‘Murder-suicides that take place in the home qualify as domestic violence’
Jacky Jones: ‘We should be suspicious of seemingly perfect families’
The remains of Clodagh Hawe being brought to the joint funeral with her husband, Alan, and their sons, Liam (13), Niall (11) and Ryan (6), at St Mary’s Church, Castlerahan, Co Cavan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The latest murder-suicide in Co Cavan, resulting in five deaths, elicited the usual hand-wringing from local people. Without exception, they were “shocked”, found it “unbelievable”, the family were so “normal”, “did everything together” and were “pillars of the community”. Every time family members are killed by, usually men, although women are occasional perpetrators, local communities are shocked. In most cases neighbours claim that there did not seem to be anything wrong within the family. But there are always signs. Being pillars of the community is one sign that all is not well. Doing everything together is another sign. Normal families do not do everything together. Normal couples do not do everything together. Parents and children in healthy families have their own friends and hobbies. Healthy couples have separate lives. We should be suspicious of seemingly perfect families.
As of now no one knows for sure what happened in the Cavan murder-suicide. However, we do know that most murder-suicides involving families are actually extreme cases of domestic violence.
When the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, TD, launched the 2015 Women’s Aid Annual Report a few weeks ago, she said “we remain in denial of that [abuse within marriage]”. According to the report, marriage remains the most common context for domestic violence.
Neighbours of murder-suicide perpetrators like to think the man was not in his right mind. When mental illness is blamed for domestic violence, it is easier to see it as an aberration. Blaming mental illness makes everyone feel safer. In fact, numerous studies have shown that most people who killed others before taking their own lives were not suffering from a psychiatric illness.
Domestic violence is rife in Ireland. Cases that have come before the courts in recent times all involved male perpetrators, wives and partners, and horrific violence. One man poured boiling water over his pregnant girlfriend. She spent 10 days undergoing skin grafts for third degree burns. Another man installed CCTV cameras in every room in the house, including the bathroom, so that he could spy on his wife. Yet another man tore out his partner’s hair and beat her up in front of their child because she had “played with his patience”. Another man raped and head-butted his wife because she neglected his needs and directed all her attention to their child.
According to Safe Ireland’s 2016 safety audit “we are still not taking this issue seriously” and “it is our culture and attitudes that allow domestic violence to continue as the most under-reported, largely undocumented and certainly under-prosecuted crime in the country”.
The Courts Service Annual Report 2015 shows that over the past five years there has been a 35 per cent increase in the number of applications for safety and protection orders “with domestic violence increasing year on year”. In 2015, 14,374 applications under the domestic violence legislation were made to the district court. These cases are the tip of the iceberg because nearly four-fifths of women never report a physical or sexual assault by a male partner.
At present, women have to rely on, mainly, non-governmental organisations if they want to escape from a violent husband or partner. This is not right. All services should be provided by statutory organisations including the gardaí and the HSE. It is time to recognise that domestic violence, including psychological violence, is happening in every third home in the country.
As of last week, 42 countries have signed the European Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, and 22 countries have ratified it. Ireland has signed the convention but has not yet ratified it. This must happen as soon as possible. According to the convention, “violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men which have led to domination over women by men”.
Can we have less hand-wringing, denial, bewilderment, and more action in future? Punishing perpetrators with jail time would be a good start. And can we stop blaming mental illness when men kill their wives/partners and children. Murder-suicides that take place in the home are domestic and violent, so they qualify as domestic violence.
It really is that simple.