Barrister and GAA pundit Joe Brolly who describes himself as a “Derry GAA man to the core” criticised for his view that Nicola Gallagher should have remained silent for the sake of the children

Joe Brolly begins his opinion piece in today’s Sunday Independent:

“I am thinking of three small children. Three small children with their Derry kits folded by their bedsides, wondering why they can’t go to the Ulster final. Three small children unaware of the public bloodbath that is to come.”

He says Rory has custody of the children “and their protection is all of our priority.”

He goes on to say: “The reason family courts anonymise parents is not to protect the parents. It is to protect the children.

Children are the innocent victims of acrimonious break-ups and of outrageous abuses.

Sometimes, they experience things that will haunt them forever. The court’s objective, insofar as is possible, is to allow them to get on with their lives in a way that causes them the least possible damage. To ensure they are in a settled, secure environment.”

He describes Nicola Gallagher who disclosed domestic violence during the week in a Facebook post that’s gone viral as “a vulnerable young woman who has obviously suffered terribly, must be given space and support. Most of all, she must be listened to.”

He notes that “Rory who has parental responsibility for three vulnerable children, must also be given space and support.”

Brolly says: “In the coming days, the Gallagher family will be a spectator sport. The three children will be frightened and confused by what they hear and see. They will feel all eyes on them and sense that unmistakeable atmosphere of sympathy that usually accompanies a death in the family. There will be no protecting them now.”

Sinéad McGarry was appointed Project Lead for Translational Simulation for Trauma Informed Care Research Project, St James’s Hospital Dublin last January.

In the past she has worked as a senior medical social worker in Naas General Hospital and in St James’s Hospital.

In a Twitter tread this morning she writes:

“No doubt a tough & emotive piece for @JoeBrolly1993 to write. I’m concerned by his view that it is harmful for children when women share their stories of domestic violence in a public sphere, as a/c Brolly ‘there is no protecting them now.’

This implies that public knowledge/discussion of domestic violence is more harmful to children than the harm of secrecy around it. This is a culture which protects perpetrators, which implies there is/ should be shame & fear when we talk about what happens behind closed doors.

This was the same culture which promoted secrecy & silence around suicide & childhood sexual abuse in Ireland. Domestic violence is the final taboo. A hidden, private family matter. Shameful. Yet, survivors of childhood domestic violence regularly speak of the harm of secrecy.

Northern Ireland holds the joint highest rate of female homicide due to domestic violence in Europe, 1 in 6 women in relationships report domestic violence (DV) in the South. Kids have Stay Safe programmes re sexual abuse, where is the support to help them speak up about DV?

Many in & outside of the GAA community will be asked to comment. I feel for them but saying ‘I don’t know what to think, I need to listen & learn’ & suggesting domestic violence experts are best placed to comment & write on this would be a good place to start.

Domestic violence (DV) happens to kids, not just their mothers. It destroys family life. The harm is caused by DV,  not by speaking out on it. Brolly suggests speaking out increases harm – a terrible message to thousands of women & kids living in homes with DV on this island.

Nicola simply shared her story, with support from family & witnesses. Mothers can share their stories of domestic violence in a public sphere, safe in the knowledge that harm to children is experienced through growing up in a home with domestic violence, not discussion on it.”

Brolly says: “I am a Derry GAA man to the core. It is humiliating to know that this has happened in my name. I spoke to several board members yesterday morning who are equally enraged. They had no idea this had been done. They were unaware of the allegations until they read Nicola’s anguished Facebook posts last week.”

This is contradicted elsewhere in the paper in an interview Nicola gave to Rodney Edwards that says: “the organisation was informed about her allegations against Mr Gallagher “but did nothing”.

“They are just words; their actions speak differently. The GAA knew about all of this, one hundred per cent, and the county boards of Fermanagh and Derry knew — because we told them. There were senior members of the GAA who knew what was going on, there are incidents that took place at GAA events. It was a well-known fact.

“I remember seeing their campaign about referees being abused and phoning GAA HQ, the response was, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ I feel like they don’t want to know. It is a joke.

The family also raised their concerns with the Fermanagh County Board and told them, too,” Nicola says.

​An email, seen by the Sunday Independent, including claims against Mr Gallagher, was sent to the management of Derry GAA on May 25 last year by Nicola’s father.

He did not receive a reply.

Derry GAA would not comment yesterday when asked why it did not act once the complaint was received. It referred this newspaper to its previous statement, in which it said it “condemns all forms of domestic violence”, and to Mr Gallagher’s earlier statement.

Nicola says she has been contacted by “other women who are experiencing the same thing and are too scared to come out in case they are not believed.”

“I feel let down by all these institutions — the PSNI, the PPS, the Western Health and Social Care Trust, the GAA. I feel for anyone who is suffering as I have. How are they going to come forward? I had to write a post on Facebook because I was at the end of the line. I didn’t want to have to do that.”

A 𝑅𝑒𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑆𝑝𝑒𝑐𝑖𝑎𝑙 𝑅𝑎𝑝𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡𝑒𝑢𝑟 𝑜𝑛 𝑣𝑖𝑜𝑙𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒 𝑎𝑔𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑠𝑡 𝑤𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑛 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑔𝑖𝑟𝑙𝑠, 𝑖𝑡𝑠𝑐𝑎𝑢𝑠𝑒𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑠𝑒𝑞𝑢𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒𝑠, by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls,  Reem Alsalem was published 12 May 2023.

The report examines ways in which family courts in different regions including Ireland refer to “parental alienation” or similar pseudo-concepts in custody cases, ignoring histories of domestic violence, which may lead to the double victimization of victims of such violence.

The report states: “Given the prevalence of domestic violence in intimate relationships,separation from a perpetrator can also be a highly dangerous period for the victim.

Allegations of domestic violence tend to receive insufficient scrutiny by courts and to trigger problematic assumptions, for example that it causes little harm to the mother or child and that it ceases with separation.

The consequences of domestic violence and its effects on children are also misunderstood and underestimated by judges, who tend to prioritize and grant contact with fathers. In doing so, judges fail in their duty to protect children from harm,giving abusive fathers unsupervised access to their children, including in cases where judges have found that physical and/or sexual violence has occurred.”

A report by the National Women’s Council (NWC) launched on 4 May by Simon Harris, minister for justice says domestic violence victims are “undermined and blamed” by Tusla social workers who use it as an excuse to take children into care.

Authors Nuala Egan SC and Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, adjunct professor of law at University of Limerick and former chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre point out that training in domestic violence is optional for social work students and advise that it should be mandatory.

In private family law, the report says mothers who cite domestic violence risk being accused of fabricating the abuse to “alienate” the children from their father.

Recourse to this “parental alienation” model appears to be “increasingly popular in courts in Ireland … being raised by lawyers for alleged perpetrators as a means of cancelling out and even silencing allegations of domestic violence by a victim in the course of access or custody applications”.

“Increased use of this model in the courts … has impacted upon the willingness of victims to even raise domestic violence before a court in applications for access or custody,” the report says.

The effect “is to disregard a child’s voice, as the child was taken to be merely repeating the alienating parent’s views. If such a state of affairs prevailed … that would effectively contravene the constitutional imperative that the voice of the child be heard in proceedings affecting them”.

The parental alienation model appears to be “in favour with some or possibly many of the expert assessors” appointed by courts to determine children’s interests and wishes, the report says.

Given that courts “place considerable reliance” upon such assessors, “the impact of such an approach … is most significant”.

While there had been a “sea-change” in victims’ experiences with specially trained gardaí working in protective services units, there was an apparent “but unexplained reluctance” by some gardaí to prosecute offences under section 33 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 – for breach of protective, safety or barring orders.”

Meanwhile, Nicola Gallagher has shone a spotlight on the dark underbelly of Irish society and humanised the reports cited above. Her privacy and that of her children must now be respected.