There have been calls for a Junior Minister to take specific responsibility for domestic and sexual violence amid heightened concern over new figures showing a soaring number of disclosures from women last year.
The annual report from Women’s Aid showed more than 30,000 disclosures were made in 2020, with an increase of 43% in terms of contacts made with its support services compared to that in 2019.
The organisation said the pandemic had had an unprecedented impact, with stories of women being raped, beaten, and coerced by a violent and controlling partner.
It sparked renewed calls for more supports and a speeding up of the planned overhaul of the family courts system.
At the official launch of the report the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, notes the 24% increase in disclosures of abuse against children made to Women’s Aid, describing it as “a pandemic that we haven’t heard about” and re-emphasising that the experiences of children need to be heard.
“People still allow themselves to believe it is only two adults involved,” he said.
Also speaking at the launch of the report, Mary Louise Lynch, founder of SISI (Survivors Informing Services and Institutions), referred to current difficulties in court proceedings.
“We want effective case management implemented... we want specialist Domestic Violence Garda liaisons available for all Family Law hearings... all professionals working in the court system must be held accountable."
Dr Adrienne Barnett, a lecturer in Law at Brunel University, said at the launch that 50% to 80% of domestic abuse is present in cases where parental alienation was mentioned in courts.
Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton said a number of important actions are currently being taken by her department to ensure the delivery of a justice system that works for families, with the drafting of a family court bill and the establishment of a Family Justice Oversight Group.
Professor Louise Crowley, a Senior Lecturer in Family Law at University College Cork and the author of the leading Irish family law text, Family Law, said a Junior Minister - at the very least - should now be appointed to take direct responsibility for domestic and sexual violence, which she said was “a national crisis”.
❓You have decided to intervene, now what❓— UCC Bystander Intervention (@BystanderUcc) May 20, 2021
▶️ You can intervene during or after the incident, either entering the situation between perpetrator and victim directly or engaging with other bystanders such as other witnesses or the Gardaí. #bystanderintervention #NowWhat pic.twitter.com/MzLIgteMfj
Prof. Crowley said the issue currently “falls between a number of stools” at departmental level and as an example said only last week she had written to Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan, regarding a lack of policy direction regarding incidents on public transport.
“What is really important is informed, effective policy,” she said, adding that this then needed to be backed with ringfenced funding in a number of areas, including increased capacity at refuges, dedicated training for judges, changes to physical infrastructure at court level, greater use of technology in family law settings and more specially trained gardaí.
She also said the focus needed to be on intimate partner violence rather than the term ‘domestic violence’, as well as more education at all school levels and enhanced preventative measures.
The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) also responded to the Women’s Aid report, saying the findings in the report were “staggering and shocking”.