Thursday, 14 October 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
4. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if her Department has been involved in supporting efforts to establish a domestic violence refuge in County Carlow; and if her Department provides assistance to such rural-based community services. [50090/21]
Over the last two years we have seen a shadow pandemic of violence against women yet in many rural communities and counties such as Carlow there is no domestic violence refuge available. The Carlow Women's Refuge Campaign supported by Councillor Adrienne Wallace has long been pushing for this injustice to be corrected. Numerous reports and experts have recommended it. Two temporary emergency accommodation units have been provided but this is far from adequate. Will the Minister agree that Carlow needs a refuge?
I thank the Deputy for the question. I can confirm that the Department of Rural and Community Development has had no involvement in the establishment of a domestic violence refuge in Carlow. I understand that, in the main, domestic violence issues are a matter for the Minister for Justice and are legislated for in the Domestic Violence Act 2018. My Department's mission is to promote rural and community development and to support vibrant, inclusive and sustainable communities throughout Ireland. A key objective of all of the Department's programmes is that they are targeted at those sectors, areas and individuals most in need and provide effective responses to ongoing and future economic and social challenges.
While the Department has no direct role in domestic violence matters, it does provide some funding to organisations that offer support to victims of domestic violence through the scheme to support national organisations. This includes Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Network Ireland and the National Women's Council of Ireland. The Department also administers the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, which is the country's primary social inclusion intervention. Funding of €220 million has been provided for this programme for the period from 2018 to 2023. The aim of the programme is to reduce poverty and promote social inclusion and equality by supporting communities and individuals using community development approaches, engagement and collaboration.
Of some relevance is the Department's community services programme, which supports community organisations to deliver local services and create employment opportunities for disadvantaged people through a social enterprise model. The programme provides a funding contribution to over 2,000 positions in over 400 community organisations throughout the country. The Department is providing SICAP funding in excess of the €220 million mentioned. This year, €39 million was allocated to the programme. I am delighted to say that an additional €4 million has been secured for SICAP in budget 2022. This represents a 10% budget increase for the programme, resulting in an additional 60 community workers nationwide.
I accept this matter is not the primary responsibility of the Minister of State, but a Department with responsibility for community and rural affairs should be supporting the fight for rural communities to get the services they need. I ask the Minister of State to add his name to the list of those calling for a women's refuge in Carlow, and in all those counties without one. I will set out a striking statistic. In the first nine months of this year, more than 500 incidents of domestic abuse were reported to the Garda in Carlow, but there is no local domestic violence refuge for those who need it. Instead, people are being sent to Kilkenny, Kildare and Dublin, causing unnecessary additional distress and uprooting their lives. The problem has been highlighted many times. Fr. Peter McVerry has described the absence of a refuge in Carlow as "scandalous".
I thank the Deputy. I acknowledge his point. Since 2018, some 1,138 individuals have been supported through SICAP in Carlow. The supports offered vary in accordance with the individual's circumstances. Examples of such supports are personal development, lifelong learning courses, health and well-being assistance and other labour market supports. In 2019, Carlow County Development Partnership carried out research on family homelessness which highlighted the plight of women affected by domestic violence and the need for a women's refuge in Carlow. It liaises with and refers women to the outreach worker from Amber Women's Refuge in Kilkenny and Carlow Women's Aid. Staff have supported women in crisis situations to access women's refuge services. Under its 2022 annual plan, Carlow County Development Partnership proposes to commission research into the ongoing need for a domestic violence refuge in Carlow, including what model would be most appropriate.
The absence of a refuge has been ongoing and highlighted for a number of years. In 2018, a report on homelessness in Carlow by Dr. Brendan O'Keeffe highlighted how women and children are often forced to stay in violent homes for the lack of a refuge. Tusla's 2019 needs analysis accepted that a refuge is "the most effective means for protecting women and children". The Carlow Women's Refuge Campaign was set up in 2018. An emergency motion was passed by Carlow County Council in 2019. All of the experts agree that a proper, full-time refuge that offers all of the safety requirements and supports, including childminding and counselling, is necessary in terms of safe accommodation for women and children.
I thank the Deputy. I refer to some useful points from the budget, particularly in regard to the Department of Justice. A funding package will be provided to extend legal aid for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Expenditure on victim supports for people who have suffered domestic, sexual and gender-based violence is also set to increase by €5 million, bringing total funding to €13 million, inclusive of €1 million to improve Garda divisional protective services units. These units are now operating in every Garda division to provide a consistent and professional approach to the investigation of sexual crime, child abuse and domestic abuse. Funding is provided for ongoing training for gardaí in priority areas such as combating domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. An additional €3.3 million is provided to support the work of the Legal Aid Board, including the provision of legal advice and legal aid services to victims of sexual offences.
I will make one other point that is of relevance in terms of rent supplement. A victim of domestic violence is eligible for rent supplement on referral by Tusla. Where an application is made, rent supplement will be provided for an initial three months and will not require a means test.