Funding for the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) ceased 10 weeks ago and acting director Cliona Saidlear said it could not continue as Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, provided 70% of its income.
“We are running on empty. They have effectively shut us down,” she said.
The RCNI is the national representative body for 11 of the country’s 16 rape crisis centres, providing them with oversight and governance, training, research, and legal support, as well as running educational campaigns and lobbying on their behalf. It received around €250,000 a year from Tusla.
Rape crisis centres, which are funded separately by Tusla, have yet to see the full impact of the move but already there are concerns over new contracts they have been asked to sign which carry the standard requirement that they maintain training levels when their main training resource, the RCNI, has been removed.
There are also fears that this is the start of a rationalisation programme which will see the number of individual centres slashed. A 2011 report for government stated that the country had twice the number required under EU policy.
“There has been a lot of talk of rationalisation, centralisation, of regional hubs,” Ms Saidlear said. “We haven’t been able to get anything in writing about what changes are planned but neither have the centres been able to get any reassurance about their future.”
In a statement, Tusla said there were “no current plans to reduce the number of locations at which services to victims are being provided” but a firm of consultants has been employed to review the sector.
The 2011 report highlighted the diversity of local support services and lack of a “State-wide mechanism to ensure consistency”.
Ms Saidlear said that she supported the idea of a State-wide approach involving all arms of government but said in the absence of this, the RCNI had been doing the job and Tusla had not provided any alternative.
The RCNI also maintains the country’s main database on sexual violence which it has been building for the last 10 years with input from the individual centres, providing a valuable resource for researchers and policymakers.
Ms Saidlear said the database would have to be abandoned as Tusla do not want it. Even if it was to transfer to the agency, data protection issues would arise as clients had consented to giving personal details to a non-governmental organisation, not a State body.
“They have de-funded the collection of evidence in an area where there is not a lot of evidence and an awful lot of silence. They are adding to the silence,” she said.
Vera O’Leary, manager of the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, said losing the RCNI would remove a vital support. “Our centres are operating very much in a climate of uncertainty around the future of services and having an independent voice is very important,” she said.
“You have to have a national voice. Somebody has to hold the Government to account and that needs to be at a national level so that you have an impact on policy and also input into policy.”
The RCNI today publishes what it says will probably be its last annual statistics report which shows that almost 20,000 contacts were made to network helplines last year and there were over 17,000 appointments for counselling and support.
In a statement, Tusla said: “The decision to cease funding to the RCNI is dictated by the need to achieve the best use of limited available resources while putting emphasis on the needs of organisations providing frontline services.
“The change in funding arrangements to RCNI will have no impact on the provision of services to victims of sexual violence.”