Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality

Women's Shelters and Domestic Abuse Refuges: Discussion

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the witnesses. It is sad to see these cases in 2021. It is something we have to rectify. I raised this matter the week before last in the Dáil with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. I am a proud Carlow woman, but Carlow does not have a women's refuge. It is a concern. The Minister told me that the review is being done. Is there a timescale for the review? Who is participating in the review? I will give an example, and I am dealing with this regularly. When somebody comes to me at the weekend I always find that I am caught. Women's Aid is not open and the local authority is not open. Where do I go? This is becoming a serious issue for me. There is nowhere to go if it happens at the weekend. At least, during the week I can advise somebody to go to Carlow Women's Aid or we can go to the local authority and try to get the person emergency bed and breakfast accommodation for a few nights until the situation can be resolved. How can we put some type of structure in place?

Local authorities can play a far bigger role. There are 31 local authorities and they deal with housing. Years ago, as the witnesses know, particularly those from Safe Ireland, it was always the local authority that would buy a house and it was always through housing that a refuge would be considered. Now we have no structure and we do not know, as the witnesses said, who is responsible and who will get a house and who will try to get some type of building for a refuge. That is an issue for me. In defence of Carlow County Council, it leased a house which could accommodate two families but the problem is that during Covid it became a major issue because only one family could be accommodated. We need to look at emergency services. When something happens over the weekend, we do not have anywhere for people to go when we are trying to find some help for them.

The other issue, and this has been raised, is that we need to have greater awareness. It has increased more with Covid. I know women who are nervous. I do not know whether it is that they do not want their friends to know or something else. Do we need to consider an awareness campaign? Can women in the Oireachtas play a bigger role in raising awareness and engaging in a campaign? How can we make a difference? I have to speak about men too. The witnesses spoke about men, and I realise it is for men and women. However, I think we are missing something here. We should consider having a Minister with responsibility for this area and get a structure to ensure that when a man or woman needs that help, there is a service available.

Are all the different services, be it Women's Aid or others, fully staffed? Are there sufficient staff for them? Do we need to look at extra staffing? I believe there could be staffing issues. There is so much that has to be done here. As Deputies and Senators stated, and I have been dealing with sad cases, including children, now is the time for change. It is 2021 and we are approaching 2022 and we cannot have a society where a woman or a man has nowhere to go if he or she needs this help. We cannot allow this to happen anymore.

I again thank the witnesses. Now is the time for change and we need to make that change.


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