Waves of Change

Waves of Change

Waves of Change

Waves of Change

Waves of Change

Waves of Change

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Domestic violence reports in Ireland for 2023 were up 4% on the previous year with one in four women who have been in a relationship reporting to have been abused by a current or former partner.

Irish police attribute this increase in reports to a ‘sea change’ in how domestic violence is viewed by society. A current in this wave of change has been through the work of Sr Fiona Pryle who has dedicated over 20 years to campaigning and lobbying on behalf of victims of domestic abuse.

Working in Dublin in the 1980s and 1990s, Sr Fiona worked in ministry with homeless men and with women in situations of prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation. This work led her to set up a hostel for homeless boys and later the NOW (New Opportunities for Women) program, funded by the EU to offer women choices for exiting prostitution. She also became involved with the Congregation’s Ruhama Women’s Project which fights sexual exploitation, prostitution, and human trafficking and is today considered one of the most important advocacy groups in Ireland and Europe.

However, it was in 2001, through her work at the Ascend Domestic Abuse Service for Women in Tipperary, that she became more directly involved with women in situations of domestic violence.

During her tenure in the project, she has engaged with support agencies in campaigning and lobbying for change in two major issues affecting women: for victims of domestic violence to get paid leave from work; and for spousal and child maintenance.

In Ireland, there have been no clear guidelines on legislation governing maintenance and a significant rate of non-compliance from abusive partners with very few penalties.

Evidence of working with clients indicated that as many as 70% of women did not receive weekly court-ordered maintenance. This lack of money seriously impacted on women and children, and many lived in poverty. Sr Fiona and others at Ascend took a particular interest in this issue of spousal and child maintenance following separation as a result of domestic violence.

In addition, for a woman to receive social welfare payments, she had to issue legal proceedings for maintenance from the abusive husband. A practice that continued the dynamic of power and control, and often left women in ongoing danger. In light of this, Ascend commissioned research with women with a view that the findings would inform future legislation.

The research was funded from a grant secured from a trust fund set up by Our Lady of Charity in Ireland in 2007. The grant was obtained on the grounds that its purpose was to “provide resources to women, to develop and enhance their lives and dignity”. The trust fund was especially aimed at women affected by poverty, violence, and abuse.

However, legislative amendments introduced in 2011 saw very few of the research group’s recommendations incorporated into law with no robust enforcement to bring women out of the poverty trap.

Even though Sr Fiona retired from Ascend in 2017 she continued to lobby and work on a small number of ongoing adversarial cases. Some success was finally achieved on November 27, 2023, when the Irish Government ratified that women have a legal right to five days of paid leave from work in any 12-month period due to domestic violence abuse.

There was further cause for celebration this year when on January 8 new developments were announced by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. In her statement, she promised a review of guidelines on child maintenance and enforcement orders.

The momentous change is the introduction of powers to freeze money and assets from non-paying parents, and the new requirement that both parents must take part in mandatory mediation before a maintenance application to the courts – removing the onus on the woman to apply for the Order.

Sr Fiona’s decades in the field and the slow waves of change highlight the length of time it takes to bring about change for women in abusive situations. It also demonstrates how women continue to be abused as they try to navigate state systems, and how offenders can manipulate the system to perpetuate their dynamic of power and control.

Presently, Sr Fiona remains a member of three working groups commissioned by the Irish State to review ongoing issues affecting women and children in domestic violence. Of particular note, we await the publication of the Department of Justice’s document on parental alienation in the courtroom in which she has been involved.

May the waves of change continue to swell!

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