The announcement came minutes before a cross-section of women’s support groups and the trade union movement held a press conference to publicly attack the Tánaiste Michael McDowell’s record on violence against women.
Despite the 11th hour reprieve, the women’s welfare lobby stood defiant and laid out its demands for parties fighting the general election. It said the issues of rape, sexual violence, domestic violence and the trafficking of women still had to be addressed.
It was an unprecedented show of force by the support sector at the conference in the National Library. As well as personnel from the NDVIA, there was representation from Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, the National Network of Women’s Refuges and Support Services and SIPTU.
They had been preparing to fight to save the NDVIA which closed its doors when it ran out of funding yesterday morning. Instead the NDVIA’s development officer Gráinne Healy announced news of a last-minute reprieve.
“We had planned to close until 15 minutes ago when the offer came through. We were told the Department of Justice valued and would fully support the service and we would be funded until it decided on a number of options on where to take the NDVIA,” she said.
The chairwoman and SIPTU’s equality officer Rosheen Callender said the NDVIA was conscious of the limited value of pre-election promises and had requested a three-month deadline.
“I would like to remind people the three-month deadline was requested by the NDVIA itself to put a definite timeframe on things,” she said.
The agency said it will use this time to continue to develop cooperation and systems of interaction with the gardaí, the health services, the Probation Service and local refuges.
However, it said on ethical grounds the agency would not be able to accept referrals of victims until it was assured it would be able to complete a full six-month support programme.
The NDVIA’s Don Hennessy said it welcomed the offer from the department but there was the breakdown in trust which would take a long time to repair.
“I feel like I am on the steps of the court with a victim of violence who has been given a three-month protection order and I have accepted it because I knew it was the best I was going to get. And I feel very let down by that,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Mr McDowell criticised the NDVIA for being a local organisation which should not be conducting its business with the Government in such a public manner. He reiterated that the NDVIA was a pilot project with four core staff and was not available nationally.
However, Ms Healy said the public reaction to the threat of closure hanging over the NDVIA owed much to the Government’s persistent neglect of women’s welfare.
“This is not a reflection of the size of the agency, it is reflection of the size of the problem in Ireland. This is based on a model that works in the American city of
Duluth where in the last 12 years there has not been a single domestic homicide. Compare that to Dublin where we have seen between six and eight in the last couple of years alone.”
Joanne Fortune, of Bray Women’s Refuge, said the survival of the NDVIA meant a lot to the entire support sector.
“If this can happen to an agency like the NDVIA in an election year then it can happen to any of us. We are all in the same boat having to go cap in hand every year to look for funding.”
Ms Healy was critical of the department’s statements on the NDVIA, which suggested it was pressuring officials to make a quick decision. She said in the past six months it has requested a meeting with civil servants 16 times.
She added that reports it sent into the department had not been reviewed and at Monday’s crisis meeting officials admitted to only studying them in the past week.
Yesterday’s meeting was attended by representatives of the Labour Party, Fine Gael and the Green Party who all made public commitments to plough resources into the sector should they be in government after the election.
Progressive Democrat TD Fiona O’Malley asked the NDVIA if it trusted the promises of her colleague, the Tánaiste.
Ms Healy replied that it was prepared to work to take the minister at his word and work to rebuild trust.
However, with the issue of the NDVIA resolved for at least three months, the women’s groups turned their attention to the ongoing plight of the sector.
The groups demanded that a high priority be given to violence against women and asked why the Government continued to ignore the situation.
Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin said the Government’s level of commitment was clear from its investment schedule.
“If you look at the new National Development Plan, the biggest spend of all time and we barely get into it. We are the mentioned in the last line, before the last full stop and that is appalling,” she said.