The number of women turned away from domestic abuse refuges in Ireland has been kept secret for three years
Women and children who are forced to flee from abusive homes aren't counted in official homelessness statistics, and there are fears that the rental and housing crisis is forcing them to return to their abusers.
Tusla, the child and family agency, has not published figures on how many times domestic abuse refuges in Ireland are too full to accommodate victims in three years.
The state agency has refused to publish the same information under Freedom of Information. It had promised to reveal how many times refuges were too full to take in victims eight months ago, but now claims it is taking a "significant amount of time" to collect data from 20 refuges across the country. Tusla said it can't say when the information will be available.
It comes as one Dublin refuge said that it had to turn away 365 families who were looking for accommodation in 2018. In its annual report published on Thursday, Aoibhneas said that it was being impacted by the homelessness crisis and that some women and children fleeing violence "are left with little option but to return to their abuser."
Another refuge in Galway also told JOE that so far this year, it hasn't been able to accommodate 119 women and their 204 children because it was at capacity. COPE Galway said that it worked with other refuges nearby to try to find space for the women, until they could accommodate them in their own refuge. Last year, the number of instances that women that couldn't be immediately accommodated by COPE was 227, and the year before it was 326.
In 2016, Tusla published a report which said that an average of 16 women and children a day had been turned away from refuges the year before. In the three years since, Tusla has failed to publish how many women and children couldn't be accommodated by full refuges in 2016, 2017 and 2018. There are no state funded domestic abuse refuges for men, so the figures only apply to women and children.
In the years since Tusla's last report on how many refuges were too full to accommodate abuse survivors, the homelessness crisis in Ireland has worsened dramatically. By the end of 2015, the same year in which almost 6,o00 women and children were turned away from government funded refuges, there were 5,241 homeless adults and children in Ireland. The latest figures for 2019 show that there are 10,275 people in emergency accommodation - 6,497 adults and 3,778 children.
Emma Reidy, the chief executive of the Aoibhneas refuge in Dublin, said that her refuge had had a "challenging year" last year because of the homelessness crisis.
"Women and children who experience domestic abuse remain in danger as at times, they are left with little option but to return to their abuser. In light of this week’s budget, we are pleased to see extra allocation of funding to homeless services however domestic violence services should be no longer precluded from accessing this funding," Reidy said.
Tusla told JOE that it still hasn't been able to publish data from 2016 on how many domestic abuse survivors could not be accommodated because it's taking so long to compile it. A request to access the same information under Freedom of Information was refused on the basis that Tusla would publish the data itself in February. Eight months later, it still hasn't and now the state agency has said it can't say when the information will be available.
A spokeswoman for Tusla said: "There are 20 organisations providing domestic violence refuge services across the country. Each organisation uses different metrics and mechanisms for reporting on activity. This can mean that validating the data takes a significant amount of time. The data will be available as soon as possible but we cannot provide a date at this time."
Asked why it was taking three years to compile the same data which Tusla had been able to publish within a year for 2015 statistics, the spokeswoman said: "We won’t be making any further comment on this at this time."
Under a European directive on domestic abuse called the Istanbul Convention, every country should have one refuge space for every 10,000 people. Tusla has been incorrectly claiming that it only needs one refuge space for every 10,000 adult women. Under the European rules, Ireland should have 472 but the most recent data available said it only has 141.