Topical Issue Debate

Radio Broadcasting

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter and the Minister for attending to respond. This issue is the funding of local radio. Over the course of the last 20 years no other medium in this country has expanded as rapidly to the four corners of the island as local radio.

There are 34 or 35 local radio stations operating in the Republic of Ireland at present but their access to funding from the State is very limited, to say the least. The Sound & Vision scheme, which is funded from the licence fee, is approximately 7% of the total licence fee take. In that scheme very strict guidelines are imposed on the local media providers in terms of how that funding can be drawn down. These businesses have not been immune to the downturn in the economy over the last few years and many of them have experienced significant cutbacks in terms of their employment. They employ hundreds of people across the country. They have lobbied and been anxious for a period of time that the Government would honour its commitment in the programme for Government to undertake a review of the funding of broadcasting to ensure a viable sector for both independent and State-owned broadcasters.

The current provision under the Sound & Vision scheme is limited very much to programmes that can be provided primarily in the areas of history, culture and the Irish language. Indeed, most of the funding from that scheme is granted to the existing State-owned media outlets and a very small proportion of it ends up being utilised on local media outlets. In many parts of the country, not least in my own, local radio is by far the most listened to and most used form of media on a daily basis, and there is a need for the Government and the Minister to ensure that the sector remains viable into the future.

I hope the Minister will have some positive news in that regard. I will take the opportunity afterwards to respond to his comments.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Government policy is to encourage and support a diverse media that serves all of the people. Licence fee funding for public service broadcasting provides an independent and reliable income, which allows the two public service broadcasters - RTE and TG4 - to meet their public service objectives with a high level of editorial independence. This is especially important in the context of news and current affairs. Under the dual funding model, RTE is statutorily obliged to use its commercial revenues to further subsidise its public service obligations.

All public, community and independent commercial broadcasters can access public funding from the broadcasting funding scheme mentioned by the Deputy, which encourages programming on Irish culture, heritage, adult literacy and global issues. Funded by 7% of net television licence fee receipts, Sound & Vision II funded 477 projects, worth over €3.6 million, from commercial radio stations. This represented 40% of the total radio allocation. By contrast, allocations to public service broadcasting stations from the fund in the same period were worth less than €1 .6 million or 18% of the total.

I fully recognise the contribution that the commercial sector makes to broadcasting in Ireland, but I remain to be convinced that the further distribution of public funds to independent commercial broadcasters, beyond the supports that already exist, would represent good public or broadcasting policy. The net effect of such a move would be to reduce the amount of funding available to all other broadcasters, community and public, and I see little logic in this proposition in the current circumstances.

I recently published an economic analysis of the Irish advertising market, which was undertaken by Indecon as part of the Government's response to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's five year review of the funding of public service broadcasting. It is now my intention to put forward a number of proposals for amending the current regulatory framework for advertising. In regard to commercial radio advertising, I am proposing to give the BAI oversight and control of the amount of advertising minutage allowed to such broadcasters. I expect that this will provide more flexibility than in the current situation, where the amount of permitted minutage is effectively set in stone. I will also put forward amendments to ensure that the BAI's reviews of public service broadcasting funding will always take account of the impact of its recommendations on the broader advertising market.

I believe that these proposed changes will lead to a more sustainable advertising regulatory framework for all broadcasters which, in the context of an improving economy, should assist in delivering a viable future for everyone in the sector.

I cannot say I am entirely satisfied with the Minister's response. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to review the system, and the Minister has outlined some of the changes he proposes to make. However, it has been brought to my attention with regard to the Sound & Vision fund, which is the 7% figure I mentioned earlier, that the funding for individual television projects tends to be in the range of over €100,000, whereas funding for radio projects tends to be in the €4,000 to €5,000 category. The reality is that for many communities, individuals and families in this country, their local radio station is their supplier of news and current affairs information.

While I understand the limitations of the existing system, I feel the current provision is not adequately reflective of where people actually get their news and current affairs content from. The Minister has outlined some changes in relation to advertising, which are to be welcomed. The recent economic downturn has had a significant effect on local radio providers around the country. Changes in that regard may have an impact into the future, but there is a crunch or pinch situation that exists at present. I suggest that in terms of what the licence fee aims to provide, the allocation received by local independent radio stations, or for which they are eligible to apply, is not reflective of the content produced by such stations on a daily basis. I will probably return to this matter again. I hope the Minister will be in a position to have a rethink on it before he makes any final decisions.

While I am responsible as Minister for these issues in the first instance, they touch on the legislation that is in place. For that reason, a legislative amendment would be required if we were to go down the road being suggested, or at least being suggested for discussion, by the Deputy. I have to say I have some sympathy with the point he has made about radio. As a former radio producer, I fully appreciate the importance of radio, particularly local radio, in the area of news and current affairs and in the area of programming generally. Radio makes a critically important contribution to social and community life in urban and rural areas across the country.

Given that one can achieve so much more bang for one's buck with radio programming, it is sometimes frustrating for people who work in radio to see the huge amounts of money that seem to be spent in the public and private sectors on the production of television programming. That is the point I would make, with the indulgence of the Chair, about the public and private approaches to what radio can do and can achieve. The consideration by any Government of a transfer of public funding to private commercial operators would not be not without controversy and should therefore be given serious consideration by the Oireachtas. At the very minimum, a considerable debate about the circumstances in which we might want to take the licence fee and distribute it across the board to commercial operators would have to take place in this House. We would need to have regard to the likely impact that would have on public service broadcasters and public service broadcasting. It is natural that the withdrawal of resources from public service broadcasting will have an impact.

I understand the issues raised by the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland and the various radio stations around the country, many of which have suffered greatly as a result of the impact of the recession. I want to see this sector thriving. It is very much part of my thinking to ensure it grows and thrives, but not at the expense of the public sector. We should be able to configure our funding arrangements and our regulatory system, in relation to advertising minutage and so on, in a way that ensures we do not seek to improve one sector by taking resources away from another sector. I will be quite happy to return to this issue with the Deputy and with others in this House. I reiterate that it is extremely important for us to support broadcasting generally and ensure both the public and private sectors can survive and thrive into the future.

Schools Establishment

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for permitting this important issue, which focuses on the urgent need to secure approval for a new secondary school in Kinnegad, to be addressed on the floor of the Dáil this evening. It is important that this matter reaches the Dáil, as it has done in the past by means of the parliamentary questions I have been persistent in raising.

My colleague, Mr. Denis Leonard, who is a former member of Westmeath County Council, remains a tremendously dedicated community activist despite his defeat in the local elections last May. His loss from electoral politics has been severely felt. He has been and remains at the vanguard of a campaign to establish a new secondary school in Kinnegad, which is now the third largest town in County Westmeath with a population of approximately 3,000 and the demographics associated with an expanding population. It has experienced a rapid increase in population and continues to grow from a demographic perspective. This augments the case and makes a persuasive argument for a new school. Mr. Leonard, who was a councillor at the time, was not behind the door in June 2011 when he let us all know in no uncertain fashion that he was greatly disappointed and annoyed by the failure to include Kinnegad in that month's announcement of 40 new school projects to be completed by the end of 2017 as part of the public capital schools programme.

This failure was particularly disappointing in the context of the N4-M4 study, which was conducted by the Department in 2004. The 2004 report advised that a site should be specifically reserved for the development of a secondary school in Kinnegad to cater for a projected enrolment of more than 700 students in the long term. Indeed, it referred specifically to post-2011 needs; in other words, the requirements we have now. As I have said, the population of Kinnegad has doubled since then. It is now the third largest town in County Westmeath and its population is still increasing.

Approximately 560 pupils are attending the excellent St. Etchen's primary school in Kinnegad. Significant numbers of new students are starting there in September. There are five primary schools, with an average of approximately 100 pupils per school, within six miles of the town. Children in the general Kinnegad area attend approximately nine different secondary schools, some of which are approaching maximum numbers because their own immediate catchment areas are population growth centres as well. Many of these schools are also stretched from an accommodation perspective.

Unlike some people who have shown a belated interest in the need for a secondary school in Kinnegad, I have not come to this topic recently. As long ago as 2006, I tabled a parliamentary question to the then Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin, calling for a school to be put in place in Kinnegad by 2011 on the basis of the then population projections for the Kinnegad area. In response, the then Minister said:

The local area development plan for the N4/M4 corridor outlines my Department's long-term educational strategy at both primary and post-primary level for the area concerned. The recommendations in the plan are being considered in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme from 2006 onwards subject to the prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects.

When I contacted the then area manager of Westmeath County Council - the late great George Lambden - to seek a response from the council to the need for a site to be acquired for a secondary school in Kinnegad, he indicated that the council would be willing to meet officials from the then Department of Education and Science to discuss the matter and said that a site could be identified if the Department were prepared to purchase it. In 2006, the then vocational education committee confirmed that the subject of a secondary school for Kinnegad had come up for discussion with the Minister of State's Department when future educational infrastructure developments were being reviewed.

Things have progressed positively at local level since then. I am aware that approximately 17 acres of suitable land are now available at a very reasonable price. A smaller acreage can be bought if that is what is required. More importantly, this specific land is zoned as "educational" in the county development plan and an access road has been constructed adjacent to the local primary school. It is perfectly located from a strategic perspective, in terms of the clustering of educational infrastructure. It is clear that the closer to each other the primary and secondary schools are, the more they will complement each other.

I do not need to over-elaborate as I spell out how important and vital a secondary school would be to the future development of the Kinnegad area and its large geographical hinterland. It would allow young people to attend secondary school in their own localities. As a consequence, it would give them a greater sense of local community. It would allow them to have opportunities to contribute to the community as young citizens through school programmes. It would ensure young students, who are at the heart of the community, do not have to leave the local area every day to secure their secondary education. It would minimise the strain on the school transport system and lead to savings for parents who currently have to pay for school transport. This is another issue that is often referred to locally, as school transport costs represent a significant drain on the hard-pressed budgets of parents.

On behalf of the citizens and the community of Kinnegad, I request that the commitment given to the provision of a secondary school in Kinnegad be honoured. That is no more and no less than what the people of the area deserve.

On behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and giving me an opportunity to remind the House of the significant challenges we face in meeting increasing demand for pupil places throughout the country in the coming years and to explain how this will be addressed.

We remain in an era of significant growth in the school going cohort at both primary and post-primary level.

At post-primary level, it is projected that almost 33,000 extra places will be needed between 2013 and 2020. Post-primary enrolment is set to continue to rise until 2025 at least with some 71,698 extra places being needed between 2013 and that time. Up to 2020, this increase in pupil numbers at post-primary level is the equivalent of up to 33 new 1,000 pupil post-primary schools.

The Deputy probably knows the Department uses a geographical information system, GIS, to identify where the pressure for school places will arise. The GIS uses data from the Central Statistics Office, Ordnance Survey Ireland, and the Department of Social Protection in addition to the Department's databases. It also uses data from local authorities.

With this information, the Department is in the process of carrying out a nationwide demographic analysis to determine where additional post-primary accommodation may be needed from 2017 onwards. This is a significant exercise and is continuing. When the exercise has been completed arrangements will be made to make additional accommodation available where it is needed. However, the needs of the Kinnegad area are included in this nationwide demographic review.

In June 2011, the Minister announced the need for the establishment of some 20 new post-primary schools to cater for increased demographics across a number of locations up to 2017. This announcement did not include a proposal to establish a new post-primary school in Kinnegad, as the demographics of the area did not support the need for a new second level school.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. The Minister for Education and Skills should consider the M4 study, which indicated that between 2011 and 2017 the demographic need was pressing. One can always get a set of criteria to suit whatever outcome one wants to achieve. There are very few primary schools outside a major urban centre with 560 pupils. In the satellite areas for five miles around it, there are five primary schools, each with 100 pupils. Kinnegad is on the eastern side of Westmeath, the envelope of Westmeath and is a beautiful town. A secondary school in Kinnegad would also facilitate students from just across the county boundary in Meath. The demographics are extremely positive. A huge influx of people came into the area in the early 2000s up to 2008.

The county development plan provided for that influx. It also provided for the designation of an area consistent with the M4 study to be zoned for education. The land is there. The Minister will never again have the opportunity to get this land. It is very reasonable. Nobody is trying to gazump anybody else. It is available at a fixed price and is adjacent to the primary school, a complementary location. It will be very disappointing if an opportunity like this is not taken.

There is a population of approximately 3,000 in Kinnegad with a significant cohort of young people. This increases to 5,000 when the hinterland is included. St. Etchen's is one of the largest rural primary schools, accommodating 560 pupils. There is a strong and compelling case to make sure Kinnegad is not bypassed on this occasion and gets the secondary school it deserves. It is important for the third largest town, which is expanding, in Westmeath. The people there are willing to put their shoulders to the wheel to make sure this becomes a reality.

I urge the Department of Education and Skills to stop its usual foot-dragging tactics. It always allows the egg to be cracked and then tries to unscramble it. It has the opportunity to buy land at a very reasonable price that is designated for educational infrastructure. Now is the time. Studies are only exercises in procrastination, obfuscation and delay. There is no need for any more studies of demographics. The Department can check with Matt Melvin and the other teachers there, who will tell it about the study. I do not want any more foot-dragging on this. It is time that it was brought, and driven, forward. I ask the Minister of State to relay that to the Minister for Education and Skills. I will certainly take every opportunity of doing so to ensure that the voice of the people of Kinnegad, who deserve a secondary school, is heard.

I take on board what the Deputy has said. Schools and their proper planning are very important in communities. I have heard what the Deputy has said and will convey his concerns to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan.

Homeless Accommodation Funding

I thank the Minister of State for taking this topical issue. Last week it was reported that €50 million, required by Dublin City Council to deal with the homeless crisis, had not been paid or allocated to the council by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I spoke to council officials this week and there has been no progress on this. The €50 million in question is €42 million for homeless services and €8 million to refurbish council homes which are vacant. This comes against the backdrop of unprecedented numbers of people becoming homeless, huge demand for emergency accommodation and social housing and a shortage of private rental properties.

Forty new families become homeless a month, mostly due to soaring rent levels which are completely unregulated. There are 1,000 children in emergency accommodation, 150 or so people sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin and over 20,000 unable to find affordable and suitable housing. In regard to housing the only place there is no shortage is the press office of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Every week it seems there is an announcement of money already announced with more details but somehow less actual information. This strategy is to confuse the public and give the media pre-written column inches without any substance in the hope it will not look deeper. It does not need too deep a look as the Government's plan is very shallow indeed. Despite false claims of billions being spent on housing, this is a six year plan for a Government with only approximately six months to live.

What is behind the headline? This Government plans to build just 167 homes in the next two and a half years in this city. This is creative accounting masking callous inactivity. The real figures show less than a third of planned funding for this and the following two years will actually go to real social housing. The rest is a transfer of funding from rent supplement to the slightly different housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. This Government is doing less and less to provide housing. We need commitments and action on real change; a commitment to increase emergency bed capacity; to maintain 50% housing allocation for the homeless in Dublin; to create a one-stop shop in local authorities for homeless and at risk tenants; to introduce a fair rent system of regulation to end the flow of tenants into homelessness; to invest in building thousands more social houses every year; and to admit that we face a national emergency due to our housing shortage and that serious, strong and even drastic measures are needed to ensure the public good is served and the right to housing protected. Even this morning I saw more homeless people in my offices, once again forced out of the rental market because we have not introduced rent controls or dealt with the soaring prices in Dublin.

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue because it allows us to outline exactly what this Government is doing in its social housing strategy. A total of €64 million has been allocated in the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency for the housing strategy. In all my years of living in Carlow-Kilkenny I have not heard of such an allocation being made by previous Administrations.

On 1 April last, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, announced provisional funding allocations totalling €1.5 billion for all local authorities to meet the delivery targets set out in the social housing strategy for the years until 2017. This funding will be invested in a combination of building, buying and leasing schemes by local authorities and will result in a 25% reduction nationally on housing waiting lists.

The targets are ambitious and must be backed up with resources - hence the importance of the provisional funding allocations that were also announced. The allocation of €1.5 billion is a significant commitment by the Government to support delivery of social housing by local authorities and others. The Government followed up the setting of three-year targets by approving, on 5 May last, the largest social housing construction endeavour for many years. This €312 million investment covers all 31 local authorities and will result in 1,700 housing units being built across approximately 100 separate projects. The announcement, the first of its kind under the social housing strategy, will be followed by further announcements.

Headline allocations have been made in respect of social housing targets for all local authorities until 2017. In addition, allocations to local authorities in respect of a number of specific areas of housing activity have been made or are being finalised. The Minister has made an additional €10.5 million available nationally for homeless accommodation and related services in 2015. This increase in funding of more than 20% brings the Exchequer contribution this year to €55.5 million. The 2015 regional allocations are being finalised and will be confirmed shortly.

The Department has secured increases in funding in important areas such as disability grants and supports for older people. These apply both to local authority tenants and the support local authorities provide to private home owners to make adaptations which enable older people or persons with a disability to remain in their homes. Further allocations in respect of energy efficiency upgrades for local authority housing will be made shortly, bringing benefits to householders through reduced fuel bills.

On the issue of tackling vacant social housing units, I want local authorities to continue to effectively address this challenge. The Department continues to provide Exchequer support for this work and will soon announce a new round of targets and funding. The social housing strategy makes clear, however, that this funding will be linked to local authorities having in place ongoing maintenance programmes to address the issue of vacant properties. Local authorities need to make social houses available to new tenants as quickly as possible. Given the rental income available to them, they should be able to quickly find new tenants for the majority of units that become vacant.

I am confident that all these measures, for which the Government is providing increased resources, are tackling social housing with an increased focus and vigour.

The Department has clearly not got the message that there is a major crisis in housing. The Government announced a package of €3.8 billion over six years, with €2.5 billion provided in the first three years and €1.3 billion available for the three subsequent years. However, the Government is unlikely to be in office for much more than another six months.

Instead of building social housing, local authorities are entering leasing and rental arrangements and relying on schemes such as the housing assistance payment.

The Government woke up a little after the death of Jonathan Corrie. I attended one emergency meeting after another on homelessness after Mr. Corrie's death and 268 places were subsequently provided for single homeless persons. However, the problem has worsened since the death of Jonathan Corrie, with 40 families being made homeless every month. In response to the crisis, the Government has allocated money for long-term projects that will take a number of years to deliver. Emergency measures are required immediately to tackle the scandal of 1,000 children sleeping in homeless accommodation every night. Some of these children must travel across Dublin to a hotel or bed and breakfast accommodation each night and travel back across town every morning to attend school. This is costly and is placing serious pressure on families.

Time out of number, I have asked the Minister questions on financial contributions, yet he has still not provided me with figures. He should apply pressure to local authorities to introduce financial contributions. Dublin City Council and other local authorities are starting to buy properties, both new and old. We have a problem which needs to be addressed urgently.

The Government very much does get the message. An allocation of €1.5 billion is not an insignificant sum. Is Deputy Ellis arguing that councils should not buy properties to house people?

That was not my point.

In that case, I misconstrued his comment.

Local authorities will not be left short where they present clear, realistic and deliverable social housing proposals that are in line with the social housing strategy. A further demonstration of the Government's commitment to the strategy is its decision to sanction the hiring of additional local authority staff to support the delivery of social housing. Where a social housing is unable to deliver social housing because it is short of staff, the Minister has agreed to provide staff to ensure there are no blockages in the system.

The recent announcement of new social housing building projects will address housing need and provide approximately 3,000 jobs in the construction sector. Not only will these projects provide support for people on housing waiting lists but they will also support jobs in the economy. There are signs that the economic recovery is taking hold. On the back of economic growth and with the implementation of the actions set out in the social housing strategy, the Government is optimistic that we will deliver on the targets we have set for social housing and this will have a significant impact on housing waiting lists.

People who are dependent on the local authority for housing also visit my constituency office. Local authorities can lease or buy properties. By pursuing this "build, buy and lease" approach, the Minister is ensuring that we do not have to wait for social housing units to be built.

Domestic Violence Refuges Provision

I thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, for coming to the House to listen to my concerns regarding the future of the Westmeath Support Service Against Domestic Abuse. The service, which helps very vulnerable people, was recently informed by Tusla that it will not receive further funding from the end of June and now faces closure. I ask the Minister to intervene to protect funding for this valuable service.

I will give one example of an experience shared by a domestic abuse victim. She writes:

My moment of truth came when I saw my two young children hiding under the kitchen table during an "argument" with their father. I remember seeing four little frightened eyes peering out from under the table and in that moment I realised that this wasn't just about me. It was damaging the children as well.

Organisations such as the Westmeath Support Service Against Domestic Abuse step in to provide a voice in the wilderness. The service is client-centred and cost-effective and is managed by Ms Ann Foley who has built up a valuable relationship over many years with the Courts Service, solicitors, the Garda, social welfare and housing services and others. This has allowed her to ensure timely interventions are made where and when they become necessary. As the Minister is aware, crisis intervention frequently requires a fast response.

On 7 May last, Ms Foley received a stark letter from Tusla in which the organisation informed her, without consultation, that it would cease funding the service she provides at the end of June. This abrupt notification is unacceptable, as was the ruthless manner in which Ms Foley was given a month's notice to shut down the service she provides. She is suddenly faced with having her meagre funding of €49,000 per annum withdrawn.

I want to inform the Minister today that this service provides a holistic service for those, primarily women, who are suffering from domestic violence.

The Minister should remember too that this is also Ms Foley's job. She has children and a mortgage and effectively, she has been told by Tusla that her job is gone. I would like to know where the €49,000 is going and who is going to look after Ms Foley's clients.

I welcome the opportunity to also contribute to this debate and thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important issue.

It is an understatement to say that I am shocked and horrified by the cuts announced by Tusla in the most recent past. Groups which provide support to the most vulnerable members of the community, who at a particular time in their lives need State intervention and support, are receiving savage cuts.

I am not surprised that Tusla had to bring about these cuts because its CEO, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, is on record as saying that he needed an additional €18 million to ensure the day-to-day running of Tusla and to stand still. Unfortunately, the Minister was not able to secure an adequate budget to ensure that Tusla could maintain the services that it provides.

My constituency colleague has highlighted the invaluable work that is being carried out here by Ms Foley in the Westmeath Support Services Against Domestic Abuse. Last year alone, this lady and this group supported 190 women. She has received the endorsement of the Garda, the legal profession, social services, the local authority and even the local judge. Judge Hughes, last year, from the court poor box, gave Ms Foley an additional sum of money because he acknowledges the invaluable work that she has done for 16 years. Then, simply out of the blue, she received a letter pulling the rug from under her feet and from under the feet of the hundreds who used the service for the past 16 years.

Yesterday, Ms Foley came and visited me in my clinic with a person who, thankfully, today is still with us because of the intervention of Ms Foley and because of the support of this service.

The Minister should not worry about the clock being talked down.

I am aware of that. I will deal with that.

The Minister seems more interested in the time being up than listening to the concerns and the ramifications of the policy decisions that the Government has taken in relation to vulnerable persons in a bad situation.

I remind Deputy Troy that we are not allowed to mention somebody outside the House by name, in this case, a judge, and the Deputy is also over time.

I assure Deputy Troy I have no problem with my hearing. There is no need to shout.

The needs of those suffering domestic violence in this country are well known and I certainly would want to see the services that support them supported. I welcome the opportunity to clarify the Government's approach to the funding of domestic violence services in County Westmeath and around the country.

For the first time, with the establishment of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, domestic, sexual and gender-based violence service provision is under one body with clear national direction. We now have a single line of accountability and a consolidated national budget which is reserved for allocation to these particular services. The establishment of Tusla has presented an opportunity to develop new approaches in terms of how best to meet the needs of Ireland's children and families.

Domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services can now be delivered within a broad child and family support framework and this represents a significant change to the previous service delivery model. Tusla is in receipt of Exchequer funding of €643 million in 2015, including over €12 million in capital funding. This represents an increase of over €34 million or 5.6% on 2014. Tusla's budget for the provision of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services will be in excess of €19 million in 2015 as opposed to €17 million.

Tusla has undertaken a comprehensive review of these services over recent months. The purpose was to identify strategic priorities and set out a roadmap for the future delivery of sexual violence and domestic violence services. The review has demonstrated to Tusla that the organisations that provide these services to those who experience domestic violence have operated in difficult environments. They have made huge efforts to maintain services in the face of funding and other challenges. However, Tusla considers, arising from the review, that there is scope for a more co-ordinated and more equitable approach to the provision of these services across the country.

As part of this process, Tusla has reviewed the configuration of domestic violence services in County Westmeath and has identified scope for some degree of re-organisation and reconstitution of services while ensuring continuity for service users. Tusla has assured me that there is no question of services in the county being reduced.

Westmeath Support Services Against Domestic Abuse was in receipt of €47,146 in funding from Tusla last year. In 2015, funding of €23,572 is being allocated with services in the area to be re-configured. Tusla met the organisation on Friday last, 15 May, and has agreed to a further meeting with the organisation to discuss issues regarding continuity of service.

The funding to Westmeath support services is one component of a reconfiguration of domestic violence service provision in County Westmeath. The change in funding arrangements constitutes a re-allocation rather than a reduction in funding and Tusla has committed to enhancing the availability of services to women and children experiencing domestic violence in the Westmeath area. Tusla will continue to engage with stakeholders in County Westmeath around how best to provide domestic violence support services as part of an integrated community-based service and to ensure that responsive services are in place.

At all times, Tusla's key priority is to ensure that the needs of victims of sexual violence are being met in the best way possible. For this reason, the 2015 budget is being directed towards front-line services and ensuring no potential service is disadvantaged because of geography. Tulsa, in reviewing the make up of current services, is seeking to address any identified gaps in services, to avoid duplication of services and to support effective delivery of front-line services nationally.

I want to assure the Deputies that the Government will continue to give a high priority to the provision and development of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services and that Tusla will work closely with service providers in this regard while giving particular priority to supporting front-line services.

I acknowledge the Minister's reply. However, the negative consequences of Tusla's abrupt withdrawal of funding from this organisation cannot be underestimated. If these services are taken away, what are we saying about our compassion for those who are living in horrific circumstances? Surely we must protect such funding rather than take it away from organisations.

On 1 January 2014, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, became an independent legal entity and its key remit was to offer support and protection to families and children. If these funding cuts to vital services represent Tusla's vision, then I plead with the Minister to keep a close eye on other Tusla changes to services which could have a detrimental impact on service users.

I urge the Minister to intervene and ensure the decision on the change of funding be reviewed. Some €49,000 is small money in the scheme of things, as the Minister spoke in his reply of funding of €19 million. The value that we receive for that €49,000 and the local knowledge cannot be measured. I urge him to intervene.

We are talking predominantly about women who have been physically, mentally and sexually abused - some of the most vulnerable members of the community - and the Minister comes back with talk of reconfiguration and rationalisation of services which is terminology for cuts and closures. The Minister mentioned there is no question of services being reduced, but how can that be true when he is taking away 100% of the funding that this organisation has ran on for the past number of years? This follows on train of cuts in funding from the HSE in the past number of years to domestic violence services and cuts to funding for the Commission for the Support for Victims of Crime's domestic court accompaniment service.

The Minister's track record is quite poor in this regard. He needs to personally intervene in this situation to ensure that this service is maintained.

Shame on the Minister if under a Fine Gael and Labour Party Government the funding of a vulnerable service is swiped during a period of national recovery and an improvement in our economic circumstances.

At the risk of repeating myself there are none so deaf as those who will not hear or listen. I have made this very clear, and I refer to Deputy Troy's reference to savage cuts. These are not cuts. This is a redistribution and a reconstitution of a service in the best interests of service-users. There is to be no diminution of service to those who use the service, the victims of domestic violence and abuse.

No one is aware of the alternative on offer.

I did not interrupt the Deputy. In reply to the Deputy's other contentions, talks continue with the organisation to ensure a continuity of care. I wish to reassure Deputy McFadden who is very concerned about the services for those who suffer domestic violence and abuse that they are not being taken away. I wish to emphasise again that I have been assured by Tusla that there will be no reduction in service to service-users and that talks will continue with the organisation to ensure that there will be a continuity of care.

Talks continue and I wish to state again there will not be any reduction in service to service-users. There may be a change in the service which Tusla may consider in terms of a re-organisation of it, but this will give better service to people. This is not to denigrate anyone who has been providing service to date. I am not at liberty to say anything further but I do not rule out the possibility that individuals currently involved would not remain involved.