The relationship between Teni, the transgender support and lobbying group, and the State’s National Gender Service (NGS), which treats people seeking medical interventions on gender, has completely broken down.
HSE managers have raised concerns about social media posts by Teni staff, and health sources say some posts were considered abusive of staff at the NGS.
Teni, which stands for Transgender Equality Network Ireland, received €1.24m in HSE funding from 2017 to 2021 to aid work that includes training schools and HSE staff on transgender issues and hosting support groups for trans people and their families.
The non-governmental organisation, which has not obtained charitable status, had its HSE funding suspended from April to late June after repeatedly failing to meet HSE and company law deadlines to file audited accounts.
In meetings between the HSE and Teni — which was represented by Sara Phillips, its long-time chair until her resignation last month, and Tina Kolos Orban, its new chief executive — the health service raised concern about Teni’s “frayed” relationship with the NGS, records released under Freedom of Information requests show.
Teni has been critical of NGS waiting times of over two years for access to the NGS, with some 800 people on the waiting list.
In a presentation to the HSE, Teni complained that the NGS had “closed off” alternative routes to healthcare.
Teni said without HSE funding there would be a reduction in its support services, an increase in the use of online hormone treatment, and increased pressure on HSE mental health services. It predicted “increased drug-use, self-harm and suicidality in the community”.
It presented an overview of its primary and post-primary school transgender awareness training, which includes working on transition plans for students in schools, and “correct language use”.
Teni complained it had seen “continuous attacks on the community from the media”. It called for supports for “building affirming families, schools, workplaces and communities.” Social media and public comments by some Teni staff have included strong criticism of the NGS.
Shoshanna Éirénne Carroll, Teni’s former CEO who resigned last year, accused the NGS of behaving criminally by denying her surgery. She said it had a “phobic” leadership.
Keeva Lilith Ferreyra-Carroll, Teni’s national community development officer, has tweeted that the NGS accused her of libel for posting about her experiences, and said it cut off professional relations with Teni.
In an April 1 letter to John Meehan, head of the HSE’s National Office of Suicide Prevention, Ms Phillips said the sudden passing of the organisation’s bookkeeper delayed Teni finalising its 2020 accounts. Ms Phillips said she wrote to Dr Karl Neff at the NGS to request a meeting about their relationship.
Ms Phillips was aware there had been “a breakdown in communications” between the service and Teni’s previous CEO, but was “unaware of the issues”. She said she was “happy to repair any damage caused in the past”.
At a May 19 meeting with the HSE, Ms Phillips and Ms Orban said Teni was committed to “strengthening governance systems” and working with the HSE to find solutions to the problems facing the gender service.
The HSE raised concerns about “the use of social media by staff from Teni”. Ms Orban said “these will be addressed with all staff concerned”. The HSE shared its own social media guidelines.
At a second meeting on June 8, the HSE said that to rebuild trust, Teni would have to meet reporting deadlines set out in a new service level agreement.
Ms Phillips said Teni was in a “serious situation” because of its funding suspension.
A bank overdraft was used “to keep the organisation afloat” but €46,000 of a €50,000 facility had been spent.
At a third meeting on June 16, Mr Meehan said Teni had by now supplied much of the information requested. Ms Phillips apologised and said she was confident Teni would comply with reporting requirements under its new leadership.
Ms Orban said she had investigated staff use of social media. Teni’s policy had been reviewed and it would “work to protect staff and funders”. It acknowledged relationships with the NGS were “frayed”.
Mr Meehan offered to write to the NGS to encourage engagement with Teni’s new leadership.
At the meeting, Teni agreed to return HSE funding for a training programme that did not take place because of Covid. HSE funding was restored on June 30.
Teni did not respond to questions last week.
The HSE said Section 39-funded organisations are not required to submit guidelines on social media usage.
“However, it’s a reasonable expectation that organisations have their own guidelines on responsible social media usage for their staff in place,” it said.
“This item was discussed and satisfactorily resolved with Teni.”
It said no meeting between Teni and the NGS has since taken place.
In the UK last week, the Tavistock clinic in London that treated trans children said it was to close after a review found its model of care put patients at “considerable risk”.
Tavistock received referrals for 234 Irish patients between 2011 and 2021.
The youngest was a five-year old girl referred in 2019.