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Morgan calls for social housing for victims of domestic violence

28 February, 2007


Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan has called on the Government to provide social housing for men and women subjected to domestic violence who have left crisis accommodation. Speaking on a Sinn Féin Private Members Motion on Domestic Violence in the Dáil this evening Deputy Morgan welcomed Junior Minister Frank Fahey's announcement of his intention to establish a new Domestic Violence Office but questioned why the government waited for a Sinn Féin motion on domestic violence before announcing the possibility of a new co-ordinating mechanism.

Deputy Morgan said, "One of the mammoth barriers to victims - by which I mean women and men - of domestic violence freeing themselves from their current situation is the shortage of accommodation places.

"Sinn Fein believe it is imperative that this Government provides supported social housing to women, and men, subjected to domestic violence who have left crisis accommodation and have ongoing support needs, as well as a need for safe, secure accommodation.

"If victims are to survive, and it is that serious, the government must take steps to meet the emergency, transitional and long-term housing needs of victims and their families. Failure to do so is unjustifiable and unacceptable.

"The Government amendment and speeches really do nothing more than 'note', 'welcome' and 'commend' measures that clearly fall short of what is needed. They offer no concrete commitments other than the possible prospect of an Office within the Department of Justice. I welcome Junior Minister Fahey's announcement last night of his intention to establish a new Domestic Violence Office. I hope it is not merely just another election promise that they won't deliver on. Why did the government have to wait for a Sinn Féin motion on domestic violence before announcing the possibility of a new co-ordinating mechanism? Even at that, I would question what meaningful effect it could have in the absence of the other reforms and resources called for by us." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Morgan's speech follows:

Arthur Morgan TD

Sinn Fein Private Members Business - Wed 28.02.07 Domestic Violence

When people talk about domestic violence, you often hear them ask the question "why don't they just leave?"

Well there are a great number of factors contributing to women staying in abusive relationships, some of which have been identified by our motion. Not least of these is the international finding that women are 70% more likely to be raped, severely assaulted or murdered after they access the legal system and attempt to leave their abuser. It is essential that all factors, once identified, must be rectified.

Research shows that domestic violence is a cross-class issue. It does not occur more in one socio-economic group than another.

However, disadvantaged groups and women in poverty face increased barriers because they may have fewer options in terms of having a place to escape to after they leave the abusive relationship. Very often, leaving an abuser can result in severe poverty and disadvantage. Likewise economic bullying and control of finances can go hand-in-hand with domestic violence and women who may appear affluent may still face serious financial barriers to leaving.

One of the mammoth barriers to victims - by which I mean women and men - of domestic violence freeing themselves from their current situation is the shortage of accommodation places.

We are in the middle of a housing crisis. But even with the national obsession of debating that crisis, discussing house prices and all the air time given over to economists offering their take on whether interest rates will rise - the specific accommodation and housing needs of vulnerable groups and, particularly victims of domestic violence, just doesn't feature. The needs of these victims, just like the crimes against them, are banished to secrecy, behind closed doors.

In a recent submission to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, Women's Aid highlighted the shortages in terms of refuge accommodation saying "Whether there are services available depends on the part of the country in which one lives." Calling for an increase in the amount of transitional and emergency spaces, One Stop Shop, Cork elaborated further saying there is a decided lack of second-stage housing and refuge spaces, making private rented accommodation the only available option. They have also noted the unsuitability of this situation, given that rent allowance ceilings have not kept pace with inflation "making homelessness a stark possibility".

Local Authorities have responsibility for provision of housing for households who are unable to provide accommodation from their own resources, with only negligible support from the Department of the Environment. People have a right to housing and that includes victims of domestic violence.

It is estimated that 1 in every 5 women will experience domestic violence at one time or another. There are eighteen women's refuges in this state across sixteen counties. Their total capacity is 454 beds, which will cater for 111 women and 353 children at any one time. There is a drastic shortage of refuge accommodation for women that have been forced to leave the home due to domestic violence.

In 2001, 1,104 women were refused accommodation in the three Women's refuges in the eastern region alone. Very often those refused are forced to stay in Emergency Accommodation. Studies carried out on behalf of the Homeless Agency have concluded that the use of B&B's and the increasing length of time that women are living in them is unacceptable. Living in a B&B in this state means living in overcrowded and grossly inadequate accommodation.

Sonas Housing Agency have highlighted the serious shortage of refuge space for women and children where they could access safety and avail of the expert support and advocacy provided by frontline specialist services on violence against women. Being forced to live in unsafe and unsuitable accommodation results in an increased risk of threats and intimidation from ex-partners and husbands. Returning to the primary home often results in further risk and threats. Homeless hostels and B&Bs are not equipped to respond to the risk and trauma that women and children have experienced.

Sinn Fein believe it is imperative that this Government provides supported social housing to women, and men, subjected to domestic violence who have left crisis accommodation and have ongoing support needs, as well as a need for safe, secure accommodation.

If victims are to survive, and it is that serious, the government must take steps to meet the emergency, transitional and long-term housing needs of victims and their families. Failure to do so is unjustifiable and unacceptable.

The Government amendment and speeches really do nothing more than "note", "welcome" and "commend" measures that clearly fall short of what is needed. They offer no concrete commitments other than the possible prospect of an Office within the Department of Justice. I welcome Junior Minister Fahey's announcement last night of his intention to establish a new Domestic Violence Office. I hope it is not merely just another election promise that they won't deliver on. Why did the government have to wait for a Sinn Féin motion on domestic violence before announcing the possibility of a new co-ordinating mechanism? Even at that, I would question what meaningful effect it could have in the absence of the other reforms and resources called for by us.

I welcome the support of the rest of the Opposition for our motion. It seems the government parties are in refusing to stand with all other parties in this House to tackle the grave issue of domestic violence which is an ongoing nightmare for so many on this island.

I would like to respond comprehensively to many deficiencies in the government's explanation of themselves and their stubborn refusal to support Sinn Féin's motion. But given the time available to me I will address just a few.

Minister Fahey outlined the provisions of the Domestic Violence Acts without acknowledging any of the agreed shortcomings of these Acts. This government are in denial. In refusing to support our call to address the limits imposed by residency requirements in those Acts he cited "legal difficulties" as his excuse. This recommendation has not come from ourselves or from Women's Aid alone. It is a recommendation that was made by the Law Reform Commission also i.e. by some of the country's leading legal experts.

He stated that the Department and its agencies make the protection of barring orders available to women who experience violence but he makes no effort to mention or explain the huge variance in the granting of these protection orders from 28% in the Dublin region to 70% in the northern region. This government are in denial.

He cited the existence of the Garda Síochána's domestic violence policy (as did we in our motion) and the various lectures they receive on the issue but he failed to explain or even acknowledge the variation in Garda practice that exists in reality. I agree with the Minister that the reasons for not reporting are complex. But the reasons cited by him centre exclusively on the subjective view of victims of their own situation. He makes no acknowledgement of the fact that poor Garda practice and judicial response also influences rates of reporting. This government are in denial of their responsibilities. Live up to your responsibility Minister - withdraw your insulting amendment.

To conclude, I would again thank everyone who spoke in favour of the Sinn Féin motion for their informed contributions. And I would urge everyone on all sides of the house to vote against the government amendment, which is an insult to all those groups working with victims of domestic violence who are making legitimate and reasonable demands, and in support of our original motion.

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