Seanad debates

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Domestic Violence: Statements.


12:00 pm

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)

There are times topics come before us when it is difficult to know where to start. This topic is so disturbing that I reflect on it and wonder how to make a valuable contribution on the task facing us. I spoke here on the issue in January of last year and referred to the physical and psychological marks and scars which domestic violence leaves and which one person can inflict on another. I described it then as an evil form of violence and that is how I feel about it.

I want to examine both the dark and the light, the awfulness of domestic violence and the courage and brilliance of the people working in this area. Reports on the extent of the problem in Ireland, as in many other countries, make depressing but essential reading. Almost 20% of Irish women experience domestic violence at some time in their lives. This is one in five wives or partners, mothers, sisters, daughters and friends.

It is quite difficult to get one's head around what this statistic means for the many women who experience this evil and the effect it has on them. Research shows that domestic violence is typically ongoing and therefore may be known as a type 2 traumatic event. Studies suggest this can have a significant impact on the woman or child's functioning and can affect their emotions, concentration and reactions or cause them to withdraw from society. It can also cause nightmares, flashbacks etc. When we see the significant level of this kind of behaviour among adults and children, we realise there are many hidden stories. We may be unaware of what is going on in the background.

Domestic violence problems led to approximately 8,500 Garda responses in 2003, some 23 per day. More worrying studies suggest that only one in three women who experiences severe abuse reports it to gardaí. I do not want to confine domestic violence to women. I acknowledge that men and the elderly are also subject to it. We seem to forget that the elderly may be abused. In our changing society where many adult children remain in the home, there has been a significant increase in the number of barring orders being taken by parents against their adult children. We must acknowledge this as part of the domestic violence area.

The problem is complex and difficult to deal with, both for society and Government. The issue spans many political areas and six Departments. The Government is committed to annual funding for awareness programmes to tackle domestic violence and to ensure that housing and shelter programmes fully address the needs of those who have experienced such violence. This is a testing commitment. I recognise and appreciate that the specialist budget for violence against women programmes in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, for example, increased by 40% in 2005 to €1.124 million. In the run-up to the next budget, we need to examine carefully how departmental budgets collectively shape up against the needs in this area. Will the total approach the €19 million specialists say is necessary?

The second element of the Government commitment to ensure that housing and shelter programmes fully address the need is a challenge we must meet. We must address the fact that Women's Aid was unable to answer two out of five calls to its national helpline in 2004 and that 7,754 calls were left unanswered. When I hear that just under half of the 2,800 women who sought emergency refuge accommodation in 2003 could not be accommodated, I am distressed. The Government is committed to ensuring that housing and shelter programmes fully address the needs in the lifetime of its programme. We know there is some way to go when over half of these accommodation refusals are because the refuge is full.

I said I wanted to examine both the dark and the light, and there is some light. We have shining examples of dedication, courage and stamina from groups such as Women's Aid, which provides information and support on a voluntary basis to women experiencing physical, emotional and sexual abuse. It has been dealing with this issue for over 30 years and has my immense gratitude and respect.

I will be parochial and refer to the Cork counselling service which has worked for 20 years in my community supporting families experiencing the terrible trauma of domestic violence. I commend that service. Statistics from January to June of 2005 show that 48% of all clients who initially presented themselves for help stated "relationship problems" as their reason for seeking counselling. However, the Cork service recognises that behind these statistics rest enormous numbers of stories of domestic violence, ranging from physical to psychological or sexual abuse. Based on its 20 years of work in the community, it states that until relatively recent times acknowledgement of domestic violence across various classes was a problem. We must be mindful that domestic violence is a problem across classes affecting both genders. I note that the National Crime Council study, which examined the victimisation of both women and men, found that one in 16 men had experienced domestic violence.

Groups such as the Cork counselling service play an important role in helping families in distress. When we consider the consequences of domestic violence, the task of counselling is critical. We need to examine the issue of funding when we see funded statutory bodies taking calls and offering people an appointment 12 months down the road and then referring them to agencies such as the Cork counselling service. Funding must be given to the people who can provide the necessary immediate service and attention.

It is right that we highlight and recognise the needs in this regard in the House at this pre-budget time. We must ensure when the frustrating annual debate on economics and the distribution of resources takes place that those working at the coalface on issues such as domestic violence have their case heard. Statements in this House may be part of that process. On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I assure them that we will do all we can to ensure their voices are heard so that we make more progress on this pressing issue.


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