The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, is very welcome.
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
School Transport Eligibility
I welcome the Minister of State. I put down this Commencement matter on the school transportation scheme because it is an issue on which I have been very active the last six or eight months. The school transportation scheme is, in many ways, flawed from head to toe. We need a total review of it and on how we are going to deliver school transportation for the children of rural Ireland who avail of the scheme.
Last August there was a change to ensure we could get new bus routes in certain key locations in my part of the world. In my parish, a new 52 seater bus was brought on board to cover those who were left behind. Ballineen and Enniskeane were affected as well.
There are serious issues with the school transportation scheme, and I will list some of them for the Minister of State. The real issue about the school transportation scheme is the nearest school principle. There are issues regarding nearest school principle. If one is going to the nearest school, then one is entitled to get school transportation, but if one is going to the second nearest school, one has to wait and see if one is entitled to it. That does not work in rural Ireland. In Ballineen, the nearest school could be within 300 m, or it could be fourth nearest school, because of the location of places like Ballineen and Enniskeane. That does not work.
There are feeder schools to the secondary schools that do not fall into the category of getting school transportation. How can a feeder school to a secondary school not be eligible for school transportation? People, in particular first-time rounders, who have children in sixth class in primary school do not realise that the date for applying for school transportation is 26 April. Their child is in primary school but they must apply four months before September. People do not realise that is the date, and they are missing it. Not enough work has been done by Bus Éireann to advertise the date.
I refer to the unique situation of a person repeating his or her leaving certificate. He or she must have the foresight to know he or she is going to do a bad leaving certificate and to apply on 26 April. A person could be taking the bus for six years but because he or she did not do a good leaving certificate, he or she has to go through the stress of being taken to school by a parent.
This scheme needs to be reviewed from head to toe. An awful lot of money is being spent on this scheme which is vital scheme for rural Ireland. It is about ensuring people who live in rural Ireland have the opportunity to work and to have their children educated.
I spent six and a half months on the Joint Committee on Climate Action, and one of the issues that came up during debates was that one school bus is the equivalent of two cars regarding carbon output. Rather than parents taking their children to school, a 50 seater bus would reduce the carbon output by something in the region of 96%.
Much needs to be done on this scheme which is broken from head to toe. It has been added onto over the years, and nobody has taken a real look at it. The time for change to the scheme has come. Bus Éireann needs to be more flexible. Something needs to be done to the feeder school issue and clarity is needed regarding the second school principle. Last year we tweaked the second school principle, so people had the opportunity to get school buses. We have no clarity regarding that for this year. Although it has not been announced yet, I assume 29 April, the last Friday in April, will be the cut-off date for the school transportation scheme. That has to be advertised. People, in particular first-time rounders, need to know what happens but I do not think they do.
We need a head to toe review of the scheme. Hundreds of millions of euro are being spent, but for a very small amount of money and with a small number of tweaks, we could provide the school transportation scheme that rural Ireland, but in particular the parents who are doing their utmost to educate their children, deserve.
I know of a mother who drives from Ballineen to Bandon and then goes to work in Macroom. She does that every day because one of her children cannot get on the school bus. The other child is on the school bus. One won the lotto, but the other did not. In a scenario where there are spaces left over, there is a lottery, so one child might get a space while the other might not. It is totally illogical.
If one set out to make a scheme unworkable, this is it. The amount of work required to sort this is going to be immense, but the conversation has to start now. I do not want to be in the situation I was in last August when 118 parents contacted my office about school transportation. These were hardworking decent people who wanted the best for their children but who also wanted to go to work. We solved most of the issues but we did not solve them all. I was really sorry for the ones we did not sort. We need to start this conversation now, because if we do not, 200 parents will contact me next August and that is not fair on them.
On behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Halligan, I thank the Senator for raising this matter.
Before I address the specific issues raised, I shall provide a quick outline of the extent of the school transport service. School transport, as the Minister of State has already outlined, is a very significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. In the 2018-19 school year, over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, were transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million km at a cost of over €200 million in 2018.
The purpose of the school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school, as determined by the Department or Bus Éireann, having regard to ethos and language.
All children who are eligible for school transport and completed the application process on time have been accommodated on school transport services for the current 2019-20 school year. Children who are not eligible for school transport may apply for transport on a concessionary basis and are facilitated, where spare seats exist, after eligible children have been accommodated. Where the number of ineligible children exceeds the number of spare seats available, Bus Éireann allocates tickets using an agreed selection process. We use a lottery system, as already outlined by Senator Lombard.
Growth in numbers of children availing of special educational needs transport is a notable development in recent years. The cost of special educational needs transport has grown from €58 million in 2012 to over €106 million in 2018. The school transport provision for children with special educational needs now accounts for over 50% of the total cost of the scheme while catering for some 12% of the overall number of children transported.
Recently the Minister for Education and Skills sanctioned an additional €1 million for the school transport budget to allow for temporary alleviation measures to temporarily increase the capacity for concessionary seats on the post-primary scheme for the current school year. The cost of these measures has been given to those areas where there was a significant concentration of post-primary children who had paid on time for the 2019-20 school year and are attending their second closest school.
In October 2019, the Minister announced a review of the school transport scheme with a view to ensuring that funds are being spent in the most effective way to meet the objectives of the scheme. The terms of reference and scope of the review are being considered by officials in the Department right now. It is expected that a cross-departmental steering group led by the Department of Education and Skills will be established shortly to oversee the review. I fully expect that Members of the Oireachtas and, indeed, members of the public will be allowed to make submissions to that review.
On behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, I thank the Senator for raising this matter and for affording me the opportunity to provide an outline of the extent of the school transport scheme and the upcoming review.
I thank the Minister of State. A supplementary, Senator.
I welcome the response, which is important. Earlier I spoke about the frustration felt by parents. This issue is about good hardworking people doing so much. The amount of work that is required is going to be immense in many ways but it is important that the review happens and that people have an opportunity to make submissions.
I thank the Senator. Does the Minister of State wish to comment further?
Community Employment Schemes Supervisors
I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for coming here today. This matter is not part of his remit but I know he will convey my concerns to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
I have been contacted by a number of community employment (CE) supervisors in the past few weeks because they feel that their strike in the spring, and the subsequent promises made, have yielded no results. What is being done to support them in their request to recognise their fine work? I ask the Minister of State to discuss why, after more than ten years, they still do not have a pension. CE schemes are designed to help people in long-term unemployment or who are disadvantaged or find it impossible to secure mainstream work in their local communities. The schemes also provide much-needed services in communities throughout the country.
As we all know, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is now responsible for these schemes and there is an ongoing review. I ask the Minister of State to update me on the review. These schemes are in various communities across the country and they provide childcare, elderly care and drug rehabilitation services. The supervisors are a vital part of ensuring that these schemes run effectively.
We, in Fianna Fáil, are acutely cognisant of the deep sense of frustration felt by CE supervisors and assistant supervisors in trying to secure an occupational pension. Promises were made but I am afraid that we are in this situation because of the Government's refusal to respect a recommendation that was made by its own industrial relations mechanism. I am disappointed with the Government's decision to walk away from trade union talks on this very issue and ignore rulings in the same regard. Two judgments are being ignored, one historic and one recent. First, there was a 2008 Labour Court recommendation that as the funding agency was a statutory body, the Government was responsible for the CE supervisors' pensions. Second, there is the more recent Workplace Relations Commission's ruling that the supervisor in question was an employee of the State and, in particular, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and so was entitled to all of the same rights as an employee of the State. This would, in my opinion, indicate a responsibility on the State to provide a pension. This judgment is a matter of public record in that it is available on the WRC's website.
I am aware that a detailed scoping exercise was carried out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2017. Earlier this year, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform told the Dáil that the pension presented significant issues for the Exchequer with a potential cost to the State of between €188 million and €347 million per annum. The Minister stated, during the Dáil debate, that the position of this Government was that State organisations are not the employer for the particular employees concerned, and that it is not for the State to provide funding for such pension provisions. The employees in question are, or were, employees of private companies notwithstanding the fact that the companies concerned are, or were, in receipt of State funding. This is clearly contrary to the LRC's position and the position outlined in the recent WRC ruling. The State hires these supervisors and for all intents and purposes employs them. We need to see this issue for what it is.
SIPTU and Fórsa have written to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform calling on him to urgently convene a meeting of the community sector high level forum to discuss issues of importance within the sector, including funding, pensions and policies. The forum has not met since 2017. Since then the union representatives have expressed a desire to show how the figures referred to by the Minister for Finance in the Dáil debate on the cost of honouring the LRC's pension recommendation are completely inaccurate. It is my view that the State must accept a level of responsibility and engage. It is imperative that a resolution is found without further delay. These are good people who work very hard for the State and they should be entitled to a pension as a just reward for all they have done.
I ask the Minister of State to ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform whether they intend to meet the unions and have meetings with the union representatives, the supervisors and assistant supervisors with a view to creating a process to bring this issue to its finality and to make a pension available even on an incremental basis. I want the Ministers to do something. It is important that the Ministers provide the financial resources to address this issue that has lasted for ten years. I ask the Minister of State to convey all of what I have said to the Ministers and come back to me.
I am taking this Commencement matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty.
Community employment is the largest employment and training programme administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The CE programme was initially established under the aegis of FÁS to enhance the employability of long-term unemployed people by providing work experience and training opportunities for them within their communities.
Its objectives continue to be to provide valuable work experience, including targeted training interventions for the long-term unemployed, and help to prepare them to gain employment.
The CE programme is delivered throughout the community and voluntary sector by independent community employment sponsoring bodies that receive public funding. Participants and supervisors in CE schemes are employees of those independent community employment sponsoring bodies. The Department provides funding in respect of the participants and supervisors' payroll. The Department is not the employer of CE participants or supervisors and such employees are not public servants.
In July 2008, the Labour Court recommended that an agreed pension scheme should be introduced for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors and that such a scheme should be adequately funded by FÁS, which was then responsible for the community employment scheme programme. FÁS was not a party to the LRC case.
On the subject of Exchequer-funded pension provision for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors, the community employment scheme programme is not operated by public bodies or State organisations. Therefore, the State cannot extend pension entitlements or funding to employees of private bodies in a manner that would set a precedent in respect of other employees in private companies that provide services on behalf of the State. CE supervisors and assistant supervisors comprise just one group within the wider community and voluntary sector, and any provision of State funding for such a scheme in respect of those employees could potentially give rise to claims for similar schemes across the broader sector.
The issue of pension provision for CE supervisors was considered by a high-level community sector group chaired by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in 2017. A range of stakeholders, including unions representing CE supervisors, were represented in the group. A detailed scoping exercise was undertaken and included input from the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service on the potential cost of providing Exchequer support for a pension scheme across the wider community and voluntary sector. As Senator Murnane O'Connor has outlined, this exercise estimated a potential cost to the State of between €188 million and €347 million per annum depending on the numbers involved. The scoping exercise clearly illustrated that it is not feasible for the Exchequer to provide pension funding in the amount required.
Earlier this year, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection undertook to engage with unions representing CE supervisors to address issues of concern to their members, and this process is ongoing. All parties to the discussions agreed that the detail of the discussions undertaken by the group should remain confidential until the process had been completed. The Minister is committed to seeking a resolution to this difficult impasse, which I must emphasise has significant and tangible consequences for the Exchequer. She is actively pursuing options to seek a resolution to the impasse.
I welcome the reply. The problem is that there is a lack of information and communication. I ask that supervisors and assistant supervisors are given some information. The timescale is important. I ask the Minister of State to come back to me as soon as possible. Many Senators have received requests for information about this matter. I would appreciate more information. A solution can be found if everyone works together. This matter is of utmost importance. At least I can tell those who have contacted me that the Minister, Deputy Doherty, is trying to find a solution.
I thank the Minister of State. Unfortunately, I am very disappointed to have to say that incidents of anti-social behaviour appear to be on the increase on many of our train routes, including the Sligo to Dublin line. Irish Rail management has admitted as much and conceded to The Irish Times late last year that, "[B]oth employee reports and customer feedback do confirm that there has been an increase in the number of anti-social behaviour incidents over the past 18 months". According to figures recently obtained by the Longford Leader under a freedom of information request, 86 alleged incidents of anti-social behaviour occurred on the Sligo to Dublin Connolly network over the past two years, an average of two incidents a week on the line. That is unacceptable by any measure. Anyone who, like me, uses that train regularly has witnessed some form of anti-social behaviour.
As we know, anti-social behaviour can take many forms. It can include verbal abuse, intimidation, drunkenness, vandalism, drug use and assaults. Yesterday, I listened to an interview with a Sligo solicitor on Ocean FM who expressed safety concerns for passengers on the Sligo to Dublin route. Having witnessed a number of incidents in recent years, the solicitor noted that the most recent involved an altercation between a teenager and two drunken men on the train which led to gardaí boarding the train. I read a newspaper report yesterday that stated that Irish Rail received several complaints of harassment on the Dublin to Westport line. This is clearly unacceptable.
It is an intolerable situation and it begs the question as to what exactly Irish Rail is doing to combat this thuggish behaviour, whether it is on the Sligo line or any other network. We simply cannot have a situation whereby decent, law-abiding people are paying good money for rail fares only to be terrorised when they get on board. I join in the calls for additional security to deal with the scourge of disruptive passengers.
As the Minister of State knows, many proposals have been floated, including the introduction of security personnel, as seen on the Luas, and specialised Garda units. There have even been calls for a dedicated transport police unit to be put in place.
I understand that Irish Rail has plans to introduce a text alert system along with the installation of CCTV in all carriages. We have to protect all of our rail passengers from this appalling behaviour. I look forward to the Minister of State outlining what Irish Rail is doing and what other measures it could put in place to deal with this widespread problem.
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. I thank Senator Feighan for his question on what is a very serious matter and one that has very much come to the fore in recent times. While the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, the safety and security of public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, where appropriate. Furthermore, while the Minister, Deputy Ross, and I are of course concerned about ensuring that the necessary arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff across the entire transport network, including the Sligo to Dublin rail line, the allocation of all Garda resources, including the manner in which Garda personnel are deployed, is solely a decision for the Garda Commissioner and his management team.
Following representations from the National Bus and Rail Union on this matter, officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport wrote to the three CIÉ companies seeking their views on the issue of anti-social behaviour and ensuring the safety of passengers and staff. In their responses, all three companies stressed their strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána. larnród Éireann confirmed that its annual spend on security rose from €4.1 million in 2017 to €4.5 million in 2018 and is projected to rise again this year to €4.7 million. The company has successively increased security personnel in mobile on-board teams and static security at stations over the past 18 to 24 months. Furthermore, CCTV is available on the vast majority of trains and has successfully been used on numerous occasions in securing prosecutions. CCTV coverage is also in place in stations.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to seek his views on how the issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport system could best be addressed. Last month, the Minister, Deputy Ross, received a response from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, outlining the recommendations of a report that he had received from An Garda Síochána on the issue of anti-social behaviour. The letter advised that An Garda Síochána does not propose to establish a specialist or dedicated unit of the force to police the rail network and further stated that effective local community policing efforts can meet the policing needs of the rail network and its stakeholders.
As part of this, An Garda Síochána's superintendent of community engagement and public safety liaises regularly with the chairman of the Railway Safety Advisory Council and will attend future meetings, as requested, of the RSAC, which includes representatives of the rail companies and trade unions. The superintendent has also undertaken to arrange meetings between local Garda management and public transport providers in respect of any identified locations where significant crime and anti-social behaviour persist. Such meetings will enable discussion of the delivery of an appropriate policing response in collaboration with transport providers.
Gardaí will be assigned responsibility and accountability for the community policing of a relevant area under the new community policing framework, which is currently being rolled out. A local community garda will be assigned responsibility for liaison with transport services' local site managers in identified hotspots. The superintendent of community engagement and public safety is to arrange delivery of crime prevention advice to local transport service providers, where requested, via the network of national crime prevention officers.
Furthermore, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has been advised that the superintendent will provide advice on community policing engagement, crime prevention, diversity and hate crime to management and staff at the main public transport providers, as was done in a presentation to Transdev, which operates the Luas, in a presentation in January of this year.
The Railway Safety Advisory Council and the Garda have agreed to keep these actions under review and subject to an annual meeting between the council and the superintendent of community engagement and public safety. The partnership approach between An Garda Síochána and the rail companies to promote high visibility and strong community engagement on the rail network resulted in Operation Twintrack on 13 September where gardaí were deployed to 12 rail stations nationally, along with high-visibility patrolling of rail stations and Luas routes.
Iarnród Éireann is introducing customer service officers on board all intercity routes. While the primarily focus of these roles is customer service, they will ensure that customers can alert personnel on board to any issues and allow for security or Garda resources to be sought as required.
Clearly the top priority for Irish Rail should be the protection, health and safety of its passengers. I look forward to Irish Rail continuing to place this at the very top of its agenda. There needs to be zero tolerance for persons carrying out anti-social behaviour on our rail network. I hope Irish Rail will take that into account.
On another note, I raise a less serious issue which it is still very important. I hope Irish Rail is actively addressing the patchy quality of its on-board Wi-Fi service. Paying customers deserve a better service and I will raise the matter in due course at the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, of which I am a member.
Family Support Services
I thank the Minister for coming to the Seanad this morning. I thank her for engaging with me on her availability and I appreciate the effort she made to be here this morning.
The F2 Centre in Fatima, Dublin 8, is a community-based family resource centre doing valuable work for a disadvantaged community in the south-west inner city. There have been a number of issues with the family support services provided to that community by the Rialto Springboard project. The board of management was informed on 18 November that the family support service would be relocated from the Rialto centre to its own offices, which has caused extreme alarm and concern in the local community.
The service was founded in 2001 with strong community involvement in governance of the project, including recruitment. In 2007, staff members from statutory organisations were withdrawn from community-based management boards which has had an impact on the integration dimension of the project. The project continued to carry out its responsibilities as a board, including the supervision of the project manager who in turn supervised staff and brought any staff and HR matters to the board of management for support. However, in September 2007 a new manager was appointed by Tusla. The board of management was excluded from the recruitment process, which was a radical departure from previous procedures. The relationship between the new manager appointed with new community involvement and the voluntary board has been problematic to say the least. It can, therefore, be no coincidence that Tusla then decided to terminate the service level agreement effective from the end of this month.
While disappointing, members of the community could manage the change as it they were repeatedly assured by Tusla that the family support service would stay in the Fatima centre. For this reason, the announcement that Tusla is relocating the service from the community centre to its own premises as a cost-saving measure was even more of a shock. I struggle to believe that cost savings are the motivation here. The service needs to stay in Fatima. I understand Dublin City Council has communicated regarding keeping the service there and I urge Tusla to engage. Tusla has also claimed the service was too locally focused, which is bizarre as Tusla's own policy supports community-based centres.
There are ongoing staffing issues at the centre. Of four project workers, two have been out sick since February, one handed in their notice and the last has made a complaint. I suggest the HR issues are the real motivation here and it is not fair to the project to claim that cost-saving is the motivation.
A meeting will take place tomorrow between Tusla and community representatives. A strong intervention from the Minister could help keep this service in the community. I urge her to intervene. As those in the community wanted to engage rather than just resist, they have an alternative proposal ready to go for Tusla to allow the service to be kept in the Fatima centre. I urge the Minister to ask Tusla to accept and engage in that process.
The local community is losing a valuable family support service, provided in an integrated support setting. The dedicated staff who have worked for years and in some cases over a decade with the community are left in a very precarious situation.
I urge the Minister to intervene. I have received many letters from parents who avail of that service and benefit from its localised work in an area of significant disadvantage. I remember the family resource centre being developed. From very early on, I was on the canal communities task force which dealt with the regeneration of Fatima. It is a purpose-built building. It is not appropriate to change the structure now when it is doing this work. I would be happy to share with the Minister's office the letters from the families who avail of the service. It is important to listen to their advice in any discussions that might take a service out of a community that has suffered from decades of poverty and inequality.
I thank the Senator for raising the issue and I welcome the opportunity to respond. She wrote to me last week on this issue and I appreciate her concern. I have also received a number of representations from other public representatives on this matter, including the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, Deputies Ó Snodaigh, Bríd Smith and Joan Collins and Councillor Michael Watters. All the representations I have received express grave concern as to what are seen as a potential loss of an important community resource as a result of a decision taken by Tusla. It is important to note that there has been no final decision.
Since becoming aware of these concerns, my Department has sought clarification from the chief executive of Tusla. I needed clarity on the decision to move the Rialto Springboard project family support service from the current arrangements with the F2 Centre. I want to know what is happening and to seek assurance that there will be no loss of service to the area concerned. I hope that what I can tell the House today will be of some assurance in this regard. Tusla administers and provides funding to a number of family support services, including family resource centres, as well as prevention, partnership and family support and parenting information. Tusla is fully committed to growing the Springboard Project for the whole of Dublin 8 in order to better meet the needs of the whole community, including Fatima and Rialto.
The socioeconomic needs of the Dublin 8 area have been fully researched and evidenced in Tusla's Dublin south central area directorate.
This was done by means of a baseline survey and additional research commissioned by the Dublin south children and young people's services committee to identify the needs of the community. We are well aware of the evidence.
I am informed that meetings have taken place between Tusla's regional service director, Tusla's area manager for Dublin South-Central and the voluntary board of management of the F2 Centre. At these meetings, concerns regarding the current governance structure were outlined. This is particularly in the context of all of the Rialto Springboard project staff being directly employed by Tusla, including the manager. I understand that a further meeting between senior management from Tusla and the manager of the F2 Centre to discuss concerns will take place in the coming days.
Tusla has advised me that the structure of the board of management of the F2 Centre does not meet the requirements necessary for the growth, development and sustainability of the Springboard project for the wider Dublin 8 community. It is concerned the service was not meeting the needs of families who are being referred for family support services by social workers. In the Dublin South-Central area, Tusla has implemented a number of changes within the prevention, partnership and family support structure. This includes the development of a child and family support network, which seeks to develop inter-agency relationships and to use projects such as Rialto Springboard to identify families and children in need of support and intervention. We need to ensure a more timely response to families in need in Dublin 8 and this is how we are trying to do this. That is what has been said to me.
The manager of the Rialto Springboard project has consulted widely with families and children currently in receipt of services from Springboard in respect of the proposed changes. Assurances have been given that work already taking place with those families will continue. By temporarily relocating the Springboard project close to the Rialto area, Tusla believes the service will also be able to make savings in respect of a recent rent review undertaken by the F2 Centre, as the Senator indicated. These savings can and will be invested back into the project to enhance services for the entire Dublin 8 area.
It is essential to note that there is no planned cessation of services for families in the community. Tusla is working to improve and grow the service for the whole area extending beyond the areas of Fatima and Rialto. Tusla is working with other agencies in Dublin 8 to expand the Rialto Springboard project to include existing regeneration projects in the area. This will improve responses to the needs of families in the community, such as children affected by the regeneration of Dolphin House where Rialto Springboard has been more present this year. The work of other Departments and agencies in a range of State-supported community-based services associated with Rialto and Fatima is also highly relevant to the well-being of children and young people.
As the Senator knows, this work could not succeed without a major effort on the part of the large number of volunteers who give their time in various ways to make their communities better. I acknowledge the important contribution of all volunteers in that community and throughout the country. It is important that all State bodies co-operate to meet the needs of service users and achieve the best possible outcomes. I place a very high value on community-based family support services.
I reiterate that there has been no final decision on this. My office is engaging directly with Tusla at a senior level to ensure that the way forward meets the needs of the community. Our ultimate aim is to provide more services, better and more timely services for families in Dublin 8. I will be kept informed of all developments.
I accept the Minister's indication that this is not a final decision. However, Tusla's analysis is a little unfair. There is much happening in communities across Dublin. If I am honest, this case mirrors some of that and there is local knowledge and autonomy that has existed for ten, 20 or 30 years in the community. There are strong advocates and community workers. People who have dedicated their entire lives to the communities they serve. If we are to think that they should not, in a sense, serve beyond the locality of the F2 building, we must look at whether resources should be put into other family resource centres in different communities. It sounds like Tusla was referring to the fact that this organisation does not meet all the needs in the wider Dublin 8 area. It is a conversation worth having but it should not happen on the back of a community-based initiative being ripped out of the heart of Fatima. There are requirements in communities where we need extra family support, including either agencies or workers.
On the idea of a satellite programme for parents, I know the community and have worked in the canal communities. Travelling beyond Fatima or Dolphin House might not seem like a big task to some people but it is to many parents who have a short amount of time in the day and who may have very chaotic lives. Having the F2 Centre providing a family resource worker and service is crucial to these parents. We need to shift the conversation between now and whenever a decision is made to how we can ensure all communities will have family resource services within their communities. It is not that we need a more centralised service that everybody will have to travel to. That removes the local community knowledge and the essence of what is community development and work. It is about being able to reach out in a community. Satellite programmes do not have individuals who have lived and worked in those communities and who can engage with some of the hardest to reach families in those communities of Dolphin House, Dublin 8 and the surrounding areas. Centralising this with Tusla having a satellite programme would remove a bridge that exists between the communities that are hardest to reach and Tusla as an agency that is trying to provide a service. It is why the workers in Fatima are crucial to keeping that connection between State and community open.
It feels that there is a bit of a fight currently to ensure that some of the State agencies continue to acknowledge the relevance, hard work and value of community projects in particular areas. I do not want that pull that we feel is happening in many of those communities to continue.
I have listened very carefully to everything the Senator said in both of her contributions. I appreciate all the dimensions she identifies, the passion with which she speaks and the knowledge she brings to the subject.
I know our time is short but I have some comments. The Senator indicated that the board of management was excluded from the recruitment process. Everything she said will be noted. I was trying to outline in my initial comments that relocation does not mean that services will not be delivered. I have heard the Senator's comments about serving the whole of Dublin 8 versus a local service, or satellite and centralised services. She has argued that resources must stay in their communities and leave local community knowledge where it is. I will ask Tusla to ensure that it takes this into account and that it be committed to such practice.
From what I have said and what I understand, there have been some governance issues and that is part of what has gone on in the project. Having said that, I know the Senator has said the community has an alternative proposal. This may involve moving beyond ensuring the bridge to better services in the community, about which the Senator spoke very eloquently. I will ask Tusla to engage with the parties to hear those alternative proposals. I am happy to receive the letters mentioned by the Senator and I will pass them to Tusla if it does not have them already.
I have begun the review sought by the Senator. We have engaged with those at the highest level in Tusla. We are waiting to hear about the ongoing process before a final decision is made. Let us see what happens. Tusla is in a new era of leadership and is trying to achieve reform in the right way. That is happening. I have confidence in that but, at the same time, it is important that the Senator and other public representatives raise these matters. I will keep my eye on the matter and stay in touch with the Senator in respect of it.