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West Cork domestic violence charity purchases first safe house after private donation of €400,000

The West Cork Women Against Violence Project has seen a 35% increase in calls since last March.

Image: Shutterstock/shisu_ka

A WEST CORK domestic violence charity has purchased its first-ever safe house after receiving a private donation of €400,000.

After years of campaigning, the West Cork Women Against Violence Project (WCWAV) said the donation allowed them to purchase a property that will be used to give families fleeing domestic violence a place of safety, shelter and support. 

“The purchase of a suitable house is a vital step on our journey to keep women and children in West Cork safe from violence,” said WCWAV coordinator Marie Mulholland.

“We will be able to provide safe and comfortable accommodation to a woman and her children when they need it most.”

She thanked the private donor for their “overwhelming generosity” and for allowing the project’s “long-held vision and goal” of establishing a safe house in West Cork become a reality.

Prior to the donation, Mulholland said WCWAV had been reliant on the refuge in Cork city.

She said it only had enough space for six families and “that’s for the largest county in Ireland. It’s the only refuge”.

However, due to the pandemic, it can now only accommodate three families. 

‘Shadow pandemic’

Mulholland said the lack of safe emergency accommodation for victims of domestic violence is of national concern, but that situation is particularly dire for women in rural Ireland.

“Ireland’s emergency accommodation capacity for domestic violence has been way below par, so there is some major catching up to be done,” Mulholland said.

“In the meantime, we’re still getting inundated with women and children, and some men, who are in need of emergency accommodation because they’re escaping violence in their own homes. 

“The situation for rural women and children in need of safety is exacerbated by the challenges of rural life in West Cork; isolation, long distances to the city and the limited capacity of the refuge there, lack of public transport and the dangers presented when women flee their violent partners.”

Mulholland told TheJournal.ie that she gave a presentation to the local county council over two years ago about the need for a safe house for victims of domestic violence in West Cork. She said WCWAV was told it would have to join the housing waiting list. 

A few months ago the project secured funding after it was invited by The Community Foundation for Ireland, along with other charities, to apply for the private donation. 

The organisation says it works with individuals and families, corporations and charitable agencies to ”turn aspirations into effective investments”. 

The Community Foundation for Ireland’s chief executive, Denise Charlton, said the donor was “passionate about providing accessible local support to victims of abuse” and that WCWAV’s project “absolutely fits in with that goal”. 

Mulholland said if the donation hadn’t come, “we wouldn’t be any farther on.”

WCWAV’s initial plan was to buy a large house, one that could accommodate a couple of families, but due to Covid-19, it opted for a smaller option. It plans to use the remaining funding to buy a second small property to provide another safe space. 

During a Dáil debate on the impact of the pandemic on women last week, West Cork TD Holly Cairns said WCWAV had received a 35% increase in calls since last March, and warned that domestic violence had become “the shadow pandemic”

According to provisional figures for 2020, gardaí received approximately 43,000 calls to respond to domestic abuse incidents – a 16% increase on 2019, while the number of criminal charges brought for alleged crimes related to domestic abuse rose by 24% to 7,600. 

Mulholland said “nobody’s coming forward” with a plan or other resources and “in the meantime, people are desperate for somewhere safe to go with their children in order to get away from violence”. 

Long before Covid-19 this was a problem. The pandemic has just highlighted and exacerbated it.

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Last month, the Department of Social Protection extended access to rent supplements for victims of domestic violence to the end of the year.

When an application is made, a rent supplement can be provided for an initial three-month period and the usual means test does not apply. The applicant has to pay a minimum contribution to the rent for this period.

After the first three months, provision is made for a further three-month period of rent supplement without a means test. Where necessary, engagement is made with the person’s local authority over a longer-term housing solution.

WCWAV’s freephone helpline can be reached on 1800 203 136 and further information available can be read here.

Other helplines/advice:

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Adam Daly

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