Senator: Domestic violence destroyed my family

A Fine Gael senator has revealed how his childhood was destroyed by domestic violence and of how he and his siblings felt let down by the law and the gardaí they looked to for help.

Tony Mulcahy unexpectedly opened his heart at the end of an Oireachtas Justice Committee hearing on domestic violence and the legislative changes needed to protect victims.

The former chairman of Clare County Council was struck by a story told by one of the contributors about a 10-year-old boy who told refuge workers with the Sonas charity that he had to physically stop his mother’s abusive boyfriend choking her, and how he imagined being a superhero so he could get rid of the abuser forever.

“I’m 54 now and I’ll tell you what has changed since I was 10 years old — nothing. We could get no protection,” he said.

Mr Mulcahy said when he was 16, they took matters into their own hands and put their father out of the house.

Receiving applause for his bravery, he said he had not planned going public about his experiences and did not know how his family would react, but he felt it was important to speak up.

Mr Mulcahy called for far more direct action by gardaí when called to a domestic violence incident.

Contributors from support groups and advocacy services had told how few reported incidents translated into formal investigations or prosecutions, and how there was a desperate shortage of housing to accommodate victims fleeing their homes.

“An assault is a criminal act. Where a garda comes to a house, he should be investigating a crime. It’s a crime then, it doesn’t become a crime after the event.”

He said witness statements should be taken immediately, doctors’ examinations carried out, victims photographed if they were up to it and crime scenes examined for damage which was often severe. “I witnessed it in my own house,” he said.

“I don’t go along with, where are we going to house the women and children? We need to remove the criminal from the house. If a lot of these people knew there was going to be a criminal charge, it might eliminate 50% of the crimes.”

The hearing, which continues next Wednesday, is examining more than 400 pages of submissions by groups working in domestic violence services and by victims who often relayed their own harrowing tales.

Margaret Martin, director of Women’s Aid, called for round-the-clock access to judges for the making of barring orders as a priority, pointing out that women and children in danger on a Friday night had to flee or stay in danger until the courts opened on Monday.

Eibhlin Byrne of the Child and Family Agency, which became responsible for domestic violence services six weeks ago, admitted there were serious regional disparities in services and said funds were scattered between various government departments, making it difficult to coordinate.

“There is no overall planning for this sector and that is going to be a huge challenge for this agency and for all of us as a sector.”

She said funding for services was cut by 2.5% this year but she hoped that with better planning, more could achieved with less. “We are making a plan for next year so that it’s a strategy rather than a random shot at where we deliver services.”

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