Civil servants scrambled to fund Minister's LGBTQ+ campaign
FOI docs show money moved from Magdalen Fund, Travellers & Roma
Pic: In a recent engagement at Hartstown Montessori, the Equality Minister is pictured reading the children’s story The Three Little Pigs. Source: @Roderic O’Gorman Twitter
Civil servants exchanged last minute emails in a bid to secure funds for LGBTI+ projects as requested by Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman.
The flurry of emails released under Freedom of Information, between officials at Minister O’Gorman’s Equality Department, resulted in the diversion of €354,000 from Traveller and Roma schemes to facilitate LGBTQ+ initiatives.
In one email exchange, the diversion of additional funds toward LGBTQ+ was described as 'for more worthwhile projects.’
This was the second year in a row that budgets within the Minister’s Department were reallocated toward LGBTQ+ projects. In 2021, the Department diverted €350,000 from the Magdalen Fund in order to double the spend on that year’s LGBTQ+ community projects from €700,000 to €1.54m.
The diversion of funds occurred in 2022 despite the transfer of funds the previous year being described as a ‘once off exceptional measure.’
In response to questions from this Substack, a spokesperson for the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth confirmed the transfer away from the Magdalen Scheme in 2021 and said it was due to ‘fewer claims than expected.’
Notably, on October 12 2022, Minister O’Gorman stood in the Dail and said the following:
“The Magdalen fund has a shortfall of €300,000 arising from increased claims.”
Meanwhile, Traveller groups staged multiple protests around Ireland last year, specifically seeking funding for supports to address stark suicide statistics within the community.
Founder of the Irish Traveller Movement, Thomas McGann who runs the Traveller Counselling Service, has been campaigning for services to address the mental health crisis in his community ‘for years.’
He said the number of clients engaging with counsellors in his service has increased by 60%, presenting with issues such as homelessness, stress, anxiety and inter-family conflict.
“Even when there is money earmarked, it doesn’t always go to Traveller organisations or indeed services on the ground,” he said, responding to the diversion of funding away from Traveller and Roma initiatives.
“What’s needed and what the National Traveller Mental Health Network has been calling for - for years – is a National Traveller Mental Health Strategy that addresses the crisis at a national level because it is a national crisis,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Equality Minister is forging ahead with delivery of the ‘more worthwhile’ National LGBTQI+ Inclusion Strategy – an ‘all of Government strategy’ that contains 108 actions, through his series of targeted funding calls for LGBTQI+ initiatives.
“We are committed to providing support and funding to a wide and diverse range of LGBTQI+ groups in their delivery of targeted services throughout the country. Last year my dept allocated over €1.5m to support LGBTQI+ projects through grant funding. I know this funding is critical in achieving overall strategic objectives of the government and providing regional services and supports for the LGBTQI+ community,” the Minister said in a speech to the Dail ahead of Pride 2022 on June 23 last.
In that speech, the Minister outlined how free legal aid for the LGBTQI+ community would address discrimination, hate crimes and immigration.
“It’s important that allocated funds are deployed strategically and that projects that are funded by government support the objectives of the LGBTQI+ Inclusion Strategy. One such project is the specialised legal advice clinic launched in May 2022 by FLAC, the Free Legal Advice Centre.
“The clinic will meet specific needs of the gay and trans community and will provide advice on a wide range of legal issues where gender and sexuality are core factors, including discrimination matters, equality, family law, gender identity, immigration, hate crimes and access to health care.
“The law clinic’s objectives align with the actions in the Strategy that mandate the provision of tailored legal advice to LGBTQI+ people.”
The Minister described the annual community services fund – now under fire for ‘raiding’ funds from other departments, as an ‘essential limb of the Inclusion Strategy that unlocks the delivery of many of the strategy’s aims and objectives.’
“It’s important that allocated funds are deployed strategically,” the Minister said.
Key changes to annual funding in 2022 include the introduction of ‘core funding,’ marking a change in the original structure to cover ‘basic items such as rent and key staff in the face of additional financial pressures.’
“This was an ask of groups in the sector and we were pleased to make these changes to the funding call this year,” the Minister said.
Minister O’Gorman made the comments in his Dail speech, two days after launching the 2022 LGBTQI+ funding call the overspend for which ultimately diverted funds away from Traveller and Roma initiatives.
The 2022 funding call was open to groups that would ‘promote inclusion, protect rights and improve quality of life and wellbeing for LGBTI+ people in Ireland.’
The Minister announced that €900,000 was being made available to applicant groups operating at national, regional and local level in support of LGBTQ+ activist, groups.
The final allocation under that call amounted to €1,209,832.35, made available to 27 LGBTI+ projects.
Grants of €100,000 were allocated to LGBTQ+ organisations, including BeLongTo for the implementation of its LGBTQ+ Quality Mark in schools around Ireland.
All applications to the 2022 funding invitation were fully financed and these included applications by the Transgender Equality Network of Ireland (TENI) for the sum of €93,615 for its Trans Awareness Hub. TENI previously had its HSE funding suspended to the late filing of its accounts.
ShoutOut received €88,660 for its educational workshops in schools and youth groups.
A Department spokesperson confirmed that funds were diverted from other areas to cover the cost of applications to the Equality and LGBTQI+ initiatives funding call. This was done through a process called ‘virement,’ the process of transferring items from one financial account to another.
The spokesperson described virement as a procedure that allows government departments to ‘respond to developing resourcing needs.’
“Funds were reallocated as demands in respect of the Equality and LGBTI Initiatives Subhead were in excess of the funds available and funds were available under another Subhead (Magdalen Fund) that would not have been used by year end. The additional funds were available as the Magdalen Fund received fewer claims than expected in 2021,” a department spokesperson said.
Notably, following the transfer of funds from the Magdalen Scheme in 2021, the Minister announced in the Dail in October 2022 that he was seeking additional funds to cover a shortfall arising in the Magdalen Scheme under Supplementary Estimate – a function normally used when a department runs out of money.
“The Magdalen fund has a shortfall of €300,000 arising from increased claims,” Minister O’Gorman said, on October 12 2022. This was just weeks before officials signed off on the second year of diverted funds for LGBTQ+ initiatives. Minister O’Gorman told a Select Committee debate on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth that he was seeking to engage the Supplementary Estimate function to the cover cost of these increased claims at his Department and had brought his ‘entire department’ to the committee meeting ‘just in case.’
“I am happy to address any questions members may have. As they can see I have brought pretty much the entire Department with me just in case,” he said.
Other claims for additional funds made by the Minister at that October 2022 Special Committee Meeting include €600,000 for the implementation of the Birth Information and Tracing Act, €400,000 for the Irish Youth Justice System and €100,000 National Disability Authority.
On the Magdalen Fund spend, in response to a question from the committee chair, Minister O’Gorman specified that his application for a Supplementary Estimate was to ensure ‘we have the sufficient amount.’
“The Ombudsman looked at the original Magdalen scheme and made a report on that, which broadened out access to the scheme somewhat. It is primarily on the basis of more people being in contact with the Magdalen scheme and applying to it that the original estimate we had in this year’s budget has been exceeded. We are just looking to make sure we have the sufficient amount,” he said.
The Department spokesperson confirmed the diversion of funds in December 2022.
“Funds were reallocated as demands in respect of the Equality and LGBTI Initiatives Subhead were in excess of the funds available and funds were available under another Subhead (Traveller and Roma Initiatives) that would not have been used by year end.
“The additional funds were available as it was not necessary to apply all the funds that had been set aside for contingency payments to Traveller and Roma organisations to address the impact of Covid-19 in 2022.
“In 2022, an amount of €354,000 that had been allocated to the Traveller and Roma Initiatives Subhead was reallocated for expenditure under the Subhead for Equality and LGBTI Initiatives. Sanction for this reallocation was obtained from DPER.
The Department spokesperson said the reallocation of funding was not practice or policy and described the redirection of finances as ‘standard procedure.’
“There is no practice or policy of using surplus funding in multiple areas within the Department for the funding of LGBTQI projects.
“A standard procedure exists under Government financial procedures to allow funds allocated under any subhead that are not going to be used before year end to be reallocated for use under another subhead.
“This procedure is known as virement. It allows Departments to respond to developing resourcing needs and is subject to prior sanction of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).
“Any decision to seek sanction for virement must be approved at senior level before being submitted to DPER,” the Department spokesperson said.
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