‘Pro-arrest’ approach to perpetrators of domestic abuse must continue – Women’s Aid

NGOs call for ‘urgently needed’ women’s refuges in submission to Oireachtas committee

The women’s charity says nine counties have no refuge, ‘denying women and children emergency accommodation in their community’. Photograph: iStock

The women’s charity says nine counties have no refuge, ‘denying women and children emergency accommodation in their community’. Photograph: iStock

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The Garda’s recent “pro-arrest” approach with perpetrators of domestic abuse must continue after the pandemic, Women’s Aid has urged.

In a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice the charity also said domestic abuse refuges are urgently needed in nine counties in the State that do not have one.’

In a separate submission Safe Ireland has warned that six units of refuge accommodation about to close in Dublin for “essential maintenance” will be replaced with accommodation that will neither be “staffed nor offer additional security as is consistent with refuge accommodation”.

Despite a welcome focus on domestic violence since the pandemic, say the NGOs, policy is being formulated without accurate data on the extent of the gender-based violence.

The two domestic violence groups are among a number invited by the committee to make submissions on “women’s shelters/domestic abuse refuges” as part of its programme of work for the coming Oireachtas term.

They describe an over-burdened refuge network, providing a third of the capacity it should, and which last year had to turn away 68 per cent of requests for shelter made through the national helpline as refuges were full.

Groups have been asked to focus on 10 areas, including the prevalence of domestic violence, refuge provision, the impact of the pandemic, children in domestic violence and the role of the gardaí.

In-depth data

Women’s Aid said a “national domestic abuse prevalence survey” must be “planned and carried out in Ireland urgently,” as current in-depth data is nearly a decade old. It says the prevalence of emotional abuse being experienced by children living in homes with domestic abuse must also be established.

It says most women using its services for the first time had children. Children are often aware of the abuse experienced by their mothers, which is in itself a recognised form of emotional abuse of children, the submission says .

Welcoming the victim-centred approach of gardaí under Operation Faoiseamh, established as the pandemic took hold, Women’s Aid said this must continue. The “follow through of gardaí to arrest and charge domestic abuse perpetrators for breaches of protective court orders is critical… Maintaining a pro-arrest policy and victim-centred approach when protective orders are breached is therefore vital”.

Women’s Aid said that of the 21 refuges with 139 units, eight refuges are communal, with shared bathroom and kitchen spaces, and are “not fit for purpose”, particularly in a pandemic.

Nine counties – Carlow, Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon and Sligo – have no refuge at all, “denying women and children emergency accommodation in their community”.

Pressure

The loss of six units in Dublin until the end of the year will add to pressure on the network, while the 10-unit Rathmines women’s refuge, closed since 2017 for “refurbishment”, is still not operational despite commitments from Tusla in 2019 to reopen it.

Safe Ireland said: “Even with all 139 units restored, we are still providing less than a third of recommended refuge units [one family place per 10,000 members of the population].” There should be 500 units, it says.

Tusla, which funds domestic violence services, is completing a capacity review of the sector. A spokeswoman said: “This review, focusing on the provision of emergency refuge accommodation for victims of domestic violence, will be made available in the coming months following full consideration at ministerial and interdepartmental level, and in consultation with sectoral interests”.