Coronavirus: Deaths in Northern Ireland rise by 20 to 329

PSNI receives almost 2,000 domestic abuse calls in first three weeks of April during lockdown

Photo issued by PSNI showing a PSNI officer on patrol in Belfast city centre during the Coronavirus pandemic restriction period. Photograph: Stephen Davison/PSNI/PA Wire

Twenty more people have died in Northern Ireland from coronavirus, the North's Department of Health reported on Tuesday afternoon.

This brings the total number of Covid-19 deaths in the North to 329. These figures do not include deaths in Northern Ireland care homes and hospices which are expected to increase the figure by at least a third.

There were 34 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the latest figures, which leaves the total number of cases in the North at 3,408.

Meanwhile police in the North said they have received close to 2,000 domestic abuse calls over a three-week period during the coronavirus lockdown.


They released these figures as the Northern Assembly debated how to strengthen domestic abuse laws.

In the first three weeks of April 1,919 domestic abuse calls were made to police, said Detective Superintendent Anthony McNally from the PSNI’s public protection branch. This represents an increase of more than ten per cent on the usual weekly figures for such abuse.

The officer disclosed the figures as the Northern Assembly discussed new legislation that would see domestic abusers facing up to 14 years in prison for the most serious offences.

The proposed new law also would introduce a new bullying offence in Northern Ireland known as coercive control.

“During these unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic people are spending more time at home, which can create potentially stressful situations,” said Detective Superintendent McNally.

“As a police service we want victims of domestic abuse to know ‘we are still here to help you, despite the pandemic. You are not alone and we have not forgotten you’,” he added.

“In the last week alone, from 15th-21st April, there were 611 calls. This compares to 585 domestic abuse calls during the week of 1st-7th April - an additional 26 calls. During the week of the 8th-14th April, there were 723 domestic abuse calls made to us,” he said.

“While these figures tell us that victims are finding the courage to pick up the phone and call us, we must never forget that behind each of these calls is a victim who is experiencing a harrowing ordeal at the hands of their perpetrators,” added Detective Superintendent McNally.

Introducing the new legislation which could take about a year to become law, the North's justice Minister Naomi Long hoped the proposals would provide some assurance to those at risk. "It is important that our response is not temporary or fleeting as domestic abuse is neither," she told the Assembly.

“Help is available and while you may be socially distancing you are definitely not alone,” said Ms Long.

Meanwhile, the PSNI and the North’s Department of Health have issued a joint statement to try to provide clarification about the law on social distancing.

Against concern that more people are both breaching and challenging the legality of the social distancing regulations the police and the health department admitted to “some shades of grey” about the rules but insisted that people should “stay home and only leave home when it is essential”.

In the period between March 30th and April 24th the PSNI issued more than 350 fines for people breaching the rules, with the first fine starting at £60 – or £30 if paid within 14 days.

“We are deeply concerned that the current discourse may serve to undermine public confidence in the overall regulations, and encourage some people to ignore the strong guidance from the NI Executive with potentially devastating consequences,” they said in the statement.

The PSNI and health department said that “in an ideal world” the social distancing rules would have received detailed scrutiny at the Assembly before becoming law.

“However, we are not living in an ideal world at present. The overriding priority at this time is protection of life. Regulations to enforce and encourage social distancing have a vital role to play in that regard,” they added.

They said, “Regulations are never going to cover all potential aspects of human interaction and behaviour in a modern society. There will inevitably be some shades of grey. That’s the reality of life. The police have rightly made clear that officers will apply a ‘reasonableness’ test on occasions when deciding if some behaviours may breach the regulations.

“Whilst understanding people’s desire for clarity in what constitutes an offence under the regulations, it is not always possible to give individual answers for the countless hypothetical scenarios which may arise,” they added.

The department and PSNI said that “officers applying discretion are a regular feature of modern day policing” and that “discretion is by its nature case specific.

“Ultimately, any decisions can be challenged through the courts,” they added.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times