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Domestic violence safe houses to come on stream next year

Three safe houses for victims of domestic violence in Offaly are expected to become “fully operational” in the first quarter of next year.

The provision of the three houses has been prioritised by Offaly County Council, with Director of Services Sharon Kennedy telling the November meeting that their primary concern at this stage is “to finalise this project. “

Although Ms Kennedy stated the project was “very much in its infancy” at this stage, the CEO of Offaly Domestic Violence Support Service (ODVSS), Anne Clarke, told the Offaly Independent this week that they are “very hopeful” the safe houses can become fully operational by “around April or May of next year”.

While she admitted that getting the project “fully over the line” will be a challenge, and that it will be a very welcome development, she stressed that safe houses can only provide “interim support” to victims of domestic violence for a maximum period of 12 weeks, and there is still “a very urgent need” for emergency refuge provision.

“We are still going full steam ahead with our bid to provide six refuge units for victims of domestic violence in Offaly who are in need of emergency accommodation,” she says, adding that ODVSS has already appointed a Steering Group and completed a feasibility study.

“We would be hoping that the emergency refuge accommodation could be up and running within two years, and it will be open to both men and women,” she explained. Offaly currently has no emergency provision for domestic violence victims, with families being forced to seek shelter in adjoining counties “all of which are already over-subscribed” according to Anne Clarke.

Meanwhile, ODVSS has welcomed this week's announcement that Ireland is to become one of the first countries in Europe to provide up to five days of paid work leave to domestic violence victims, with Anne Clarke describing it as “a very welcome move.”

With over 34,000 cases of domestic abuse being reported to Women's Aid last year alone, Ms Clarke said it is very important to keep the spotlight on what has become a “huge societal issue” both at local level and also nationally.

The issue of safe houses was raised at the November meeting of Offaly County Council by Cllr Mark Hackett who asked the local authority to commit to the development of refuge services for victims of domestic and gender-based violence as a matter or urgency, and appealed for them to "lead the way" on this issue.

The motion was seconded by Social Democrats Cllr, Clare Claffey, who commended the on-going work being done by Anne Clarke and ODVSS on securing refuge accommodation.