Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence
7. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to provide details of his Department’s plan to support increased domestic violence refuge provision, including progress on the delivery of refuge provision for counties Cavan and Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15307/22]
I am substituting for Deputy Niamh Smyth. I would like to know the Department's plans to support increased domestic violence refuge provision and the progress in this regard. I am asking the Minister about Carlow, which he will know only too well.
I prepared a response for Deputy Niamh Smyth. I might put that on the record and then address the Deputy's question, on Carlow. Deputy Niamh Smyth has raised this issue regularly. I have received correspondence from Cavan County Council on the matter. I am very much aware of the importance of refuge protection in counties such as Cavan and Monaghan, and, indeed, Carlow.
The response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, DSGBV is cross-departmental and multi-agency, co-ordinated by the Department of Justice. Tusla provides supports for victims of domestic violence, primarily through funded NGO service providers. In 2021, Tusla allocated €28 million in core funding for DSGBV services plus €2 million in contingency funding to address challenges arising from Covid-19. Overall funding to address DSGBV has increased from €23.8 million in 2018 to approximately €31 million in 2022.
I am informed by Tusla that support for victims of DSGBV in counties Cavan and Monaghan is available through the services of Tearmann, which is based in Monaghan and funded by Tusla. Tearmann also provides outreach services in both counties. Tusla's funding to Tearmann in 2021 was just over €214,000. Tusla has indicated that it has engaged with stakeholders in the Cavan–Monaghan area about taking forward provision of safe accommodation and explored options for emergency provision during the Covid-19 period. As the Deputy knows, Tusla published its review of accommodation recently. It assessed the distribution of safe emergency accommodation and examined the level of refuge provision, evidence of demand for services and unmet need.
An interdepartmental group, led by a senior official in the Department of Justice, has been established to examine the physical delivery of refuge accommodation, identify obstructions to delivery, address the perception of significant delays in provision and identify how they can be shortened. Priority areas have been identified where there is the greatest urgency in achieving safe accommodation for victims of DSGBV. There will be engagement with local authorities, Departments and State agencies to source refuge provision, including in Cavan and Monaghan.
I thank the Minister. I ask that he get a report for me on Carlow. I have been involved with various networks. A group of us, including all the relevant agencies, has been working together for the past few weeks, particularly since the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, announced Carlow was to have a women's refuge. We have a great network in Carlow but nobody has corresponded with it. Nobody has heard anything since the report was launched. Nobody knows anything. I sit on the group. We have a meeting next Tuesday. We are expecting another report from the Minister for Justice in April. It is to be the second. I welcome the fact that she, like the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, is committed to this, but the problem is that there has been no communication whatsoever through all the various agencies. The group I am part of has about 20 representatives from all the various agencies. Not one has heard from any Department.
It is great that the Deputy has got the group together. It shows the genuine commitment to the delivery of refuge services in Carlow. The Deputy raised this with me when I visited Carlow recently. She has clearly identified that the mechanisms for the delivery of refuges up to this point have been slow, cumbersome and ill-focused. That is one of the key issues that the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, is working on addressing to ensure we have a clear and fast-acting mechanism. We now have the report that has identified the gaps and now we need a fast process to fill the gaps and allow the groups the Deputy has been bringing together to link in with local authorities, get the capital funding, identify the site and build a suitable, appropriate and, I hope, specifically designed centre to provide for the accommodation needs. That work is ongoing.
Again, I thank the Minister for answering. The matter is important. I have met the Minister and the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, several times about a women's refuge for Carlow. Particularly in the nine counties that do not have a refuge, the urgency is recognised. Sadly, Covid created a crisis for something we knew was not working properly. In Carlow, we have a network set up. We have got all the various agencies together. When I raised this matter as a question on promised legislation, the Taoiseach requested that we put together a group involving all the agencies and be ready to go. I even wrote to the Minister for Justice about properties on sale in Carlow. I have done everything I can. I assure the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth that I have left no stone unturned. I acknowledge he is committed. I ask him and the Minister for Justice to communicate with the nine counties affected, particularly Carlow. We are ready to go on this; all we need is the go-ahead.
The Deputy does not in any way need me to back her up on this. I was in Carlow–Kilkenny on Monday and met the various groups, including Carlow Women's Aid and the Carlow and South Leinster Rape Crisis Centre. They are so much further ahead than Tusla in their work, in what they have identified, in what they can deliver and in the speed at which they can deliver. What the Deputy says is absolutely accurate. I see the same in Dún Laoghaire. The accommodation review identifies ten spaces. The joint policing committee has been working on this for two years and has identified a need for 20 spaces. It is at the point of simply trying to get the building. My point is that the group is further ahead than Tusla. It is a point of concern where the accommodation review is behind what is actually happening on the ground between the local authority and Garda, led by the joint policing committee and councillors. When the accommodation review report comes out, it is behind the work in this regard. That is of concern to me. I ask the Minister, who has responsibility for Tusla, to call in its representatives and make sure Tusla is keeping pace with the work on the ground. This is too urgent to be allowed to go slow.
As both Deputies know, responsibility for delivering the refuge services is being moved from the Department and Tusla to the Department of Justice. That is an issue on which the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, and I have been working. It has been decided across Government that the Department of Justice is the appropriate location for both the setting of policy and the delivery of new refuge space. We will be seeking to facilitate the transfer of the responsibilities. We have been working very closely with the Minister for Justice on this issue since the formation of the Government.
Again, I am going back to the question arising from Professor Mahony's report and one of his 17 recommendations and conclusions. It relates to the payment of €3,000. I have had the privilege of hearing the Minister's reply previously. I am happy with that reply. The content is perfect. He set out the answer. However, he is doing so in a way that does not take cognisance of the 17 recommendations which said that doing nothing is not an option. That is also set out in the context of delays to date. I ask the Minister to be specific on the details of the €3,000 payment and when it will be extended to others.
I thank the Deputy. In March, following publication of the independent review into illegal birth registrations, I asked Professor Conor O'Mahony, the special rapporteur on child protection, to consider the significant complexities and challenges which arise regarding the issue of illegal birth registrations and to provide a report proposing an appropriate course of action. On 14 March, I published the report which sets out the 17 numbered recommendations.
Recommendation 16 in the report from the special rapporteur on child protection was that provision should be made to cover legal costs associated with a declaration of parentage of persons affected by illegal birth registrations. In response, the Government approved a once-off payment of €3,000 for those individuals whose illegal birth registrations had been confirmed by Tusla from the files of St. Patrick's Guild. That once-off €3,000 payment is intended as a contribution towards costs such as creating or amending wills or seeking a declaration of parentage. While it could also be used for DNA testing, Tusla has covered the cost of DNA testing for individuals in cases where records were insufficient to confirm an illegal birth registration and will continue to provide the support.
Tusla already holds confirmation of illegal birth registrations from the files of St. Patrick's Guild that can form the basis for payment to the individuals affected without any need to bring forward evidence and meet a certain burden of proof. There may be potential to extend the payment to other confirmed cases after the Birth Information and Tracing Bill has been passed to access records and people with suspicions may, therefore, be able to access the evidence necessary to confirm illegal birth registrations and effect a change in the birth register.
In terms of the basis for the figure of €3,000, this was by the work of the interdepartmental group on illegal birth registrations and the special rapporteur's recommendations in terms of the purpose of the payment. My officials are currently working to establish a scheme with the intention of making payments as soon as possible in 2022.
We know that the potential extent of illegal birth registrations is huge. We know from the independent reviewer in Northern Ireland that there could be up to 20,000 cases or more. If we do not examine, we cannot find. The three monkeys come to mind. I mean that not in a disparaging way, but it seems to be a case of see, hear and do no evil. If we do not look, we cannot find.
The report from Professor O'Mahony in September was not published until March. That came on foot of the independent reviewer's report from Northern Ireland which is dated 2019 and was published in 2021. She recommended that we look at suspicious files. We have not looked at them. The 17 recommendations from Professor O'Mahony did not advise a payment of €3,000. He referred to making money available, but did not confine payments to those linked to St. Patrick's Guild. Why has the Minister made a decision that the payment should be confined to cases linked to St. Patrick's Guild on the basis that there is no evidence? We can never get evidence if we do not look for it. Other reports advised not to burden Tusla because it does not have the resources, or advised that it should be given resources if it is asked to do this work.
The Deputy is absolutely right in saying that if we do not look we cannot find. That is why I have prioritised the birth information and tracing legislation, which provides the mechanisms to allow us to find this information and get birth certificates, records and early life information which is the core way in which we can find out if someone has been subjected to an illegal birth registration. We have the provision of a specialised tracing team, which Professor O'Mahony recommended. We have set out in our response to the recommendations how that will be implemented by Tusla. Tusla requires some additional legislative support to undertake the kind of detailed tracing that will be needed to determine what has happened.
As the Deputy knows, we are dealing with illegal acts that were usually deeply covered and concealed. For whatever reason, that was not done in St. Patrick's Guild. Therefore, we are providing the legislative tools in the Birth Information and Tracing Bill, and the resourcing tools to Tusla in terms of the €3 million in additional allocation in this year's budget. We are providing the mechanisms so that we can look for information.
I appreciate that the Minister is doing his best, but I ask him to forgive my frustration given the context. At every step of the way there has been a delay. The Minister has to acknowledge that. Professor O'Mahony's report is dated September and was not published until St. Patrick's week.
I understand a lady asked for her name not be mentioned, which is the reason I have not mentioned it. I have asked the Minister to confirm whether she asked for her name to be taken from the independent review that she carried out because there were changes or alterations. I do not wish to say something that was incorrect. That is why am not using her name. I am not using her name because she, apparently, has asked that it not be used. Can the Minister tell me whether that is true so that I can attribute the very good work she did to her? That work was delayed for almost two years.
When there is that type of background, it is hard to have confidence in the system. I am here and I have a voice. I am speaking for the people who are voiceless outside and do not have any trust. I find it increasingly difficult to keep my trust. I am on record as having praised the Minister and have said I do not doubt his bona fides, but history is becoming more and more fragmented even in these reports. I only have summaries of the reports before me.
Professor O'Mahony conducted a very detailed piece of work within a short period of time. When I get detailed work, I give it the time to consider it. There were 17 detailed and complex recommendations. I do not rush into things in this area. I give them time and consideration. Through doing that we have a strong Birth Information and Tracing Bill and strong Institutional Burials Bill because they were given the time to assess the various elements that needed to be addressed.
In the context of the independent reviewer's report, the independent reviewer was commissioned to do a piece of work. She did that piece of work. The Attorney General recommended a small number of redactions from the report. I have to accept the response of the Attorney General. Our Department indicated that to the legal reviewer. She indicated she was not happy with those and we indicated that was the legal advice we required. She asked for her name to be removed. We commissioned this piece of work from her, therefore we believed it was appropriate that we publish it and attribute it to her.