Domestic homicides far outstrip gangland murder, says commissioner

Gardaí respond to 30,000 domestic violence calls every year

Domestic homicides have outpaced gangland murders by almost two to one in the last three years but still generate far less coverage and discussion, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

In a speech addressing the trauma of domestic violence, "which ripples through society", Mr Harris said gardaí are now responding to 30,000 domestic abuse calls every year or 500-600 a week.

Domestic abuse is characterised by silence and these figures are “the tip of the iceberg” Mr Harris said.

"This is mainstream work for the Garda. There is a constant drumbeat of this type of call," he told a conference organised by the Irish Observatory on Violence Against Women.


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.

Mr Harris said 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, Mr Harris said. Eighty eight per cent of the women knew their killer and 56 per cent were killed by a current or former partner. Of the women killed by a relative, 80 per cent were killed by their son.

‘Too much acceptance’

Domestic abuse is “probably one of least prosecuted crimes and one of the greatest threats to family life,” Mr Harris said. “We’re now almost in the third decade of the 21st century. It’s unacceptable this awful crime is still occurring.”

He said the figures show there is “far too much acceptance in society that it’s some way ok to be abusive to a partner and it’s not. It’s a crime and should be treated as a crime”.

Mr Harris said domestic abuse 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.

“We recognise more needs to be done and we need to do more,” he said pointing to a series of recent garda initiatives in the area including the establishment of 13 Divisional Protective Services Units (DPSU) to deal with domestic and sexual violence.

More DPSUs are due to open in the new year, he said. To date 2,730 frontline gardaí have received training in how to spot and investigate the new offence of coercive control and this number is also set to increase.

A domestic violence risk assessment tool is being rolled out early in 2020, Mr Harris said. This will allow gardaí to identify victims at a high risk of harm and perpetrators at a high risk of committing a domestic violence offence.

A UK expert on domestic violence has been brought over to lecture gardaí on domestic violence and two reviews of previous domestic homicides have been initiated to ascertain what lessons could be learned from the garda response.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times