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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 28 Nov 2017

Vol. 962 No. 3

Topical Issue Debate

Sports Capital Programme Administration

My purpose is to try to ascertain from the Minister of State with responsibility for sport exactly when the sports capital programme will be announced. Applications for the programme opened in January 2017 with a closing date of 24 February. That is over ten months ago. Many small, voluntary sporting clubs in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath and right across the country put a lot of time, effort and hard work into preparing their applications for the sports capital programme but to date there are some which do not know whether they will receive funding. I ask the Minister to give a clear undertaking as to when the official word will become known.

I am also concerned that a number of colleagues have approached me over the last 24 to 48 hours to indicate that certain members of Government parties were ringing around sporting clubs to advise them that they had been successful and to expect a phone call later this week. If that is happening, I am very worried. Funding allocations should be made known in an open and transparent manner to all Members of the Oireachtas. I am aware that there were a large number of applications this year. As such, I welcome the fact that additional funding is being made available for the scheme. It is important, however, that the Minister of State sets out when he will announce the grants and states how many applications were deemed ineligible. Have applicants whose applications were ineligible already been made aware of that fact? If not, why not? One imagines they should have been afforded the opportunity to submit whatever documentation was missing from their original applications.

Finally, can the Minister provide the House with the reason it has taken so long to go through the applications? The committees of local, voluntary organisations, which are made up of people working in a voluntary capacity, must put forward applications in the space of seven weeks while a fully fledged and funded Department has yet to respond ten months later. These clubs are fundraising to ensure they meet the criteria and they have worked hard to ensure they can make the necessary improvements to their sporting facilities. I would welcome a response from the Minister of State.

I thank Deputy Troy. I agree completely that the sports capital programme is a very positive addition to Irish society. Since 1998, €911 million has been spent on vital sporting facilities in large and small communities. The footprint is very visible in the communities where that €911 million has been spent. It has made a huge difference to sporting organisations, many of which would be otherwise unable to raise funding for necessary infrastructure. I was delighted when the scheme was reintroduced in 2012, having been scrapped in 2008 when the economic crisis hit. We were also able to introduce a scheme in 2014-15 and we have been able to do so again in 2017.

When I came into the Department on 20 June, applications had closed. At that stage, there was a budget of €30 million for both the local and regional schemes, with a breakdown of €26 million to €4 million, respectively. Unfortunately, the overall value of the 2,320 applications submitted for both the local and regional schemes was €155 million. Given those figures, it would have been very difficult to reward in a meaningful way all of the volunteers to whom Deputy Troy referred had we attempted to spread the available funds across all of the applications. The first thing I did, therefore, was to consult with the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross. We dug in and worked very hard in the months before the budget to increase the funding for the programme. We had a very successful outcome in the budget and managed to raise the available funding for the 2017 programme from €30 million to €60 million, which was a considerable increase. It is to be hoped that level of funding will allow us to deliver a positive and progressive scheme on Thursday of this week. It will be very responsive to the needs of clubs around the country and help to clear a backlog which has built up.

As Deputy Troy knows, the breakdown in 2012 was that 48% of clubs made invalid applications. In 2014-15, approximately one third were invalid. Due to changes which have been made to the scheme and the website, we are looking at an invalid rate of approximately 20%, which is a step in the right direction, albeit still 20% too much. I would like to see a 0% rate of invalidation and to bring everyone through the process as a valid applicant. That would give every club the opportunity to have its application tested on its merits. For now, approximately 80% of applications are valid which means we are seeking to ensure that €56 million is disbursed among approximately 1,700 clubs. Grants will be based primarily on the amounts the valid applicants sought and the points they secured through the application process.

The application process is onerous and clubs provide huge amounts of information to the officials in the Department on socio-economic disadvantage, levels of own funding, previous funding received, levels of participation, social inclusion and many other useful metrics.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I were extremely determined to ensure that the true merits of applicants were reflected in allocations. We feel we have come up with a way of doing that which is transparent and entirely fair. We are proud of it because it is a step in the right direction for the sports capital programme, which will have a meaningful impact on many communities when funding is allocated. For the volunteers, there has been a delay because of the extra funding and an unprecedented number of applications - 2,320 is the highest ever - but it was worth waiting for because, ultimately, we will have a very good programme this year.

It is welcome that €56 million will be spent by various sporting bodies throughout the country. The Minister said that 20% of applications for grants would be deemed ineligible. Will they only get confirmation of that when the announcement is made on Thursday next? There are clubs eagerly looking forward to getting money but on Thursday they will receive bad news and this needs to be addressed, given the time and effort clubs put into these applications, although I accept that the problem has been reduced.

I suggested that all of the 80% eligible applicants receive some funding on the basis of the points system that has been introduced and it is welcome that this is happening. I met a local group in Moate, County Westmeath, and advised it on how to proceed and what supporting documentation it needed to submit. I also advised the group to approach other politicians. One of the members of the Independent Alliance group, of which the Minister, Deputy Ross, is also a member, said that if people were seen talking to Deputies on this side of the House, it could go against their applications. I would not like that to be the case. I welcome the fact that 80% of applicants will get good news on Thursday and that it will be done on a points basis in order that clubs which worked hard to put together good applications, with all the necessary supporting documentation, will be rewarded.

There have been so many applications because we have moved away from operating this scheme on an annual basis. I encourage the Minister of State to move it to an annual basis so that ineligible people do not have to wait too long to reapply.

I have been involved in sports organisations all my life - running them and participating in them - and I understand from where the volunteers who run such organisations are coming. I am excited about being able to help them this week with grants, as is the Minister, Deputy Ross, and it is a really positive story. Funding is allocated per county and we have moved away from the bad old days when the money went where the politics determined, which was not the right way to go about it. It is based on a points system and on the amount of eligible funding sought.

Some clubs might have received notification of invalidation from the sports capital unit if there were questions regarding their applications, particularly where works being applied for had already been carried out. That would be a very small minority, however, and the majority will find out this week. In future rounds, I want to eliminate the issue of invalidation with something like an over-the-counter system, in which the application can be stamped and validated, or an early bird system whereby a person comes in a month before the deadline to ensure that everything has been validated. In the case of some misdemeanours or minor reasons for invalidation, such as a bank statement that might be two weeks out of date or a letter, figure or name which is missing, we should be able to give a second chance to people. Unfortunately, some invalidations are very cruel. I am not committing to this but I am exploring the possibility, even in the current round, of finding an administrative way of doing something, within the budget, which is not too burdensome on the officials in the Department. A very limited number of people are working on this in the office in Killarney, which is in my constituency. Ultimately, applicants are volunteers helping their communities and we want to help them.

Traffic Calming Measures

Kilcornan is a small village located on the N69, a national secondary route, in rural County Limerick. The N69 is a coastal road which runs from Limerick to Tralee via Foynes. The issue concerns traffi-calming measures that are proposed for the route. Concerns relating to those measures were originally raised by the community on 8 September 2015. This road has been a danger point for many years and that fact has been brought to the attention of successive Ministers. I proposed that speed-limit measures be extended in 2004, which seems like a lifetime ago. However, my suggestion has been constantly refused, first by the National Roads Authority, the NRA, and then by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII.

Kilcornan stretches from the church to the community centre for about a mile and a half on the N69. The fact that it is located along this expanse of the road is the biggest challenge. The focal point of the proposal relates to the community hub, which comprises the school, the GAA pitch and the Ger McDonnell Park astroturf pitch. All of these are accessed by people from neighbouring villages and towns - such as Kildimo, Pallaskenry and Adare - with which Kilcornan has joined up to form an under-age soccer team. There is, as a result, a glut of traffic coming onto the road, particularly between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. On the Askeaton side, there is a blind bend and people take their lives into their hands when they come out onto the road. There is no hard shoulder and no space for cars to move from one side to another. Neither is there any room to put traffic islands in place.

A meeting took place on 8 September 2015 and proposals have been submitted to TII. There has been correspondence between the council and the TII on a proposal that has been shown to the community. Every time it goes back to TII, however, further design measures and updates are sought. The community is becoming frustrated as to what will be the outcome. I was a local councillor in September 2015 and we were unanimous in wanting to see traffic-calming measures put in place in Kilcornan. However, the communication back and forth between TII and Limerick City and County Council suggests that the can is being kicked down the road. Can the Minister give us a timeline for when this project will be completed, what funding is required and from where that funding might come?

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects are a matter for TII in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer. As a result of the national financial position, there were very large reductions in the Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure after the financial crisis. For this reason, the focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal rather than new improvement projects in recent years, and I envisage that the emphasis on maintaining assets together with safety measures will continue into the next capital plan period. Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is, therefore, a matter for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act.

TII allocates funding specifically for safety works based on its analysis of the network and has allocated €17 million for such works this year. Each year, TII carries out a collision analysis of the entire national road network to identify locations that have a high concentration of collisions. Following completion of the analysis, local authorities are requested by TII to carry out reviews of safety at each of the identified locations and to submit feasibility reports, including details of proposed remedial measures to improve road safety at those locations.

The absence of a site from the network safety ranking locations identified as part of this collision analysis process does not preclude a road authority from submitting a feasibility study for safety improvement works elsewhere. In this context, it is open to local authorities to submit proposals for road safety measures at schools for consideration.

My understanding from TII is that following contact between Limerick City and County Council and the regional road safety engineer about traffic calming measures at Kilcornan, the council initiated preparation of a report on proposed measures for consideration by TII. I know the Deputy has raised this issue in parliamentary questions on a regular basis over the past year and I understand that TII has provided him with updates in response. In October, I understand TII indicated that the design of the proposed traffic calming measures at Kilcornan were expected to be finalised shortly. I have now been advised by TII that it is anticipated that funding will be provided in 2018 for traffic calming measures between the two junctions in Kilcornan, which will also involve a reduction in the speed limit. I am glad to be able to inform the Deputy of the progress being made.

I very much welcome the Minister's reply and I thank him for it, particularly the funding that will be made available for the project in 2018. It is good news for the people of Kilcornan and the general area of the N69. I wish to highlight the contrast between Kilcornan and other nearby areas. Ballybrown national school had 12 lights at its location and 18 lights were allocated. Ferrybridge on the N69 had five, and Brick Lodge in Clarina, which is much smaller, has four. The Applegreen service station in Coolanoran on the N21 has ten lights. Kilcornan, as I have highlighted, has one in a particular location. Underlining all of this, I very much welcome the Minister's response and thank him for it. The people of Kilcornan will be pleased with the outcome from the Minister and the Department that funding will be made available for traffic calming measures between the two junctions in Kilcornan, namely, the Curraghchase junction and the Cowpark junction, and they will welcome the reduced speed limit. We have been looking for this for years. I went into the council in 2004 looking for this, so I am glad the Minister has given me the news today and I sincerely thank him for his response.

It is an unusual pleasure to be able to respond so positively in the House to an issue of this sort. It should be said that a lot of it is due to the persistence of Deputy Neville in continually bringing this up and bringing it to the attention of TII, the local county council and everybody else not just as a Topical Issue, but also in parliamentary questions. I welcome the fact this is happening, and it is fair to recognise not just the persistence of Deputy Neville, which was extraordinarily welcome and successful, but also the fact that TII does respond to safety issues, particularly where there is an issue where life is in danger and where there has been a series of collisions. As the Deputy knows, TII will look at it as a top priority, and in this case it has been a successful crusade on behalf of Deputy Neville, for which we must all be very grateful.

Ambulance Service Provision

Dublin Fire Brigade provides emergency ambulance services in Dublin by arrangement between Dublin City Council, the National Ambulance Service and the HSE. In short, Dublin Fire Brigade provides a fire-based ambulance service. International best practice indicates that combining fire rescue and emergency services greatly improves the response to a crisis, particularly in this age of international terrorism. The chief executive of Dublin City Council, Owen Keegan, wants to see a transfer of all call taking and dispatching for ambulances to the national control centre in Tallaght. This would be a major mistake.

Problems were identified in the HIQA report published in December 2014, and there were concerns about the existence of two separate control and dispatch processes. We are now at an impasse on this issue. The 2015 report of the expert panel on pre-hospital emergency care services in Dublin provides the solution. Moving the call and dispatch service to Tallaght from Townsend Street is not acceptable to Dublin Fire Brigade. A technical solution to bring about the required co-ordination is possible. This would cost only approximately €10,000 to €20,000 and should be trialled. A transfer to Tallaght would end the fire-based emergency ambulance service and benefits of such a service. The practical solution is to provide terminals in both call centres. This would replace the existing telephone contact arrangements. It would show both emergency services the location and availability of ambulances and would ensure the nearest available ambulance is identified.

There is another issue. Dublin Fire Brigade has not been provided with the necessary ambulance capacity to respond to the 36,000 emergency calls it received in 2016. Dublin Fire Brigade has only 12 ambulances and this needs to be addressed.

My colleague has outlined the reason both of us and our party firmly support Dublin Fire Brigade's provision of ambulance services for Dublin. It is because it works, and it works very well. There was a 99% satisfaction rating in the last survey.

The external review in the report carried out by HIQA is fundamentally flawed because one of the members of the external review team did not declare a conflict of interest in carrying out this report. The conflict of interest is that individual is also a board member of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, AACE, which is a UK firm contracted to the HSE and which provided advice to the National Ambulance Service. All of this leads in this direction.

I also want to specifically state to the Minister for State, on the day we are discussing parliamentary questions not being answered, that on 17 October I tabled three parliamentary questions to the Minister for Health asking him to outline the procurement process entered into by the HSE and the granting of this contract to AACE UK Limited. I also asked about the conflict of interest and what references it sought regarding the individuals and, in particular, one individual, Mr. Ken Wenman, who was a board member and a member of the external review team. I also asked the Minister for Health about payments made to an organisation each year in respect of its engagement by the HSE. This was put forward on 17 October. On that date, I received a reply from the Minister stating the issues raised are operational and he had referred them to the HSE for a response. I have had no response since. The external review is absolutely flawed because it was teed up to give Dublin City Council and the HSE the answers they wanted to undermine the work of Dublin Fire Brigade.

I thank the Deputies for giving me the opportunity, on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to address this issue and the concerns they have raised.

Dublin Fire Brigade provides emergency ambulance services in Dublin city and county by arrangement between Dublin City Council and the HSE. The National Ambulance Service provides non-emergency patient transfers in the greater Dublin area and also some emergency capacity in this area. I understand that in the last year, in response to increased service pressures, the National Ambulance Service has provided additional emergency capacity in Dublin.

In recent years three comprehensive reviews of ambulance services have been undertaken: the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, review, the capacity review and the review of Dublin ambulance services which was jointly commissioned by the HSE and Dublin City Council. The capacity review which was published last year examined overall ambulance resource levels and distribution against demand and activity. It identified a requirement for additional emergency resources, primarily comprising rapid response vehicles in the eastern region, including Dublin. As I mentioned, the National Ambulance Service has put in place additional emergency resources in Dublin, including rapid response vehicles, to address this capacity deficit.

The 2014 HIQA report on ambulance services highlighted some operational inefficiencies between the National Ambulance Service and Dublin Fire Brigade and recommended a number of measures to improve operations. I am pleased to draw the attention of the House to a follow-up review by HIQA earlier this year which noted that communication, co-operation and co-ordination between the National Ambulance Service and Dublin Fire Brigade had improved significantly since 2014.

A review of Dublin ambulance services was commissioned by Dublin County Council and the HSE some time ago and focused on identifying a service model for the most effective and efficient provision of emergency ambulance services and patient care in the Dublin region. Its primary objectives were to determine the optimal model of ambulance service provision which would ensure patients received the highest standard of emergency response and to determine the most cost effective service which would ensure optimal value for money for the public purse. However, the issue of Dublin ambulance service provision is the subject of a mediation process between Dublin City Council and staff associations. In these circumstances, I am not in a position, nor would it be appropriate, to make any comment on funding arrangements that are in place, or should be in place, between Dublin City Council and the HSE. I can, however, confirm that additional funding will be made available for the continued development of pre-hospital emergency care services in 2018. The allocation of the additional funding by the HSE for specific service developments throughout the country must await the finalisation of the national service plan. This process is under way.

I note that the National Ambulance Service recently won an ESAI sustainable energy award for the energy efficiency of its new vehicles. The vehicles include features such as solar panels and other energy saving mechanisms. I am advised that five of the new vehicles have been assigned to Dublin Fire Brigade.

The Government must provide a minimum of four additional ambulances and the consequent funding for Dublin Fire Brigade immediately in order that it can respond to the ever increasing number of emergencies and incidents in Dublin. Dublin Fire Brigade personnel are also trained paramedics. If the Minister goes along with the changes proposed by the chief executive officer of Dublin City Council, a skill set will be lost forever. A fire brigade can also be sent with an ambulance with trained paramedics on board. This is a safety issue and in the best interests of the public and patient safety generally. Sadly, terrorist attacks are now a major threat in EU member states. Other member states are moving towards the concept of a fire brigade based ambulance service. It would be a shame, therefore, if we were to break up something that is working well. Will the Minister of State ask the Minister to give the local authority the appropriate funding and resources in order that it can continue to provide this service? The issue has dragged on for long enough. It must be resolved once and for all.

I am disappointed that although this is the second time we have raised the issue, on neither occasion has the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, attended the House to discuss it. In our initial statements we outlined our full support for Dublin Fire Brigade and its ambulances. The work of the National Ambulance Service is also exceptional. However, the HIQA report mentioned by the Minister of State is absolutely flawed. The individuals who undertook the work to complete the report had a clear conflict of interest. As I mentioned, they are employed by the HSE to provide other services and that fact was not declared.

Why can I not get answers to the three parliamentary questions I tabled on 17 October about the public procurement process and the company AACE UK Limited? In six weeks I have not received answers to the three questions. I believe the company was appointed to give the HSE, the National Ambulance Service and Dublin City Council the answers they wanted, which is unacceptable. The Minister of State is a Dublin Deputy and aware of the work Dublin Fire Brigade and its ambulances do. This is an absolute divvy-up which should not be accepted. I ask the Minister of State to give a commitment that the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, will come to the House to address the issue at least once. This is the second time we have raised it in six months.

I am fully aware of the service Dublin Fire Brigade provides in the city through the council. I have been a long-standing fan of Dublin Fire Brigade and the service it provides since my term as Lord Mayor. It provided a service for the Lord Mayor at the time also. I will bring the issues that have been raised by the Deputies to the Minister's attention. Unfortunately, he cannot be present, but it is not his fault as he had to leave for another engagement. I will raise the procurement issue with him and the three parliamentary questions tabled on 17 October and ask him to reply personally to both Deputies.

Television Licence Fee Collection

In the middle of all the palaver we witnessed today, given the resignation of the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, the communications committee was told that it had to rush through a report on the future funding of public broadcasting. The way it was done was shameful. It was a draft report, on which a full discussion had yet to take place, but we rushed it through. The key and, for most people, the most significant mechanism contained in the report is giving the Revenue Commissioners the duty to collect the television licence fee.

I do not know what planet most Members of the Dáil are living on, but if they tell people who are hurting the most in trying to pay taxation, be it the property tax or stealth taxes such as bin charges, that the tax man is to take the television licence fee from their salary or social welfare payment, they will really punish them. I hope this will come back to bite them many times in the bum when the next election takes place.

With regard to the recommendation that the Revenue Commissioners collect the television licence fee, it was originally included in the document as a household charge, but the committee copped on and realised how sensitive that would be. The fee is €160 per home, regardless of what device is used to look at the broadcasting media, be it an iPhone, an iPad, a laptop, a computer or a television. The only exemptions are for old age pensioners who are granted the exemption when they are over 70 years of age and other social welfare recipients.

An Post lost €15.6 million in revenue last year and PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, forecasts that it will lose €61 million in 2017. It astounded me to hear rural Deputies passionately supporting this measure, knowing that taking the responsibility for collection of the television licence fee from the An Post network and moving it to the Revenue Commissioners would hurt more of the post office network throughout the country which has already been hit disgracefully, with post offices shutting down left, right and centre. Whether one's post office is located in Cleggan or Rialto, this is a big blow to the network. The only reason it is being done is that, according to the most recent records for the numbers of people sent to prison, more than 400 people, three quarters of whom were women, many of whom were lone parents, were sent to jail in 2014 for not paying their television licence fee and the ensuing fine. When people could not be forced to pay it in that manner, it was decided to use the big stick of the Revenue Commissioners. It is using a big stick to crack open a nut.

Consider what is being streamed into Ireland through Sky or Virgin Media. Their profits are going through the roof. Virgin Media's profits surged by 38% last year, while Sky's profits were up by 12% to €1.2 billion in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Why is somebody not going after them for special taxation on the question of broadcasting? They have lobbied that committee so many times we are now seeking legal advice as to whether RTÉ should be given the right to negotiate re-transmission fees from these global corporations. It is outrageous and disgraceful. What is more outrageous is that within that context, this was being pushed through this morning when the whole country was engaged in what was happening with the Tánaiste without any decent recognition of the impact this will have on ordinary people and the taste that will be left in the mouth and without due regard to how the Government will force the collection through Revenue of €160 from people who can barely afford to cover the stuff the Government is already taking from them.

I thank the Deputy for putting down this Topical Issue, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I recognise the important part that public service broadcasters play in our democratic society. The provision of stable and adequate funding is essential to ensuring the continued delivery of their role in this regard. I am very much aware, however, of the challenges that face the existing TV licence system, including the current unacceptable levels of evasion. While the rate has fallen from 15.3% at the end of 2013 to the current rate of 14.6%, it is still very high.

In addition, the number of households required to have a licence under the current system is declining due to a departure from traditional viewing habits. Recent reports show that 9% of households no longer have a television set. While the current TV licence fee model has provided a measure of stability to date, the rapid changes in technology altering the traditional way in which television is watched together with economic pressures generally means that a serious question mark exists over the ability of the current funding model to provide continued stable funding for public service media in the long term.

In October 2016, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment requested that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment examine the longer term issue of the future funding of public service media. As the Deputy will be aware, the committee considered this issue following a period of public consultation and stakeholder engagement. This has coincided with the committee's pre-legislative scrutiny of the Broadcasting (Amendment) Bill, which is due to be published in the coming weeks. The joint Oireachtas committee launched its report on the future funding of public service broadcasting earlier today. The Minister welcomes the publication of the report and is grateful to the committee for responding to his request to examine this important issue. As the Deputy will appreciate, this is a comprehensive report of over 300 pages which the Minister has not yet had time to consider. However, the Minister looks forward to examining the committee’s recommendations, which will help inform future policy options for public service broadcasting. Once the contents of the report have been considered, it is the Minister’s intention to bring proposals to Cabinet on funding options in the near future. In the meantime, there will be no change to the existing TV licence fee arrangements and An Post will continue to work as the issuing agent for television licences in accordance with section 145 of the Broadcasting Act 2009.

I thank the Minister of State for clarifying the bit about what will happen in the mean time but the plan as clearly stated in the report is to give the job of collecting the TV licence fee to Revenue. I further point out that the report is also ambivalent about whether it will give RTÉ the right to collect re-transmission fees from the likes of Sky and Virgin, whose profits I have just quoted, who also re-transmit a lot of our GAA games and indigenous programmes. Again, this is trying to put the blame, responsibility and financial onus back on ordinary people who consume TV, be it through a laptop, iPhone or iPad and I think it is outrageous. Any argument that we need to up our game in terms of collecting revenue is not acceptable because when one looks at what the Government has done in the Finance Bill and taxation levels from the likes of Apple, REITs, vulture funds and the construction industry which get away with blue murder in not paying their fair share of tax, one can see that the Government cannot justify loading it on to ordinary people.

The most extraordinary thing in justifying this was listening to Deputies, particularly those from Fianna Fáil, who actually said at the committee that Facebook is a threat to democracy. Hello - what is that about? Facebook is a threat to democracy because ordinary people can access and interact with it, say what they feel and think and can learn more than they ever did from RTÉ. Facebook is a threat to democracy, yet so many people complain and often refuse to pay their TV licence, as my colleagues on this side of the House would have done, for many years because they were not allowed to be broadcast on RTÉ. What is this business about a threat to democracy and the need to do this broadcasting funding model on the basis of improving the openness of what we access in terms of media? It is nonsense. Tell every child out there or even people my age who increasingly use it that Facebook is a threat to democracy and see the answer you get. This is an outrageous model and I hope that between now and when the Bill is put out that many Deputies will get behind the arguments I am making here and stop it coming through.

I thank the Deputy for her response. I appreciate that she is a member of the committee and I am sure she took part fully in the debate and public hearings that were held on the discussions as part of the consideration of this. This is a cross-party report. I appreciate that it is not a unanimous report. It was published today. With regard to the timing of it, the Deputy can take it up with the committee at its next meeting. I cannot say whether it was rushed. I do not know. The Deputy can take that up with the Chairman of the committee and have a discussion at the next meeting of the committee.

There are a number of recommendations in the report. The Deputy highlighted the one relating to Revenue taking over responsibility for collecting the TV licence fee. Conscious of promoting fairness and equity, the committee recommends that the concessions that are currently available to social welfare recipients are retained in any future funding model and the broadening of the ability and applicability of the existing charging regime to capture every household consuming media regardless of the technology used. The committee says that such a new regime would incorporate all households, not just those in possession of a traditional TV. It also states that the introduction of a non-device dependent public service broadcasting charge is feasible, efficient and practical considering the increasing threats to the sustainability of the current licence fee revenue. There are many people who are not paying the TV licence fee for whatever reason. If everyone paid it, perhaps it could be reduced so it would be more equitable. Like a lot of charges, not everyone pays it and this was the purpose of the Minister asking the committee to examine these issues.

Regarding the Deputy's comments about Facebook and democracy, I certainly do not believe Facebook is a threat to democracy. It is a very important part of social media and widely used by all age groups across the country. I will certainly take the issues raised by the Deputy on board and relay them to the Minister. If it is eventually decided at Cabinet that Revenue should take over responsibility for collecting the TV licence fee, it must obviously come to the Dáil in terms of reform of the Broadcasting Act and there can be a full debate at that stage but at this stage it is only a recommendation of the committee that will be examined by the Minister when he has time to do so.