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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 19, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    Taking the first tentative steps out of a violent relationship that has lasted a lifetime

    Mary Minihan


    I’ve lost count of the number of presidential debates organised by various groups that have taken place by this stage, but one good thing that can come out of them is the attention they can give to the hosting organisation.

    One such debate, chaired by RTE presenter Miriam O’Callaghan, was organised by Safe Ireland, which works to combat domestic violence against women and children. Safe Ireland director Sharon O’Halloran (pictured left) delivered a powerful speech at the event this morning and, according to Labour’s presidential candidate Michael D Higgins, she “threw her passion behind it”. I don’t know if that passion will come across so well in this text (below), but please do read it if you have the time (I know it looks long!). I’ve been thinking about the section about the 65-year-old countrywoman all day, and thought I’d reproduce the speech here on the blog:

    Good morning and welcome all, I want to start by saying to you, that the fact that you are here today, and interested and committing your time to this event, to this first national dialogue on a SAFER Ireland for women and children, you already make a difference. Together we are stepping up a level, we are bringing visibility and hope to a very serious and entrenched issue in this country. We are saying that change is possible and we are not remaining complacent in the face of suffering and pain, we are acting together, we are taking a stand and I welcome you on behalf of victims of domestic violence who need your help, your support and your leadership in this country today.
    I would like to welcome our Presidential Candidates this morning, they have prioritised this event and they will speak to us shortly about their vision of a safer Ireland for women and children. (We have apologies from the other candidates and we acknowledge representation from Martin Mc Guinness’s campaign in the audience). It is at least a possibility that in a couple of weeks one of these candidates will be the next President and we will know that they showed leadership at this event, and we will know their commitment, and we will know that we can achieve further work together. I will say however, regardless of the outcome, we want to work with all of the candidates and support you to use your links in society to continue to bring leadership to this issue long after the presidency has been decided, so you can expect to hear from SAFE Ireland again, we welcome a further engagement with you as leaders in your own right.
    In my view there is no better person to chair this event than Miriam O’Callaghan who also deserves to be called a leader in her own right, we recognise your talents Miriam, we recognise your wisdom and we welcome again your support for this issue, it is an honour to have you here with us today.
    “Just Another Day” our 2010 National Census, the 3rd Census carried out by SAFE Ireland with all our members. And believe it or not it was, just another day, one of 365 days in the year that we work on this issue, that we meet women and their children in all kinds of distress, from all walks of life, and it is definitely disturbing, it is definitely heart breaking and it is definitely the most underreported, largely undocumented and certainly unprosecuted crime in this country today.
    On the 4th November 2010, 555 women of various ages, nationalities and backgrounds were accommodated or received support from a DV service. With them they had 324 children. When this is broken down it means that 23 women and 13 children looked for support every hour of that day, every hour of that day.

    • 555 women

    • 324 children

    • 140 helpline calls

    • 7 women and 9 children were admitted to refuge

    • 18 women could not be accommodated in refuge because there was not enough space

    We know from the launch of our national statistics a couple of weeks ago that in 2010:

    • 7,500 women received support from services in 2010

    • 2,355 children were living in refuge in that year

    • There were 38,629 helpline calls

    • On over 3,000 occasions women could not be accommodated because the refuge was full or there was no refuge in that area

    The tip of the iceburg, the cases that we know about, the women who found help and support, the trailblazers that have led the way. I think these figures are horrific, I think these figures are a sad indictment on society. They tell us that home is where the hurt is and that not one of us can be free until all of us are free, they tell us that this issue needs to be held in our collective consciousness and it needs leadership as a matter of urgency. We need it to be taken seriously by our politicians, by our civil society leaders and by our President. We need communities for change; we all need to be able to return whole to home and community.
    SAFE Ireland does not condone violence of any kind, full stop! SAFE Ireland is a representative body for 40 domestic violence services around the country, 20 of these are women’s refuges. We have been through tough times together, trying to find solutions to domestic violence in our country in a recession. Services have been cut back every year for the past number of years and SAFE Ireland itself has been told that its core HSE funding is gone from the end of the year.
    We acknowledge that DV happens to men and we support that this issue is addressed by government. But we know about violence against women and this is the work that we do and this is the work is that we understand, this is our specialism, this is what the government funds us to do. We are inundated with women and children seeking safety and support, the figures tell the story, the services are at tipping point. We will continue to provide this support, we will continue to meet and support women and their children, we will continue to do what we are good at, we are hardwired to help. We know this is a huge issue for women and children in this country and we know it needs leadership.
    I got a call from a woman the other day seeking support. She had spent most of her life in an abusive relationship. She is now 65 years of age, living in a rural area, afraid for her safety and unable to take any more. She told me she has had enough. She had the courage to make a call and I was able to refer her to a local service. But she has remained with me somewhat since that call. Her first steps to seek help, she is 65 and isolated and broken over the years, what does the future hold for her in this country. Will she ever be held and surrounded by love, our basic human right, the right to be cared for and loved. Will she ever find safety, healing and peace? Will she ever know the value of her life at a cellular level, will we honour her life on any day, of any year, any time soon. She should be thinking of retirement, hobbies, grandchildren, time to just be free, time to offer her life’s wisdom back to community but she is taking the first tentative steps out of a violent relationship that has lasted a lifetime. I commend her courage and I hope that she can find her way and that perhaps with new leadership in this country on this issue she can find value in all that she knows and we will hear what she has to say at a much deeper level and we will understand and we will be moved to ensure that no other women spends a lifetime in an abusive relationship.
    SAFE Ireland is committed to an engagement as never before on this issue in Ireland. We have a strong relationship with our members, we have “centre staged” women and children in all we have done together and we will continue this journey. We will honour the voice of women, we will listen, we will find new solutions, we will knock at every door for dialogue. We do not have all the answers but we know the answers lie in collaboration, in communication, in listening, in honouring our work together for change. Someone said to me the other day that to listen to me is to be changed by what I have to say. I want us all to listen to each other and to listen to women and children in particular. We will be changed by this engagement together and this is our challenge, to embrace the change and learn from this to find new and better solutions to violence against women in this country. We can be world leaders when it comes to addressing the issue of domestic violence, we just need to want to do this, we just need to want this to happen, we just need to centre stage women and children in all our discussions and in the development of all policies.
    I and we welcome all the leaders here today. We invite you to engage with us and to support a whole system re-think on this issue. There are many things we can achieve with little effort and without huge resources. “Now you’re talking”, let us begin, it is my great pleasure to hand you over to Miriam O’Callaghan and the Presidential Candidates.

    • jaygee says:

      This is a very disturbing and moving article. The prevalence of domestic violence is shocking.
      I have always felt that in a large number of cases this is often initiated or exarcabated by the effects of alcohol..
      as a youngster in the 1930s and 40s I used to see men arriving home drunk on Friday nights, in foul moods and their wives cowed and terrified and waiting for the first blows.
      We haven’t progressed very far, in our behaviour, and our pretence at being civilised.

    • Bernadette says:

      Jaygee, I totally agree, the prevalence is indeed shocking. Yes, the problem is sometimes a whole lot worse for the women and children if alcohol is an issue.However,I would like to pose a question, how many of the perpetrators would abuse the barman or indeed any one in the bar.The answer generally is no-one.This to me shows a clear and conscious decision by the perpetrator to choose to abuse the people he allegedly loves.

    • Catherine r. says:

      Those who are suffering domestic violence should be trained in their use and issued with civilian model C2 Tasers –something…anything…….to take power and control away from the abusers….

    • jaygee says:

      Bernadette you are quite right. Very often the man with drink taken is hail fellow well met to all and sundry except to his loved ones.
      I think also it is the fact that a wife and children are the weak targets for the blustering bully.
      I hope the government influenced perhaps by the new president will get a grip of this ongoing scandal and that all the resources of the State are mobilised on behalf ofthe abused wives and children.

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