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Sean Colleran, Chief Superintendent, Clare Garda Division. Photograph by John Kelly

‘Significant increase’ in breaches of domestic abuse court orders, JPC hears

ALCOHOL and drug use in the home have been blamed, in part, for what Clare’s Garda Chief Superintendent has described as “a very significant increase” in breaches of court orders in cases of domestic abuse.

Outlining crime figures for January to March at the meeting of the Joint Policing Committee (JPC), Chief Superintendent Seán Colleran noted a 43% rise in the breaches of barring orders, safety orders and protection orders issued by the courts to protect victims and families.

The rise, from 21 breaches in the first quarter of last year to 30 to date in 2021, is in sharp contrast to a general drop across most crime categories during the pandemic.

The chief superintendent also outlined an increase of 10% in the number of domestic disputes where no offence was disclosed.

These rose from 92 incidents between January and March of last year to 101 in the same period in 2021.

Concerns about domestic abuse during the pandemic were also voiced by Deputy Cathal Crowe, who highlighted the additional difficulties for victims from other countries.

“I have seen this scenario over the last 13 months where foreign nationals experiencing domestic abuse may not have any family support at all in Ireland,” he said.

“For a woman in that situation, domestic abuse is experienced in a much darker place, without any family support.

“It may be time for a national Garda campaign to highlight the supports available from the various agencies.

“Domestic abuse has always been too prevalent, but there is no release for people now. People are at home together all the time and small arguments ignite.

“Domestic abuse is on the rise and we may not know the extent of the issue for some time. It is time now for a national campaign on this issue.”

Councillor Pat Daly also highlighted a situation where a woman had come to him for support.

“I got a call out of the blue,” he said. ‘A woman was being abused by her son and didn’t know where to turn. I felt so sorry for her because she just didn’t know what to do.

“I advised her to go to Clare Haven and I spoke to Superintendent Brendan McDonagh who was a great support. The woman now has a court order in place.”

Councillor Mary Howard too commended the Gardaí for their support for those experiencing domestic abuse.

“I had an issue where a woman was in an abusive relationship and needed a protection order,” she outlined.

“On the day, I wasn’t available to bring her to the Housing Section of Clare County Council, so I asked the Gardaí and they did that. It was a great help and I would like to thank them.”

Chief Superintendent Colleran acknowledged the particular challenges facing minority communities.

Referring to a presentation also made to the JPC by Garda Siobhán Madden of the Clare Crime Victims Services Office (VSO), the chief superintendent noted the increased supports available.

He also cited the success of the Divisional Protective Services Unit (DPSU) since it opened more than a year ago.

“This deals specifically with sexual crime,” he said, “and goes to show the increasing number of supports available.”

JPC member Dermot Hayes asked what measures were in place to track repeat domestic abuse offenders while Madeline McAleer of Clare Haven, who represents the Public Participation Network (PPN) noted the low levels of reporting of this kind of crime. “Research shows that only around 10% of domestic abuse victims report the offences to the police,” she said.

“It is great to see that when people do report, there are supports there. The campaigns to highlight support from the Gardaí during the pandemic have really helped, as well as the inter-agency work.

“On average, though, we are looking at around 10 breaches of barring orders every week. You’d have to multiply that to estimate the real scale of the domestic abuse problem, because of low levels of reporting. This is a huge problem.”

The chief superintendent added that repeat offenders are monitored closely and “a very proactive approach taken”.

In response to requests from JPC members for a gender breakdown of those reporting domestic abuse, Chief Superintendent Colleran said the force had decided not to do so over concerns that it might tend to identify victims.

Several members of the JPC also extended their sympathies of the family of the late Sharon Bennett.

The Chief Superintendent, who described the case as “very, very sad,” noted that a suspect is in custody charged with her murder.

Clare Haven operates a 24-hour confidential helpline, for those experiencing domestic abuse, on 065-6822435.

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