Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Domestic Violence

9:42 am

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I want to raise the issue of the need for a domestic violence centre in County Laois. I raised this issue on 19 January on the floor of the Dáil and raised it again on 30 March. I have raised it at the Committee of Public Accounts a number of times and have also raised it in a series of parliamentary questions. I am raising it again this morning because it is really important that we get a domestic violence refuge in the county.

The third national strategy on domestic violence issues was launched recently and I welcome that. In that strategy, 12 locations in the country which do not have domestic violence refuges, including, nine counties, are identified as priorities. Laois is one of the counties identified, as is Offaly. The midlands is without one of these centres as there is no refuge in either Laois or Offaly. Domestic abuse services in Laois and Offaly are both doing great work but are under pressure. The pandemic brought its own problems but there was a 38% increase in demand last year. We were coming out of the pandemic at that stage but unfortunately, domestic violence is an increasing problem. It is a cultural, educational and societal problem. In the Laois centre, there was a 38% increase year on year in the number of clients supported, with 505 people receiving actual support. People working in the service tell me that the cases are becoming more complex and the annual reports of domestic violence services show that clearly. The services can only do so much without a safe refuge for people, sometimes men but mainly women and children, who are trying to escape domestic violence.

There is little or no emergency accommodation available in the county. Laois County Council is really firefighting at the moment in terms of the provision of homeless accommodation. Unfortunately, the fact that people are fleeing Putin's illegal war in Ukraine is bringing its own pressures. Accommodation that might have been available in the social housing system or by way of HAP tenancies is becoming more difficult to source and there are waiting lists for emergency accommodation. Typically, people are being sent out of the county to access services, which means taking them away from local schools, doctors and other services and away from family supports.

The Laois Domestic Abuse Service has a four-year strategic plan and it was confirmed to me again yesterday that a refuge is the number one priority for the staff and the board. I ask the Minister of State to confirm that capital funding has been announced for a refuge in Laois and that money will not be a barrier. Can he assure me that if the jigsaw can be put together in terms of identifying a suitable site and so on, the money will be forthcoming? A strategy group is in place locally and is working on this. Tusla is working with that group, along with a number of other stakeholders. It is really important that money does not become the barrier to getting a refuge in place. People are at their most vulnerable when they are escaping domestic violence. Often women and children go back into abusive situations because they have no other option. They need a refuge space to feel safe, get their head together, access support services and to plan a way forward. That may involve obtaining barring orders and so on but they need that space.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Stanley for raising the very important matter of domestic violence refuge accommodation in County Laois. It is the intention of the Minister for Justice that every person who needs a refuge space will have access to one. The Minister fully acknowledges the need for a significant increase in the provision of refuge spaces and she is committed to achieving this to ensure that victims have a safe place when they need it. In June, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, brought to Government the third national strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, Zero Tolerance.

The strategy has a particular focus on prevention and on ensuring victims are better supported. As part of this, it contains actions for nationwide delivery of refuge accommodation. As a start, the strategy commits to doubling the number of refuge places. This will be the fastest ever expansion of refuge spaces. We will also work to deliver additional safe house and step-down accommodation. We have identified 12 locations nationwide where the delivery of additional family refuge spaces would have the most impact, if prioritised. These priority areas, as the Deputy is aware, include Portlaoise, where eight family places are suggested as a potential refuge size requirement.

The Minister is informed by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, that a group involving local stakeholders, including the Laois Domestic Abuse Service, has been established to take forward plans to develop the proposed refuge and associated support services. Planning is not yet at the stage to identify the specific amount of either capital or revenue funding required. Furthermore, planning is not sufficiently advanced to identify the specific timelines for completion of the refuge, but Tusla and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will be working with local stakeholders to support and ensure the process progresses as fast as possible.

As the Deputy can appreciate, due to the variations in sites, resources available and specific local features, the costs for each of the planned refuge developments will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Decisions on funding will be supported into the future by work being progressed nationally to develop principles for refuge design. Tusla will continue to engage with stakeholders to support the refuge development process in County Laois. The Minister informs me that in 2022, the Laois Domestic Abuse Service was allocated €281,440, with €79,000 in additional funding to strengthen its capacity for the provision of supports to women and to further develop services to children impacted by domestic violence and abuse. Additional resources such as project management support and other supports for capacity building will be available to the Laois Domestic Abuse Service and other organisations taking forward refuge developments in the 12 priority locations, as outlined in the third national strategy.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister of State's reply. The point I want to make strongly is that typically, women and children fleeing domestic violence would be sent to emergency accommodation or refuges but the supply of emergency accommodation, which is typically in the private rental or bed-and-breakfast sector, is drying up. In many cases it is also not suitable for women and children fleeing domestic violence situations.

I welcome the fact that the strategy has a particular focus on prevention and on ensuring that victims are better supported. The delivery of refuge accommodation is central to that. While I welcome that element of the Minister of State's reply, I am a bit concerned by his statement that the "costs for each of the planned refuge developments will be considered on a case-by-case basis". That is fair enough but I ask him to restate the overall figure and to confirm that it is still available. As I recall, funding in excess of €300 million was announced for the strategy and I ask for confirmation that the money is there to provide these much-needed centres in each of the areas that do not have one, including County Laois. Offaly is putting forward a different solution and that is fine. The domestic violence service there is doing good work but the geographic situation in that county is different.

A number of site options are being considered in Laois and I do not believe finding a site will be a problem. There is great local commitment to the development of a refuge from the local authority, An Garda Síochána, Tusla and various other stakeholders. Ms Marna Carroll, the service director of Laois Domestic Abuse Service, and her staff have done Trojan work and I commend them on all of their efforts, particularly over the last couple of years through the pandemic. It has not been easy for them. All public representatives in the area have had occasion to refer people to the service, sometimes too often. It is really important that we do this, that we give women and children support at that vulnerable point in their lives. I am sure the Minister of State will agree with me on that. I ask him to confirm that the pounds, shillings and pence are available and that money will not be a barrier when a suitable site is located. We must move these projects on quickly. We do not want them to take forever and a day. I am sure the Minister of State will agree that these projects must be up and running quickly. We do not want any delays.

Photo of James BrowneJames Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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Again, I thank Deputy Stanley for raising the very important matter of the domestic violence refuge accommodation that is necessary in County Laois. I have heard the Deputy's concerns clearly and will relay them to the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee.

I heard very clearly and understand the very strong commitment in County Laois to deliver this necessary accommodation to support women and children who find themselves in the horrific situation of domestic violence or abuse. I do not have the global figure to hand, but I will get it for the Deputy. I assure him that funding is in place to support the establishment and building of necessary refuge accommodation over the coming years.

As previously mentioned, the central element of the new strategy is that everyone who needs a refuge space should be able to access once. When someone is faced with the difficult choice to leave an abusive situation, the Minister wants them to know exactly where they can turn to for help. Over the lifetime of this strategy, we will see the fastest ever expansion of refuge spaces. The Minister believes that we will be putting in place the correct structures to deliver additional refuge accommodation now, including the development of a new strategy, and that it will accelerate the number of additional spaces that can be opened each year. Work undertaken in implementing the strategy has already prepared the way for this, including a significant increase in funding as part of budget 2023. An interdepartmental group is developing and progressing agreed processes and approaches to ensure that we will have the highest standard of refuge accommodation delivered in the most efficient way. The Minister knows that there is much to do, but, along with our Government colleagues, we are determined to do whatever is necessary.

Again, I will read the Deputy’s concerns to the Minister. In my county we have the Wexford Women’s Refuge and Wexford Rape Crisis, both of which do fantastic and absolutely wonderful work. I know how important it is for Laois to have its own accommodation. I will relay that to the Minister.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 9.51 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 10 a.m.

Sitting suspended at 9.51 a.m. and resumed at 10 a.m.