Sporting events spark domestic abuse in England – what about Ireland?

We have no way of telling if it’s the same here because of the quality of Garda statistics

It’s a brutally simple image, familiar and shocking at the same time; a close-up of a woman’s face with blood smeared horizontally and vertically across her mouth. After a few seconds it becomes clear, the blood forms a St George’s Cross, the flag of the English football team.

The advertisement, from the UK’s National Centre for Domestic Violence, is accompanied by the text “If England get beaten so will she.”

Smaller text explains that reports to police of domestic violence increase 26 per cent when England plays and 38 per cent if England loses. The same results have been replicated in other countries and with other sports.

There’s little reason to think Ireland should be any different.


Last year there were 15,833 reports of domestic violence to Ireland’s main helpline, a figure which likely represents only a fraction of the total number of incidents.

Garda statistics

It is impossible to say if there are spikes in violence during and after sports events. This is because of the quality of official Garda statistics.

Last year the Central Statistics Office said it would not publish Garda statistics on domestic violence as it could not stand over them.

Until recently domestic violence was not a separate crime in Ireland but gardaí could mark an incident as having a domestic element to it on the Pulse system.

However, it became apparent this was not being done as, according to the statistics, Ireland had five times less incidents than Northern Ireland despite having a much bigger population.

A 2014 Garda Inspectorate’s report found 45 per cent of domestic violence cases were not recorded on the Pulse system.

Although there are signs the situation is improving, Garda statistics are still not complete enough to tell us things like if major sporting events are a triggering factor.

In their absence the next best thing is to look at the numbers calling domestic violence helplines, the main one being Women's Aid.

Surprisingly, Women’s Aid says it can detect no correlation between sports events and increased numbers calling its helpline.

"We were asked this before in 2012 when there was a whole summer of sport with the Euros and the Olympics and so forth. So we said over that summer we'll see if anyone mentions it on the helpline. But it didn't come up," said Women's Aid spokesman Christina Sherlock.

“The feeling on the helpline is it’s not something women name as a reason for what’s happening to them.”

Asked if helpline workers brace themselves for a deluge of calls after, for example, the All Ireland final, Sherlock was emphatic. “Absolutely not.”

One indicator is the family courts where victims of domestic violence can apply for emergency safety or protection orders in the aftermath of an abusive incident.

That’s not the whole story though. Sherlock and other domestic violence workers point out stats from helplines are imperfect as victims tend to wait a while after an incident before making contact, making it difficult to judge correlation with any event.

Many women will only call once they have gotten away from their abuser or made sure their children are safe. Even then many take a long time to think before making first contact.

“There are a lot of things that happen before they pick up the phone for that first phone call,” said Sherlock.

She said helpline workers do see upticks when domestic violence is mentioned on television or in the press, especially around the time the charity releases its annual impact report.

So if Garda figures are unreliable and helpline statistics aren’t any more helpful, how can we know if Ireland faces a similar problem to the UK?

One indicator is the family courts where victims of domestic violence can apply for emergency safety or protection orders in the aftermath of an abusive incident.

But here also there is little correlation with sporting events and the numbers coming to court according to lawyers and court personal who spoke to The Irish Times. "It's not something I've ever noticed. I hadn't even considered it actually before I saw that ad," one family court solicitor said.

The courts do see increased numbers of women seeking safety orders around Christmas time, mainly because it’s a period when people tend to spend long periods of time in the home while consuming alcohol. But not around sporting events.

Advertising campaign

Again this doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It could be that Ireland’s small population means the figures don’t increase enough to show up on anyone’s radar. The truth is, until garda stats improve, we have no way of knowing.

Regardless of whether sports are a trigger for domestic violence in Ireland, Sherlock is not sure the advertising campaign in the UK is sending out the right message. She worries tying sports events to domestic violence might be offering abusers an excuse for their actions.

“It’s good that it’s causing people to talk about the issues but we never ever want to be in a position where it’s being used as an excuse and an easy answer as to why men abuse,” she said.

“Abuse is a choice and the responsibility is always with the perpetrator.”

The main reason abuse spikes in the UK after football matches is probably because abusers are drinking more, Sherlock suggests.

Drink is also not an excuse for domestic violence, she said, but it can increase the severity and frequency of abuse, meaning there are more police call-outs.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times