Stormont crisis: Stalemate is putting victims of domestic violence at risk, warns charity
Vital support for victims of domestic violence in Northern Ireland could be halted because of the Stormont political stalemate.
The Department of Health was due to sign off on a joint domestic violence strategy with the Department of Justice that was aimed at protecting the thousands of men, women and children under threat of abuse within the home.
Women's Aid, the charity that works to end domestic violence, has said it is deeply concerned that the long-awaited strategy may not now be realised because of the Stormont crisis.
The domestic violence strategy was aimed at implementing a "zero tolerance" approach to domestic and sexual violence and abuse.
It also could have led the way for the introduction of a domestic violence law that would allow women to find out if their partners have an abusive past in a bid to prevent repeat victimisation.
Such a disclosure scheme - known informally as Clare's Law - is available in England and Wales. It was named after Clare Wood who was murdered by her former partner and means that anyone who fears a partner is abusive, or may have an abusive past, is able to go to police and ask for any past convictions or complaints to be revealed.
Louise Kennedy from Women's Aid warned that without an effective response to domestic violence lives were at risk.
Last year seven people were killed as a result of domestic violence - that amounted to 41% of murders in Northern Ireland.
Over the past year almost 13,000 domestic abuse crimes were reported to police, representing approximately 12% of the overall crime in Northern Ireland.
It is so prevalent that officers respond to a domestic incident every 19 minutes.
"The domestic abuse strategy was in the process of being drawn up. A lot of work went into this. The concern is that it requires both ministers to sign it off. It is a matter of life and death for many of these victims," said Ms Kennedy.
She added: "Ultimately, if this work is not done, the losers are going to be the many men, women and children who are victims of domestic violence in Northern Ireland.
"To put that in context, last year alone, our 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline received 55,000 calls."
- If you or a friend need help, you can call the 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline 0808 802 1414. It is open to all women and men affected by domestic and sexual violence.