THE SAFETY of domestic abuse survivors is prioritised at all times by Clare Gardaí, according to Sergeant Caitríona Houlihan.
Commenting on issues raised by South Galway mother-of-three, Sourney Linnane, who experienced harrowing coercive control, Sergeant Houlihan stressed local gardaí constantly risk assess when dealing with survivors of domestic abuse.
An informal interview suite in Crusheen Garda Station is available to any Clare garda investigating domestic violence or a sexual crime.
Sergeant Houlihan said a big focus for the gardai is to ensure victims are not traumatised again, which can unwittingly happen if they are interviewed in a garda station.
“The interview suite is very calm and peaceful, accessible but very private. People suffering from domestic abuse are sometimes followed watched or tracked particularly if they go near a garda station.
“The most dangerous time is when a woman or a man decides to leave an abusive relationship. We are conscious at all times of the need to minimise the risk for the survivor. We continue to interview people in their own homes or in the interview suite, wherever is deemed the most suitable for an individual case.
“Covid-19 didn’t create domestic abuse, it exposed what was already in existence. For any domestic abuse victim, the first priority is the safety of their children, a safe place and to have enough money to feed them.
“At times they put their own personal safety second to this. They can’t even consider making a complaint about coercive control until those basic needs are met, which is a priority for gardaí.”
Sergeant Houlihan said Sourney Linnane had shown great courage and strength to waive her anonymity and thanked her for raising a number of issues publicly in her bid to improve services for others in similar situations.
Acknowledging an address has to be provided for a barring order, Sergeant Houlihan pointed out in general a barring order relates to the perpetrator of abuse and prohibits them from having any contact with the applicant, regardless of where they live.
Sergeant Houlihan explained it is the behaviour of the respondent, which determines whether or not they will be arrested, and remains in force for the applicant.
Commenting on the release date for any convicted prisoner, Sergeant Houlihan explained the abuse survivor must register with the Irish Prison Service to be notified about the date the prisoner will be set free.
She acknowledged it would be preferable if this happened automatically and noted if a survivor contacts the Garda Victims’ Support Office, they will explain how to contact the Irish Prison Service and complete the necessary paperwork.
“The gardai’s primary focus will always be on the victim. It can happen that when a person is sentenced for a sexual office the investigating team will sit down with the victim and show them how to fill out the form for the Irish Prison Service.
“We can offer the same advice for other offences and generally help to provide that service in the majority of cases.”
Sergeant Paul English, Clare Divisional Protective Services Unit, explained members of a garda investigation team look for access to a victim’s medical and counselling records with their consent as part of an investigation into an assault or incidence of domestic violence.
This course of action is followed to support the prosecution case and illustrate the impact of the abuse on the victim by the alleged perpetrator.
If a case goes to court, a disclosure order can be served on the investigation team to disclose certain documents to the perpetrator’s defence legal team.
Sergeant Houlihan stressed it is important to have as many supports as possible available to a victim during any trial, which can be very difficult for them.
Prior to taking any domestic abuse complaint, Sergeant English explained an investigating garda will map out the process step by step and if the victim decides not to proceed at that time, the door is always left open for them to return at a later stage.
Once an investigation gets underway, he outlined victims are kept regularly updated with how it is proceeding before court proceedings are initiated.
Sergeant Houlihan pointed out victims can also seek updates on their case from the Victims’ Support Unit and noted Operation Faoiseamh placed a real focus on re-engaging with historical victims of domestic abuse.
Operation Faoiseamh has now entered phase four at a time when Safe Ireland revealed 400 new children had entered their service at the end of last year.
She recalled there has been cases where it can take between three and 12 months before a victim is mentally prepared to make a formal complaint against a perpetrator.
Sourney Linnane has suggested that victims of serious abuse should be entitled to at least ten free counselling sessions from the state.
Sergeant Houlihan said every garda would be happier leaving an incident of domestic abuse if the children involved could be referred for mandatory specialist counselling automatically to a dedicated agency.
She said this would also take the responsibility away from the victims to seek support and avoid incorrectly blaming victims from getting Tusla involved with the family.
If the automatic referrals were on a statutory footing, then this takes the responsibility away from the victim.
“If you are a victim of domestic abuse every day is a battle. If CLAN was placed on more structure format nationally, this would ensure if a victim leaves Clare, they can receive the same support system in another county.
By Dan Danaher