Charities have insisted a follow-up to the 2002 SAVI report on sexual abuse is essential
The Taoiseach has come under fire in the Dáil over the Government's hesitance to commission a new national research project on sexual abuse in Ireland.
Charities, including the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre have insisted a follow-up to the now 15-year-old SAVI report is essential to ensure lawmakers have up-to-date figures on sexual crimes.
The ground breaking report was published in 2002 – however, nothing like it has been carried out in the years since.
The issue has come to the fore over recent weeks with the high-profile controversies surrounding Hollywood heavyweights Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey - as well as ongoing revelations surrounding the arts scene in Ireland.
In the house this afternoon, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger took aim at the Government over cuts to funding for survivor support groups - and questioned how the Taoiseach can justify his department's spending on its new 'public relations unit' - while failing to make the funds available to carry out the updated research.
She said it is "shocking" that the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) will not publish an annual report for 2016 after the Child and Family Agency Tusla cut its funding by 70% - claiming it could collect the information on sexual crimes itself.
Mr Varadkar insisted the delays to the commissioning of an updated report are "not a matter of money."
He said the Ministers for Justice, Children, Social Protection and Health are currently examining whether the statistics currently available are adequate - and if not, what the best form of study to establish the true level of sexual violence in the State might be.
"As I said before in this House, I have an absolutely open mind on this," he said. "It is not a matter of money but a question of whether the study is necessary and, if so, the best way to do it."
Charities, including Rape Crisis Network's Ireland (RCNI) and the National Women's Council of Ireland, have warned that a lack of clear data on violent crime against women in Ireland has left the problem “grossly underestimated.”
Survivors groups have consistently warned that State services urgently need to record and share data accurately to provide a clear picture of the level of sexual crime in Ireland.
According to the Rape Crisis Networks Ireland (RCNI) Annual report for 2015 - the most up-to-date report available - 65% of survivors who attended 11 rape crisis centres in Ireland did not report the crime to Gardaí or other formal authority.
Deputy Coppinger said that what matters now is that the last national study is 15 years old.
"Clearly, there must be changes," she said. "It should be of interest to this State to monitor the trends."
Mr Varadkar insisted the workplace should be safe for everyone - but warned that accusations of abuse need to be investigated and not taken as fact:
"I certainly want to express my admiration for the people who have come out in recent times - both men and women - who have told their story of sexual assault and sexual violence against them.
"I think perhaps that can change a culture into the future where people who engage in such behaviour against other individuals will think twice if they know that they are going to be exposed for it."
He warned deputies that they do not have the right to hang people out to dry in public on the basis of accusations alone - adding that the gardaí need to be allowed to carry out their work.
"It is very important that all allegations are taken seriously and fully investigated but it is also important that we remember that allegations are allegations and no matter what form of crime or violence is being alleged, people do have a right to due process and to have their good name protected," he said.