A local Councillor who came to Enniskillen to flee an abusive partner over 20 years ago has welcomed a new scheme aimed at helping to protect people from becoming a victim of domestic violence or abuse.
Debbie Coyle (right) arrived from England to a women’s refuge in Enniskillen 22 years ago “with five children and a couple of black bags of clothes.”

The well-known Sinn Féin Councillor is a passionate advocate for tackling domestic violence and abuse.
“I am a survivor of domestic abuse,” she told The Impartial Reporter.
“I had gone into refuge in England and didn’t know where to go. Enniskillen had a refuge with six beds so I came here. My family are originally from Leitrim, not too far away, so I thought we would be ok here. And we were. Hazel from Fermanagh Women’s Aid lifted us from the bus station and we received the help and support we needed at that time,” she added.
This week the Department of Justice launched the Domestic Violence and Abuse Disclosure Scheme which allows an individual to make inquiries confidentially to police, where they have concerns that their partner has a history of abusive behaviour. This will enable them to make an informed choice about an existing personal relationship. An application can also be made by a third party who knows them and has concerns.
The disclosure scheme is similar to a scheme introduced in England and Wales, which is commonly referred to as ‘Clare’s Law’, named after Clare Wood who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009. Prior to this scheme, Women’s Aid voiced concerns that there was nothing to prevent dangerous serial perpetrators of domestic violence from targeting new victims.
The scheme has been welcomed by Councillor Coyle and Fermanagh Women’s Aid.
Councillor Coyle described the scheme as “a step forward.”
She added: “It needed to be done. When you live with somebody who has a history of domestic violence and abuse, you have the right to know. There may be some who will stay in the belief that they can bring about changes and in those cases at least the family may have the knowledge and will be able to watch out for the person and support them.”
Councillor Coyle continued: “When you live in fear in an abusive relationship it’s amazing how many survival skills you develop as you go through your day to day life, in work, meeting family and friends etc. It is important however that as you come out of the relationship and go from a victim to a survivor that there is support from family, friends if possible from agencies such as Women’s Aid or Nexus and other counselling services.” 
Asked if a disclosure scheme would have helped her in her abusive relationship, she said: “I am not sure. I was only 17 and stayed for 17 years. I can’t honestly answer that as it was a different time and there were not the same laws or the awareness that we have now. However, going forward I do believe it will help in the future.
“It is vital and so important that people speak about domestic violence and abuse, that there is awareness of what it is, that it is unacceptable, that it is a crime and where to go to for help.” 
She praised Fermanagh Women’s Aid for the “fantastic work” it has done in delivering training to the PSNI and schools but believes such initiatives should be funded by government, rather than having to rely on fundraising.
Domestic violence and abuse must be dealt with holistically, Councillor Coyle believes. That includes “dealing with the perpetrators and lots of preventative work such as the Healthy Relationships Program available from Fermanagh Women’s Aid.” 
Kerri Flood, Strategic Development Co-ordinator for Fermanagh Women’s Aid, said the disclosure scheme “will save lives.”
She added: “We are relieved and so glad to see this available for women. It is going to give women the right to ask and the right to know if there is a potential offender in the home. It allows woman and their family and friends to get information on any intelligence about a partner, not just convictions.”
She explained that, on occasion, Women’s Aid, the police and social services are aware of certain perpetrators but, if those individuals are not convicted, it is difficult to stop them targeting new partners.
“Previously we wouldn’t have had an avenue to protect a woman unless someone has a conviction,” Ms. Flood said, adding: “But to be able to have something concrete, where the PSNI have information on someone who has abused in the past, not rumour or speculation, but concrete facts, means a woman will see that it’s not her fault. This is something he has done before and will probably do again. It allows her to make an informed decision.”
If any woman is deemed at high risk, Women’s Aid is involved in A Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference. This is a victim focused information sharing and risk management meeting attended by all key agencies, where high risk cases are discussed.
“The disclosure scheme gives women the right to get that information,” said Ms. Flood.
She added: “If a woman does make an enquiry and there’s no information about that man, we would ask them to follow their gut. Offending behaviour starts somewhere. She may be the first victim. If your gut instinct is strong enough to make the enquiry, there’s something there to follow through on.”
The scheme will be delivered by the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch. The ‘Right to Ask’ provides a way for a potential victim to directly apply to police for information. Applications can only be made via the PSNI or the nidirect website. The ‘Power to Tell’ provision allows police to act on information that may come to their attention by other means. Police will assess the degree of risk and act accordingly. Both procedures are expected to take around 42-45 days.
Where a disclosure is to be made, police will meet and inform the potential victim, or the person considered best placed to protect them. Should an individual be considered to be at immediate risk, police will act immediately. Disclosure information will typically be very general, indicating a risk to the person, rather than specifying the detail of any previous offence.