Dáil debates

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Adjournment Debate.

Rape Crisis Centres.

9:00 pm

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin (Kerry South, Labour)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue.

Violence against women is extensive, pervasive and ongoing. Frontline services including rape crisis centres, refuges and support services are operating at a funding level, capped since 2002, which can only be described as severely inadequate to meet current needs. Such services were operating on a resource deficit in 2003 and the subsequent cap in funding occurred alongside increased demands for service delivery and new research which highlighted populations of victims who are not seeking help from dedicated support agencies. Various NGOs have recommended that current investment on dedicated, frontline responses to violence against women be increased by €7 million. This allocation should be ring-fenced for frontline service responses and their national bodies. Funding arrangements must also improve to alleviate the worst effects of the current inefficiencies.

Currently there are 40 locally based responses to domestic violence and 16 rape crisis centres. In June 2004, members of national networks were surveyed on direct State funding in 2003 and a total of 51 frontline services responded. Three quarters of all frontline service providers indicated there was no change to the level of funding they received from statutory sources in 2003 compared with 2002 and there has been no increase since then. Service providers described their inability to meet existing demand and pointed out that being overstretched automatically prevented them developing their services, particularly with regard to inaccessibility for certain populations. Service providers have not been able to deal with staff pay increases, the absence of pension provision, training of new volunteers and even applications from prospective volunteers. Service providers described cutting back key service areas, such as help line cover, which automatically reduces the accessibility of the service for existing and new clients.

Investment is urgently needed in this vital service. An article in the Irish Examiner today states that more than 1,000 women reported rape by a partner in 2004, a figure which clearly indicates the urgency with which this issue must be dealt. At this point, I wish to compliment all those involved in frontline services in rape crisis centres and refuges. The job is difficult and such people are doing magnificent work with very limited resources.

The failure of the Government to provide for a sexual assault treatment unit in Kerry is a very serious matter. Currently, there is only one such unit in the Munster area, in Cork. The need for a unit in Kerry was identified to ensure that victims of rape could be examined in Kerry General Hospital. A dedicated working group was set up, comprising medical staff, gardaí and the staff of the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre. A pilot scheme was undertaken in April 2002 and the service operated very successfully, despite having no resources allocated to it by the Government. A total of 60 clients were seen at the unit and supported. A decision was made in September 2004 to contact GPs in the Kerry region, with a view to having trained doctors on an on-call rota to undertake forensic medical examinations. Ten GPs expressed their interest in undertaking the training and being available. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform refunds the costs incurred in forensic examinations but, unfortunately, due to the lack of resources to fund a nursing post and on-call nurses, this initiative did not take place.

The genesis of a service is available but it is functioning at a low level entirely as a result of the lack of funding. Even with the existence of a sexual assault treatment unit in County Kerry, victims in remote parts of the county will have to travel for at least an hour. Victims are now reporting that they may have to travel to Cork for the examination, a six hour round trip. This is an unacceptable burden on those people who have been subjected to the most traumatic experience of rape. They are also required, at their own expense, to return to Cork for any follow-up treatment, which may involve four visits.

Funding was promised to the rape crisis centres but none has been made available for the sexual assault unit in Kerry. This is another broken promise from the Government and once again the most vulnerable are left to suffer.

Tim O'Malley (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Limerick East, Progressive Democrats)
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I will be taking the adjournment on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.

The national steering committee on violence against women was established following the report of the task force on violence against women in 1997. It is chaired by Deputy Fahey, Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Department of Health and Children is represented on the national steering committee, as is the Health Service Executive.

The purpose of the national steering committee is to provide a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency and cohesive response to the problem of violence against women and in so doing to progress the recommendations of the task force. It is representative of a wide range of interests concerned with violence against women and has a number of objectives which include ensuring that regional and local structures are established, developing public awareness campaigns, co-ordinating and advising on the distribution of resources among the health regions and co-ordinating and advising on ongoing development of policies, including those concerning perpetrators, criminal justice intervention, services and supports.

The Government is committed to working with all interested parties, including service providers, and has undertaken a range of measures to reduce the incidence of domestic violence, to respond to the needs of victims and perpetrators and to raise awareness among the public about the dynamics of this crime. These measures can be seen across a wide range of Government policy and include legislative measures, Garda response, health services, national research and treatment programmes for perpetrators.

Funding for service provision is a key indicator of Government commitment to the issue. Funding for service provision for victims is channelled primarily through the Health Service Executive Vote. In addition, other Departments such as Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, Social and Family Affairs, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government contribute to responding to the issue.

Funding in the health sector has risen from approximately €3.8 million in 1997 to approximately €12 million in 2005. This shows the commitment of Government and of the Department to addressing this important issue. The allocation of this funding, including to individual rape crisis centres, is now a matter for the Health Service Executive. The former health boards, now the HSE, worked closely for many years with a range of NGOs, including the rape crisis centres.

The Department of Health and Children will continue to monitor the level of investment in services for victims of sexual offences, including rape. The Tánaiste has asked the Department, together with the Health Service Executive, to undertake an analysis of the current level of service provision in this area with a view to planning future service needs. The Tánaiste has recently received this report and my Department will meet the HSE in this regard.

Recently the Tánaiste received a delegation of the relevant violence against women organisations operating dedicated frontline service responses to violence against women. The Tánaiste is considering the report presented to her at that meeting.

In keeping with the recommendations of the task force on violence against women, the HSE works through the regional planning committees to determine the needs of their localities and to co-ordinate statutory and voluntary approaches to these needs. The Health Service Executive is exploring the possibility of co-ordinating funding streams and the development of a more unified structure for violence against women services.