By Finian Coghlan
THE future of a women’s refuge in Co Kildare is in doubt as Teach Tearmann (Sanctuary House) cannot guarantee its funding beyond February.
“The sector has been grossly underfunded,” said Caitriona Kirwan, centre manager who said the centre still does not know where it’s funding for 2021 will come from.
The secure refuge has 18 staff, but as of the moment, none of these jobs are guaranteed beyond February.
“We have requested to be a 24-hour service, and we have submitted a business plan [to TUSLA] for after February, but for now we’re an emergency 24 hour service,” said Ms Kirwan.
Currently, Teach Tearmann which has been in operation for the past 21 years, operates from an annual budget of €305,000, but will require something in the region of €500,000 to operate in the planned expanded fashion.
The refuge has taken 700 phone calls after hours in the last four months, and because Laois, Offaly and Carlow have no such service yet, they take in women from these counties as well.
Nationally this year, gardaí have had 20,000 contacts from domestic violence victims, up 17% on last year.
Since Operation Faoinseamh (Relief) began in April, there have been 217 convictions, with 100 of these coming in the last six weeks, according to statistics from the Garda National Protective Services Bureau.
The refuge opened in 1999 in building in Newbridge, before moving to its current location in Kildare town in 2014.
“The refuge was only half opened then, but by 2016 we were able to open the four units, and since March we’ve had 24/7 phone answering,” said Lorraine Rowan, CEO of the facility.
“We’ve seen a substantial increase in numbers calling…it’s four or five times higher on the helpline above last year,” she said.
“Covid hasn’t ended domestic violence, but it has seen an increase in it, the limitations in movement has exacerbated the abuse,” she said.
Covid has been like an abused woman’s life, in lockdown with that loss of liberty,” added Ms Kirwan.
“We’ve submitted a business plan to TUSLA to let us run a 24-hour service beyond February, or we’ll have to revert to a Monday-Friday service in March if they don’t give us the funding, and that’s not good enough,” said Lorraine.
Teach Tearmann is currently running on an annual budget of €305,000, and will require over €500,000 to fund this expansion.
“It’s a big jump, but we have been under-resourced for years.
“When you look at the population in the county from Athy to Leixlip [c.220,000] we need to have the 24-hour service.
“Hopefully we’ll rally the support for the service, because we’re the only one in the region,” she said
Along with the call-centre, office suites, reception rooms, and new playground, Teach Tearmann provides four independent apartments called Belief, Hope, Strength, and Dignity, each with their own front door to limit the “institutionalized feeling for the guests.
Ms Rowan walked the ****Kildare Nationalist******* through the procedure of welcoming a new guest to the facility.
“We’ll leave her in here [reception room] on her own at first, and she can usually find herself on the wall, and it reassures her she’s in the right place” said Ms Rowan, talking about all the posters detailing abusive relationships, and the tactics used for coercion that hang around the room.
“We could work with a woman for up to four years. Your agenda has to be her agenda. We’re not here on a white horse to rescue her – we’re here to support her and her kids.
“Some women may come back to us. The statistic is that women will attempt to leave seven times before they do.
“The reason is because there are so many barriers to leave.
“Since the housing crisis, that’s been a massive barrier to women.
“Are you going to go into a b&b? Would you? That’s why many women stay [in an abusive household], but we’re giving them options.
“The average stay here? From one day to three months, it really depends on the woman.
“There’s usually three reasons – respite, they come for a week or two; leverage – to show him she has a place to stay; or to leave permanently.
“It wouldn’t be unusual to see a woman on more than one occasion over a period of years,” said Ms Rowan.
“A woman could come in once a week for six months or three years.
“Many women don’t see themselves as battered women, they see themselves as being in love with a deeply troubled man,” said Lorraine.
“Refuge isn’t the solution, but it is part of the answer, along with the Court Services, the support and outreach, and the children’s services,” she added.
With this in mind Teach Tearmann opened an outreach office in April in the middle of Naas, within walking distance of the courthouse to offer help with getting barring and protection orders.
“The facility went 24-hour before Covid, and now we’ve proved the demand is there.
“Population growth hasn’t been mirrored, and we haven’t had the catch-up with that level of funding yet.
“The courage it takes to call, and now we have someone answer the phone makes a huge difference,” said Ms Kirwan.
“All the staff are here because they love their work, everybody is so passionate about what they do.
“We don’t have fulltime funding. We are TUSLA-funded but we don’t have TUSLA benefits yet,” she concluded.
The Teach Tearmann helpline is 045-527584.