Frances Fitzgerald issues stern warning to domestic abusers

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has issued a stern warning to those who “derived false strength” by preying on vulnerable people behind the closed doors of their home.

“These people are very shameful in their cowardice. I certainly don’t want to rest until this is stopped,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald was speaking at a conference in Dublin hosted by Barnardos to highlight the impact of domestic abuse on children.

“Children living with domestic violence are among the most vulnerable in our society and are absolutely in need of our protection and support. They live in a situation that is an unimaginable horror,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said the Domestic Violence Bill that would be published in the next two weeks would allow experts to get the views of children affected by the orders being sought.

It would also be possible for a victim to give evidence by a televisual link to avoid the risk of intimidation by the perpetrator or an associate in civil and criminal proceedings.

However, despite the improvements in how society responded to domestic violence, there was so much work to be done.

“The battle against domestic violence is one that will never end,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

“It is not acceptable that children live in fear and intimidation. The devastating effect on these children cannot be overstated.

“Physical injuries are obvious. Trauma, fear and stress may be less visible but can be even more damaging,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said Barnardos was an important organisation contributing significantly to the efforts made to secure a better future for children.

Frances Fitzgerald TD, during the launch of the national awareness campaign on domestic violence “What would you do?”. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins
Frances Fitzgerald TD, during the launch of the national awareness campaign on domestic violence “What would you do?”. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins 

Earlier, the chief executive of Barnardos Fergus Finlay said Ireland had a problem facing up to domestic abuse. Every day the charity saw the tremendous impact domestic violence was having on children, even if the children were not direct victims.

“Living in an abusive environment leaves a massive emotional scar on a child and often results in deep anxiety or aggressive outbursts, never mind the impact on their health, schooling, peer relationships and other developmental aspects. It is, simply, a form of child abuse,” said Mr Finlay.

Barnardos knew that without appropriate support there was a huge risk of irreparable damage to the child-parent relationship and, the cycle of abuse continuing.

Research showed children who grew up experiencing domestic abuse were more likely to become perpetrators or victims in their adult life.

“Domestic violence destroys lives, and domestic violence is primarily enabled by secrecy. We have got to get it out from behind the locked front door of homes,” he said.

 

He shouted at my friends

Asha, 13, is the eldest of three children. Her family was referred to Barnardos because her little sister has a disability and her parents, who are not from Ireland, were finding it difficult to manage.

Her father became less and less engaged with the charity as time went on but her mother continued to participate in a parenting programme. During one session she disclosed that she was frequently sexually and physically abused by her husband. She felt there was nothing she could do about it.

It emerged that Asha had tried to protect her mother and younger siblings by trying to calm her father down.

Barnardos worked with Asha to help her understand her feelings, but it was no easy task because, at first, Asha was too embarrassed to talk about how she felt.

Asha said she was ashamed of what her father did and had become isolated from her friends as a result.

“He called me a slut if he didn’t like what I was wearing. It was bad, but it was worse when he shouted at my friends about what they were wearing.”

The charity worked with the family so Asha, her mother, and siblings knew what to do and where to go if they felt unsafe. Some months later, Asha’s mother left the family home with her children.

Barnardos continues to provide support for Asha’s family in their new home. Asha still looks behind her when walking home from school. Asha worries about her mother and siblings. She prefers to sit in an armchair beside the window in their new house with a phone nearby so she can keep them safe.

Mum kicked on ground

Cormac, 10, was referred to Barnardos because he was anxious and withdrawn in school.

His parents recently separated, but his father still has access to the family home and can visit Cormac and his older brother.

When Barnardos started working with Cormac he told them about the fights between his parents — his father shouted a lot and punched his mother.

His mother was not allowed to have friends or money when his father lived in the house.

Cormac, who worries about upsetting his father, told Barnardos: “Now that dad doesn’t live with us anymore he always asks questions about mam and gets me to give her messages.”

His father was living with them when he had a birthday party at a local restaurant, but he was not there because his mother had given him the wrong time.

Later at home his father pulled his mother to the ground and kicked her for not getting the time right.

When Barnardos started supporting Cormac’s mother it had taken some time before she realised she was being abused by her ex-partner.

Cormac said he did not want to be like his father but worried that he would grow up to be like him because when he got angry he took his frustrations out on his mother.

Barnardos helped Cormac’s mum to see that Cormac and his brother were mimicking behaviour. She is developing strategies to avoid taking her anger at her sons’ father out on them.


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