272. Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans make the text alert facility free of charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5140/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Text Alert Scheme, which was developed with the support of Muintir na Tíre, Neighbourhood Watch and the Irish Farmers Association, was introduced in September 2013. The scheme provides an effective means for Gardaí to distribute local crime prevention information and advice. I understand that approximately 200,000 text messages are sent under the scheme each month.
I am advised that the yearly costs typically incurred by Text Alert groups include affiliation fees with a Text Alert service provider, the cost of issuing text messages to each member of the community who is signed up to receive text alerts as part of their local scheme and some insurance costs.
My Department provides annual funding to Muintir na Tíre in relation to the employment and associated costs of the national Community Alert programme, including the employment of three regional Development Officers. These Development Officers provide support to Community and Text Alert schemes and offer advice on how to establish new schemes. Funding is also provided to offset the costs incurred by community groups including the cost of issuing the text messages under the Text Alert Rebate Scheme.
Funding of up to €150,000 was made available by my Department for local communities towards the cost of running the scheme in each of the years 2017 and 2018. A total of 441 groups received a rebate on the basis of vouched costs. Where documentation was not available but a group had been active during the year, a nominal rebate was offered and the group was encouraged to retain all receipts and documentation relating to monies spent on the local Text Alert scheme in the subsequent year, in order to claim a full amount. At present, there are no plans to change the methodology of how the scheme is funded, but the administration of the scheme is reviewed by my Department on an ongoing basis.
The Garda authorities indicate that Text Alert is an effective crime prevention initiative. The financial support is in keeping with a commitment in the Programme for Government and is a tangible recognition of the considerable voluntary effort which goes into Text Alert and similar community-based schemes.
In addition, I should also mention that, for many years, my Department has supported community crime prevention by providing funding for the Community Alert programme, which is operated by Muintir na Tíre in partnership with the Garda authorities.