Clarke calls for Government to expedite Esker House site search

Sinn Féin Deputy, Sorca Clarke, has reiterated her support for the Athlone-based Esker House women’s refuge, calling on the Minister for Justice to expedite the process and secure a new site for the service.

Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, Deputy Clarke noted that more than half of the domestic violence refuges in Ireland are full and local refuges are being forced to turn women and children away.

“Earlier this year the Government established Cuan, a new statutory agency with a dedicated focus on Domestic Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (DSGBV ).

“The agency has a specific mandate to drive the implementation of the Zero Tolerance:Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence across Government, bringing the expertise and focus required to tackle this complex social issue. As part of its remit, the agency has responsibility for the provision of DSGBV services, including the provision and funding of refuge spaces,” Deputy Clarke.

With the establishment of Cuan, Deputy Clarke is optimistic that a new site to facilitate the extension of services provided by Esker House can be acquired in the near future.

“Women and children, detrimentally impacted by domestic abuse, have to travel to other parts of the country simply to seek safety. This is happening at a time when the Gardai have noted that they have received more than 60,000 calls concerning such incidents,” Deputy Clarke added.

Deputy Clarke noted that the Minister for Justice had previously said that 98 refuge units would be delivered by the end of 2025 in priority areas and that Westmeath was deemed to be such a location under the Government’s strategy.

“In 2023, Esker House provided emergency refuge accommodation to 28 women and 41 children but received requests from 267 people. This is the only such facility in the Midlands region. While there are plans to build a new, purpose-built refuge centre, a suitable site has yet to be acquired and hence, the project is not progressing as hoped at this time. The vital service urgently needs a site to enable the building of a new centre,” Deputy Clarke remarked.

Deputy Clarke stated that women and children, who have been detrimentally impacted by domestic abuse, remain in crisis accommodation for “months on end” as they are unable to find a suitable alternative.

“Due to the housing crisis, over half of domestic violence refuges around the country are full and as a result women and children impacted by domestic abuse stay in crisis accommodation for extended periods because they are unable to find an alternative option and, on occasion, enter emergency homeless accommodation.

“Refuges are being forced to turn women and children away and many are forced to travel to other parts of the country at a time when 60,000 calls for domestic abuses assistance were received by An Garda Siochana.

“County Westmeath has been deemed a priority area for the provision of additional refuge places under the under the new Government strategy. However, while plans for a new purpose-built refuge centre in Athlone are “already down on paper”, the lack of a suitable site on which to construct such a expanded facility is really holding the project up,” Deputy Clarke commented.

The Deputy further questioned the Government on their commitment to realising a site to enable the expansion of Esker House services.

“How does this Governemnt intend to meet that firm commitment if no site can be identified? Where are these women and children to go?

“These are women and children who cannot return home because the perpetrator is often still living there and even in situations where a domestic violence order is in place that still does not stop a perpetrator from presenting to the family home.

“This can impact a family’s recovery from domestic abuse, as well as being difficult for the refuge staff who work with impacted families to build their confidence, but then have to refer them to homeless services,” Deputy Clarke concluded.

 

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