Women are forced back to abusers due to lack of refuges
VULNERABLE women are being forced back into violent domestic situations because of a lack of emergency accommodation across four adjacent counties.
Counties Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan have no refuge for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.
The lack of local provision means they have to go farther afield to refuges in Mayo, Longford, Donegal or Galway, assuming there is accommodation available there.
But, according to Niamh Wilson, manager of the Sligo-based Domestic Violence Advocacy Service, two out of three end up returning to the family home.
"It is an unacceptable situation. Things have usually reached crisis point by the time they are looking to leave -- but without the service being available locally they are more reluctant to go," she said.
"We believe there are also women who don't even make contact with our service because they know there is nowhere locally for them to go."
Ms Wilson said that the advocacy service, which covers Sligo, Leitrim and West Cavan, was dealing with situations every week where a woman was seeking to leave a violent situation.
"There is a huge gap in the services. We are not able to offer them refuge near home. In Donegal, there is only one family unit which is in use most of the time.
"The centre in Mayo can only take four families and the refuge in Galway turns away more people than it can accommodate," she added.
The manager of the service said that during 2009 they had experienced a 25pc rise in people requesting accommodation after fleeing violent and abusive situations.
"Generally our service is getting busier. More women are coming forward. Families are under more economic pressure and there is more stress in the home," she added.
The group has identified a former homeless hostel in Sligo, Kazelein House, as a possible immediate solution.
"We have formally expressed our interest in taking a lease to the borough council. Potentially it could provide essential accommodation to six or seven families. What we are looking for here is a basic service that should be part of a community response," Ms Wilson said.
"It's not acceptable that women and children who are at risk have to stay with an abuser because there is nowhere for them to go. This just cannot continue."
During a single four-month period in 2008, the support service Safe Ireland revealed that 543 women were admitted to refuges.
A total of 512 women left 18 refuges during the same period.