Plans underway for the first domestic abuse refuge in Laois

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Site under consideration for first domestic abuse refuge in Laois

Site under consideration for first domestic abuse refuge in Laois

A site is being considered by a specifically formed Laois group to open the county’s first domestic abuse refuge.

The news was announced at the Laois Joint Policing Committee meeting held this September. 

A spike in domestic abuse case figures in Laois this year stands out against generally lower crime rates during Covid-19 restrictions.

Currently the nearest refuge to Laois is in Kildare, which has few places. It means that many women and children in Laois are forced to stay living with their abusers because they have nowhere safe to go. 

Laois Offaly Garda Division’s Chief Superintendent John Scanlon said that he is part of a group along with Laois County Council CEO John Mulholland, and Laois Domestic Abuse Service, who are working on creating a refuge for Laois victims of abuse. 

“I sit on a group that is working to come up with a domestic abuse refuge. We have identified a site coming up with an appropriate location,” he said.

He also announced the immediate launch of a specific domestic abuse unit of one sergeant and five Gardaí for the division.

Superintendent Anthony Petit said they have a policy of making return visits to homes where domestic disputes happened within seven days.

“Even in the case of a verbal dispute. If tensions are high on the first visit or a person is present, often it gives that second opportunity to say something.

“We weren’t seeing incidents in the same homes constantly,” he said.

The Gardaí are encouraging people who have been victims of domestic abuse to take out legal orders such as safety orders, protection orders and barring orders. 

This means that if a breach happens, the Gardaí can legally take a case themselves instead of relying on the victim who may feel intimidated by the abuser.

“A significant amount of people do take them out. With 73 arrests (for breach of orders) you can see that we act on it when it occurs,” Supt Petit said.

“Victims find it very hard to come to court and may withdraw the charges. We take the responsibility out of the victim’s hands. So even if the victim says don’t arrest them, they might feel pressure to say that, we just arrest them,” explained Chief Supt Scanlon.

Supt Petit told the Leinster Express that he is hopeful that a centre can be opened. It would have a locked main door, and two staff present at all times to protect residents he said.

“Hopefully we will get to the stage where we will have a refuge,” he said.

2020 crime figures up to September 14 show a 29% increase in Domestic Abuse crimes where no legal offence occurred, from 216 cases up to mid September in 2019, to 278 cases in 2020.

There has been a 14% increase in Breach of Orders, such as barring orders, from 64 cases up to mid September in 2019 to 73 this year. 

Supt Petit said the spike occurred when people were locked down in their homes. 

“Our two busiest months were April and May, they outstripped any months we had for the full year of 2019. A spike did occur,  people were locked down in their homes,” he said.