Three parishes from the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe will be among the first in Ireland to take part in a new course which Mothers’ Union has helped develop to counteract domestic abuse and gender-based violence.

The five-part programme was developed in conjunction with Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund. The Diocesan President of MU, Jacqui Armstrong – who was heavily involved in its preparation – says the new course will be rolled out in September, with volunteers from five parishes (including three from this diocese) taking part in the pilot.

Ms Armstrong says participants will attend five sessions which will offer a global view of gender-based violence, an analysis of the problem in Ireland (north and south), a look at the support available in local communities for tackling the problem, the role of advocacy in addressing domestic abuse and provide advice on tackling cultural attitudes.

The Rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Graham Hare, who was involved in the first pilot for the course, last January, said the experience had shown him how he had underestimated the scale and prevalence of domestic violence. He urged fellow clergy to “open their eyes and open their hearts” to the issue. “What is the church,” he asked, “if it’s not a refuge?”

Bishop Andrew Forster has commended the new course to parishes throughout Derry and Raphoe, urging rectors to begin delivering it. “Let’s really go for this,” he said, “so that we in this diocese take the lead in tackling, educating, supporting and advocating on this issue.”

Ms Armstrong presented Bishop Andrew with a copy of the manual for the new course, “hot off the press”. She told clergy: “It sounds like a difficult subject – and it is a difficult subject.” MU hopes to deliver two more courses in the autumn, in addition to September’s pilot. Ms Armstrong suggested that parishes which sign up should be represented by their rector and at least two or three lay people.