Domestic violence support centre in Donegal faces closure

Lifeline Inishowen, based in Carndonagh, delivers petition to Minister for Children

 Mary Doherty of Lifeline Inishowen  with supporters outside  the Dáil on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

Mary Doherty of Lifeline Inishowen with supporters outside the Dáil on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times

 

It was “just not good enough” that rural domestic violence services were threatened with closure just months after Ireland ratified the Istanbul Convention, the National Women’s Council of Ireland has said.

Catherine Lane, local development officer with the council, was speaking at a protest against the threatened closure of a counselling service for women and children affected by domestic violence in Co Donegal. Lifeline Inishowen, based in Carndonagh, opened in 1996 and remains the only such service in the peninsula which has a population of 40,000.

The Istanbul Convention, an international instrument committing signatory states to take all necessary measures to combat domestic violence, was ratified here in March. Among its tenets is that services must be both national and local, and accessible.

About 20 women, some of whom have benefitted from Lifeline Inishowen, were in Dublin on Wednesday to deliver a petition of more than 2,400 signatures to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone appealing for urgent funding. The HSE withdrew funding in 2010 and since then Lifeline has been dependent on fundraising and a €3,200 per year contribution from Tusla.

This has now been withdrawn, with Tusla saying there are other services in the county – the Donegal Women’s Domestic Violence Service and Donegal Women’s Centre (DWC) in Letterkenny. However, the town is 60km away – a two-hour round trip for those who have cars.

Lack of investment

The DWC provides counselling in Letterkenny and outreach services in Falcarragh, Dungloe, Ballyshannon, Killybegs and Carndonagh.

But Lifeline manager Mary Doherty says the centre is open in Carndonagh five mornings a week, making it far more accessible, especially to the most vulnerable and poorest women and their children, in the peninsula.

Among those to welcome the women to Leinster House were Senators Pádraig McLoughlin and Lynn Ruane, as well as TDs Charlie McConalogue, Pearse Doherty, Thomas Pringle, Bríd Smith and Richard Boyd Barrett.

Ms Lane said the Government appeared not to recognise the additional barriers faced by rural women, particularly poorer rural women, when attempting to access services.

“There is a real lack of investment in services for women in isolated rural communities and a lack of understanding of the additional costs they face, with transport, childcare. In the same year that we’ve ratified the Istanbul Convention this really isn’t good enough.”

‘Totally blocked’

Ms Doherty said she and her staff and volunteers wanted to meet Ms Zappone, and had written several times seeking a meeting, “but she has totally blocked us, blocked the women and children of Inishowen”.

“I don’t think she understands the service we provide and by ignoring us she is further abusing these women and children.”

One woman in her early 30s, who did not want to be named, said Lifeline had “saved” her.

Ms Zappone’s department did not respond to requests for a response.

Tusla said: “Donegal Women’s Domestic Violence Service has been identified as the primary organisation delivering domestic violence support services across Co Donegal, including Inishowen ... At this time, Tusla is not seeking to commission additional services in Co Donegal.”