I thank Deputy O'Reilly and Sinn Féin for bringing forward their proposals for additional support for victims of domestic violence, which allows us an opportunity to debate and discuss this important issue. In the programme for Government agreed in June, the three Government parties called out the fact that in Ireland, we are experiencing an epidemic of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. In recent months, it has been incredibly positive to see the focus on the issue of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, including the substantive debates that we have had in the Dáil and Seanad, and more generally across society, with the support across communities and towns for local domestic violence refuges.
The impact of domestic violence on victims and their families can be devastating physically and emotionally and a range of supports is required to help them move away from abusive situations and rebuild their lives. I have met with many stakeholders and front-line services in the domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, DSGBV, sector since taking on my current role as Minister, and have expressed my own personal commitment to doing all that I can to address domestic violence and its effects on families, on victims and on wider society.
The economic impact of domestic violence is not always to the forefront of people's minds when they consider the effect on victims but experiencing domestic violence can be a contributing factor to women experiencing homelessness and poverty. Lack of economic independence can also be a major factor in preventing a victim from leaving an abusive situation. Support for victims who are working, in the form of paid leave, could be crucial in ensuring that they retain their employment and have the economic capacity to escape an abusive relationship.
Among the extensive list of policies contained in the programme for Government that this Government will pursue, is a commitment to investigate the provision of paid leave and social protection provision to victims of domestic violence. For this reason, the Government has agreed not to oppose this Private Members' Bill.
However there are a number of difficulties, both legal and practical, with the proposals as set out and there are other issues for consideration around how best to make this leave available. The principles behind the Private Members' Bill are sound, but it is the Government's view that the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 is not the best vehicle for such a scheme. The role of the Workplace Relations Commission would also require close examination. There are other issues which arise, such as concerns for the privacy of victims who could be obliged to reveal information in order to access the scheme. Everyone will agree that it is paramount that any leave scheme protects the privacy of victims.
Bearing in mind that we must act promptly, I am proposing today that the Government will undertake an examination of paid domestic violence leave and social protection support as we have committed to do in the programme for Government. This will include a consultation and an examination of the concerns outlined above as well as a review of international best practices referred to by a number of Deputies. The process will begin immediately and will conclude within six months and I will publish a report setting out the findings. This will allow us the necessary time to consult widely with victims, with NGOs, with employers and social partners and across Departments to ensure that the proposals coming forward are victim-centred, robust and will work to genuinely help victims while preserving confidentiality.
Following on from this examination and based on the findings, I will bring forward legislative proposals for the establishment of a statutory entitlement to paid domestic violence leave. This legislative proposal will be brought to Government within a further four months of having received the consultation report. This will represent the delivery of a key element of our programme for Government commitments on DSGBV.
Progress continues on other DSGBV actions. Responsibility for this issue is shared by a range of Departments and agencies. The programme for Government commits to an audit of how responsibility for policy, services and other matters related to DSGBV is currently fragmented, with a view to the development of proposals on what infrastructure is needed to ensure that the issue is dealt with as effectively as possible. The audit will be completed early next year and following it, the Minister, Deputy McEntee, and I will bring forward an action plan to implement its findings.
Tusla is under the remit of my Department and has statutory responsibility for the care of victims of DSGBV. It supports some 60 organisations nationwide that operate a range of services. In 2020, my Department provided Tusla with €25.3 million in funding for the provision of DSGBV services. Two weeks ago, I was pleased to be able to confirm an increase in Tusla's DSGBV allocation in 2021 to a total of €30 million. This includes €28 million in core funding, which is an increase of €2.7 million and €2 million for Covid-19 contingency supports.
Tusla is undertaking a review of emergency accommodation nationwide which will assess current and required distribution of safe emergency accommodation in Ireland. The findings of the review will inform Tusla's future decisions with regard to the priority areas for investment and the development of services. This report will be published in April next year and I look forward to acting on its recommendations.
As I mentioned earlier, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of the key NGOs working in the DSGBV sector, and have more meetings scheduled in the new year. Last Friday, I was privileged to launch the Sonas Annual Report 2019, in its refuge in my own village of Blanchardstown. As part of this, I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the organisation's clients. She took me through her personal journey - the coercive control her partner exercised over her; the rare, but still devastating physical abuse; the little steps she took to discover how she could get out; the day she finally left; the level of support offered to her by the NGO; the continuing barriers she faced; the complexity of the legal system; the struggle for money; and the difficulty of locating safe and long-term housing for herself and her family. This woman's struggle is mirrored everyday in towns and communities all over our country and for far too long, our society turned a blind eye to this. We are, however, seeing a sea-change in how this issue is approached by our society.
This Government will not turn a blind eye to the issue of domestic, sexual and gender- based violence. In the six months since taking office, we have acted swiftly. We have significantly increasing funding for domestic violence services; we are conducting an audit of policy responsibility to ensure the best possible response for victims; we are undertaking a review of emergency accommodation capacity, so we can properly target resources; we will pass within the next few weeks legislation to criminalise image-based abuse, legislation that was proposed by an Opposition Deputy; and we are undertaking implementation of the O'Malley report, to support victims of sexual violence both when they are reporting those crimes and through the court system. All of this represents a strong start, but I know that we have much more to do.
I will conclude now by thanking Sinn Féin for bringing forward this Private Members' Bill today, and I look forward to working with Deputies on all sides of the House to ensure anyone at risk of domestic abuse feels safe, secure, and supported. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.