Topical Issue Debate

Rent Supplement Scheme Payments

We have been making the point for quite a long time that the cap on rent supplements is driving more and more people into homelessness. This report would seem to justify our worries in that regard. The survey carried out by the Simon Community found, startlingly, that seven out of eight properties available for rent are priced beyond the reach of those in receipt of rent support. In the case of single people, 99 out of 100 properties are beyond the reach of those in receipt of rent support. In the case of a couple, 98 out of 100 properties are beyond the reach of those in receipt of rent support. In the case of a couple with two children, 97 out of 100 properties are simply beyond their reach.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, is aware, we have a very severe housing crisis which has given rise to a situation where 3,143 people are living in emergency accommodation, including almost 1,200 children. Unfortunately, that does not tell the whole story. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Many people in this country for one reason or another, sometimes due to lack of space or other reasons, are not in emergency accommodation but are living with relatives in completely unsuitable conditions such as overcrowding or circumstances where babies or young children are living in the same household as very old people.

I know the Minister of State will be busy from now to the election, but if he had time I would take him on a tour of my constituency. I would take him into house after house in Limerick city where those conditions pertain. In many of those houses he would find that patience is literally at breaking point. The tensions involved in such situations are enormous. It is difficult to imagine a worse possible environment in which to rear children, and many young children are in such unsuitable accommodation.

The Government will be aware that since the previous cap was put on rent supplement, rents have increased by almost 20%, taking them beyond the reach of more and more people who are entitled to rent supplement. In response to me in the House, the Minister for Social Protection did undertake to introduce an element of flexibility into the rent supplement scheme.

She circulated a letter to the managers of all labour exchanges throughout the country. However, I have come across many cases in which flexibility is not being extended and people who are even slightly over the limit are not being accommodated. It is totally at the discretion of the local social welfare officer. Rents are increasing dramatically, for example, they increased by 8% in the first quarter of 2015, which means that more people will not be accommodated. The further one is above the limit the less likely it is that flexibility can be applied, even if the social welfare officer is well disposed. Will the Government re-examine this issue? The ideal solution would be to increase rent supplement. In the absence of this, will the Government re-examine the way flexibility is being applied in practice? What is its position on the application of flexibility under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, under which more people are being accommodated?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The report to which he referred was published this morning. I compliment him on tabling a Topical Issue matter on the report so quickly.

I thank the Minister of State.

Rent supplement plays a vital role in housing families and individuals, supporting approximately 67,000 people, of whom 6,400 have been awarded in 2015, at a total cost of €298 million. More than 2,400 people are in receipt of the new housing assistance payment, HAP, administered by the local authorities. Today's report from the Simon Community entitled, Locked out of the Market: The Gap Between Rent Supplement-HAP limits and Market Rents, shows the major problem in addressing homelessness is the lack of supply of suitable accommodation. The provision of housing is a key priority for the Government and the implementation of the range of actions in the Construction 2020 strategy and the social housing strategy 2020 will support increased housing supply.

While I fully acknowledge the difficulties persons renting or seeking to rent are experiencing, increasing rent limits will provide little in extra supply but will further fuel rental inflation, as outlined in the Department's recent review of rent limits. The State is a significant player in the private rented sector, accounting for over one third of the market. In response to the difficulties the Department is providing a case by case response to ensure access to housing, curtail rental inflation and ensure value for money. Some 2,100 people or families have accessed rent limit increases. The measures implemented provide for increased flexibility in assessing customers' individual accommodation needs through the national tenancy sustainment framework introduced earlier this year. Under this approach, each tenant's circumstances are considered on an individual basis and rents are being increased above the rent limits, as appropriate. This measure applies to both existing rent supplement recipients and new applicants to the scheme. The Department continues to work with Threshold's tenancy sustainment service in urban areas, Dublin and Cork cities, where supply deficits are most acute. Departmental officials are engaging with the relevant stakeholders on the extension of this arrangement to Galway in the coming weeks. The Department has also undertaken a communication campaign to encourage people at risk to make contact with it or the Threshold tenancy protection service as early as possible in order to prevent an unnecessary episode of homelessness.

The Department provides support for persons towards rent deposits under the exceptional needs payments, ENP, scheme. This form of assistance is very important to those on low incomes who rely on the private rented market to meet their housing needs. In 2015 to date, more than 1,300 payments have been provided towards rent deposits, at a cost of almost €700,000. We are constantly reviewing the issue, scrutinising what is happening around the country and ensuring officers in my Department are exercising flexibility. If there are individual cases in which flexibility is not being exercised, the Deputy is welcome to bring them to my attention. I am seeking to ensure the offices of my Department exercise discretion and assist people to avoid homelessness and get into accommodation, including in the types of case the Deputy pointed to in which people are not homeless but are living at home in difficult circumstances and need to move into private rented accommodation. If the Deputy has specific examples in which the system is not working, I will be happy to work with him to try to resolve them. The scheme is being operated in the Deputy's area and I can provide information on the number of times discretion has been used there.

I thank the Minister of State for his offer and intend to take him up on it. I take his point on rent inflation. We propose a 5% increase in the rent cap in order to alleviate what is a desperate situation. I am not in favour of hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers' money going into the pockets of private landlords. I abhor it and it is grossly wasteful; however, we are faced with a crisis. The Minister of State mentioned the figures, but we are only scratching the surface. More than 90,000 people are in need of social housing and the number is increasing. Has any consideration been given to extending the flexibility cap to cases under the HAP scheme? Recently I heard the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, refer to his intention to recommend to the Government the introduction of some form of rent control. What is the status of that proposal?

As the Deputy knows, the HAP is dealt with by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. I understand there has been flexibility under that scheme regarding the homeless. I may be wrong and will ask the Minister to contact the Deputy about it. The Minister is to bring proposals on rent certainty to the Cabinet before the end of the session. The figures I mentioned refer to the 2,100 cases in which the cap was broken, of which more than 1,400 were in the Dublin area, reflecting the position in the rental market. Neither of us intends to put money into landlords' pockets. I am not certain, however, that the Deputy's proposal to increase the cap by 5% would create even one additional unit. I have met local councillors from around the country and they have given me example after example of areas in which there is no accommodation available. In such areas, even if I were to increase the cap by €1,000, it would not generate even one additional unit. There is an acute supply problem. We are in constant communication with our staff to ensure they exercise flexibility and discretion to ensure, where possible, people do not become homeless.

Child Protection Services Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue. I also welcome the Minister.

Tusla is a very important organisation and the investigation into its work is carried out independently by HIQA which verifies its capacity to "promote the welfare of children and protect those deemed to be at risk of harm". These children need a proactive service which acts decisively to assess and meet their needs in order to promote their safety and welfare. When HIQA inspected the child protection services and the welfare of children in the Meath and Louth area, it found that, of the 27 standards assessed, the services met only one and that significant improvements were needed in the case of at least eight others.

That is entirely unacceptable. Tusla is a well resourced organisation, with a working budget of more than €600 million and over 4,000 staff. In light of the poor outcome of the inspections, I ask the Minister, Deputy Reilly, to meet Tusla urgently to address the issues arising.

The inspection identified significant risks resulting from ineffective and unsafe information systems, inconsistent allocation of social workers to children on the child protection and notification system and inadequate and unsafe systems to review, monitor and manage waiting lists across the service. According to a working document I have in my possession, HIQA is satisfied that an action plan is now in place but it found that while staff in the centre valued the safety of children and endeavoured to keep children safe and meet their needs, this was not always possible. Aspects of the service were unsafe and although children's cases were prioritised for social worker intervention, this did not always ensure that children who were at greatest risk and had highest levels of need received a timely service. The capacity of the service to meet the needs of all children was compromised by delays in allocating social workers. I am particularly concerned by the finding that unsafe or ineffective systems were in place to assess and manage actual or potential risks to children from adults living in the community. This meant risks to some children went unidentified and unmanaged. I ask the Minister to clarify these matters because it is unacceptable to read such findings in this day and age, given the significant investment we have made in the care and welfare of children.

There is no shortage of money or staff in Tusla. Although the inspectors acknowledged the impact of limited resources, service managers did not always demonstrate the level of leadership required to deliver an effective service. I was unhappy with answers I received to parliamentary questions on this issue, although I accept the Minister is not to blame because my questions were addressed by Tusla. However, when I contacted Tusla to speak with an official in the section responsible for parliamentary questions I was told there was no such section.

I thank Deputy O'Dowd for raising the issue of Tusla's child protection and welfare services in the Louth-Meath area and I welcome the opportunity to address his concerns. The inspection by the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, reported concerns the standard of services being provided to children and families in the area. This is a significant cause of concern to me, my staff and Tusla. As Deputy O'Dowd pointed out, HIQA's findings are stark. This demonstrates the real importance of having an independent regulatory regime. I assure the Deputy that of the 46 actions arising from significant risks, 22 have now been addressed and a further 24 will all be completed within dedicated timeframes. Steps have been taken to ensure all children on the child protection notification system are allocated a social worker and improvements made to record keeping and data collection. I was glad to see that HIQA found that all cases where children at immediate risk of harm at the point of referral were responded to in a timely manner, although I also noted that in some cases there were waiting periods for a dedicated social work service.

HIQA was satisfied with the action plan to address the significant risks that were identified. Half of the 101 actions required are now complete and HIQA and officials in my Department will monitor progress to ensure the improvements required are made. Issues were highlighted regarding resources and staffing in counties Louth and Meath, and these are being addressed at national level as a matter of urgency. Officials from my Department are already engaging with Tusla on resources for the remainder of 2015 and into 2016. A submission on staffing and other resource issues is to be made in the near future.

It has to be said that resources were not the only issue, however. Other deficits in the local service arose from systems either not being implemented well or not implemented fully. This led to concerns being expressed about the prioritisation of cases, the processing of complaints and management level information on cases. Tusla notified me on the problems in the services prior to the publication of HIQA's report and it has taken direct ownership of action to improve the standards of service delivery. The area is under a special programme of improvement led directly by the chief operations officer to address oversight and quality assurance. A project social work team is in place to deal with the backlog and to assist with the implementation of national guidance and practice for the duration of the special programme. The longer term issues and overall consistency of service delivery are being addressed by work at national level on policy and quality assurance.

It is worth noting that the inspection findings were not all about deficiencies. Many children were found to have benefited from the service and there was evidence of good practice and excellent interagency collaboration. Good practice with children and families was observed by inspectors, who also found that many neglect cases were well managed by social workers and children's lives had improved from social work and family support intervention. The issue of completing initial assessments is dealt with in the report which states that the majority were of good quality, based on detailed information from key sources and including the clearly expressed views of children. A minority of assessments were not of such good quality. Difficulties were identified regarding signing off and closing assessments. I understand Tusla is examining timeframes to better reflect the activity and dynamic nature of assessments overall.

The issues identified by HIQA are of a concern to us all. I have asked to be kept informed on progress. A recurring theme overall in recent HIQA inspections is that social services are generally of a good standard but there are problems with the timeliness of the service. This is a particular challenge as the demands on the service increase. As a relatively recent national organisation, the challenge for Tusla is to provide a consistent response to identified need based on good quality assurance data and appropriate resources. Reforms on how the service is organised nationally are taking effect. I am committed to ensuring the reforms underpin a service that delivers a responsive and safe child welfare and protection service for the children and families of not only of counties Louth and Meath but the entire country.

While I welcome the Minister's assurance, these are the most vulnerable children in our communities and the findings of the inspection are unacceptable. The Louth-Meath area, which I represent, is one of the most deprived areas of the country. The unemployment rate and proportion of one parent families are above the national average. Unsafe and ineffective systems were in place to manage risks to children from adults of concern and this meant that risks to some children went unidentified and unmanaged. I am deeply concerned by this finding.

When I initially raised this issue by way of parliamentary questions after reading newspaper reports on this issue on 8 June, I was frustrated in getting a reply. When I contacted Tusla I was told nobody had responsibility for dealing with my questions. Last Friday I tried to insist on having somebody addressing the issues because the report was on the website.

However, there was nobody in Tusla to deal with the issues. Eventually the chief operations officer, Mr. Fred McBride, did speak to me and we had a conversation for about 20 minutes on the issues I raised. I acknowledge that he has taken direct line responsibility for the changes that are taking place.

I must express my deep concern again, however, and I ask the Minister to facilitate a meeting with me on this issue. I intend to meet Tusla about it as well. With all the investment and resources, and all the concerns we have expressed in the Oireachtas, as well as public concern, it is not acceptable or good enough. We need much better outcomes than these, so I hope that will change radically.

I reiterate the point made by the Deputy that these are indeed very vulnerable children. Tusla has taken this issue very seriously indeed, so much so that the chief operations officer himself, Mr. Fred McBride, has taken direct control, as the Deputy acknowledged.

As regards the whole issue, many lessons have been learned from the Laois-Offaly situation and a similar approach has been taken here in terms of bringing in additional resources to address the backlog of cases. That will ensure a uniformity of approach so that protocols are implemented in full and we have a safe service for these most vulnerable children.

There is no question but that, as a new organisation, Tusla faces some of the challenges faced by the HSE from which it sprang, including ensuring a uniformity of approach across the service. It is also ensuring that frontline staff, in the main social workers in this case, have the necessary supports they need in information technology. A business case has been put to us concerning that as well.

Without any shadow of doubt, serious problems have been identified in this report. The plan put forward by Tusla to deal with these deficiencies has been accepted by HIQA and that plan is on track to deliver within defined timeframes.

As regards the Deputy's failure to get answers to his questions until he managed to reach the chief operations officer, this is something I will have to inquire into further. I do not believe that is satisfactory. Public representatives should be able to obtain full information in situations like these, in order to address concerns and reassure their constituents.

Ambulance Service Provision

On 18 May, I tabled this matter as a Topical Issue. It concerns the delay in ensuring that ambulance cover in west Roscommon and east Mayo is addressed. The HSE has simply not delivered on ensuring that this ambulance black spot is sorted out. The OPW agreed a five-year lease with the national ambulance service to use the former Garda station in Loughglynn as a regional ambulance base.

Some 18 months ago, Roscommon County Council gave planning permission to develop an ambulance base there. However, it seems there has been very little progress on the project since then. It is most disappointing because the HSE timeline for the operational start of the base was last summer. In correspondence with the then Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, I highlighted the situation regarding the ambulance service in Roscommon. In that correspondence, I made clear the importance of ensuring that a sufficient level of ambulance cover is provided across the county.

The ambulance base in Loughglynn is a vital facility for communities in west Roscommon and east Mayo. It will significantly help to improve emergency response times in areas that heretofore have been ambulance black spots. The need to address the ambulance base in Loughglynn, and the issues concerning the county's ambulance service, must be an absolute priority for all stakeholders.

So much work has been done in Roscommon hospital. An investment programme of €20 million went into the county. We have an air ambulance in the area which has saved lives and has been in operation for the last two years.

I realise that the Minister can do some things, but not others. I have heard from the ambulance service, however, that this is a HR situation. These are situations that have been dealt with under the Haddington Road agreement. People may blame politicians for what happens, but I am asking the ambulance service to address the situation immediately because lives will be lost if this matter, which was agreed in the Haddington Road agreement, is not brought to a head. It should be done sooner rather than later.

I am sick and tired of politicians making a political football out of this and playing with people's lives. I am asking the people out there to do what they said they would do under the Haddington Road agreement. I am asking the ambulance service and the Minister to intervene to ensure that whoever signed up to the Haddington Road agreement should now do what was agreed therein, otherwise lives will be at stake.

This was never meant to be an ambulance base, as such. It was meant to be a facility where ambulance drivers from Roscommon, Boyle or wherever would go to address an ambulance black spot. This has been agreed in backrooms during talks in which I had no say, and the Minister probably had no say in either. It was agreed under the Haddington Road agreement where all the stakeholders were represented. I am asking people out there to live up to their obligations. They should not use this as a political football or put the blame back on politicians. They have a responsibility for the lives of people in west Roscommon and east Mayo.

I thank Deputy Feighan once again for raising this important issue in the House. I am pleased to outline the current developments in relation to the Loughglynn ambulance station.

First, I should explain that the National Ambulance Service, NAS, is changing and modernising its model of service delivery. It is no longer considered appropriate for an ambulance station to provide services only for its local area. For this reason, the National Ambulance Service is moving to dynamic deployment, where all resources in a region are deployed across that region as a fleet. Moving to dynamic deployment was a specific recommendation in the HIQA report into ambulance services, which was published last year.

Within the wider western region, the Roscommon area is supported by dynamic deployment from the north by Boyle and Carrick-on-Shannon, from the east by Longford and Mullingar, and from the south by Athlone. A new 24/7 capacity in Tuam and Mulranny stations is enhancing the coverage across north Galway, west Roscommon and Mayo.

Also in support of dynamic deployment, Loughglynn is being developed as a base where ambulances can be located during shifts. The base will provide facilities for staff and clinical storage. The Deputy will be pleased to know that refurbishment of the ambulance station in Loughglynn is now complete and, indeed, has been for some time. However, discussions are still ongoing with staff representative bodies about a number of staffing issues arising from the move to dynamic deployment in the region. The NAS expects that the Loughglynn station will be operational following a resolution of these issues.

The National Ambulance Service is working to ensure high quality and timely emergency pre-hospital care, using all available resources as effectively and as efficiently as possible. As for any modern health service, development and modernisation never ceases, as technology and clinical standards change and evolve.

A significant and ongoing reform programme has been underway in recent years. In 2015, an additional €5.4 million has been provided to improve technology and clinical audit, and to address service gaps - in administration services - particularly in the west. The single national control system, which is now almost fully operational, is improving our control and dispatch performance.

The intermediate care service, ICS, transports patients between facilities and allows emergency vehicles and crews to focus on emergency calls only. The ICS now carries over 80% of the non-emergency workload.

We are also moving to more efficient on-duty rostering and developing a national rostering system. Some 50 additional paramedics are being allocated in the west this year under this process. Services in Roscommon have improved since 2011. Roscommon town has three emergency ambulances during the day and two at night, as well as a 24/7 rapid response vehicle, crewed by an advanced paramedic who can get there ahead of the ambulance and begin treatment on the scene.

For Roscommon and the surrounding region, we also have the emergency aeromedical support service, EAS, based in Athlone. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney, and I have confirmed that this service will now be extended. The EAS takes very seriously ill or injured patients swiftly to the most appropriate hospital for their needs. Over 1,000 missions have been completed since its inception in June 2012. Counties Roscommon and Mayo have among the highest demand for EAS services.

These are all significant achievements, but we intend to improve the service further. The NAS expects to receive the independent capacity review very shortly, and this will help to determine current and future service needs. Areas being examined include staff numbers and skill mix, as well as resources and deployment locations.

I am confident that these reforms will contribute to the ongoing improvements in pre-hospital emergency care services, to the benefit of the people of Roscommon and the rest of the country.

I welcome the fact the NAS expects the Loughglynn ambulance station to be operational following the resolution of these issues. It was stated on local radio by other politicians that this ambulance base would never open. Why are people making those statements? I know the elephant in the room from talking to the National Ambulance Service and it is the fact that people who work for the service signed up under the Haddington Road agreement but are still refusing to go out and man this station. As a national politician it is my right to come into this House and state when something is wrong. I have kept silent for far too long and my worry is that lives will be put at risk if this ambulance base is not opened soon. I appreciate the fact the Minister and other people are doing everything possible but I am asking the people who signed the Haddington Road agreement to step up to the plate and deliver what they agreed. If lives are lost this politician will not be taking responsibility - the responsibility will be back on those ambulance personnel who signed up to an agreement which they are obliged to carry out. This has gone on for far too long and has been a political football for far too long.

I am absolutely convinced that when this ambulance base opens in Loughglynn in west Roscommon, which was an ambulance black spot, patients will have a quicker ambulance response time once again and will get the care they deserve. I pay tribute again to the ambulance service personnel and the work they are doing on the ground, including the paramedics, the advanced paramedics and the air service. They have saved dozens of lives in my county since Roscommon accident and emergency services were downgraded and I am delighted that has happened.

I know the Deputy has enormous interest in this topic. We have discussed it in the House and he has raised it with me personally on a number of occasions. I can hear his passion for the issue from his speech today. From a political point of view I am very keen to have the station opened as soon as possible and the delay that has occurred to date is unacceptable. It is, unfortunately, a common feature of our health service that we often see staff interests on the television or on the radio advocating on behalf of patients only to appear in rooms and offices a day or two later delaying the opening of new wards and other facilities, including a whole mental hospital in Cork, on the basis of staffing issues and industrial relations issues that should have been solved long before these facilities were completed. This is a recurring theme and for decades now I have seen new facilities which need to be opened in the interests of patients but cannot be because of those staffing or industrial relations issues. It is disappointing to see patients used as pawns by any side, whether management or unions, in such situations. However, we do have mechanisms, including the LRC and the Labour Court, through which an intervention can occur if needs be, so I encourage people to be bound by whatever recommendations come out of these bodies.

National Lottery Funding Disbursement

To the best of my knowledge, the Minister of State has done a fair job in distributing lottery money among the different counties but there is a serious issue in Wexford as to where the money goes after it arrives. There is a lot of discontent that it does not seem to be a fair allocation at all times. For example, in 2012 soccer got less than 5% of the money and in 2014 it got 11%. According to an ESRI report on the social and economic value of sport in Ireland, soccer is the team sport with the highest level of participation in the country. Another report on sport and recreational exercise among adults aged 16 and over in Wexford-Wicklow, commissioned by the Irish Sports Council in conjunction with the ESRI, showed that soccer was the most popular sporting activity among over-16s in these counties. According to this report, 6.5% of all adults in this region would choose soccer compared with the combined uptake of Gaelic football and hurling, which weighs in at 4.9%. With regards solely to male participation, 11.9% choose soccer as opposed to 8.1% for Gaelic football and hurling combined.

All sport deserves more help than the Government can find money to give it. Every sport has a huge benefit to society and makes a huge difference to making things work and helping young people to develop in a good, healthy fashion. It is probably one of the best ways of all to fight obesity, which is growing at an astronomical rate in Ireland today. However, the playing field should be level. In Wexford we have an incredible soccer organisation. Our junior league is the second biggest in the country and we have one of the biggest schoolboy sections outside of Dublin. Women's soccer in Wexford is growing at an unprecedented rate and the Wexford women's youth team are the all-Ireland champions and will play in the champions' league this summer in Poland. The amount of young boys and the number of women involved in the sport every weekend is astronomical and from September to May there are approximately 170 games each weekend, an incredible figure. An allocation of less than 5% of the total money in 2012 and just 11% in 2014 compares poorly with how other sports have been dealt with.

I come from a soccer background and many clubs have contacted me looking for fairness. One club, Cloughbawn in Clonroche, which is a really deprived area, has applied every time but, despite having 18 teams, it has not received a penny. The amount of work they put in at local level is incredible but they have failed to get help. The Wexford league itself has looked for money on a few occasions but last year it was turned down because it did not submit a letter stating that it did not need planning permission for what it was doing, which was making pitches. The Gaelic club in the town received more money than all the soccer clubs put together without even owning the site for which it received its grant.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The sports capital programme is the Government's primary vehicle to support the development of sports facilities and the purchase of sports equipment. This programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities in every village, town and city in the country. The facilities that have been funded range from the smallest clubs to national centres of sporting excellence. The health benefits of participating in sport are well known and around 90% of SCP grantees report that they have been able to increase participation as a direct result of the facilities developed with these grants.

The 2015 round of the SCP is the third round of the programme since this Government came into office. This reflects the importance that the Government places on sport and on providing opportunities for participation. The fact that almost 1,600 applications were received under the 2015 round of the programme is evidence of the ongoing importance of the programme. These applications are currently being assessed and I expect to announce allocations later this year.

The programme assists voluntary and community organisations along with the national governing bodies of sport, local authorities, education and training boards and schools to develop high quality, safe, well designed, sustainable facilities in suitable locations and to provide equipment to help maximise participation in sport and physical recreation. The programme also prioritises the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities with over 40% of the 2012 and 2014 SCP allocations going to designated disadvantaged areas. I am very proud of that. I have also given grants totalling €3.225 million to the Irish Amateur Boxing Association, primarily for the provision of basic facilities for boxing clubs, often located in the most disadvantaged areas.

Every application received under the 2015 sports application programme is being assessed against five criteria designed to give higher scores to applications that will increase participation, share facilities, are from designated disadvantaged areas, have not received significant funding in the past and are ready to be developed as soon as possible. In deciding the final allocations to projects within each county, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and I will give consideration to a number of factors, including the performance of each application during the assessment process, ensuring a geographical spread of projects within each county, ensuring a spread of projects between rural and urban areas within each county, and ensuring there is a spread of projects among different sports.

In the lifetime of the Government €88.5 million has been allocated in more than 1,700 separate grants to sporting groups and organisations under the sports capital programme and related special allocations, for example, equipment grants for national governing bodies of sport, local authority shovel-ready projects and the athletics tracks initiative. Since taking office I have ensured every county gets its fair share of the sports capital programme funding available, based on its population, with an adjustment to give slightly more money to counties that had fared less well under previous rounds of the programme, thus making up for historical imbalances in funding. I am more than happy with the distribution of the sports capital programme funding across different sports and the impact that these grants will have on participation during my time as Minister of State with responsibility for sport.

I thank the Minister of State, for whom I have two questions. What month will he announce the allocation of funding this year? Will he make some kind of commitment that the actual numbers participating in the different sports might be considered when he is deciding how to divvy up the money this time round? The people involved in soccer in Wexford are of the opinion that if I were not in the Dáil, they would probably get more money. If that is the case, it is probably not a good sign in terms of accountability, transparency and how things are done. I am not laying it at the Minister of State's door, but there is a feeling among the soccer fraternity in the county that politics is at work and soccer has fared poorly. They think my presence here has not helped the situation. Sadly, I suspect they may be right. The figures speak for themselves, with less than a 5% allocation in 2012 and 11% in 2014 for the biggest sport in the county. It does not look well. It would be very hard for me, no matter which side of the House I was on, to defend the figures when challenged by people in the soccer fraternity. I hope as much fairness as possible will apply on the next occasion.

I refute what Deputy Wallace said about him being on the far side of the House. It makes no difference who is on what side of the House. I am very proud of the way I have allocated this funding in this sports capital programme. I am the first Minister of State to do it per capita. I am putting in on the record of the House that it will be accepted by every future Minister that they cannot do it any other way. I am doing that against my own county and area simply because every county is to get its fair share. No other Minister had the courage or the guts to do what I did. I took the counties that did very well over recent years, particularly counties that had Ministers, and I penalised them. I gave it to the smaller counties and the counties that had done badly and I am proud of that.

I am amazed Deputy Wallace speaks about soccer. The board of the FAI wrote to me and thanked me for the fairness in the way in which I administered the sports capital programme.

It thanked me for the funding I gave to soccer. Let me finish.

Last year I also gave a special allocation.

Did Delaney ring you?

I do not know what is wrong with Deputy Wallace's county-----

-----but he should talk to John Delaney. I gave the FAI €1.2 million and I let it pick the six counties. I am very disappointed none of the projects was in Deputy Wallace's county.

I do not give two hoots about Westport.

There must be something wrong with-----

Deputy Wallace is spending too much time in Dublin.

The Minister of State should take advice before he proceeds. He should speak to a senior Minister before he says any more.

The Minister of State, without interruption.

I am very proud of my record. The second or third thing I want to say - and I want the Deputies to remember this - is that there was no programme since 2008. I want Deputies to listen to this. We gave a commitment in the programme for Government. We got two.

The Government let FIFA decide where the money went.

I went back to the Ministers, Deputies Noonan and Howlin, and I negotiated a third round. The Deputies should be saying to me, "Well done", but instead of that they are being parochial and talking about a few little projects.

I am only asking for advice.

Deputy Wallace mentioned one that was invalid. If I took them out, and they were invalid, he would be the first one up there and on RTE crying and giving out that I had taken out invalid projects. None of those which were invalid will be grant aided. They were not grant aided in the last round and they will not be grant aided in the next round if they are invalid. Deputy Wallace should be assisting the clubs and helping them to fill in the forms rather than expecting me to take them out if they are invalid.

So a couple of Ministers decide which sport gets it again.

He is letting John Delaney decide who gets the money.

That concludes the Topical Issue debate.