A couple of days ago, Patricia McBride wrote on Slugger that “our political leaders north and south must become pro-woman” in light of the recent tribulations of Dawn Purvis, Director of Marie Stopes, as well as the judgement delivered by the High Court in Dublin last week regarding whether to continue life support for a pregnant woman described as clinically brain dead and, of course, the high profile case of Savita Halappanavar whose death was not prevented in an Irish hospital in 2012 due to the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution.
A comment was made on Patricia’s post to the effect: “Calling for politicians to become “Pro-Woman” is simply a meaningless platitude”.
I was planning on taking a week off from posting this week but I have been thinking about this for a couple of days, in light of both Patricia’s post and the news stories from Cavan and Cobh over the last week.
Pearse McAuley, a prominent republican, was arrested and charged with with assaulting and threatening to kill his wife, following a sustained knife attack in the family home in Cavan on Christmas Eve, which took place in front of the couple’s two young sons and left his wife, Pauline, requiring emergency surgery for a punctured lung.
Yesterday, in Cobh, Co. Cork, Michael Greaney, a local businessman and Minister of the Eucharist at St. Colman’s Cathedral, stabbed his wife Valerie to death and attacked their 23 year old daughter Michelle, who was hospitalised for her injuries, before taking his own life.
1 in 5 women in Ireland who have been in a relationship have been abused by a current or former partner. The figures for Northern Ireland are worse – here it is 1 in 4. Domestic violence accounts for approximately one-fifth of all recorded violent crime in Northern Ireland. In 2011 – 2012, PSNI responded to a domestic incident every 23 minutes, yet they acknowledge there is likely to be a large amount of under-reporting of this type of crime.
Domestic Violence is not just perpetrated by men, but research and stats show that women are, in the majority of (particularly violent or fatal) cases, the victims. (Edit: this is not in any way intended to diminish or underestimate the experiences of male victims of domestic violence). Domestic violence can be manipulative, psychological or emotional but it can also be fatal – in 2011 / 2012, 35% of recorded murders in Northern Ireland were described as having “a domestic motivation.”
The Department for Health, Social Service and Public Safety and the PSNI are involved in supporting victims of domestic violence. MARAC meetings, where highest risk cases of domestic abuse are discussed and information is shared between criminal justice, health, child protection, housing practitioners, Women’s Aid as well as other specialists are held on a monthly basis and are chaired by the PSNI. Women’s Aid is, however, still the primary organisation that victims of domestic violence turn to for counselling, refuge, advocacy (including a translation service for non-English speakers) and support. Since 1999, Women’s Aid across Northern Ireland gave refuge to 14,714 women and 14,356 children and young people. During the last 16 years Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland managed 282,860 calls to the 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline.
Women’s Aid are a voluntary sector organisation. While they do receive government funding through a number of streams, they are also dependent on volunteers, fundraising and donations.
Over the last few weeks on Slugger, we have all been discussing budget cuts, the proposed cut to corporation tax, the civil servants who will keep their jobs while front line services are cut, the money being spent on refurbishing the Waterfront Hall and the Belfast leisure centres. Yet here is a situation in which something which affects 1 in 4 women, accounts for a fifth of all recorded violent crime across Northern Ireland and was the motivating factor behind over a third of murders in 2011-2012. And the primary way of addressing this issue, and supporting people who have been victims of this type of crime is voluntary sector led.
I have worked in the voluntary/community sector since 2007. I know how many dedicated, qualified, talented and hardworking people make it their lives’ work to support the most vulnerable people in society. I am not trying to imply that the voluntary sector is somehow lacking in professionalism or that it is second rate. But I have also experienced short term contracts that make it very difficult to retain staff and vast shortfalls in funding which threaten the front line voluntary sector services that people have come to rely on, not realising that a reduction in a government grant or a failure to receive funding from a foundation or a reduction in donations can mean that not only can services be cut but that the doors could close at any time.
Meanwhile our brand new Stormont House Agreement has allocated £150m to dealing with the past and the current cost of running the OFMDFM office for a year stands at an estimated £171,870, and never mind the Stormont Expenses probe launched last month.
Salmon of Data argues that cuts do not always create a better economy, nor do they tackle unemployment particularly effectively. I doubt everyone will agree with Patricia (and myself) that our politicians and society needs to be more Pro-Woman. But I would argue that, against this back drop of cuts and “efficiencies”, that we are not, in fact, spending enough or, at least, not spending enough on the right issues if it comes to women being reliant on a charity (itself partly reliant on fundraising and donations) to support them from leaving an abusive or violent relationship or families being reliant on food banks (yet another charity) in order to be able to eat.