Women's refuges continue to struggle despite Government pledge to tackle violence against women 4 months ago

Women's refuges continue to struggle despite Government pledge to tackle violence against women

"There has been no action."

Women's refuges across Ireland continue to struggle to meet demand despite the Government's pledge to tackle male violence against women in the wake of Ashling Murphy's murder.

There are currently 144 refuge places for women and children across the country, with nine counties having no place of refuge at all.

As BreakingNews.ie reports, the number of spaces is significantly below the Istanbul Convention's set target of 472 places for victims of domestic violence in Ireland.

An Oireachtas committee late last year heard that the lack of refuge places available urgently required addressing.

Yet chief executive of Saoirse Domestic Violence Services (SDVS), Allison Graham, says it has yet to be addressed.

"There has been no action and, at this point in time, no commitment of additional funding to address this," Ms Graham told the publication.

"Dublin has four refuges at the moment but the demand is so massive with such a large population it is outstretching the supply."

Ms Graham said the lack of spaces often sees women and children having to seek refuge outside of the county they live in, which can be daunting.

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"If we are full the first thing we would do is try and ring the other refuges around and see if they have any space," she said.

"For some women, for safety reasons, they find that they might request to move outside an area, they might feel safer. But then, for a lot of women, moving to another area, even if it is only for a short term refuge, it's very uprooting.

"For children for school, women for their jobs, their support network with family, friends – to be plucked from that to go to another area to seek refuge from a violent relationship that is not their fault, it's backwards."

Though SDVS and other service providers received help from Airbnb, which made beds available for refuge amid increased demand throughout the pandemic, places still cannot be found for those who need them on a regular basis.

"It doesn't happen every day, but absolutely weekly," Ms Graham continued. "We have been in existence for 16 years now and on average you are looking at about 70 per cent of the requests for refuge can't be accommodated."

This figure may fluctuate year by year, but the pandemic's increased demand for such services highlighted just how stretched resources here are.

"No woman wants to have to come to a refuge, for most it is the very last step they will take when they need to get out for their safety, for their lives," Ms Graham said.

"To make that call and then there is no space, its horrendous, for any woman or child to be in that situation. It needs immediate action."

In the wake of the murder of 23-year-old primary school teacher Ashling Murphy, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that the Government would be taking a “zero-tolerance” approach to tackling gender-based violence.

The Government's new strategy to tackle domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is to be published by early March, according to the Minister.

"We are always hopeful that when Government say they'll do something that it will be actioned, that there will be positive change and outcomes for the women and children, but you have to wait and see," Ms Graham said.

"Although we are fighting for more refuge spaces, there needs to be more focus as well at Government level. There is a wider piece of work that needs to happen in terms of how people respond to victims of domestic violence and also how perpetrators are held accountable."

Though refuges are struggling to meet demand, anyone who needs support is encouraged to reach out. Saoirse Domestic Violence Services 24hr Helpline can be reached on 01 463 0000. Women's Aid's 24hr National Freephone Helpline can be reached on 1800 341 900.