Thursday, 28 March 2019

Questions (2)

Denise Mitchell


2. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to increase capacity for the number of refuges providing services to victims of domestic violence; the steps being taken to improve geographic access to these services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14528/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

What are the Minister for Children and Youth Affair's plans to increase capacity for the number of refuges providing services to victims of domestic violence? Will she outline the steps being taken the steps be taken to improve geographic access to these services and will she make a statement on this matter?

Tusla, the child and family agency, provides funding and co-ordination supports to 59 organisations that deliver a range of services to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence throughout the country. In 2018, as part of the planning processes to develop services for victims of domestic violence, Tusla began the process of reviewing emergency domestic violence accommodation provision in the Dublin region. The findings of this review will inform decision-making on the funding. It will also inform Tusla’s project to review specialist domestic violence accommodation nationally, which will be completed by the end of 2019. Importantly, it will also inform the Estimates process for 2020. I am pleased to confirm that a new refuge is due to open in south Dublin by the end of the third quarter of 2019. This refuge will have five family units and accommodate five adults and up to 15 children.

We need to improve geographic access. It is already difficult for women and children to leave the family home, but this becomes even more challenging when there is no safe place to go which is within a reasonable distance. This is also a key obligation to be met under the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the Istanbul Convention, which Ireland ratified on 8 March of this year.

Currently there are challenges for Tusla in ensuring that we have the right number of refuge places in the right place for those who need them. Tusla will continue to work with service providers to plan for additional refuge developments where they are needed. Currently, 22 of the 59 organisations funded by Tusla provide emergency refuge and emergency non-refuge accommodation to victims of domestic violence and their children, with a total of 155 family units of emergency accommodation.

We are all aware of the detrimental effects that domestic violence has on victims and their children. This is why I have prioritised the development of these services.

I thank the Minister for her reply. There has been no increase in the number of spaces available in recent years. On 22 February 2018, the Minister told the House that Ireland was exceeding the recommendations for the minimum refuge provision for domestic violence spaces, because there were 155 family units comprising 147 emergency refuge family units and eight emergency non-refuge family units. She based this on the fact that she claimed that the Council of Europe recommend one place per 10,000 women. In fact, the Council of Europe recommends that provision be set at one place or family place per 7,500 to 10,000 members of the population. On that basis, it would appear that our domestic violence refuge spaces are 70% less than the recommended amount. To reach these European guidelines, we would in fact need 331 more spaces. Does the Minister accept these figures and will we see any significant increase in capacity over the coming years?

I thank the Deputy. Those are very important issues that she has pointed out. In terms of the calculation of her figures, I would have to do them myself but let us assume that she has done her maths right. The most important thing that the Deputy is identifying is what guidelines Ireland ought to follow to determine the number of refuge places that we have available. Indeed, as the Deputy indicated, we have a Council of Europe document which indicates the minimum standards to help us identify the appropriate number. The first issue then is what this number should be. The Deputy may be aware that the document offers two standards relating to fulfilling our obligations under the Council of Europe recommendations, one which is being followed, and the other on which the Deputy has just commented. In light of the Deputy's questions but also my ongoing interest in prioritising this issue, it is worth looking again at the most appropriate standard to follow in light of the evidence that is coming to bear on these issues.

These Council of Europe recommendations were made in 1998. It is 20 years on and we are still not reaching the targets. I have asked before and it seems very difficult to get answers as to how full these centres are. This information is very important to us to understand the demand that exists.

In responses I received recently to questions, I was told that Cork as a whole has only five domestic violence refuge spaces. That is incredible. There are other counties such as Carlow, Cavan, Laois, Leitrim, Monaghan, Offaly and Roscommon where there are no places whatsoever. In these counties with no places, we are seeing mothers and children having to move to other counties to get services. That is not acceptable and I hope we look at this, going forward.

The Minister made a comment about the Rathmines centre that is due to be opened soon. My understanding is that this centre has been taken over by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. Even though we have problem in homelessness, which I understand, it seems that we are taking from one to give to the other. Women who are fleeing domestic violence need specialist services.

Three matters arise here. First, on the numbers that we ought to have according to the Council of Europe, Tusla is applying a standard of shelter space per 10,000 head of female population. There is another standard of shelter space per 7,500 head of adult population. That is what the Deputy is arguing we should have instead, which means we need to increase provision. I am saying in response that we need to look at that again.

Second, there is a very important piece of research, a national survey, that Tusla is conducting now to identify, by working with stakeholders and service providers throughout the country, where the needs are and where the services ought to be. The Deputy is correct that there are nine counties where we do not have domestic violence refuges. This is important research and it is not just a case of putting them anywhere in each of those counties. Instead, it is done on an evidence basis, with research being done as to where they should be located and what kind of services should be provided. There are obviously different models.

The final point was on the Rathmines refuge shelter. It is a very important shelter for me. Some of my closest colleagues founded it many years ago. I have been there myself and it will be opened, if a little bit later than anticipated. While they are waiting to sort out some other outstanding issues - not building issues - the building has been offered for homeless people, some of whom are fleeing domestic violence.