- Senator Sharon Keogan
Senator Sharon Keogan — LGBT Funding Row with Minister Roderic O'Gorman
The Minister is welcome. I thought this Commencement matter would be a good opportunity for him to clear the air. The issue on the table is the allocation of €1.1 million to LGBTQ+ projects, having been diverted from schemes for the Traveller and Roma communities, migrant integration and Magdalen laundries redress. This was revealed by Deputy Tóibín through documents uncovered by a freedom of information request. The Minister’s personal request in 2021 to reallocate funding of €750,000 to the LGBT community service funding call, thereby doubling its Exchequer funding, was characterised as a "once-off exceptional measure". However, such was not to be the case as November 2022 saw another request to transfer €350,000 out of a fund for Travellers and Roma to LGBT projects. We are aware the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform informed the Minister’s Department this amounted to 6% of the Traveller and Roma budget and that it should not lead to future spending commitments.
Additionally, these moneys were funnelled into projects which were originally not selected to receive funding. Almost €100,000 was gifted to the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, TENI, which has had its HSE funding repeatedly suspended in recent years due to poor accounting governance. A memorandum noted the TENI proposal was among five projects the Department sought to have reviewed by an external examiner due to different views internally on its application. It seems not all in the Department are happy to continue unquestioningly funnelling taxpayers' resources into organisations which cannot meet minimum accounting requirements.
While it is desirable that public moneys be used for public good and unspent moneys serve no one, the question many people have about these revelations is why only LGBT organisations received the funding. How was this decision made? What was the process by which recipients of the funding were selected over other community projects? The Minister’s Department has an extraordinarily wide remit. Were there no other initiatives that would have benefitted from the funding? What about the disability sector under his remit? What about children in care, childcare or immigration integration? These funding decisions have led to accusations of the Minister engaging in ideological parochialism, prioritising pet projects which fall under his Government remit over others. I am sure he can see how some might receive that impression. I thought he might like to address the matter and put it to rest.
O'Gorman: I welcome the opportunity to speak to the House on funding to LGBT+ groups. Ireland has become a proud, progressive and modern State that supports and cherishes all people equally. We have made great strides in recent decades to promote equality and respond to the changing needs of a diverse population.
I am here today to discuss the funding provided to LGBT+ groups in 2021 and 2022. The LGBTI+ community service fund supports groups working to promote inclusion, protect rights and improve quality of life and well-being for members of the LGBTI+ community, enabling them to participate fully in Ireland's social, economic, cultural and political life.
Each year, there is a competitive open call for funding. All applications are independently evaluated by an assessment team to determine eligibility for funding in strict adherence with assessment criteria contained within the published guidelines, and are subject to review by an external reviewer. Each year, the Department receives a significant number of applications of a high standard for consideration. In the past two years, the LGBTI+ community services fund has been oversubscribed.
I will address the disappointing inference made here that what is a standard and commonplace feature of departmental financial procedures is somehow in this case an attempt by me to divert funding away from vulnerable groups. A standard procedure exists under Government financial procedures to allow funds allocated under any subhead that are not going to be used before the year end to be reallocated for use under another subhead. This process is known as virement. It occurs in every Department and has taken place in my Department 26 times over the past three years. I stress that moneys that are uncommitted and cannot be spent by the year end are returned to the Central Fund, returned to the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform or must be reallocated within a departmental Vote.
As part of the normal monitoring of ongoing expenditure, budget holders and the Department’s central finance unit are required to be alert as to whether there are uncommitted funds in any area that could be reallocated under virement. Any decision to seek sanction for virement must be approved at senior level before being submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform.
It is disappointing in the extreme that Members in both Houses, charged with financial oversight of government, would seek to engage in outright misinformation and yet again, in doing so, although always implied and unspoken, the charge rests that I, as a gay politician, must be up to no good in an effort to benefit my community and would go so far as to take funding away from other vulnerable people to do so. This is an easy villain trope to peddle, and how shamelessly it is being done.
I repeat that the virement process has been undertaken 26 times in my Department over the past three years, and yet this instance has been singled out. That is not by accident and it has an impact. The Senator may have heard me recently talk about the level of abuse that I and other LGBT+ politicians and activists are receiving. Central to much of the recent tranche of messages I have received, which are full of disgusting accusations such as “paedophile”, “groomer”, and “not safe to be around children”, is the accusation that I have done something untoward as regards funding.
Whatever about me, this has an impact on other people - vulnerable people - and that can be immense. Last year saw the highest level of violence towards LGBTI+ people in Europe. Yet here I find myself summoned by the Senator to account to this Chamber on the premise of an absolute lie. It is beneath the Senator and it is beneath this Chamber. There is no possible genuine concern here. The Senator knows how the budgetary process works and she should know better.
I thank the Acting Chair. I condemn anybody who makes personal remarks about the Minister because of his sexuality. That is not why I am here this morning. I understand we do not want money sitting unused and virements are an important part of ensuring the continued efficiency of Government spending. However, many found it unusual that all of these unspent moneys from disparate funds ended up being siphoned off and spent on the same issue. The Minister's Department has the widest remit of any Department. Its full title does not fit on one line of an A4 page in greater than 16-point type. Are we to believe that across the multitude of areas for which the Minister is responsible, none could have done with the extra injection of funds more than TENI or other LGBT----- We would not have time here today to talk about the plight of children and their families across the country if it took up all the Commencement slots. Would they not have benefitted from the €1.1 million in funding? O'Gorman:
The Senator speaks of the importance of the virement process. It is great to see she has a good knowledge of its importance. Of the 26 virements my Department has undertaken in the past three years, the 26 times when we took money from one place where it was unspent and moved it to the others, why is this the only one she is asking me about? She and I both know the reason and it is the unspoken assertion that I have done something dodgy here and looked to channel money into LGBT+ groups. The Senator spoke very eloquently on International Women's Day about the fact she has a voice here to raise issues that maybe others do not want to hear spoken about. I, too, have a voice too and I will not allow an assertion like this to be put against me.