh, and their children, Liam, Niall and Ryan. Photo: Family handout/PA

The Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan Monaghan, Niamh Smyth, raised the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons by her husband in 2016, pointing out that the two counties in her constituency do not have refuges.

Women’s Aid spokeswoman Christina Sherlock said the situation “urgently needs to be addressed”.

She also described funding as a “significant issue”, particularly following the recent increase in domestic violence.

“Funding for refuges needs to be increased urgently to meet the surge in demand brought on by the pandemic and to maintain compliance with Covid-19 health regulations,” she said.

Crisis point

Mary McDermott, chief executive of Safe Ireland, emphasised that refuges were “not a response to domestic violence”, but a crisis point where people were pushed to ask for help.

She said: “In 2020 there were 57,277 calls to local and national helplines; 23,785 incidents reported to Gardai, and 4,000 breaches of protective orders.

“The first line of support for women, and children, experiencing domestic abuse must be immediate access to protective services to mitigate risk of further or escalating harm.

“At a minimum, this includes pathways to safe accommodation, information, judicial protection, and therapeutic supports.

“With only 144 refuge spaces available across the entire country, domestic violence services faced unmet requests for refuge from 1,351 women between March and August 2020.

“Without the corporate assistance of Airbnb, which generously made hotel beds available for refuge, the outcomes for women and children would have been much bleaker.”

Kathrina Bentley from Men’s Aid said that in 2020 they supported more than 5,000 people.

They expect this figure to have risen to 8,000 in 2021.

“Government research from 2005 showed that 95 per cent of abuse experienced by men is not reported to gardaí,” she said.

“The under-reporting of domestic violence is a huge concern, highlighting how difficult it is for men to report an abusive partner.

“Men in Ireland are aware there are no refuge options so don’t usually ask, however, to date we have had over 30 requests for a safe bed this year.”

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