The Government has rejected claims that State funding for marriage preparation courses provided by the Catholic support agency Accord was withdrawn because of the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
Funding will still be provided to Accord for counselling services from Tusla, the Child and Family Agency which operates under the auspices of the Department of Children.
A spokesman for Children’s Minister James Reilly said Tusla’s decision was not linked to the marriage equality referendum.
Accord will continue to get €1.6m a year from Tusla for marriage counselling, but has lost around €360,000 in State funding for 2015 for pre-marriage courses.
Dr Reilly said the decision had nothing to do with the marriage equality referendum. “We’re in the midst of a campaign, people will try and draw on everything they can into the campaign. That decision made by Tusla, signed off on by their board, has absolutely nothing to do with this referendum.
“It has to do with the fact that they’re reforming the system, and focusing their resources on the areas that they have direct legislative responsibility for which is child protection.”
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Tusla chief executive Gordon Jeyes said the agency had to live within its means when cuts were being made.
He said money was being taken from every organisation. “There’s absolutely no connection whatsoever to other events,” said Mr Jeyes. “This was a Tusla executive recommendation accepted by the board. There was no Government discussion in this at all.”
Tusla said its budget was signed off by Dr Reilly on April 17 and the agency’s board the following week.
The decision to cut funding is retrospective and took effect on January 1.
“The basis on which decisions were made was a set of criteria which measured impact on the protection and welfare of children,” said Tusla, in a statement.
“While Tusla values the work of marriage preparation courses and recognises their value for the long-term benefit of children, it was necessary at a time of limited resources to prioritise those services operating more directly at the front line.”
The cut in funds was described as “appalling and indefensible,” by the Iona Institute.
“This decision certainly adds to fears already expressed by the Catholic bishops over what will happen to marriage counselling organisations that believe marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman,” said Iona, in a statement.
“It is very telling that this has happened only weeks after the Government refused to confirm to The Irish Catholic newspaper that it would not guarantee continued funding of Accord should the marriage referendum be carried.”
It adds: “Now we see funding of marriage preparation courses axed even before the referendum takes place.
“Tusla will say this has been forced on it by Minister James Reilly’s decision to cut its budget. However, to simply end funding of Accord’s marriage preparation courses completely is beyond belief.”
Accord’s president Bishop Denis Nulty said the cuts will undermine a vital service provided to women and men preparing for marriage. He said he fears the funding cut could be linked to the Church’s opposition to the Government’s campaign for a yes vote in the same-sex marriage referendum.
Bishop of Elphin Dr Kevin Doran told The Irish Catholic newspaper it seemed to him that “if the State does have a commitment to marriage, as the Constitution requires it to do, it is a rather strange move to be withdrawing funding from pre-marriage preparation courses.”
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