The Golden Law

First published in the Sunday Business Post 18 October 2015

A friend once told me a story. The man next door used to beat his wife, usually in the early hours of Saturday morning.

He heard everything. His deliberate footsteps as he walked toward her and those ugly pitched pleading cries in anticipation of what was to come. Him dragging her across the wooden floor by her hair. The blows. The begging. The things he said to her. The screams reduced to muffled cries as she desperately tried to appease him.

When he called the Guards it made things worse.They would come and knock on his door, enter the house, check on her and try talk to him. She never made a complaint. The Guards would park outside the house for a while and every now and again drive slowly by.

He would hit her harder when the Guards were gone. He knew who had called them and he let him know by shouting through the walls in between his kicks and punches. My friend could tell the difference by the sound of the impact. He was a vicious bastard who relished in the idea that he had an audience.

My friend did not know what to do. He spoke to the Guards of our fears. They were powerless to act without a complaint. He tried to talk to her when she was on her own. She didn’t want to know. This went on, over and over again, for months until he decided to move away. I don’t know what happened to the woman.

The word “domestic” makes the violence sound inferior somehow. The term implies that it is private, internal, none of our business. A confidential dispute between two people who will work it out, eventually. That’s what we like to tell ourselves.

The death of Garda Tony Golden made it our business.

Siobhán Phillips’ formal complaint about Adrian Crevan Mackin was one of just 11,000 recorded incidents of domestic violence reported to the Gardaí annually. Of that figure, only 287 arrests were made in 2013, according to Robert Olson, Chief Inspector of the Garda Síochána. “That needs to be looked at very closely, we’re concerned about that.” Olson made these comments on foot of a 2014 Garda Inspectorate report which looked at Garda attitudes towards domestic violence.

Many incidents of domestic violence are never reported. Women’s Aid Direct Services had 16,464 incidents disclosed to them in 2014.

Going on these figures, domestic violence is more prevalent than recorded incidents involving drug offences, according to recent CSO figures. Recorded instances of domestic violence are greater than those for homicide, sexual offences, kidnapping, robbery and fraud offences – combined.

The state allocated €613,663 to domestic violence organisations in 2015. The 32 Women’s Aid, refuges and support centres had requested €1,833,134 – three times their eventual allocation.

The night before she was shot in the head and body with a Glock 9mm handgun, Siobhán Phillips’ made a Garda complaint at Dundalk Garda station.

The safehouse for women and children in Dundalk, operated by Women’s Aid, asked for €34,950 in funding for 2015. They got €14,000. The organisation’s Facebook page posted several tributes to Garda Golden. Underneath those messages of support are several appeals for basic living essentials like sofas.

How does this funding shortfall translate? Up to 80 per cent of women who sought accommodation in Dublin refuges were turned away in the first four months of this year because there was no room. Where did these women fleeing domestic violence go?

Some of these battered women and their children were given sleeping bags, according to Tusla, the Children and Family Agency. There are only 33 places for women and 80 for children in Dublin’s women’s crisis refuges.

The women’s refuge in Tallaght is funded by the Respond! Housing Association. This voluntary agency does not receive any financial support from the State. Established in 2012, it caters for nine families and has housed 71 women and 96 children, at a cost of €350,000 per annum. It faces closure in December because of a lack of funding.

Domestic violence is a serious crime with a poor conviction rate – just 2.5 per cent of perpetrators were arrested according to Chief Inspector Olson. It does not make the headlines like kidnapping, robbery or rural crime. The initial media focus was on Adrian Crevan Mackin’s IRA background rather than his repeated beatings of the mother of his two children. The response by the state to victims of domestic violence is to give them sleeping bags.

Perhaps a lasting tribute to a dedicated family man, who lost his life in the service of others, is to challenge our attitudes on domestic violence and to change the law.

The circumstances of the tragic death of Garda Golden are well known. Following a formal statement of complaint about Mackin’s violence from Ms Phillips, Garda Golden went to help Siobhán collect personal items from her home.

Why was Mackin not arrested?

There is no power of arrest under section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 for assault. Following a request by the Gardai earlier this year, the Justice Minister is considering extending the powers of arrest in domestic violence incidents.

It should be known as the Golden Law.

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