Councillors could force hand of council to find funds for refuge

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There are tentative hopes that the funding issue which threatens the future of Dundalk Women’s Aid may be resolved in the coming week.

There are tentative hopes that the funding issue which threatens the future of Dundalk Women’s Aid may be resolved in the coming week.

Dundalk Women’s Aid sensationally announced last week that they would be closing the doors of their refuge as of 27 June.

Five town councillors met with staff at the refuge in a rapidly convened meeting on Friday evening.

The councillors have at their discretion the option of using Section 66 of the Local Government Act 2001, which would allow them to fund the refuge, temporarily at least.

The Section states that “assistance in money or in kind” can be granted to refuge as it would ‘promote the interests of the local community.’

Speaking to the Dundalk Democrat yesterday (Monday) Lisa Marmion of Dundalk Women’s Aid said they remain hopeful that some solution to their funding shortfall can be found.

“We’ve been really taken aback by the support of the public on this matter. We’ve been heartened by the support both locally and nationally.”

“The reality is that no organisation can take a 75 per cent cut and be expected run the same service.

“The council are not paying for our salaries. This funding was for basics like electricity, heating, bins and general maintainance.

“We proposed funding of €50,000 but we are being offered just €20,000. With that level of funding we have no option but to close.

“This a front line service for women and children who are fleeing for their lives. What price do you put on that?”

The local authority are being directed to give 4.4 per cent of their housing budget to domestic violence, which covers both Dundalk and Drogheda. This amounts to a cut of €71,000 to Dundalk, from €91,000 in 2010 to just €20,000.

“We would have an expectation that the council would challenge this cut in funding.”

The council say that the decision to close the refuge is “regretted” but that group have reached their maximum funding in this for a ‘domestic violence’ service.

The circumstances that have led to the closure has been met with universal condemnation.

Chairman of Dundalk Town council, Eamon O’Boyle said it would a “tragedy for such an important service to be cut in Ireland’s largest town”, and he and a cross party group of councillors are pushing for the emergency meeting next week.

Cllr Maria Doyle said “At a special meeting of Dundalk Town Council which is to be convened to discuss the matter, I would like to see money allocated to keep the refuge open for the remainder of this year. The issue will then be to secure the future of the refuge into the coming years. I will do what I can to assist in that process.”

Senator Mary Moran said: “‘Currently, the Louth, Cavan and Monaghan region is operating at 38% below the Council of Europe’s recommended level of refuge provision and the closure of Women’s Aid Dundalk would increase this figure to an unacceptable 57%.

‘Women’s Aid Dundalk has helped countless women and families in our area fleeing a domestic violence situation. “

Sinn Féin TD Gerry Adams has expressed his ‘shock and anger’, and called on the Minister to ‘withdraw the directive.’

“Hundreds of thousands of euro have been cut from Women’s Aid in Dundalk, Drogheda Women’s Refuge and Rape Crisis North East over recent years by this government.” he added

Women’s Aid Dundalk is in the frontline of helping victims of domestic violence. It provides a 24/7 service. Last year the demand on its services were such that it was unable to accommodate 293 requests for refuge. One consequence of this is that Drogheda Women’s Refuge which has limited space will now have to cope with victims from Louth, Cavan and Monaghan.

The loss of the Dundalk service will leave hundreds of women and children vulnerable to continued domestic violence.

The reality is that services and support for women and children experiencing abuse in the home is at an all-time low.

It is also well documented that in times of recession instances of domestic violence against women increase dramatically.

That is why domestic violence services aimed at protecting vulnerable women and their families should be made an absolute priority. This is not the case across the state and is not the situation in the Louth area.

The programme for Government contained a commitment to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation in a manner that provides protection to victims.

This echoed commitments in both Labour and Fine Gael’s election manifesto. Indeed the Labour party manifesto went further containing a commitment to:“protect funding for frontline services, such as family refuges, and draw on best international practice to reform the way the courts system deals with domestic abuse case”.

Clearly this hasn’t happened. The government needs to honour its commitments, reverse the cutbacks and acknowledge the extent of this problem.

Domestic violence is a significant problem that will not go away and is a cause of great hurt and hardship. The legislative and practical steps needed to provide for victims and prosecute abusers are known. It needs political will by government to make it happen.

Note to Editor:

Louth County Council say that they are forced to reduce funding by 75% on 2012 funding to Women’s Aid Dundalk because of a National Directive which sets a low limit on available funding.

The closure of Dundalk Women’s Aid will see the Louth Cavan and Monaghan region fall to 57% below the recommended European level of refuse provision.