Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Questions (61)

Paul Murphy


61. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her plans to support a network (details supplied) that includes the vital local service provided by an organisation in view of the 16 days of action to promote domestic violence awareness, which has highlighted that 60% of abuse starts before 25 years of age and that Ireland has only one third of the recommended number of refuge spaces; and her views on whether women's domestic abuse refuge centres are an important aspect of her Department. [51357/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Children)

Today is the last of 16 days of action to promote domestic violence awareness. I ask the Minister her and the Government's plans to support women's refuges and networks such as Women Together Tallaght Network in the context of some of the facts we have heard highlighted over these 16 days. One in two women murdered in Ireland is killed by her partner or ex-partner, but Ireland only has one third of the refuge space recommended by the Istanbul Convention.

Last Thursday I attended an event hosted by Saoirse Women's Refuge and Women Together Tallaght Network as part of the 16 days of activism campaign.

Before my time in government, I worked directly with the local communities in the greater Tallaght area. I strongly value the hard work and community spirit of the people of Tallaght.

I understand that the networks to which the Deputy refers receive funding from the Department of Justice and Equality.

Tusla has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic violence and provides funding for the provision of specialist front-line services. These networks do not currently fall under the remit of Tusla's funded services for domestic and sexual violence.

Younger people are particularly vulnerable to abuse. It is important that negative attitudes to women and girls are addressed early on. The National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 is a cross-Government initiative in which many Departments, including my own, are involved.

Tusla has led on the delivery of the Manuela programme for 15 to 17 year olds. This six-week educational programme equips young people with the skills and behaviours to promote consent in personal relationships. More than 1,500 young people have participated in the programme to date.

The Deputy raised the issue of refuge accommodation. This is also important to me as part of the services and supports for victims of domestic violence. Refuge should be temporary. The Deputy will have heard the Taoiseach express in this House his views that the perpetrator, not the victim, should leave the home. I agree with that.

Responsibility for investment in new refuges falls under the remit of a number of Government bodies. The planning and resourcing of additional refuge accommodation requires cross-Government support. Future developments will be informed by Tusla's review of emergency refuge accommodation nationwide, which will be completed in early 2020, as well as the identified needs of service users throughout the country.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that five additional refuge spaces will become available in south Dublin this month and three additional refuge spaces will be available in Galway in January 2020.

I also pay tribute to the work of local women's groups in Tallaght, where not only paid employees but also volunteers make up in some cases for the inadequacies of State provision. I am sure it is the same throughout the country. I welcome the fact that a new refuge is being opened, and I accept that this is not purely the Minister's responsibility. However, the fact that Saoirse Women's Refuge, for example, must do all this fundraising to fill the centre with furniture, equipment, etc., demonstrates a problem in that it is not sufficiently funded. Even with the opening of the new centre, does the Minister accept that compared with the Istanbul standards, for example, we still have significantly fewer spaces than we need? What long-term plans exist to keep refuge centres afloat in order that they not be forced to engage in all this fundraising from local communities as opposed to funding being provided by the State?

I am very much aware of the additional fundraising that domestic refuge shelters need to do because they talk to me too. I will answer the Deputy's questions in a couple of different ways. Regarding the ongoing resources they require, since the beginning of my Ministry, I have increased the resources to this sector by more than €5 million in recent years. I understand that is limited, but there has been an increase based on priority in the past year as well as this year, I expect. What is the best way to target the money? I have asked the sector and pulled together representatives of it to identify how best to use the resources to meet the greatest need.

I would like to address the issue of the standard of the Istanbul Convention in my final reply.

I wish to raise the question of the interaction between domestic violence or intimate partner violence and the housing crisis. Safe Ireland has reported that housing instability is four times more likely to affect women who have experienced domestic violence and that one in four homeless women cites intimate partner violence as a major contributor to her homelessness. This was illustrated by a woman who recently contacted me for assistance. This, again, does not directly relate to the question of refuges. This woman lives very close to her former partner, who is abusive and violent towards her. South Dublin County Council refuses to treat her as a priority for a transfer because she is a tenant of an approved housing body. The approved housing body has tried to assist but does not have appropriate alternative accommodation.

She is left in limbo between the council and the approved housing body because the approved housing body said it does not have anywhere appropriate and the council simply refuses to treat her as a priority despite letters from Saoirse Women's Refuge, the Garda etc.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I am aware of the interface between housing, homelessness and domestic and sexual violence. That is clearly an issue. Safe Ireland is one of our greatest organisations in this area and does excellent work. I am also aware of the issues that it raises and shares with the Deputy and I seek to address them. On the standards of the Istanbul Convention and how many refuge spaces we have, as the Deputy is aware, the Istanbul Convention recommends two standards. Tusla is following one. Safe Ireland and other organisations want us to follow the other, which would require us to increase the number of refuge spaces by significantly more than we have now. With the standard currently in use, we are almost providing the number of required refuge spaces. Space is available in five units in Rathcoole for five adults and 15 children. Nine units will be available in Rathmines in 2020 for nine adults and 27 children. There will also be additional spaces in Galway.

Tusla is reviewing what is required throughout the country. Those standards are going to be reviewed. I have indicated my preference for a standard that requires more refuge spaces.

The Minister is out of time.

I am aware that it would cost considerably more money. One reason that Tusla and others are going with the first standard is because of the argument that we ought to spend our money to provide community services and integrate them into the community.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.