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Domestic Violence

Over half of domestic violence refuges across the country are full

Services told The Journal that the housing crisis has made it extremely difficult for women and children in refuge accommodation to move on.

OVER HALF OF domestic violence refuges around the country are full, with the housing crisis leading to women and children staying in crisis accommodation for months on end because they can’t find anywhere else to go. 

Of the 20 specialist domestic violence services that provide refuge accommodation who were contacted by The Journal, 14 said that all of their refuge spaces were currently full. 

Almost all of those contacted said that women and children are staying in refuge for longer periods of time due to the lack of available housing across the country, with one service saying that some women are having to enter homeless emergency accommodation as a result. 

Several refuges said they were unable to accommodate a number of women and children last year as all of their refuge spaces were full at that time. This meant that they had to work with other refuges around the country to ensure that families could be safely accommodated elsewhere.

All of the refuges who spoke to The Journal stressed that they always have capacity to help and will always find safe refuge accommodation for families who need it when they are contacted. 

Refuges are short-term accommodation for women in emergency situations that need a place of safety. They are usually small apartments with a bedroom, kitchenette, washing facilities and a shared communal space.

Along with refuge spaces, domestic violence services also have outreach services to support women and children, and can work with them to provide individual advice and support planning, safety planning, court accompaniment services and counselling.

Cora McCann is the assistant refuge manager at Saoirse Domestic Violence Services in Dublin. She told The Journal that all of their refuge spaces are currently occupied. 

While the service would have previously provided the crisis accommodation to women for around 12 to 16 weeks, the lack of affordable housing means that women are having to stay in refuge for months while trying to find somewhere else to go. 

We don’t have any safe move-on options because there’s no rental accommodation available.

McCann said that women can’t go home because the perpetrator is often still living there, and even in situations where a domestic violence order is in place, “that still doesn’t stop a perpetrator from presenting to the family home”.

This can impact a family’s recovery from domestic violence, as well as being difficult for the refuge staff who work with impacted families to build their confidence, but then have to refer them to homeless services.  

“It’s really not ideal at all, but obviously, that’s the time we’re in at the minute.”

Housing crisis

Naoimh Murphy, from Amber Women’s Refuge in Kilkenny, told The Journal that the service operated almost consistently at 100% occupancy throughout 2023. However, she said the previous year would have seen a similar level of occupancy. 

“Make no mistake: the housing crisis, the lack of availability of social housing and affordable private rental accommodation, is probably the greatest barrier and the greatest challenge for women and children who are victims/survivors of domestic violence and abuse,” she said.

In some circumstances, the lack of available accommodation means women are making the decision to return to an unsafe home rather than registering as homeless “because there is no viable alternative”. 

Murphy said it needs to be governmental priority that those living in or fleeing abusive homes are prioritised in terms of housing provision. 

Mary Cullinane, the services manager at Cuanlee Refuge in Cork, told The Journal that the housing crisis has had a knock-on effect for all domestic violence services. 

“What happens after refuge is a big thing. There’s still a housing crisis. People just can’t afford to get on private rental, so that does hold people in service longer than they need to be,” she said.

Cullinane said that while services are busy, they will always be available to help women who need them.

“The services are there and it’s important that women access those services.”

Gillian McNamee, the head of domestic abuse services at COPE Galway, told The Journal that they accommodated approximately 130 women and 125 children in 2023.

Last year was also the first year that the refuge had to turn people away. McNamee said the refuge is currently full. 

“It does fluctuate. I could go back down now after lunch and we could have a space. It changes all the time, but definitely, towards the end of last year, we certainly noticed a bigger intake with more people coming to us.”

McNamee said that women who experience domestic violence will often remain at home for Christmas, or those in refuge will return home for Christmas, to spend it at home with their children.

“Always then in January, particularly when the kids go back to school, we start seeing a lot more drop-ins, phone calls and people looking to have a change in life, to not have it this way anymore,” she said.

Istanbul Convention

There are still nine counties in Ireland that do not have a domestic violence refuge: Carlow, Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, and Sligo. 

The ‘Zero Tolerance’ third national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence (DSGBV) has committed to doubling the number of refuge places to 280 by 2026. 

However, this would still fall short of the number of spaces required under the Istanbul Convention, which Ireland ratified in 2019. 

The convention is a significant international legal instrument which requires criminalising or legally sanctioning different forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment and psychological violence.

McNamee said that while the DSGBV strategy is moving in the right direction, more work needs to be done to prevent domestic violence. 

“We’re very much under the protection pillar, but unless we move to the preventive pillar, we can put up all the refuges that we want, but the problem is that the abuser is left in the house and a woman has to leave.”

‘Capacity can’t meet the demand’

Meath Women’s Refuge said that they accommodated 93 women and 92 children last year, while 292 families were unable to be accommodated at the refuge.

“Consistently, we’re seeing that the demand for refuge is high, but the capacity can’t meet the demand,” Sinéad Smith, the CEO of the service, told The Journal. 

She said that it is difficult to get a clear picture of the level of domestic violence in the community, and cited the Government’s monthly statistics on homelessness. 

“We don’t know within those stats, what percentage of those families are homeless because of domestic violence,” she said.

“It’s something we’d like to see the Government provide more information on because we need to be able to measure those stats to see are patterns going up or down.”

Deirdre Berry, the head of services at Esker House Domestic Abuse Support Service in Athlone, told The Journal that more needs to be done to ensure that women can remain in their homes.

“We really need to take this issue seriously.”

The Department of Housing told The Journal that it has completed a review of the 2017 Policy and Procedural Guidance for Housing Authorities in relation to assisting victims of domestic violence with emergency and long-term accommodation, and will share its recommendations with external stakeholders in the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, local authorities should continue to follow the guidance, which states that any victim of domestic violence that presents to homeless services “should be referred to a specialist domestic violence service in the first instance, so that any particular care needs can be considered and addressed”.

“However, where a victim’s emergency accommodation needs are unable to be met by a refuge service, including where the victim has been required to exit a refuge facility, local authorities must consider the presentation in accordance with Section 2 of the Housing Act 1988.

“Once a victim has been assessed as homeless, including those who are unable to return to their homes because of domestic violence, local authorities may provide emergency accommodation and related services to the victim.”

The Department said that reporting is currently being enhanced “so that information in relation to presentations due to domestic violence will be recorded more uniformly across local authorities”.

The Department of Justice told The Journal that the Government is committed to reaching 280 refuge spaces in place by the end of 2026.

It has identified 12 locations for prioritisation of delivery of 98 family refuge spaces:

  • Sligo (8 family places)
  • Cavan/Monaghan (8 family places)
  • Cork city (12 family places – 6 new, 6 replacement)
  • North Cork (5 family places)
  • West Cork (5 family places)
  • Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown (10 family places)
  • Westmeath (8 family places – four new, four replacements)
  • Portlaoise (8 family places)
  • Balbriggan (10 family places)
  • Longford (8 family places)
  • Carlow (8 family places)
  • Offaly (8 family places)

The Department also said it expects 36 refuge spaces will be delivered in Wexford, Dundalk and Navan by the end of this year.

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