HIQA Report reveals Tusla dysfunction in responding to reports of risks of sexual violence to children

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) welcoming the HIQA report on Tusla’s handling of retrospective reporting supported Minister Zappone’s plan for immediate structures to action the recommendations and calls for child-centred and survivor-centred action.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘what survivors of past sexual violence often want is to know that no child will be harmed by the person who committed these crimes against themselves. It is reassuring and empowering to know that there is an agency and a set of professionals who are ensuring that what you, the survivor, knows is making a difference. This child protection is the intention of retrospective reporting and as survivors have been telling us, HIQA now confirms, it is not consistency happening.

For those survivors who have given their story to Tusla, it is heart-breaking. The catastrophic lack of social workers in Tusla, the absence of specialisation for social workers in sexual violence and the poor fit between a social worker’s responsibility and the skills required to handle retrospective reporting all adds up to deliver failure to survivors of sexual violence and to children.

It is also clear that the legislative basis to support Tusla’s work in child protection under the Child Care Act is flawed. What is described in the HIQA report is as much an inevitable outcome of poor laws as it is of lack of resources and inappropriate practice. RCNI are calling on government:

  • to prioritise the reform of the Child Care Act 1991 which is currently under review,
  • to set up a multiagency guidance committee to develop shared practice guidance across relevant professionals and agencies such as exists for SATUs,
  • to redouble efforts to develop co-location of child protection responses and to examine the development of stand-alone retrospective reporting child protection co-location responses,
  • To require adequate sexual violence training for all general social workers and require specialisation for those working in this area,
  • To ensure appropriate oversight and clinical governance of any outsourcing of child protection assessments,
  • To examine the location of adult sexual violence responses within child protection services.

For information:
Clíona Saidléar
087 2196447

Video launch – Amal: a journey through conflict, rape and the 8th amendment

Today RCNI are releasing a video telling the story of Amal’s journey to the UK to access an abortion following gang rape. We are asking people to vote YES on Friday so that others will have a very different story than Amal’s.

Amal’s story:
Amal was an asylum seeker who arrived here fleeing her central African country where she had been repeatedly raped as she escaped conflict. Upon arriving here she found out she was pregnant. She was approximately 7-8 weeks along at that point. Amal was horrified and deeply traumatised by the fact of her pregnancy and asked for a termination.

Amal was under 18, a child, now living in direct provision with no independent means and so entirely dependent on the state. See also spoke little English.
Amal needed help with information and making arrangements. Amal needed formal papers to allow her to travel to leave Ireland, go to England and return. Amal had no money. Amal had arrived with some family but they too were asylum seekers without the means to assist her.

Those responsible for Amal and caring for her felt constrained by the 8th amendment in what they could do. By the time legal arguments were resolved and all professionals and statutory authorities had done what they could and needed to do to vindicate both her right to travel and what was very clearly her real emotional and psychological need to have an abortion, more than 14 weeks had passed. Amal endured, in great distress, throughout that period and now faced into a late term abortion.

The video is narrated by the Rape Crisis Support worker who accompanied Amal in her personal capacity, as no statutory professional felt they could do so under the 8th amendment.

Amal is now married and a mother, she has a vote and gave her permission for us to tell her story.

Dr Clíona Saidléar, RCNI executive director said, ‘RCNI are asking for you to vote yes so that when a rape victim finds out they are pregnant they can be supported here in Ireland. If we vote yes and the government brings in the promised 12 week legislation, tomorrow’s Amal will be under the care of a doctor who can inform, prescribe and supervise the abortion pill if that is what the survivor decides. There won’t be the inordinate delay, trauma and shame, necessitated by the 8th amendment, added on top of the trauma a rape victim is already suffering.

‘We need to support rape victims here, at home, under the care of their doctors, and supported by their loved ones. Please vote Yes on Friday.’
Note: Amal is not her real name, some details have been changed to maintain her confidentiality


For information:
Clíona Saidléar – 087 2196447

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release
21 May 2018

RCNI call for clarity on child sexual violence issues

RCNI are concerned at the series of issues in child protection coming to light as matters relating to Scouting Ireland and child protection investigations are being uncovered and understood.

From the report in the Irish Times on the 24th of April 2018, outlining the steps taken by the three agencies with regards a serious child protection matter, we need to ask a number of questions.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘We call on Minister Zappone to clarify what actions are expected of those with responsibility for child safety and wellbeing, upon a determination by Tusla of ‘unfounded’ concerning an allegation of child sexual abuse?

‘Scouting Ireland tell us that, ‘on the basis’ of the Tusla written notification to them that they had determined the child sexual abuse allegation was ‘unfounded’, reinstated a person who was still under Garda investigation. It is deeply concerning that our child protection agency could have been understood to have ‘cleared’ someone still under investigation by an Garda Siochána.

‘What liaison is there between the Gardaí and Tusla when Tusla make such a determination? Did the Tusla letter to Scouting Ireland notify the organisation that a criminal investigation process was separate and possibly ongoing? Did they indicate that an ‘unfounded’ determination was not the same as saying that they had assessed or even ‘cleared’ the person in question?

‘As organisations with responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of children we need to have clarity on what branch of the state we defer to on these matter, if at all.’

The statistics – How many cases are deemed ‘unfounded’?

In a response to a journalists’ recent FoI, Tusla stated that they do not collate their rate of founded/unfounded determinations. A number of Oireachtas members have asked Tusla for their numbers on founded/unfounded determinations. These answers have been difficult to decipher but if we understand the latest response to a parliamentary question properly, Tusla makes ‘referrals’ in, on average, only 5% of adult historical reports regarding those who may continue to pose a risk to children. What proportion of child cases are deemed ‘unfounded’ is still not a figure that would appear to be available to the Oireachtas or the public.

Link to latest PQ see 547 & 548 http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail2018032700082?opendocument#WRZ04700

For more information

Clíona Saidléar, 087 2196447

24th April 2018

RCNI appalled by incident of ‘rape list’ in school toilets and call for urgent action

Today it was revealed that a school in Cork found a list of girls’ names written on the wall of the boy’s toilets with an invitation to vote with ticks for the one that would then be subjected to rape. The school reacted promptly but this incident leaves many questions. RCNI hope both those directly involved and the whole school community are receiving the support and appropriate response they need.

Clíona Saidléar, Executive Director of RCNI said, ‘the threat to rape a child is such a serious matter and should be considered by the Gardaí and an investigation opened if appropriate. This story comes a day after rugby pundit Willie John McBride on an RTE radio programme described sexist, disrespectful and violent behaviour by male sports stars as mere silliness for which no young man should be held accountable. Is it any wonder our young boys think threats to rape are a joke?

‘RCNI acknowledge that the Minister for Education and Skills Minister Bruton has announced a review of the sex education curriculum in all schools, ensuring consent education is available. This is clearly urgent and important.

‘We would also urge him to ensure schools and parents can no longer exempt their children from this right to be informed. The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 to be debated on the 18th of April in the Dáil seeks to do that.

‘The school in question appear to have responded promptly and are proactively engaging with the whole school community but it must be acknowledged they do so in a vacuum. It may be unfair to judge this schools’ response to this crisis as no national policy or guidance exists to deal with this situation. RCNI have been advocating for a safe to learn strategy since 2013 when the Action Plan on Bullying excluded sexual harassment from its area of concern. There is no blue print for this school to follow. We would urge the Minister to address this gap in school supports urgently, both in our duty to provide care and a safe learning environment and as a matter of employment rights of the staff.’

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press release
12th April 2018

For information
Clíona Saidléar 087 2196447

Pre-recorded Direct Evidence and Cross-Examinations Should Be Alternatives to Live Evidence for Vulnerable Witnesses

Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses Like Rape Victims Must Start Well Before the Court Room

In a timely report, a Multi-Agency Group of experts, convened by Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), has recommended that the use of pre-recorded evidence should be increased and that pre-recorded cross-examination should be piloted in Irish courts in order to better protect and support vulnerable witnesses, as has been done successfully in England and Wales.

“Our criminal justice system is based on the premise that face-to-face live evidence at trial is the best evidence which can be obtained,” said Caroline Counihan BL, RCNI’s Legal Director. “Modern psychological research does not support this conclusion, particularly since the advent of high resolution pre-recorded video and video-link solutions.”

“Pre-recording a Garda statement soon after a complaint has been made maximises the potential of the witness to recall, fully and accurately, what happened, to give his or her best evidence and to help minimise the risk of secondary traumatisation by reducing exposure to the adversarial criminal justice process itself,” she said. “In our view, it is time that the limitations of the live evidence only approach – often months or years after the alleged crime took place – were addressed.”

The Vulnerable Witnesses Multi-Agency Group was convened by Caroline Counihan and includes senior representatives from the Bar, Academia, An Garda Síochána, the Courts Services as well as a number of NGOs. It has been working for over a year on the report.
It strongly recommends that pre-trial hearings should be placed on a statutory footing and that they should be the primary means through which special protection needs are determined.

The Group makes 33 recommendations in all, across eight headings in the report – Hearing Every Voice – Towards a new Strategy on Vulnerable Witnesses in Legal Proceedings.

RCNI welcomes commitments made by the Minister to review all aspects of sexual assault cases in the wake of the recent Belfast rape trial, and it looks forward to working with him to ensure that vulnerable witnesses are given the best protections possible, without endangering the right to a fair trial of the defendant.

“With the Belfast trial we saw how difficult the system can be on the witnesses,” Cliona Saidlear, said Director of RCNI. “We know that we can make it better and that vulnerable witnesses can have a less traumatising experience in giving vital evidence.”

“Stronger, individually tailored protections will help ensure the best evidence is obtained, benefitting the criminal justice system as a whole,” she continued. “The rights of the witness and the defendant within the legal system are not always or necessarily in direct competition with each other. The system of giving live evidence, often under arduous cross-examination, does not work well for many vulnerable witnesses because their voices are not heard as they should be. It does not work for the whole community either because it means that fewer perpetrators are held accountable.”

The Multi-Agency Group has recommended that if pre-recorded statements and examinations are to become a fair and effective alternative for vulnerable witnesses, it is vital that their introduction is underpinned by new statutory provisions regulating pre-trial hearings and provisions governing disclosure.

The group has also recommended that continuing professional development training programmes on issues relevant to vulnerable witnesses and accused must be made available and resourced adequately, in particular for judges, legal professionals and members of An Garda Síochána. It said that it welcomed advanced advocacy courses already in place for barristers which examine such topics as how to cross-examine without repetition, without using obscure language and “without hectoring, lecturing, demeaning or otherwise badgering the witness”.

Within their recommendations, the Multi-Agency Group takes into account all witnesses in need of special support and protection. These include children, people with an intellectual disability or mental health difficulty, victims of sexual or domestic violence, and those who may not necessarily be identified as needing the extra protection of special measures under current legislation.

The conclusions and recommendations also acknowledge some very positive developments in recent times in the protection of vulnerable witnesses, on the part of judges, legal professionals and An Garda Síochána as well as on the part of Government.

For more information contact: Edel Hackett, Tel: 087-2935207

Not Just in the Court Room – Key Recommendations from Reporting to Trial

  • The use of pre-recorded evidence and the giving of evidence by video-link should be increased.
  • Pre-recorded cross-examination should be piloted.
  • Pre-trial hearings should be placed on a statutory footing.
  • Additional protections or “special measures” should be available to vulnerable accused persons as well as vulnerable victims and other witnesses;
  • With regard to child witnesses, specialist approaches from other jurisdictions should be further explored;
  • Professional training on facilitating vulnerable witnesses should be enhanced and funded.
  • The complicated issue of delay should be addressed so that delays between initial complaints and any hearings are reduced as far as possible
  • The use of professional intermediaries qualified to assist the court should be examined further; existing statutory provisions in this area should be extended to allow for answers as well as questions to be communicated via an intermediary.
  • A new Vulnerable Witnesses in Legal Proceedings Initiative should be established and led by Government, which is aimed at making the criminal justice system as accessible as possible for all vulnerable witnesses

Members of the Vulnerable Witnesses Multi-Agency Working Group

Caroline Counihan, RCNI (Group Co-Ordinator), Rape Crisis Network Ireland
Mary Rose Gearty SC, Council of the Bar of Ireland
Joan O’Mahony, Solicitor
Miriam Delahunt BL, PhD
Alan Cusack BCL, LLM, PhD, Lecturer in Law, University of Limerick
Conor Hanly BA, LLB, LLM (NUI), LLM, JSD (Yale), Lecturer in Law, NUIG Galway School of Law
Inspector Michael Lynch, An Garda Síochána
Eamonn Doherty, Courts Service
Suzy Byrne, National Advocacy Service
Eve Farrelly, Cari
Noeline Blackwell, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Caitriona Gleeson, SAFE Ireland
Yvonne O’Sullivan, Inclusion Ireland

RCNI reach out to all survivors and their supporter following the verdict in the Belfast rape trial

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release

28th March 2018

RCNI reach out to all survivors and their supporter following the verdict in the Belfast rape trial

The Belfast trial of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison has had a profound impact. All four were acquitted on all charges after a relatively short period of reflection by the jury.
The verdict notwithstanding we want to acknowledge and respond to the impact on everyone who has followed this trail in the media but particularly for survivors. This has been a protracted sexual crime case with considerable public attention stretching almost daily over almost two months.

We want to say today to survivors of sexual crime that when you need us or are ready to talk about what happened to you we in Rape Crisis will be there for you, we believe you, and we will support you.

We have a range of supports available for both survivors and their supporters.

This includes a free accompaniment service for survivors who wish to report or even have a conversation with a Garda about reporting and if the case does proceed to every court date. Please contact your local rape crisis centre to ask about this service.

Contact details available on www.rapecrisishelp.ie


Report Rape figures jump a shocking 28% according to new Crime Statistics release

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release

28th March 2018

Report Rape figures jump a shocking 28% according to new Crime Statistics release

RCNI today welcome the CSO release of crime statistics ‘under reservation’ from An Garda Siochána for the first time since they were suspended at the end of 2016. We support the continued effort by all parties to ensure that these vital statistics become reliable and accurate reflections of reported crime in Ireland today.

RCNI call on government and all parties to ensure that, where we can have good data on sexual violence, we make every effort to ensure this evidence is accurate and available.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘In 2017 all recorded sexual offences rose by almost 17% with rape up 28% and sexual assault (non-aggravated) up 15%. These are very significant increases.
RCNI recognise that the CSO is releasing these figures ‘under reservation’. This is a compromise between having the continued unacceptable absence of all statistics and releasing some that have not yet reached an acceptable standard but which give us a good indication of what those numbers are. The large changes in reporting numbers in sexual offences from 2016 – 2017 tell us why this release, even if under reservation, is so important.

Saidléar continued, ‘We owe all victims of crime dignity, respect and truth. The CSO were not satisfied that the headcount of reported crimes and classification of reports was dependable, and so took the decision to cease releasing knowingly inaccurate statistics. This was the only decision possible under basic data governance standards. RCNI made this same decision with our own Rape Crisis Data in 2016 as the complete lack of funding from government meant that the RCNI could not support standardisation and verification processes.

‘To be able to say anything truthful or meaningful through statistical data you have to be able to say that the base data entering the system at every point is consistent, standardised, accurate and verified. To talk about data in statistical terms you also need enough data to make any sort of meaningful contribution to knowledge, indeed you also have to have the numbers to ensure safety and privacy for your data subject. This is the fundamental ethics of data for statistical purposes.’

‘The current situation on sexual violence statistics in Ireland means that we have all too little statistical insights into sexual violence. Given the nature of the crime in our culture this lack of insight arises, in part, out of the silence around the issue. These crime statistics only represent those who report and are therefore the tip of the iceberg. But in the places where survivors make themselves known to us, such as in reporting a crime or contacting and a rape crisis centre, we must take seriously our duty to learn and evidence as much as it can in an appropriate, legal and respectful manner. We must not continue to shape our responses and prevention strategies in the absence of such basic knowledge.’

Crime Statistics annual to Q4 2016 and 2017 http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-rc/recordedcrimeq42017/additionalstatisticaltables/#d.en.157454
RCNI annual rape crisis statistics 2004 – 2015 available on www.rcni.ie under publications

For more information
Cliona Saidlear on 087 2196447

RCNI call on Government Scoping Group on Sexual Violence Data to deliver recommendations under three guiding principles

RCNI recommend three core principals to underline all scoping group recommendations:

  1. Sustainability
    The scoping group should strive for recommendations that put in place measures and frameworks that are repeatable, embedded and supported into the future.
  2. Specialist
    The Scoping group recommendations should keep to the fore that sexual violence is a cultural and systemic phenomenon that often resists generic measurements and methodologies . Sexual violence data infrastructure must be consciously specialist in order to measure sexual violence accurately.
  3. Comprehensiveness
    The scoping group recommendations should address sexual violence as a whole and meet the international obligation of making all data available for policy formation in the most optimum manner rather than become confined to problem solving short term ‘as is’ matters.

5th January 2018

Calling out those calling out survivors

This opinion piece was published in the Irish Independent on the 16th of November 2017

We have experienced an extraordinary month of public disclosures about sexual harassment and assaults. What should happen now?

Suggestions range across questions such as, do we need to hear more from survivors of harassment in other institutions and not just the Gate Theatre and the Dáil for example? Do we need inquiries to hear survivors’ stories and should they be run by institutions or somehow independent? Who should hear these stories? Do we need to hear more from the men who are harassed?

In the face of stories from survivors, we say we want to hear more. Why? Have the stories already told not shown us how the powerful and entitled both used and were shielded by that power and how we were complicit, duped or turned a blind eye?

Those insights demand significant and painful work from us, this will include honest reflection on ourselves, our culture, our institutions and our certainties. Instead, responding to hearing survivor’s stories all too often we demand more survivors’ stories.

That is not a response – it is a delay tactic.

In rape crisis we are trained in listening because, despite the myths, we Irish are terrible listeners. We hear and see what we expect to hear and see, and that is often what is comfortable for us and not what we are being told. Survivor’s stories should make us uncomfortable, not just at the crimes of the perpetrators, but because of what they reveal about ourselves and our society.

Last week two amazing women, Amy Barrett and Melissa O’Keeffe, waived their anonymity and spoke about their father’s conviction for the years of abuse he perpetrated against them. What they led with in their statement was that it was not about the sentence for them, it was about his admission of wrongdoing, ensuring the protection of other children and closure.

They spoke about it being reported to the HSE in 1999, indeed one of the sisters had made a statement to the Guards much earlier when she was just a 16 year old child, only to withdraw it when she came under pressure from her family. The sisters, as part of their statement said that the HSE ‘could have done more’ back then and the case ‘petered out’.

In 2014 they had again reported their father and committed themselves to going through the criminal justice system and all that that demands of survivors and then last week they waived their anonymity so he could be named and they could tell us what happened in their case. We owe them a tremendous debt but it should not have been their burden.

Two decades since it was first reported these sisters spoke about finally have the peace of mind that their father cannot abuse other children. One of the sisters spoke of how she was finally free of the feeling of guilt and anxiety for other children’s safety; a guilt she knew did not belong to her but she had carried nonetheless.

The media reported their words giving them the voice they had been denied decades earlier. Their words were powerful, informative and insightful. But apart from reporting their words, what did the media do?

Did journalists ring the HSE or Tusla or question the process with the Guards? If policies and procedures were followed, does the Minister know if the current system is sufficient and effective? If a 16-year-old child makes such a statement to the guards today will we have to wait until 2040 before we can say that they and other children are safe from the named abuser? How many journalists asked searching questions about what happened in the two decades between first disclosures and the conviction? Few.

Instead, in a familiar rehash of a truism, many headlines read that the sisters had waived there anonymity in order to call on more survivors to come forward, or more strongly, urging them to report. These headlines presumably deriving from the sisters’ supportive statements such as that, it did not matter how long it took a victim to come forward – it was never too late. Survivors often do find it helpful to hear other survivors speak out, perhaps particularly when that is not a step they feel they can safely make themselves.

But the lesson, the media told us, was not that we needed to demand better from society and the responsible institutions when disclosures are made, but that we needed more survivors to come forward.

Survivors deserve a response that lifts the unjust burden from their shoulders; that carries the questions and lessons forward to challenge power. Otherwise survivors are left holding our burden. In this moment we must become better listeners. We have a responsibility to act when survivors speak their truth.

Clíona Saidléar, PhD, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)

RCNI regret to announce that no RCNI National Rape Crisis Statistics will be available for 2016

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) has announced, today (19.10.17), that it will not be publishing statistics on the experience of survivors of sexual violence relating to 2016.

The decision was made on foot of significant cuts to RCNI’s funding, which have resulted in a diminution of the network’s capacity to safely analyse and publish data on sexual violence.

Since 2005, RCNI has produced national statistics recording the collective experiences of up to 93% of the survivors of sexual violence that use Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs) around the country.

This powerful tool has been supporting survivors to becoming agents of change as they form part of an evidence base that has transformed policy and practice.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said: “We have a duty to tell survivors’ stories safely, truthfully and accurately. This is our commitment to honouring survivors’ rights and experiences. We have achieved this integrity, credibility and accuracy for a decade.

“The removal of 70% of RCNI funding in 2015 risked dismantling the RCNI supported RCC database infrastructure, which delivered this gold standard system; a system which continues to be promoted as best practice by the official European body, EIGE, to all other EU countries.

“The funding cut has left a gap which we can no longer fund out of reserves and thus, the 2016 data is not of a standard that we feel would be ethical or safe to analyse and release collectively. This is why we have taken the decision not to process or publish 2016 data, as inaccurate data undermines both survivors and our work.

“In addition, we are concerned that the greatly weakened data collection and protection infrastructure will mean the sector struggles to reach EU GDPR compliance. At a time when we need to increase data governance standards and need to increase our knowledge, (indeed Tusla continues to draw upon and rely on data collection it no longer funds), a decrease in resources in this sensitive area is unsustainable.

“We continue to engage with Tusla in the hope that some resolution can be found that will enable the continued collection and usability of high-quality data from survivors into the future. In this way, survivor experiences can continue to be heard by Government, and therefore to influence Government policy in this area” added Ms Saidléar.

For information and comment: Clíona Saidléar, 087 2196447.


  • For information please see previous statistical publications on www.rcni.ie
  • We will hold 2016 and 2017 data for a short while longer in anticipation of being able to bring it to a standard in the near future.
  • Processes of training, networking and supporting of data collection officers, policy and guidance reviews, data cleaning, analysis, oversight and independent verification could not be supported due to an absence of funding.