This week, 'Claire Byrne Live' interviewed Jacqueline Connolly and her mother Mary Coll on the murders of Clodagh Hawe and her three boys, Liam, Niall and Ryan, by Alan Hawe. It made for harrowing viewing but it raised questions that need to be answered. The answers can help us to prevent such murders occurring in the future.
I have sat with and spoken with Jacqueline and Mary in their community and I have witnessed their immense grief and their incredible courage at the disaster that has befallen their beautiful family.
They are wonderful women - honest and full of integrity. They are also gentle and incredibly private people. They never in a million years thought they would be telling their family's tragic story to the nation on a primetime television programme. What family ever would?
But they have been forced, against their beautiful natures, to be public, because they have not been listened to in any other way. Since that day when Mary had to walk away from the back door of her daughter's house, knowing that something beyond awful had happened, and through the horror of the days and nights that followed and the inquest that took place just before Christmas 2017, these two women have been effectively left to carry this burden alone. Left with the loss and a haunting silence that bore no answers.
As a nation, as we watched them on their couch and listened to their appalling story, we have serious questions to answer. Because, as a society, we simply do not know how to place victims of crime at the centre of our responses and we do not know how to care for people like Mary and Jacqueline at times of loss and at times of such immense trauma.
Our Government left them with their struggles and left a whole community in grief without any proper support or trauma intervention. What we needed to do - as a country - was to put a blanket of care around Jacqueline and Mary. We needed to meet their support needs, including their need for more information about why this happened in the first place. Not expect them to bare their broken hearts on television. This is what a compassionate community would do. Anything less weakens our humanity.
Instead, Jacqueline and Mary have had to endure this loss in silence and without answers. Unimaginably, they have had to deal with the brutal reality of their loved ones' deaths and then be expected to deal with all the legal and financial complications of the murders. And through it all, they have never asked for anything for themselves. They are singularly focused on the truth because they believe this will protect other women and children and make Ireland safer for all.
Believe me, after 20 years working with Safe Ireland, I know there are many other women and children living in the same omnipresent danger that Clodagh and her boys lived with. We can try to dress it up if we wish, but, from my long experience working with women and children throughout the country, Alan Hawe coercively controlled his family at all times.
He was not mentally ill. He ensured that his family's lives revolved around what he wanted them to do. He rarely let them out of his sight. Clodagh rang him every time she arrived at school. Her sister told the story on television of Alan arriving to pick out the bridesmaids' dresses. All planned, all calculated and all considered. Far from being mental derangement, this was mental arrangement.
This is control. This is bullying. This is isolation. This is living as a hostage. This makes women and children's lives smaller, deliberately, over time.
And this is what is at the heart of domestic violence. Yet, horrific case after horrific case, we fail to comprehend and accept this reality. Instead, what we rush to do is normalise, mitigate, excuse and disguise it, most often under the blanket of mental illness. In some isolated cases mental illness may well be at the root of family violence, I understand this. But, in my 20 years of working with women and children, I can say, with authority and experience, that mental illness has not been present in the majority of the stories of the hundreds of women I have sat with. Control and more accurately, the fear of losing that control, has been the issue. It's time to stop pretending otherwise.
We have a great opportunity to do things right by women in Ireland. Unlike many other jurisdictions, coercive control is now a criminal offence under the new Domestic Violence Bill 2018. It is ground-breaking that it is now an offence to coercively control your partner and your family. But this ambition for Ireland needs to move beyond being words on paper. What we urgently need is specialist training to educate all State agencies and civic society to recognise and respond to coercive control so that we don't rush to disguise it as something else.
And, as Jacqueline and Mary have looked for, we need to have comprehensive investigations into all domestic homicides so that we can learn, track and respond, and prevent further horrific family annihilations. If we continue as a society to look for bruises and broken bones we will miss about 90pc of domestic violence. We need to change the conversation about domestic violence, starting with naming it for what it is - coercive, pernicious, calculated control.
Sharon O'Halloran is CEO Safe Ireland