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The report comes following a campaign by the family of Clodagh Hawe, who was murdered by her husband, Alan, in 2016. Alamy Stock Photo
familicide

Harris says family concerns will be 'considered' in domestic violence report recommendations

The study was carried out independently of the Department of Justice.

LAST UPDATE | 31 May 2023

MINISTER FOR JUSTICE Simon Harris said he was “extremely clear” that all of the issues raised by families in the report on domestic and family violence and familicide will be “considered” in implementing the over 200 recommendations the report provided.

The study examined domestic abuse “in all its forms”, including abuse which occurs within a home, family or intimate partnership. It also examined the effects of witnessing violence and abuse towards another family member.

Úna Butler, a mother from co Cork, lost both of her daughters when her husband, who suffered with mental health issues, murdered them both in 2010. He then took his own life.

Butler told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme that she was “upset” that her issues were not included in the list of recommendations to government.

Butler campaigned that amendments be made to the Mental Health Act 2001 to so that family members are involved in the therapy and support process for those who have mental health issues.

However, the Justice Minister said he was “extremely clear” with government that regardless of whether a recommendation from the family is included in the report, “all of the issues raised by families, including the issued raised by Úna, will now be considered in the context of the next steps”.

Harris added that he was “thinking of Úna” and “absolutely” wants the processes to continue to include the issues raised.

The study was carried out independently of the Department of Justice and was submitted to the Department last year. Harris presented it to Cabinet yesterday.

The Minister said outside Mountjoy Prison today that he met with all families involved with the report, something he called a “humbling experience”.

“I was very eager before we published the report that I personally would meet with all of the families who fed into that report. I spent well over a dozen hours in rooms talking with those families,” Harris said.

The report said that “domestic abuse and violence are regarded as key predictors of domestic homicide and familicide, which are ultimately the manifestation of the most violent form of this crime”.

The report recommended the creation of a national database for domestic and family violence-related deaths.

Stakeholders consulted for the report include family members of victims, non-governmental organisation and State agencies.

Families “frankly engaged with respect to the services that were and were not available to them during their time of need” via anonymised testimonies, the report said.

The report include a wide range of recommendations, on matters including the collection of data on domestic violence, support for and custody of children who have lost a parent to familicide and guidelines for media reporting on domestic violence and familicide cases.

Media coverage

The authors recommended that statutory measures be put in place to require news outlets to wait until gardaí have confirmed a domestic homicide or familicide case before they can identify the victim. This would include measures to prevent indirectly identifying the victim before their death is confirmed by gardaí, such as reporting details of the location or other circumstances of the death.

The report also said: “Editors of major national and regional news outlets should review their policies of having a singular criminogenic focus on the reporting on domestic homicide and familicide.

“The need to create appropriate ways of involving social correspondents in the early stages of reporting to ensure that coverage recognises the broader social context of domestic abuse in all its forms, in which these crimes take place.”

It also gave recommendations for expanding the Garda press team to respond more effectively to domestic violence crimes and familicides.

Family support and advocacy

The report said that protocols should be put in place to ensure that information from victims is shared with relevant individuals such as psychotherapists quickly and efficiently. It recommended that this be based off the UK’s ‘Tell Us Once’ system, where a bereaved person can inform most government organisations of a death in one go.

Similarly, victims should be given prompt and easy access to legal aid advice and representation, the report said.

It also noted: “The rights of children and carers in informal family kinship care arrangements need urgent review and resolution.

“The application of best practice in assessing the best interests of the child should prioritise the pre-existing family relationship, especially in the wake of domestic homicide and familicide.”

The authors also recommended that one dedicated support person should be in place for children who have experienced domestic abuse, or witnessed it, to cater for their “diverse and unique needs”. This support person would also serve as an advocate for the child.

Another recommendation was that the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme include “mandatory content on gender and power, healthy respectful relationships, and recognising and seeking support when there is violence or abuse occurring”.

Data collection

The authors recommended that data on intimate partner violence be collected by the Central Statistics Office, following a public consultation process on what information is acceptable to be collated in this way.

They said a national database should be established for reporting on domestic and family violence deaths, and the gardaí’s data collection system should be enhanced to allow cooperation with other agencies to respond to domestic violence and familicide.

Harris said in a statement: “None of us can begin to understand the appalling impact of something like this unless you’ve lived through it. That’s why we are so grateful to the families for engaging in the process and for giving of themselves and their time.

“It took tremendous bravery and selflessness to use their own experiences of unimaginable pain to make our systems better, and we are indebted to them.

“I recognise what a truly difficult subject this is, and how the families deserved to be listened to. We really needed to hear that lived experience to understand where the system is working and, more importantly, where it is not working.

“Fundamentally, of course, we want to try to prevent such incidents from happening.

“But, where you can’t prevent, we want to ensure the whole system responds appropriately to ensure that individuals and communities are supported.”

The late Norah Gibbons was asked to carry out the study on familicide and domestic homicide reviews in 2019, following a campaign by the family of Clodagh Hawe, who was murdered by her husband, Alan, in 2016.

He also murdered the couple’s three children – Liam, aged 13, Niall, aged 11 and Ryan aged 6 – before taking his own life.

Solicitor Maura Butler was tasked the research lead after Gibbons passed away.

Harris met with the families who contributed to the report earlier this month to discuss their experiences and contributions. All family members involved have received a copy of the final report.

Harris said: “This was absolutely necessary and the right and proper thing to do.

“Whilst my Department was not involved in the work of the study, nor was it a member of the study’s advisory group, given the importance of the issues involved, I am committed to enact suitable recommendations as a priority.

“I want to get going on the next steps – to implement the recommendations. The way to do that is by bringing this to Government, as I have done today, and to publish it.

“Once published, we will be able to bring together the three groups that will really be central to helping us advance the most important recommendations of the report.

“Most importantly there will be a family group – made up of families of victims interested in working with us – that will operate in parallel to the other two groups.”

Need help? Support is available:
Samaritans – 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
Aware – 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
Teen-Line Ireland – 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 18)
Childline – 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
SpunOut – text SPUNOUT to 50808 or visit spunout.ie

Additional reporting by Muiris O’Cearbhaiill

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