Donegal Women’s Domestic Violence Service has reported increases over the past year in the numbers of women making use of their refuge and outreach services.
Figures provided by the service showed a 7 percent increase in accommodation for women seeking refuge and an 8 percent increase in outreach services from 2010 to 2011. Last year they had to find alternative places for 35 families seeking refuge that they could not accommodate in their facility.
“That speaks for itself,” said Fiona Doherty, DWDVS manager. She and Mary McKenna of the service said they believed the downturn in the economy is having an effect. Fiona said saying that changes in employment status could mean that couples who had worked apart “are now home 24-7”.
“If there were flaws in the relationship, that’s really putting the pressure on now,” she said. At the same time, cuts in benefits can make it more difficult for a woman to leave a violent situation, Mary said.
“I just feel we’re hitting the tip of the iceberg,” Fiona said.
This was a landmark week for the Donegal service, with Monday’s sod-turning of the service’s first purpose-built refuge. The €800,000 project will include four two-bedroom apartments and a three-bedroom house. There will also be facilities for the Donegal service to maintain its offices on site as well as to bring in services for women and their children from other agencies. A staff member will be on the premises around the clock and there will also be a direct alarm to gardaí.
“It’s very much women-led, based on what their needs are,” Fiona said. “It’s having their own space but someone there as well, to feel they’re in a safe environment.”
If there weren’t a refuge in Donegal, the nearest one would be in Athlone or Mayo.
Alanna Gallagher, age 27, turned the sod on Monday for the new refuge. “If there was something like this in mammy’s day, she might still be with us,” she said, as she lifted the first shovel-full of earth.
DWDVS was established 21 years ago, following the murder of Alanna’s mother, Gloria McCole, who was killed by her husband in May 1991. Alanna’s brother, Joseph; Gloria’s mother, Mary McCole, and Gloria’s sister, Anne Boyle, and brother, Michael McCole, also attended Monday’s sod-turning. The new refuge will be named for Gloria McCole, Fiona said.
Alanna said Gloria’s family must deal with her death every day, but said that her mother’s memory will also live on through the service.
There wasn’t as much public awareness of domestic violence in 1991, Alanna said. “It wasn’t a very spoken topic -- it was taboo,” she said. “It was very hidden.”
READ MORE IN TODAY’S DONEGAL DEMOCRAT.