Rape Crisis Centre May Close Down

Ulster’s female politicians last night rallied to support the Belfast Rape Crisis Centre after a Government threat to withdraw its funding. They threw their weight behind the centre, dedicated to helping victims of rape and sexual violence, after it emerged it may close if funding is stopped. The department yesterday threatened to withdraw the £66,000 annual funding as the organisation’s “continued failure to meet Government accounting requirements” had left it with “no other option”.

However, SDLP MLA Patricia Lewsley said, instead of issuing threats to the centre, which last year assisted 3,600 women from Northern Ireland, the department should be trying to help the centre sort out its problems. “This is very concerning. The centre has been finding itself in this position several times over the past few years and it is about time the Government took the issue seriously,” she said.

Ms Lewsley added: “The Government needs to have mainstream funding so that the centre is not continuously finding itself threatened. And if there is a problem with accounting requirements, the Department should help the centre to ensure its sustainability.”

DUP MLA Diane Dodds added it would be an “absolute shame” if the centre was forced to close. She said: “The Rape Crisis Centre does a job that a statutory agency could not do. They are able to offer immediate support. It would be a terrible shame if the centre was to go.”

A letter from the Department of Health to the Rape Crisis Centre stated that the Government is committed to funding services for victims of rape and sexual violence in Northern Ireland, but added it is also responsible for ensuring monies are spent appropriately and in accordance with Government accounting requirements.

The letter also stated that, over the years, the Department has worked hard to help the organisation address its “organisational and funding deficiencies”. Yesterday, the Rape Crisis Centre said it was “angry and dismayed” by the Department of Health’s “outrageous decision”.

A spokesperson added: “The withdrawal of this funding will inevitably result in the closure of the centre.

“If the centre is forced to close its doors the thousands of survivors who use their services will have no other option but to wait lengthy amounts of time to receive much needed counselling and support.”