How a government funding increase could mean less money for the rape crisis centres which need it most

JOE can reveal that the government repeatedly ignored warnings about how it was planning to spend much needed rape crisis funds

Rape crisis centres which are already struggling to meet demand could be left without much needed resources after the government decided to share funding between all 16 centres, instead of focusing on the ones that need it most.

Documents seen by JOE reveal that Tusla believes some rape crisis centres will benefit from a “windfall,” while those which had already been struggling to help survivors could be facing “bad news.”

JOE can also reveal that a press release from Katherine Zappone, the children and youth affairs minister, announcing funding for rape crisis centres earlier this year contained “incorrect” information. It was published despite repeated warnings that the funding it was announcing was “actually less” than what some rape crisis centres had been told to expect. 

Tusla, the child and family agency, claimed it was being undermined by the way the government announced the new rape crisis funding. But in the end, Tusla decided not to “split hairs” about the issue, which it estimated would leave over €140,000 of rape crisis funding unspent this year, because it wanted to avoid “negative commentary.” 

Next month marks the two year anniversary of the start of the international #MeToo movement, which inspired sexual violence survivors across the world to report their attackers and speak publicly about their experiences.

Since 2017, rape crisis centres in Ireland have reported an increase in the number of survivors coming to them looking for help. This has made waiting lists for counselling services for traumatised rape survivors much longer. 

Tusla, the child and family agency, is responsible for funding front line domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services in Ireland. Internal documents from Tusla released to JOE under Freedom of Information show that sexual violence services are coming under “increasing demands,” which the state agency believes is “linked to the many public debates around sexual violence and cases in the public domain.” 

Tusla warned that a new public awareness campaign that the government was running on sexual harassment earlier this year “may prompt further demand” on rape crisis centres. 

JOE can reveal that because of concerns about “finite” resources for sexual violence services, Tusla now wants to try to find ways to help traumatised survivors with technology. A submission Tusla prepared on the sexual violence resources it needs for 2019 said that “counselling is an expensive and involved model of intervention which will not suit all survivors.”

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs had an extra €1.5 million to spend on domestic, sexual and gender based violence services this year. In April, the department asked Tusla to suggest what the €1.5 million should be spent on.

Tusla put together a document identifying what the priority areas were. For sexual violence, Tusla identified the rape crisis centres which needed the funding the most. It said that Kerry rape crisis centre needed €30,000 more this year to reduce long waiting lists and waiting times for survivors. It said Mayo, Tipperary and Galway also needed money to address waiting times. Tusla said €80,000 would be needed to improve the reach of sexual violence services across the midlands and €50,000 to do the same in the border counties. Cork needed "greater coherence" between its sexual violence services.

Tusla already had plans in place for how the money was going to be spent at rape crisis centres, and in at least two rape crisis centres the extra money was needed just to cover the cost of providing existing services for survivors of sexual violence. In Galway, €30,000 was needed just for the “ELS” (existing level of service) and €15,000 in funding was also recorded as being for ELS for Tipperary’s rape crisis centre.  

Instead, Katherine Zappone, children and youth affairs minister, decided to split €476,600 of the €1.5 million between all 16 rape crisis centres; giving each one a 10 per cent increase in funding. In an email on April 17, Joan Mullen, the head of domestic, sexual and gender based violence at Tusla, warned the department that spending the money this way would have “implications” on rape crisis services, especially for plans to develop rape crisis services in West Cork “as there are not likely to be available resources to see through implementation.”

The funding increase was announced by the government on April 25. The same day, Ms Mullen wrote to her own staff in Tusla’s sexual violence services to tell them the government had decided to split the funding increase between all 16 rape crisis centres, and said she had raised concerns about this decision “given what we know about varying needs around the country.” Four days later, Ms Mullen wrote to Eifion Williams, the service director of Tusla, and explained the “fall-out” of the decision. She said that “allocating funding in this across-the-board way means that we won’t have resources to follow through on some indicative service developments.” Ms Mullen said there would be “implications” on how Tusla was funding existing levels of service at some rape crisis centres, which had started in 2018. Other documents appear to list this funding as being for Galway and Tipperary rape crisis centres.

“So there will be a bit more bad news to share down the line,” Ms Mullen wrote in the email.

Under the government decision, Kerry ended up getting €22,000 instead of the €30,000 which Tusla said it needed to tackle growing waiting lists.

Separate documents compiled by Tusla, and released to JOE, show that the state agency has estimated that under plans to split funding between all 16 rape crisis centres, €144,500 of rape crisis funding will be “likely” to be unspent this year.

A spokesman for Tusla said that it was standard practice for the state agency to flag issues with the department which “may or may not arise.”

“In this particular case, there have been no detrimental funding implications for the services involved. While it is the case that no agreed service developments have been ruled out at this point in time, the timing and staging of developments, and clarity in relation to their emerging costs, requires flexibility,” the spokesman said.

There were also major concerns about how the government announced the funding increase. Tusla repeatedly warned the Department of Children and Youth Affairs against putting out a press release which would calculate the 2019 funding increase for rape crisis centres by just adding 10% to the core funding they got in 2018.

The core funding which rape crisis centres get changes every year, and Tusla hadn't yet agreed what the core funding for 2019 would be.

On April 18, Ms Mullen told the departments that if it went ahead with a plan to just add 10% to the 2018 funding and announce that as a government increase, “some of the funding details will not be correct.” She said her concern was “about the decision to publish information that is known not to be accurate.” 

There were also concerns that adding 10% to last year's core funding would be unfair to the Rape Crisis North East, as that rape crisis centre was “significantly underpaid” in 2018 according to emails from Tusla staff. 

In an email to Tusla staff on April 18, Ms Mullen said she understood that the minister wanted to support all rape crisis centres, “but there will be potential implications for our plans in terms of less resources being available for planned service developments.” She also said that plans to publish 2019 funding “not based on Tusla information” was “unwise” and “a bit undermining.” 

“This mail is for ourselves, please don’t share further. I would ask you to be broadly welcoming of the initiative in any messages we are sharing,” Ms Mullen told staff.

On April 25, when the government was preparing to put out a press release announcing the increased funding for domestic and sexual violence it asked Tusla if it had “any observations” before the press release went out. Again, Ms Mullen told the department that the figures it was about to publish on rape crisis centre funding were “not validated and not accurate for some organisations.” 

The next day, Tusla was forced to email rape crisis centres to explain that the funding announced by the government in the press release was “in variance” with the amounts it had agreed with rape crisis centres for 2019. 

Journalists found out about this email but despite numerous press requests at the time, the department repeatedly maintained that the press release was accurate.

The department refused to comment on why it had put out a press release which according to Tusla, did not contain accurate information. 

In her email to Eifion Williams four days after the press release went out, Ms Mullen said that she had “strongly advised (repeatedly) against” publishing it.

“In some cases the amounts listed are actually less than what we had indicated to [rape crisis centres] for 2019,” Ms Mullen said. 

A spokesman for the department told JOE that the emails released under Freedom of Information “show the extent of the care and consideration given by all parties to the allocation of these additional resources to such an important area of Tusla's service provision.”

But by August 26, Ms Mullen had decided to let the department have its way and pay 10% increased to rape crisis centres based on their 2018 funding. Ms Mullen said this was better than“splitting hairs about what will be a couple of hundred euro here and there mainly and maybe a bit of a windfall for a couple of organisations.” She said that it would be “better to avoid any negative commentary” or anything that would make Tusla look “defensive or mean-spirited.”