Topical Issue Debate

Vocational Education Committees

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me an opportunity to discuss this important topical issue, namely, the need for the Minister for Education and Skills to give urgent consideration to designating Longford as the headquarters of the amalgamated County Longford and County Westmeath vocational education committee. I welcome Deputy Troy's presence as I understand he made a strong case for Longford last Friday.

In light of Longford's prime location and the significant capital investment by the Department of Education and Skills in its vocational education committee infrastructure in the past two years, the town is an ideal location, both geographically and in terms of facilities, to become the headquarters of the new amalgamated VEC. County Longford's current VEC headquarters comprise administrative offices and a section of the Connolly Barracks site housing a number of buildings on 4.5 acres, which were purchased from the Department of Defence in 2009. This development is relevant in light of a meeting of the Minister for Defence with a delegation from Longford on the purchase of the entire Connolly Barracks site with a view to creating a community-based campus for education, training and other activities such as tourism infrastructure. The VEC headquarters would be the cornerstone of such an educational hub.

The administrative offices of County Longford Vocational Education Committee are located on Battery Road in the town, which is directly adjacent to the N4 Dublin-Longford primary route and on the northern side of the N63 Roscommon-Galway road. Longford, which is recognised for its central location, is equidistant — 43 km — from both Mullingar and Athlone. Furthermore, the Longford-Dublin rail link provides an excellent rail service and the M4 motorway, which is due for completion in a few years, will be in close proximity to the town.

The building housing the VEC's administrative offices was acquired from the Office of Public Works in 1932 through a 99 year lease for which a nominal annual fee of €20 is charged. The site, which was originally part of the former barracks, features a building consisting of 720 sq. m with a disability access lift and a car park accommodating 50 vehicles which has the potential for the development of further spaces. Investment by the Department of Education and Skills in the past two years resulted in the complete refurbishment of the office, including a complete mechanical and electrical upgrade and the installation of modern information technology infrastructure. Recent work also included the installation of voice-over Internet protocol, VOIP, technology, which allows for the integration of offices at no extra cost. A second development in 2009 was the purchase by the VEC of a section of the Connolly Barracks site from the Department of Defence. This acquisition was funded by the Department of Education and Skills and buildings on the site are finished to a high standard with parking for an additional 80 vehicles.

In the past two years, County Longford VEC has been allocated approximately €2 million for the purchase and development of the Connolly Barracks site and refurbishment of the administrative offices. A number of buildings have been renovated and now house various adult education programmes. Spare capacity in these buildings could be used for additional office space as required, and there is an ample supply of accommodation. To maximise this investment I ask the Minister to designate Longford as the headquarters for the amalgamated vocational education committee.

I welcome this opportunity to outline to the House the decision taken by the Government to revise the configuration of VECs, and to set out the factors the Minister will consider in deciding on the location of the headquarters of the new entities. With specific regard to the matter raised by the Deputy, in arriving at a decision on headquarters location the Minister is considering a range of factors. These include the need to ensure that the location of a VEC headquarters will, to the greatest extent possible, facilitate staff redeployment under a redeployment scheme within the context of the Croke Park agreement, and the need to operate at lowest cost having regard to the accommodation available in existing locations. Where redeployment of all of the headquarters staff in an entity to one location is not possible due to a distance factor, or where, for other reasons, such as suitability of buildings, it is not feasible to have all of staff based in one headquarter building, the Minister is giving consideration to the possibility of having sub-offices in some locations, at least for the medium term. Following completion of the Minister's deliberations, the headquarter locations will be announced later this evening.

I am delighted that Longford has all the infrastructure required. A broadband fibre ring passes in front of the administrative building. In addition, there has been significant capital investment in VEC infrastructure in Longford by the Department of Education and Skills in the past two years, which enables it to be a centre of excellence for a VEC headquarters.

I hope the Minister will make an announcement tonight in favour of Longford as the headquarters. The potential is there and it would be a shame to waste it. It would be a much appreciated investment in the county. I understand the headquarters in Mullingar is rented at considerable cost whereas the rent in Longford would be much smaller. Perhaps the Minister of State might give information on the current cost of the Westmeath headquarters.

I am not aware of the cost of the headquarters in Westmeath, but I will undertake to get the information and pass it to the Deputy concerned. I also undertake to take on board the comprehensive case he has made to have the VEC headquarters located in Longford and will pass it to the Minister, Deputy Quinn, as he finalises his deliberations.

National Drugs Strategy

The rehabilitation and support programme, RASP, and the youth service, Sphere 17, are based in north Coolock in Dublin 17. RASP provides an outstanding community-based approach to anti-alcohol and anti-drugs support, education and outreach programmes and is the only community rehabilitation centre in the Dublin 17 region. Sphere 17 provides vitally important youth services for local children and young people aged from 10 to 21. Although both organisations run critical programmes and services in that part of my constituency, they are desperately worried their funding may be significantly reduced under budget 2012. My plea to the Minister today is that he examine the outstanding work of both organisations and at least ensure that the critical core funding provided in budget 2011 for RASP and the essential 2011 Sphere 17 funding are maintained under budget 2012.

RASP's approach to citizens who have been addicted to alcohol or drugs is multi-disciplinary, providing vocational and therapeutic elements to get their clients' lives back on track and play a key role in their families and their communities. Among the psycho-social and vocational support programmes run by RASP are weekly care planning; computer studies; literacy support; group therapy; drama therapy; cookery; one to one support; family support; counselling; homelessness and advocacy support; post-prison support; stabilisation programmes and after care support. One of their unique programmes is a horticultural training course with the support of the horticultural industry in north Dublin.

Since its inception in 1998 more than 200 people have been RASP clients and there are usually about 18-20 clients at any one time being supported by RASP. There are three people employed at the project, including participants who are supported by the community employment programme. The organisation is led, outstandingly, by the Coolock community activist, Mr. Kevin Behan, as chair, and by the general manager, Mr. Pat Hanna. From 2000 when RASP was mainstreamed it was funded with approximately €200,000 per annum but in 2009 this budget was cut by one third, to €138,848 per year.

The other Dublin 17 organization I wish to mention in the Dáil today is the Sphere 17 regional youth project which is located in the Darndale-Belcamp village centre, Dublin 17 and has three different youth work teams covering the Bonnybrook, Darndale and Priorswood parishes. I have been a long-time director of the Coolock development council campus where Sphere 17 is also now providing a new youth centre for Bonnybrook parish. Sphere 17 estimates that the population of young people in north Coolock between the ages of 10-21 is approximately 3,450, or 22% of the population. The project works with more than 1,500 local young people in this age group each year, through more than 170 different programmes.

The programme was founded in October 2005 and since July 2007 has worked out of an impressive new dedicated youth facility in Darndale village, under the tremendous leadership of Mr. Mick Ferron. It provides services up to 10 p.m. each night and at weekends, including educational, health, art, drug outreach and counselling programmes, as well as support for the local Traveller community. The wonderful ethos of Sphere 17 is found in its statement: "All young people have the ability to achieve great things; some just need a little support." Importantly, Sphere 17 also facilitates the Woodale youth justice project which is part of the national Garda youth diversion projects. The programme had more than 17,000 registered contacts between local young people and the service in the past year and its detached youth work team made more than 2,000 contacts with young people through its evening street work programme. Twenty full-time professionals are currently employed by Sphere 17 alongside part-time and CE staff and more than 20 volunteers. In 2010, Sphere 17 received €1,198,195 in funding from a range of sources led by the City of Dublin VEC but in 2011 it received only €918,000 and, since 2008, its budget has lost €230,000.

RASP and Sphere 17 are already struggling to maintain the current essential services they provide and, like most community organisations, have come under severe pressure because of the impact of the recession on families and communities. It is therefore crucial that they and the people they and I serve have certainty that they will continue to receive the funding they need in 2012 and beyond.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.

My Department contributes to the overall aim of Government policy in regard to drugs and the national drugs strategy, which is to provide an effective integrated response to the problems posed by drug misuse. Part of my Department's contribution to the national drugs strategy is to provide funding for a number of projects in local drugs task force areas.

RASP, the rehabilitation and support programme is a community-based drug rehabilitation project for adults who are in recovery from addiction. Through the provision of a community employment scheme it provides a number of placements for adults from the Dublin 17 area who are currently on a treatment programme with the adjacent Beldale Clinic, operated by the HSE. The project provides a programme which has an educational content and a rehabilitation emphasis.

This year, for the educational component of the programme, my Department has allocated €138,847 to RASP, which is the same as the 2010 allocation for the project. This funding primarily goes towards the cost of one staff salary, the cost of leasing a premises and other programme costs. My Department will take a decision regarding the provision of an allocation to RASP in 2012 in the context of the overall budgetary process for 2012.

Sphere 17 is a regional youth service for young people aged between 10 and 21 years in such areas as Bonnybrook, Darndale and Priorswood across Dublin 17. It provides young people with a wide range of programmes and activities which reflect their needs, interests, capacity and age profile. These programmes and activities include personal and social development with a particular focus on recreation, education and health.

My Department provided an allocation for the Bonnybrook Youth Project under Sphere 17 youth service in the years up to 2010. In 2010, my Department carried out a review of projects in local drugs task force areas. As a result, responsibility for 21 projects, including Sphere 17, transferred, with appropriate funding, to the then Office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, with effect from January 2011. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs continues to provide allocations to the Sphere 17 regional youth service under several funding streams.

In regard to these and similar vital projects throughout the country, can the Minister of State state that there will be a full cost benefit analysis before there are any further cuts? Some weeks ago, our colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, visited the Sphere 17 facility.

She was informed by the manager, Mr. Mick Ferron, that if a cut in funding of 10% were to be imposed, this would result in reduced hours in respect of all funded posts by at least 20%, a reduction in programme output by up to 40%, service closure on one day — from Monday to Friday — per week, a reduction in the weekday service by 50% and an annual reduction of an estimated 400 young people out of the 1,500 to whom I referred who are engaged in the service.

If we go down the road of introducing cuts, there will be a number of serious impacts. One of the worst impacts that will be felt by Sphere 17 if its funding is cut relates to its plan to open a new youth centre in the third major parish of north Coolock, namely, Priorswood. This project has already been postponed and if the budget is cut again, it will have to be postponed indefinitely. As the Minister of State will appreciate, Sphere 17 plays a vital role in supporting An Garda Síochána and its youth diversion programmes.

The chief executive of RASP, Mr. Pat Hanna, estimates that it costs in the region of €100,000 per annum to keep a prisoner in jail. In contrast, approximately €130,000 — or a little more than the former amount — can assist 18 to 20 people in overcoming addiction in order that they might begin to play a useful role in society. Mr. Hanna also estimates that for every €1 spent on anti-drug programmes, the State saves €3 in other costs.

I appreciate that there are organisations similar to those to which I refer in other constituencies. However, Sphere 17 and RASP are vital to the Dublin 17 area and it is critical that their funding for 2012 be maintained.

In addition to the funding provided for RASP and five other projects in local drugs task force areas, my Department is making a significant contribution in support of the prevention pillar of the national drugs strategy through the mandatory social personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum at primary level and in the junior cycle at second level, the initiatives under the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, action plan to prevent early school leaving and achieve better educational outcomes for students and the guidelines on substance use policy issued to all schools. It will be a matter for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, to approve decisions regarding future funding for the Sphere 17 Regional Youth Service. In this regard, I understand her Department will focus specifically on ensuring greater coherence, co-ordination and impact in youth policy and provision in order to ensure quality outcomes for all.

The Deputy has raised the possibility of carrying out a full cost-benefit analysis of the programmes to which he refers. I would be concerned that my Department would not have sufficient resources to allow it to carry out such an analysis, particularly in the context of engaging in the type of forensic investigation that would be required in order to establish whether the programmes provide a benefit for those who avail of them or whether the communities which they serve are obtaining full benefits from them. However, the Deputy's concerns are extremely valid and he made a very compelling case for the retention of both services. I will undertake to pass on his concerns to the Minister when we are engaging in the final stages of the comprehensive spending review which is under way.

Social Welfare Appeals

In addition to the privilege of being elected to this House, I have been afforded the honour and privilege of serving as Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on social protection. In the latter role and as an ordinary Deputy I have come face to face with the reality relating to the social welfare system on a daily basis. Irrespective of my specific responsibilities in this area, many of my colleagues and I have been inundated with representations from persons seeking to avail of social welfare benefits and entitlements, including domiciliary care allowance, invalidity pension and other allowances, and programmes and projects relating to areas such as career training, education, etc.

As everyone is aware, a huge cohort of people are dependent on and in need of assistance. The agenda for Government policy in the area of social protection was set not last February but on budget day in 2010. The Labour Party and Fine Gael voted against the budget introduced in December last year and also the subsequent Finance Act. They specifically stated they would reverse the 4% cut in social welfare rates and then fought an election on that premise and promise. The programme for Government specifically states, "We will divert staff from elsewhere in the public service to clear the social welfare appeals backlog, and introduce a consolidated appeals process". On entering Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party restated their policy on social welfare rates and indicated that there would be no cuts. On the anniversary of the Government's first 100 days in power, this policy was again affirmed. To be fair, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, immediately recanted her previous utterings when she entered office. She has fudged direct questions on the maintenance of social welfare rates and failed to provide straight answers. This is a sure sign that the rates will be reduced.

I wish to explode two myths with immediate effect, the first of which is that the memorandums of understanding are not set in stone. When my party's spokesperson on finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, met representatives of the troika earlier in the year, he was informed that austerity must not affect the vulnerable. When representatives from Social Justice Ireland met officials from the IMF in July, Mr. Ajai Chopra echoed these words. The forthcoming budget will test the Government's mettle and oblige it to make decisions. It will be held accountable for these decisions and its actions will be weighed against the promises and commitments made earlier this year.

On its election to office, the Government stated it would renegotiate the four year plan and the interest rate relating to it. Eventually — by accident rather than design — the rate was reduced with great fanfare and, to use cycling parlance, Enda came home in the yellow jersey. However, the Taoiseach is no king of the mountains. Why could he not ring-fence the savings which will supposedly amount to almost €1 billion per year resulting from the interest rate cut and use them to safeguard social welfare rates, protect the poor, the needy and the unemployed and target detailed programmes at the skilled and unskilled in areas where there are employment opportunities such as the ICT sector? He sold dummies to many in Roscommon, Portlaoise and Loughlinstown.

The initiative of the Minister for Social Protection to tackle fraud is commendable, but it is not really new. Savings of €500 million were made in this area last year and the Minister hopes to save a further €625 million this year. It does not take a rocket scientist to identify the areas in which these savings are being made, namely, living alone allowance and lone-parent allowance and those who are working and claiming. There is no need to seek public support for major cuts by making statements on people's lifestyle choices in order to stigmatise them. This is all a smokescreen. The time people are obliged to wait for decisions on their appeals — be they in respect of claims for jobseeker's benefit or carer's allowance — is way too long. The amount of time it takes to lodge an application and then have one's appeal heard is astronomical.

The State has made provision for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We put supports in place and established entitlements on the proviso that they would be accessible and available. The representations I have received indicate that this is not the case. The staff of the Department are inundated with work and their tempers have reached boiling point. This is a crisis and the Minister must deploy additional staff resources. She must take control and make decisions in order that the current difficulties might be alleviated and that people will gain confidence in the process.

I am informed by the chief appeals officer that the number of appeals waiting to be processed is 17,655. This is a reduction of some 3,126 on the number at the same point last year when the Deputy's party was in power. Fianna Fáil created a meltdown in the economy and, thanks to its efforts, unprecedented numbers have lost either their jobs or businesses. These individuals have been obliged to apply for social welfare payments. When the Deputy referred to the increase in the number on social welfare, he was actually complaining about his own party and the depredations it visited upon the country. The Deputy's party has the singular responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost employment and their businesses because of the party's failure to deal with the banks and the disastrous decision on the bank guarantee. If the Deputy is going to lash out, perhaps he should look in the mirror and at the Fianna Fáil Party first.

The number of appeals waiting to be processed must be seen against a background where there has been a significant increase in the number of appeals from 14,070 in 2007 to 32,432 on Fianna Fáil's watch in 2010. Current indications are that there is now a slight drop in the number of appeals being received in 2011 because the economy has begun to stabilise, although unfortunately it is at a very low level. We must all fight to get the economy to recover.

The annual intake this year is still likely to be close to 30,000 for the year. In an effort to reduce the backlog of appeals, the Department made nine additional appointments to the office earlier this year on my becoming a Minister. These assignments augment the three appointments made to the office during the Fianna Fáil tenure — a massive increase — in 2010. This brings the total number of appeals officers serving in the office to 29. In addition, a number of initiatives have been undertaken with a view to increasing capacity and the combination of these initiatives and additional staff resulted in 22,226 decisions being made in the first eight months of 2011. This compares to the 17,000 appeals completed under the remit of the Fianna Fáil Minister in 2010, and the 10,911 decisions made in 2009.

We are dealing with a vastly expanded load because of Fianna Fáil's destruction of the economy and we are actually dealing with them faster and more comprehensively. More emphasis is placed on deciding claims on a summary basis where possible, and enhanced business processes and ICT have also increased the capacity of the office. Some 3,000 cases registered before 31 December 2010 have been ring-fenced, with a team of ten of the office's most experienced appeals officers having been freed from all other work to concentrate on clearing the Fianna Fáil backlog by the end of this year. I hope the Deputy understands who has caused the build-up of appeals, although we are sorting it out. The Deputy's party caused it.

Overall it is expected that the increase in the number of decisions being made by appeals officers will continue and this, combined with the slight reduction in the numbers received, should lead to ongoing reductions in the backlog of appeals and processing times.

I thank the Minister for the response but we should get a few facts straight and sing from the same hymn sheet. I have been elected to this Dáil, not the previous Dáil. I carry no candle for the previous Administration, although that is no reflection on the various and many improvements which have accrued to this State from its time in office. It is high time the Minister and her colleagues began to take cognisance of the fact that they head the current Administration, having been elected to this Dáil. They should take responsibility for the current position.

The people of Laois-Offaly elected me to represent them and I will continue to do so. My party has also asked me to take responsibility for the social protection portfolio, and I take soundings from my colleagues. I have some examples of our current position. I will not talk about what was the case, what brought about our current position or anything like that, as I was elected to this Dáil.

An applicant for the domiciliary care allowance in respect of her son in September 2010 had it refused in October 2010. The decision was appealed and to date no decision has been made on her claim. Having phoned the social welfare appeals office on numerous occasions we have been advised that the case is with the chief appeals officer for decision, with an instruction to call back in a few days. There has been no decision. An applicant for a domiciliary care allowance in respect of her son in June 2010 was refused in August 2010 and the decision was appealed on medical grounds; a decision was only reached two weeks ago and I am thankful the allowance was awarded.

An application for disability allowance was refused and the decision was appealed on medical grounds in 2010, with a listing for an oral hearing on 27 November. That applicant is still waiting to be called for an oral hearing. Only this week a 92-year-old woman being cared for by her son had care withdrawn, and the parties sought for the decision to be reviewed within the three-week period. There was advice from staff that this would be pointless, and that it should be appealed, with an 18-month wait.

These are just some examples and the Minister's colleagues and party can give similar cases. There are lists of questions on the Order Paper every day dealing with similar cases throughout the country. Irrespective of where we came from, the Minister has the current responsibility in this regard, so she has the responsibility to act appropriately.

The Deputy may not have been listening to the figures but there has been a reduction in the backlog left by Fianna Fáil. Perhaps there is a Fianna Fáil nua and we did not hear the announcement that Fianna Fáil went out of business completely. The Deputy is a member of the Fianna Fáil Party and it has, unfortunately, bequeathed this massive backlog of appeals. We have begun to reduce that.

I am sure the Deputy will be pleased to hear that on Friday I signed the regulations which bring community welfare officers and the social welfare appeal system fully into the Department of Social Protection. We will now have an additional ten former HSE appeals officers integrated into the social welfare appeals office on foot of the changes. It will take time to deal with the backlog and, as I mentioned to the Deputy before, in the case of applications based on medical decision making, it is important that people have as complete an application as is possible at the original stage. We have discussed before how many people could help their position if there was more complete evidence at the time of the application.

We have also put more emphasis on deciding claims on a summary basis where possible, particularly if the medical evidence is clear and strong enough. That has brought down numbers but because of the massive unemployment which the Fianna Fáil Party bequeathed to the country, this is the unfortunate consequence of what Fianna Fáil did to the economy. It melted it and employment down and left us saddled with the bank guarantee. I take absolute responsibility to clear up the mess, and I am doing so while reforming the system. I assure the Deputy on the matter.

Family Support Services

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise what many people see as an important issue. I hope the Minister of State will share that view. We were all absolutely shocked when we heard last Tuesday on the airwaves what women were facing in 2011 with regard to access to refuge. The position has worsened.

There has been a 42% increase in the number of women contacting domestic violence services in the past three years, and the recession has much to do with this because of pressure being put on families because of a loss of jobs, unemployment and little money coming into households. There is also the stress in paying bills. Some 7,235 women received support in 2010, up 5,000 since 2007. Some 3,900 people, including 2,355 children, lived in refuges in 2010. However, the scandalous aspect of this is that on 3,236 occasions women could not be accommodated due to lack of space. Everybody thought this problem was in the past and that the issue of women and children accessing refuge and protection had been dealt with.

Currently, there are 141 refuge places, a third of the minimum standard recommended by the Council of Europe. This is scandalous. According to the Council of Europe recommendation, the north west should have 24 family unit places but it only has two. In the east region, which covers Dublin, it is recommended that there be 150 family unit places, but there are only 39. Research shows, and the Minister will be aware of this from her own experience, that the most dangerous time for these women is when they attempt to leave an abusive and violent relationship. Being turned away from a refuge due to lack of space places these women and their children in an extremely dangerous situation. A total of 38% of the women who sought refuge said they had nowhere else to go.

It is the most vulnerable people who feel the cost of the banker and developer bailout. Since 2008, SAFE Ireland has reported cuts in funding ranging from 5% to 30% in the north-east region. These are not feasibility cuts but cuts to the service. In the Leinster area, services which provide 80% of services nationally were contacted by the HSE and were given two weeks notice of a 10% cut. There must be an urgent response by the Minister. Every day thousands of cases are being reported. At a minimum the refuge in Kildare that is ready to get up and running should be opened as a priority. Violent assaults, rape and abuse of children, including of the unborn through violent attacks on pregnant women, as has been reported by SAFE Ireland, are taking place in families and behind closed doors. There must be an urgent response.

The Government must commit to signing the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence without delay. Ireland is one of a small number of countries that have not signed the convention, which was adopted by the Council of Europe on 11 May 2011. The second step the Government must take is signing that convention to show the women, children and everybody in this country that it means business and will turn around the situation that has existed for the past three years.

I thank the Deputy for raising this topical issue as it provides me with an opportunity to clarify the current situation.

Domestic violence is a serious health and human rights issue. In March 2010, the Government launched a four year strategy to provide a framework for sustainable intervention to prevent and effectively respond to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Cosc is the national office for the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and was established in 2007 under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality. Cosc's key task is to ensure the delivery of a well co-ordinated Government response to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The HSE also launched its policy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in 2010. The principal actions of this policy are in line with the national policy. The health care system is usually the first route through which domestic violence victims seek support. HSE staff are trained to recognise, respond and refer appropriately to cases of domestic violence. The HSE also manages the significant impact of domestic violence on the health and well-being of victims through primary care and hospital services. HSE staff and allied health professionals provide a range of services to people who experience domestic violence.

Nationally the HSE also funds 47 front-line domestic violence service providers. Twenty of these provide refuge accommodation and this number has risen from 15 since 2000. The services provide a wide range of supports such as advocacy and counselling and were funded to the amount of €I4 million in 2010. Every HSE region in Ireland has at least one refuge available providing crisis emergency accommodation. All but one, located in the western region, are accessible on a 24 hour basis. There are ten counties in which refuge facilities are not located, but the support service providers in these locations may refer clients to refuge services in neighbouring counties.

There are currently 138 emergency accommodation units funded by the HSE nationally. These units may offer accommodation to a single client or a client with accompanying children and are intended to provide emergency or transitional crisis accommodation. Teach Tearmainn, a domestic violence service provider in Kildare, is on the point of completing a major new capital development which includes four self contained apartments to be used as crisis accommodation for victims of domestic violence. Teach Tearmainn is currently funded by the Health Service Executive to provide an information and advice service to women who experience domestic violence in Kildare. I recently met the committee that has been established to run Teach Tearmainn and with the two local Deputies, Deputy Martin Heydon and Deputy Jack Wall.

The capital aspects of the new development were fully funded through the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Teach Tearmainn has applied to the HSE for revenue funding to operate the new units. While the HSE has indicated its broad support for the new project, there was no allocation for this budgeted in 2011 and all available funding for 2011 has already been allocated. However, the HSE has undertaken to investigate potential avenues of funding for 2012 and this process is currently under way. We should have news about it soon.

Last Wednesday, the National Statistics on Domestic Violence 2010 were published by SAFE Ireland, the national representative body for 39 women's front-line domestic violence services. These statistics show a substantial increase in demand for services in 2010 compared to 2009. It is within the context of this increased demand for domestic violence services that the HSE is currently engaged in a national and regional review of domestic violence service provision. The aim of this review is to ensure that funding is allocated according to need and areas of high demand are appropriately resourced. I assure the Deputy that the Government is fully committed to addressing the problem of domestic violence.

I welcome the fact that there is an investigation of how to access money to open Teach Tearmainn in Kildare. It appears from the Minister's comments that the money will be accessed. It is important to get that facility up and running.

However, I am still a little concerned about some of the points made. All the reports show there has been an increase in domestic violence and in violence against women in the home. There is concern in the Cosc office and in SAFE Ireland that progress is slow and that issues are not being dealt with quickly enough. SAFE Ireland recommends that the needs and experience of victims be centre stage in any action being implemented. It does not believe that is being taken on board and I ask the Minister to make a point of doing that.

Although the Minister says the Government is fully committed on this issue, it must sign up to the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating domestic violence. That will clearly indicate that the Government fully supports the convention. A total of 17 countries have already signed up to it and Ireland is in a small group of countries that have not signed it. I do not know why. I call on the Government to state that it will sign the convention within a short period. That will show it fully supports the convention.

It is scandalous that although the Council of Europe recommends that the north west of the country should have 24 family units, it only has two. It recommends that the west have 41 but it only has 11; it recommends 36 in the mid-west but there are only 20; it recommends 39 in the north east but there are only 22. This issue must be addressed and it is important that we address it soon. We cannot continue to listen to women on radio stations speaking in absolute despair and sorrow.

I do not disagree with anything the Deputy says. We are agreed that domestic violence is an absolute scandal. However, we must also address the elephant in the room. If there are that many women running with their children in fear of their lives to find refuge in places outside their homes, what are we doing about the perpetrator? If the Deputy and I were attacked tonight on our way home, were beaten and terrified for hours and driven out of our homes, and if we knew the perpetrator, he would be charged.

Do we really need to continue? We do because the situation is such that we must provide accommodation for women and their children who are terrified. God only knows what the long-term effects will be. It is probably the only crime where the victim must leave home. We have dealt with the issues of incest and rape and insist that the perpetrator be placed at a disadvantage. The figures involved are minuscule. I understand why victims of domestic abuse do not go the whole hog and go to court. I also understand their worry and confusion. In other cases, we do not depend on the victim, in respect of which I agree with the Deputy. However, this is a bigger issue.