At yesterday’s enquiry by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice into the provision of refuge and emergency accommodation for victims of domestic violence, Safe Ireland CEO Mary McDermott described the national infrastructure as ‘Dickensian’. In her testimony to the Committee, McDermott stated that the critical deficiency in the current state response is “placing women, and children, at very real risk of grievous trauma, injury or fatality”.
In her opening statement, McDermott stated that
“The first line of support for women, and for children, experiencing domestic abuse must be immediate access to protective services to mitigate risk of further or escalating harm. At a minimum, this includes pathways to safe accommodation, information, judicial protection, and therapeutic supports.”
The Justice Committee enquiry, which was initiated by deputies Jennifer Carroll-MacNeill (FG) and Niamh Smyth (FF), heard that there are only 144 refuges spaces available for the entire country and that the 38 frontline domestic violence (DV) services across the country had 1,351 unmet requests for emergency accommodation between March and August 2020. Deputy Carroll MacNeill commended Safe Ireland on its No Going Back discussion paper, published earlier this year, and expressed grave concern at Tusla delays in commissioning Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with frontline service providers. Deputy Smyth acknowledged the complete erasure of domestic violence from Budget 2022 and highlighted the absence of any refuges in nine counties across the Border-Midlands region. In response Safe Ireland Services Development Manager Lisa Marmion confirmed that the impact of these geographical voids’ places additional strain and unmet demand on the refuge services in neighbouring counties.
In response to questioning, McDermott warned that refuges alone are “not a response to domestic violence but serve rather as a crisis point where people are pushed seek help in extremis.” This was supported by testimony from Marmion who, in response to questions from Deputy Thomas Pringle (Ind) and Deputy Reada Cronin (SF), outlined how refuge must be developed as one component of a wider suite of accommodation measures including Safe at Home Sanctuary schemes and access to affordable rental accommodation.
Following a further round of questions from a number of TDs and Senators, Safe Ireland also highlighted the need to develop CSO data to provide a solid evidence-base for strategic responses; that international best-practice is emerging from countries with a dedicated ministry for domestic-violence; and that political will is the critical pivot to advancing the safety of women, and children, experiencing domestic violence.
Deputy Jennifer Murnane-O’Connor (FF) appealed to her female Oireachtas colleagues for a co-ordinated leadership effort to respond to the national crisis; and Women’s Aid called for the adoption of the O’Malley Dunlop Audit recommendations and the Tusla Accommodation review to be central to the Third National Strategy on Domestic Sexual and Gender-Based Violence. Safe Ireland welcomes on-going dialogue with other Oireachtas committees to progress a broad range of high-level proposals from across the DSGBV sector.