Athlone women's refuge expects 'new surge in calls' as lockdown eases

The Athlone-based Esker House Women’s Refuge and Domestic Abuse Support Service said it's expecting "a further surge in calls and needs" for its services as the country slowly begins to reopen. 

Esker House today (Wednesday) issued a joint statement with the Gardai in Athlone. 

It said it was making preparations for an increase in calls because women and children who may have been "contained with their abusers in the Midlands for the past nine weeks" might now have "the space and freedom to reach out for help as the country begins to open up."

Deirdre Berry said that Esker House, along with services throughout the country, was now reconfiguring to ensure it could provide the best levels of safe, professional support for women and children.

"We have been working closely and in partnership with the Gardai to ensure women and children receive assistance, support, information and safety from domestic abuse," she said. 

Esker House is a member of Safe Ireland, the national hub for 38 domestic violence services throughout the country. Together, the network is putting in place a united recovery plan to respond to what she said would be a "new normal". 

Over the lockdown, its services have been open and have been operating throughout the crisis.  

“As we begin to open up here in Athlone, we are available, now more than ever," said Deirdre. "We believe that many women may have been living with intolerable control and abuse over the past two months.

"It is important that they know that we are here and that we can support them to be safe in their own homes, or help re-home them if this is what is needed." 

Deirdre said that Esker House along with services throughout the country had become more united in their resolve that the sector “cannot go back” to the way things were operating. 
She also said Covid-19 could mean that the "home/work divide" will be reconfigured in the long-term, raising serious issues for the risk and invisibility of domestic violence.

Esker House will continue to liaise with the Gardaí to identify women at risk.  

Athlone Garda Superintendent Aidan Minnock explained that "while a yearly comparison of domestic-related calls in the Athlone District indicates incidents to date have not increased, we appreciate the issues surrounding these calls are more challenging, as persons are restricted to the home which presents additional issues for victims.

"Gardaí are prioritising our call-backs to persons reporting domestic issues in the home, and doing additional calls to support families during this difficult time," he added. 

"There is also the potential for additional domestic issues due to alcohol consumption in the home and I would encourage anyone subjected to abuse to reach out, and seek help and support.  There are excellent support services like Esker House available and I would encourage victims of abuse to make a call to Gardaí or a support agency."

Deirdre said Covid-19 had exposed the fragility of the sector and deep fault lines that have existed for decades in the State’s response to domestic violence. 

Esker House has been advocating for women fleeing from domestic violence during Covid-19 should, for example, be able to receive rent supplement. So far this has not been allowed by Government. 

For more information, contact the Esker House 24-hour helpline on 09064 74122. 

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