‘We cannot abandon the families in Inishowen who need Lifeline’s services.’
This was the fundamental sentiment at a public meeting held on Thursday night, organised in a bid to save and secure Inishowen’s only peninsula-based domestic violence service.
A large crowd gathered at the Wesley Hall in Carndonagh for the meeting, at which it was again confirmed that due to a complete absence of funding, the service will close for good on January 30th next year.
This means over 80 women per year - and their children- would no longer be able to find help, guidance, services and solidarity from trained support workers within Inishowen.
At the meeting, those in attendance were told how 103,000 euro per year is needed to secure the service now and into the future.
This would fund three support workers for 20 hours a week and also pay for overheads, training and counselling.
Lifeline’s committee estimates the service saves the state 3,000 euro per year, per woman, leading to total savings of 250,000 per year.
This includes costs of medication, referrals to consultants and demands on Gardai.
103,000 euro would also allow the volunteers to focus on helping the women while not having to focus on fundraising.
Among those in attendance at the meeting were County Councillors Bernard McGuinness, Martin McDermott and Albert Doherty, representing Donegal’s three TDs, Deputies Joe McHugh, Charlie McConalogue and Padraig MacLochlainn.
All those gathered expressed a strong willingness to fight for the future of the service and ensure it is kept within Inishowen for the women and children of the peninsula.
There are now plans for a deputation from Lifeline to attend the next Inishowen Municipal District meeting and hopes representations will then be made to the Minister about the urgent need to secure Lifeline’s future.
The meeting heard how the service’s support workers and volunteers are “burnt out” through a combination of trying to help the women while also fundraising and worrying about paying bills.
Tusla, the family support agency will not fund Lifeline Inishowen as they state the peninsula is adequately covered by the Donegal Domestic Violence Service.
While Lifeline’s committee praised the work of that organisation, they stated this is not the case at all. They say a lack of resources for DDMV mean that they cannot support the need that is in Inishowen and operate only a very limited service here.
Chairperson of Lifeline Mary Doherty (B) said the women and children of Inishowen were their first priority and the reason why they had all gathered at the Wesley Hall.
She added: “We were hoping it would never come to this.”
Mary Doherty (S) is manager of Lifeline and has worked with the women and children of Inishowen for 20 years.
She told the meeting how, for a woman, contacting the service is “one of the biggest decisions of her life.”
Lifeline then “walks the journey with her,” helping both the woman and her children with everything from providing information to liaising with social welfare, housing, Gardai and sometimes social services.
The women are able to contact the service Monday to Friday and volunteers will meet with them either at the Drop In centre in Carn or somewhere which is safe and confidential. Other services include child counselling, advocacy and a listening ear.
Mary, who also praised the local community for its “fantastic support” through the years, told how they are also dedicated to raising awareness of domestic violence and work with students at LYIT and the local secondary schools.
She added: “This is not about Lifeline. This is about the women, children - and men - of Inishowen.”
Mary told how Lifeline has built up many connections with other providers across the peninsula and is committed to working with the local community.
She said: “It took years and how can we walk away?”
Committee member Gerard Moyne told how there were people in the community who could not attend the meeting .
He said: “They’re not allowed out the door. They’re not allowed to go shopping or anywhere. They are captive in their own homes.”
He added: “When we close at the end of January, having given 20 years of service, what happens next? What about the woman who comes looking for help in February - where will she go?”
Mr Moyne pointed out how thousands of pounds had recently been spent in Inishowen on new signage, adding that the money they need per year was a fraction of that. 35,000 per year is needed to run the service as it currently is.
He added that it was a “constant battle” and they were “on the 11th hour.”
The meeting also heard from Dr Siofra Nic An Bhreithiun, who urged those at the meeting to “do anything you can to keep this service.”
She said when a woman tells her she is being domestically abused, she knows she can guide them to Lifeline.
“If I have someone in crisis I know they can be seen today and get help,” she said.
She added: “It’s a service that does help and please don’t let it go.”
The doctor added that GPs and solicitors and Gardai sometimes see the ‘underbelly’ of society.
She said: “It will never go away and we have something here that actually works. We’d be shaming ourselves to let it go.”
Sergeant Ambrose Bradley also pleaded for the service to be saved, stating to lose it would be “detrimental” to the area.
He said that “more often than not” women would attend Lifeline before they would contact Gardai and this is why the service was vital to a local community.
The meeting heard how earlier this year committee members from Lifeline made a presentation to Tusla to seek funding for the service, which was later refused.
While some elected representatives including Councillor Martin McDermott and Deputy Joe McHugh were also due to attend this presentation they could do not do, as Tusla told Lifeline it would be cancelled if this was to take place. The committee members then attended the meeting on their own.
The three county councillors in attendance said the service had their full support.
Councillor Albert Doherty said time was of the “essence” to secure the service’s future, adding that it would have the support of all of Inishowen’s county councillors.
Councillor Bernard McGuinness said, as a member of the HSE Western Forum, he would raise the issue with the area manager and said there was a “crisis” in the peninsula.
He added that questions must be raised over why the HSE ceased previous funding for Lifeline, adding it “wasn’t good enough.”
Councillor Martin McDermott said the funding had to come from central government, adding the campaign to save Lifeline was “every bit as important” as that for Malin Head Coastguard as both services save lives.
“We can’t and should not allow this to go,” he said.
It was suggested that the three TDs should be invited to attend Lifeline’s meeting with Inishowen’s councillors and that the Minister should continued to be lobbied to retain the service.
Mary Doherty (S) also urged the local community to get in contact if they believed they could help in any way or have any ideas going forward.
It was decided that a follow-up public meeting will be held shortly to inform the community of any developments.
Lifeline’s helpline can be contacted on 0739373232, they are also online at www.ldvs.org and on facebook at Lifeine Inishowen.