Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht
Estimates for Public Services 2016: Vote 33 - Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs
I welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, the Minister of State with responsibility for regional economic development, Deputy Michael Ring, and the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs and natural resources, Deputy Seán Kyne. From the Department I welcome Mr. Seosamh Ó hÁghmaill, Ard-Runaí, Mr. Niall Ó Donnchú, leas runaí, Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh, leas runaí, Mr. William Parnell, principal officer, Mr. Conor Falvey, head of finance, Mr. J. P. Mulherin, Mr. Joe Healy and Ms Breda Moynihan. I thank them for their attendance.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I also advise witnesses that opening statements or any other documentation submitted to the committee will be published on its website following the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I invite the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to make her opening statement.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the joint committee on the performance, expenditure and targets of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht during the first half of 2016.
A gross provision of over €382 million is available to my Department in 2016. In addition, a further €6.158 million in funding was carried over from the 2015 capital provision. Gross total expenditure incurred by the Department to 30 June 2016 was just under €146 million. This expenditure represents 38% of the overall 2016 gross allocation for the Department. The capital carryover of €6.158 million was also expended in full. Total gross expenditure by the Department up to and including 31 August has increased to €195.8 million, or 51% of the overall 2016 allocation.
As members will be aware, this has been a very significant year for the Department. In addition to an expansion of its remit to include responsibility for regional development and rural affairs, a key priority under A Programme for a Partnership Government, 2016 marks the centenary of the Easter 1916 Rising, providing us with an opportunity to remember and reflect on this pivotal event in our history. There were highlights in other programme areas, too, about which my colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Sean Kyne and Michael Ring, and I will speak briefly on a programme by programme basis. We will commence with the arts, culture and film programme and will be happy to expand on any matter members may wish to raise.
Programme A covers the arts, culture and film, for which over €188 million has been provided in 2016, with a capital carryover of further €6.158 million. Total gross expenditure up to 30 June was €82.362 million or 46% of the 2016 programme allocation. The capital carryover of €6.158 million was also expended in full. By 31 August, expenditure had increased to €106.92 million or 59% of the 2016 programme allocation. Owing to the scale and complexity of once-off aspects of the capital and current programmes, some adjustments have been made to allocations within the programme. For example, savings have arisen in subhead A.15 - Decade of Centenaries 1912 to 1922 - due to a combination of outside factors and also in subhead A.16 - Cork Event Centre which has not progressed as promptly as anticipated. Sanction has been received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to use these savings to address emerging pressures in other programme areas.
I have mentioned the Ireland 2016 commemorative programme, but I would like to address the initiative in a little more detail. There was an extensive education programme delivered across all levels, including the Permanent Reminder component, through which a number of significant capital projects were completed, and an extensive programme of State ceremonial and public events and a community strand delivered in conjunction with local authorities. As part of the national flag initiative, flags and copies of the Proclamation by the Defence Forces were delivered to over 3,300 national schools across the country. In the Permanent Reminder component of the programme works were completed at the GPO Witness History Centre, Richmond Barracks, the Kevin Barry Rooms at the National Concert Hall and the Athenaeum in Enniscorthy. Work at the Tenement Museum in Henrietta Street and Teach an Phiarsaigh in Ros Muc, County Galway is also nearing completion.
The series of major public events, including the State ceremonial events, proved to be a particular highlight, with an unprecedented level of public awareness and engagement. Some 750,000 people attended the "Reflecting the Rising" event on Easter Monday, following on from the official commemoration at the GPO on Easter Sunday which was enjoyed by 4,500 invited guests and 300,000 members of the general public who lined the streets on the day.
Another very important element of the 2016 commemorations was the numerous events held to mark the Battle of the Somme. I travelled to France on 1 July to participate in the major ceremony at Thiepval, which was followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the Ulster tower. Earlier this month I returned to Guillemont to remember the 1,200 members of the 16th Irish Division who had lost their lives there in September 1916. These events complemented the Government's Somme commemorative event held in Islandbridge in July.
Other ambitious capital projects under the programme also progressed significantly in 2016, with the master development plan at the National Gallery of Ireland entering its final phase, while the design phase of the proposed major capital investment at the National Library of Ireland is progressing, as is the new cultural and heritage centre at Bank of Ireland, College Green.
A new six-year €18 million capital investment scheme focused on enhancing the existing stock of arts and cultural centres throughout the country was launched in July. Some 100 applications have been received to date under the scheme. In the first half of 2016 over 1.8 million people visited national cultural institutions. If these numbers are maintained in the second half of the year, it will represent an increase of 3% on the very impressive 2015 figure of 3.5 million.
I am happy to expand on any issue arising in respect of the programme.
I compliment the Minister on the 1916 Rising commemorative programme. While I was critical of it initially, since the commencement of the second iteration of the programme launched at Collins Barracks, it has been very successful, with all of the money provided having been well spent.
On Friday we will be nine months through the year. With the budget due to be announced in less than a fortnight, the big issue is what will happen next year because things are not expected to change that much.
There are some interesting reflections in the programme for Government on the importance of the arts. A country that expends on the arts, cultural and heritage projects is more prosperous. More importantly, it leads to a much better quality of life. However, it is worth reflecting on the issue of prosperity. The more I read about the 1916 Rising and the lead-in to it, the cultural renaissance and so on, I can see that one of the most interesting comparisons concerns the economic performance in the 100 years since between the North and the South. Obviously, the South has outperformed the North, even though it remains in the bigger economic entity, the empire. On the reasons for this, my view is that it has nothing to do with military aspects and gun-fighting and so on but is related to the cultural renaissance, self-belief and everything culture in its widest sense brings, irrespective of whose it is and so on, which issue was the subject of much debate previously. I have a broad view of culture. All culture is to be treasured, although we have a special space in our hearts for the culture that is indigenous to any of the peoples on the island.
Having read the mid-year expenditure review, for me, the big issue is the proposal to reduce the budget of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for next year by €55 million. I would have thought that it would have held on to the same allocation as for 2016.
There are three big pressure points for the Department. We will come to the rural, regional, Gaeltacht and the islands elements, which I see as two points, but the other one takes in arts, culture and heritage. I would have thought it was very important that we would unanimously seek the €383 million funding for the Minister in the resource allocation for 2016 again for next year. Some things never change over on Merrion Street and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is proposing €327 million. That does not mean the €55 is unaffordable; if it can be afforded this year, it can be afforded next year. If we had the €55 million, we could fight about the split but if we do not get the money, we cannot fight about the split. We must put meat on the fine commitment in the programme for Government to the arts and heritage. It includes the arts and heritage councils, as well as the national institutions that add so much to our well-being as a people and which are very important in terms of tourism and so on.
We need a significant rise to where the funding used to be. I was looking at figures and the Arts Council is down something like €5 million in five years at a time when, to be honest, there is inflation. The Heritage Council has stated it cannot do anything to assist people with heritage properties and although we are putting restrictions on people, there is no money to help them preserve the properties, so some of them are going to rack and ruin. Our cultural institutions are flagship institutions. Basically, the big issue today is to consider what is happening to ensure the €383 million remains in the Department and that it can be spent next year, so the Ministers of State, Deputies Ring and Kyne, along with the Minister can have the resources implied in the programme for Government. Otherwise, we are moving the chairs on the Titanicand we will not be able to do anything radically different from last year. We will remain "as is".
I know the battle the Minister is facing. From my end and that of my party, we will give the Minister full support in the battle to retain what she had last year, no more and no less. If she had that, we would collectively honour the importance of these issues. As I said, we can consider 1916 and that matters of the mind often triumph over matters of the body. Cerebral issues, including culture, are so important to the human spirit. There are hard-nosed people; as Pearse wrote, the men in the counting houses, and the Minister needs to go them and say "but what if my dream comes true?". In the end, Pearse's dream triumphed over the men in the counting houses who knew the cost of everything and value of nothing. The Minister will certainly have my support in fighting Merrion Street to realise this is not a peripheral extra to government but rather goes to the core of who we are as a people. She will have my support in that regard.
I thank the Deputy for his comments on the 2016 commemorations. Its success came from collaboration, with everybody working together right across the country, including local authorities and communities. There was an invitation we extended for people to come forward with their ideas and everybody worked together to make it what it was.
I agree with the Deputy that culture is so important. I attended an event last night and saw a young girl who was only 16 years old. The evening, organised by Dublin City Council, was about working with communities in culture, bringing arts into the community. A number of different communities benefited from it. The girl, named Samantha, got up to speak and said that when she saw culture, she saw hope. That resonates very much with us all. These people are going into communities across the city and working with them in putting together cultural projects.
With respect to the budget, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, outlined the position very clearly at the budget oversight committee last week. There must be a level of realism in terms of expectations. Approximately €600 million is available in current spending for new policy initiatives, and of that €70 million has been allocated for the increased cost of the housing assistance and rent supplement payments. There is €250 million available in capital spending and of that €150 million will go towards measures in the housing action plan. Members should appreciate that what is left over after that will be relatively small, particularly when one considers it must be divided between 15 Departments. I assure members that I will continue to make the strongest case possible for my own Department. I must be straight too, as there will not be any miracles on budget. There will be modest amount of funding available. I make the case for my Department and I know I will not be able to meet every demand as the resources simply are not there. I must try to find a balance. I appreciate the support of the committee in that respect. Members may rest assured that I will be doing everything I can but we have all been told that there are budgetary constraints and the envelope available is very small.
To clarify, does the €600 million mentioned by the Minister include a contribution of €55 million from her Department by it decreasing the budget next year compared with this year. That is the nub of the issue. We are not asking for more money but rather that the Minister holds on to what she has. That is it.
Yes, what they are saying is there was a once-off payment for commemorations. There was €48.5 million allocated in last year's budget under the decade of centenaries. The breakdown is approximately €18 million in current funding and €30 million in current funding. The current funding went towards the State ceremonial programme for 2016 and much of the capital funding was for permanent once-off reminder projects. The Deputy has been to the Witness History centre in the GPO and there are a number of other projects, including in Kilmainham Gaol and Richmond Barracks. Work is under way at Teach an Phiarsaigh as well. These were once-off projects. I would love to have retained the entire allocation but the position of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is that the commemorations funding was once-off funding for 2016.
My questions are in much the same vein. We concluded the section of the programme areas of arts, culture and film with a discussion around the centenary programme. Various arts representative groups have called for those equivalent moneys to be maintained. Is the Minister conscious of that call? Is it a call she identified with and has she asked the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance for the maintenance of that funding?
I am aware of those calls and I met representatives of the National Campaign for the Arts. I will meet them again next week. Representatives of cultural institutions were here earlier and I regularly meet their chairpersons. I am in touch with all the different organisations, including the Heritage Council and the Arts Council, where I attended an event this morning. I am very conscious of the need for resources to be maintained and increased in all these areas, as they all do tremendous work. The point is there must be a level of realism in expectations for the budget. I will certainly make the case but it will not be easy. The budget negotiations continue and it must be agreed. We have all been told the envelope is very small.
There is great working happening within the Department from the Minister's office down through the different staff. I congratulate the staff on that.
Obviously there are a couple of difficulties. It is a large public area and there can be differences in opinions on how things can be done.
I concur with previous speakers that the allocation of moneys by a Government is its articulation of policy intent. The fact that the arts and Irish language have been the poor relations in the Department speaks loudly to many people in these sectors around the country where they appear in the pecking order of Government priority.
A line in one of the Department's documents reads, "To promote and develop Ireland world class artistic" development, etc. So far, I have not seen comparative analysis within the documentation from the Department. World class arts can only be measured in a comparative fashion against other jurisdictions. Earlier the chairperson designate for the National Concert Hall was in attendance and we had an interesting discussion on the fact that 320,000 people visit the venue. It seems a great figure but I wonder has the Department compared that number with the equivalent of the National Concert Hall in Denmark as the country is similar in size? What outputs per euro does the hall in Denmark receive from state investment? It is not a problem if the Minister does not have those figures. I would like if the Department delivered to the committee a comparative analysis in terms of bang for buck and outputs, although clearly the Department cannot be measured just in terms of bang for buck. Has the Department carried out comparisons? If not, will the Minister consider doing so?
My next question is topical and relates to the Irish Film Board. Last night a "Prime Time" debate on the Picture Palace in Galway was broadcast. A lot of people are deeply concerned that €9 million from multiple State sources was invested in the building yet it stands in dereliction. Is the Minister happy that the investment by the State is fully safeguarded?
There seems to be a difference of opinion between the Minister and the chief executive of Galway City Council. The Minister felt that the building was in the ownership or at least the control of the city council. When RTE sought to go on the site they were told by Solas Galway Picture Palace that they were not entitled to do so. There was an incongruity with regard to those two voices. I ask her to clarify the matter.
On the question of having world class artistic development, one of the priorities of Culture 2025 is to carry out a critical analysis of direct and indirect supports that are funding arts and cultural activity. That is something that we want to look at. Yes, my Department does look at different models elsewhere but I want to see more work done on that issue. As part of Culture 2025, we will carry out an analysis of the different funding that is available for the arts and cultural activities.
In terms of outputs, there are visitor numbers on one of the documents that we provided to the committee but I do not have it to hand. We will provide the committee with the information.
The Solas project started nine years ago. When I came into the Department in 2014 the project landed on my desk. I was left with a situation whereby €6 million had been spent on the project in Galway. A decision needed to be made and I was faced with two options. Do I refuse to give it further funding or do I consider a request for funding to finish the building in the knowledge that I knew there would have to be a fit-out? The cost involved was in the region of €1 million. I had to decide whether to spend a further €1 million and provide much needed art infrastructure in Galway. The importance of the arts to Galway was outlined earlier. The city has the Galway Film Fleadh, an arts festival and it has won the Capital of Culture for 2020. I was faced with a very difficult decision. I felt that in order to protect the €6 million that had been invested that I would approve funding of a further €1 million to finish the project.
We had a lot of conversations with Galway City Council. I was very concerned around corporate governance and my officials spoke with Galway City Council. It was agreed that the city council would project manage the remainder of the project and they had the corporate structures in place that were obviously needed in terms of this project. Galway City Council agreed and we entered into discussions with them. Please bear in mind that I have not paid out any money and I have to be satisfied that the lease of the property and the involvement of Solas must be transferred. That is in progress.
Yes. The building remains in the control of Solas pending transfer to Element Pictures. That is a condition of the additional funding - it has to be transferred. I am working in conjunction with Galway City Council. Funding that is paid out will be paid through Galway City Council but I must be satisfied that all the checks and measures are in place and that the project will be completed.
Element Pictures will run the facilities. It has an outstanding track record in running arthouse cinemas and one of its very successful projects is the Light House Cinema in Smithfield. The cinema in Smithfield had run into difficulties. Element Pictures has a particular expertise and it did a very good job in Smithfield. Therefore, we are satisfied that Element Pictures has the ability to do a good job and run an arthouse cinema in Galway.
The reason I raise it is that there is a cost to everything. Obviously, if the State finds itself on the wrong end of this decision, the costs must come out of the commemoration of 1916, which is ironic in a way.
To be fair, the case was appealed on the basis that the judgment had much wider implications across the country. I received submissions from various Departments on the need to appeal the case because of the wider issues, in terms of infrastructure projects on which it could have an impact throughout the country.
Most of the spend for the year is under profile, with 39% of the funds spent in the first six months. Why is that the case? What is the trend likely to be throughout the year? Is it the case that 100% will be spent in those spheres?
The spend has improved considerably up to the end of August. Most of the underspend is in capital and many of the capital projects take place during the summer months. A large amount of work takes place at that stage, so I expect there will be much more money spent in the latter half of the year. As we go into the months of October and November, the capital spend will increase considerably.
My final question relates to the National Museum. I also put this question to the chairperson designate. There is a big concern about the human resources, HR, difficulties that are taking place within the financial unit at the National Museum. Two individuals have brought High Court cases against the museum and a third has been made redundant. I understand four individuals have had difficulties with how it is being run. My key concern is that where there is fighting within organisations, they expend energy which they should be using to push on further. Is the Minister confident that the problems relating to the National Museum have been fixed? If this is happening within the financial department, with people going very quickly, is she confident about the financial oversight within the National Museum at present?
I heard the chairperson of the National Museum speak to the committee earlier about that. She is putting structures in place and setting up committees. In the first instance, however, this is a matter for the board and the management of the National Museum and is not something in which I can get involved, in terms of the daily running of the National Museum. I was glad to hear her say that she is putting an oversight committee in place. There is a new board and it will deal with these issues.
I congratulate the Minister and her colleagues in the Department on an extraordinarily successful Rising anniversary programme. My knowledge of its success comes through experiencing the programme locally in County Galway. The event in Athenry was of an extraordinarily high standard. Given the quality of the production and the performances, it was a world-class event that could have been taken on tour the following day to a number of locations across the globe and it would have represented Ireland in an exceptionally positive light in terms of our artistic and cultural heritage.
I also commend the Minister on the work she just described on securing the future of our cinema in Galway. The artistic community in Galway has identified the serious dearth of performance facilities in the town on a number of occasions. Galway city and county have now secured the European Capital of Culture 2020. I commend the Minister on using the final €1 million to safeguard the cinema. A significant investment had already been made in the building.
I have a final observation. The success of the 1916-2016 programme trickled all the way down to tiny villages and towns across this country and leveraged a huge amount of community endeavour. That is an extraordinarily powerful example of what can happen when there is a bottom-up approach to nurturing cultural and artistic endeavour in a country. My recent experience of Culture Night on 16 September brought that home to me. When we support our towns and villages across the country - beyond the traditional flagship events such as Galway Arts Festival, Spraoi and Dublin Theatre Festival - by reaching out and giving a helping hand to small communities, they can perform with some exceptionally powerful events.
With regard to the overall policy of the Department and how it intends to support artistic endeavour in the future, is a change of heart likely in terms of supporting that type of endeavour from the bottom up? Culture Night is one event, one night during the year, and it is extraordinarily successful. The programme of events across County Galway took up two pages in our local provincial newspaper and more communities are coming on board every year. Events such as the Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna are supported by the Arts Council. My assessment of how this works is that it must be a large and accomplished event, with a similar group of people behind the event, before it begins to feature on the radar of the Arts Council and the Department nationally. Is there a way to devolve more power and funds to the local authorities, which have considerable expertise in this area, to reach out and begin the nurturing of the arts and the enriching of people's lives, as Deputy Ó Cuív eloquently described it? Can we devolve more power and funding to the local authorities, which I believe are doing an exceptional job in this regard?
I agree with the Deputy about the local authorities. I am a great believer in the bottom-up approach and I took that decision in 2014 when we launched the consultation process for an overarching plan for the 2016 commemorations. Local authorities are the key to local communities and I believe in that approach. I am anxious to see arts and culture supported in every local authority area. I feel very strongly about that. When one looks at the 2016 programme and all of the communities that ran their own events, they engaged with and were facilitated by the local authorities. Only three weeks ago I met all of the local authority 2016 co-ordinators and asked them how we could build on the legacy of 2016 and have something permanent to remember what has happened in this special year. Again, it is about working with them. The arts officer, heritage officer, librarian and museum curator are a very strong part of our cultural offering locally and we must weld them together in a type of cultural unit in every local authority. I am very keen on that.
We have the same theme in the Culture 2025 policy framework - working more collaboratively across Government and drawing on the lessons of the centenary year. It includes re-examining the provision of cultural services at local level and building on existing connections between local authorities, the Arts Council and the Heritage Council. Indeed, I attended an event today with the Arts Council where it is working collaboratively with the local authorities. The council said it had renewed its vows with the local authorities in terms of its engagement with them. It is very important to work with all of the local authorities across the country and also with Foras na Gaeilge and Údarás na Gaeltachta. The organisations are all in place so we must tap into them and work collaboratively in terms of culture. We also wish to examine the role of voluntary organisations and develop policies to provide increased support. These are the priorities in the document and now it is about drawing up actions for how to achieve that. That is what we are doing at present in that area.
I have two brief questions on section A. The Moore Street case is being undertaken with the approval of the Attorney General's office. The tradition has been that if somebody sues the State and the State supports defending the case, normally the money is made available whenever, and if ever, costs arise to deal with the issue. It is not usually taken from an ordinary budget. It is normally provided for if and when it arises. It is very much a question of if and when, and it might never arise.
On the second point, I remember years ago the issue of the repair of the Jeanie Johnston came up. We had already spent €13 million but another million euro was needed. I was of the view that there was no point in having a tall ship down in Tralee, County Kerry that was that four fifths finished. One might as well finish the work at that stage. It was a case of in for a penny, in for a pound and complete the project.
I have to say, not because it happens to be in Galway, that the Solas Galway Picture Palace project cannot be left as it is. Subject to good governance, I fully support the concept that we might as well put in the extra few bob and finish off the project, making it what it is meant to be, a live theatre in Galway, rather than pulling the plug at this stage. That is my very strong view and I support the Minister's view. I call that type of scenario a Jeanie Johnston because I remember some highly educated people felt we should have left the Jeanie Johnstonin the condition it was in, following the expenditure of €13 million, and not continue to restore it at a cost of €14 million in total. If that decision had been made, I would have thought it most bizarre, but thankfully the decision was made at that time to finish the project.
The funds have to be made available to pay the court case. A decision was taken on the advice of the Attorney General to appeal that case. The funds to do so have to be provided for if and when it arises.
Both the Minister of State, Deputy Ring and I will make some introductory remarks on the heritage programme B. Funding of some €44 million has been made available from my Department's heritage programme. This includes €35.4 million allocated for current expenditure with a further €8.6 million in capital funding. Total gross expenditure for programme B up to 30 June 2016 was €5.086 million, 23% of the 2016 programme allocation. By 31 August 2016, this had increased to €8.479 million or 38% of the 2016 programme allocation. In addition, approval has been received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to apply capital savings of €6 million to subhead B5, natural heritage, National Parks and Wildlife Service. This additional funding is being used in part to meet the costs arising in 2016 of Government-agreed compensation for turf cutters affected by measures implemented to support compliance with the EU habitats directive as well as to provide for essential repair works required on foot of the considerable damage caused by the severe flooding of last winter at a range of locations. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring will expand on the positive developments of our national parks in 2016.
As the Minister stated, there have been many positive developments in our national parks in 2016. The programme of investment continues at our national parks and visitor centres. For the year to date, very strong investment continues in trail networks, visitor facilities, the park road network, the upgrade of Muckross House and the newly refurbished Killarney House and gardens. I am delighted that the gardens in Killarney House opened to the public shortly after Easter and were opened officially by me last month. Glenveagh National Park also had a high profile visit in June, when his Royal Highness Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall made a historic visit. The National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department played a central role in licensing and supervising the historic filming of "Star Wars" at various sites along the Wild Atlantic Way in May and June and in assisting with the filming of the programme for the new series of "Top Gear" at Killarney National Park. All of these promotions serve to bring the beauty of our national parks and landscape to a wider global audience. It will bring increased tourist numbers to the regions and I believe it will generate badly needed economic activity in the communities which have been custodians for generations of the jewel in our heritage crown.
There is no point in reiterating - more money, more money and we know the source. Hold on to what you have will be a constant theme.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service is an integral part of the Department, and it is not an agency. I wish to raise the issue of the national infrastructure and the possibility that the development plans of one Department would be stymied because of designations and conservation approach of the Department and this could happen throughout the country. A similar issue arose between 1997 and 2001 in respect of archaeology and a very good protocol was drawn up that seems to have largely resolved such issues when major infrastructure has been developed. There are good archeological protocols and everybody seems to agree on what is preserved, what is recorded and when one has to reroute a proposed road.
As the Minister and Ministers of State know, we have a particular difficulty in respect of the Maam Cross to Clifden road. This could happen anywhere because in one case it seems that method statements cannot be agreed for a planning permission given and in another case, planning was turned down. I understand that one arm of the Department, the Gaeltacht division, was supporting the project, whereas another division, the NPWS opposed the project, which must be quite bizarre. I nearly wound up in a similar situation when I was Minister.
Would the Minister be willing to allow her officials to come before the committee to discuss this matter on two levels? The first would be to talk about the national issue, which is a big issue, and the need to put in place protocols which would ensure that Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, Irish Water, county councils and any other organ of the State or agency acting for the State in providing basic infrastructure would have discussed the issues and the various bodies would have resolved the issues by a proper process in advance of submitting an application to An Bord Pleanála.
Second, I request that the officials would update members specifically on the N59 and tell us what been done to resolve the impasse in order that we would have new proposals to apply for planning for the second part of the road and resolve the issue of the method statements on the first half. Would the Minister be willing for her officials to brief us on these issues?
I am familiar with the N59 and I understand the Deputy's concerns. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, is also very familiar with the case. He speaks to me regularly about it. I have no problem with my officials briefing the committee on the wider issue and on the specific issue of the N59. I agree with the Deputy that we need to put protocols in place.
In terms of flooding, there were complaints that people could not move certain things and some of the stories were that my Department was stopping progress. I immediately appointed designated officers in every single region as a point of call for the local authority in order that the local authority could contact them. I believe, as Deputy Ó Cuív does, that these issues need to be dealt with on the ground with people working together. In terms of the flooding, I said that the priority is people and property first. We have to strike a balance, but I think that, in terms of safety on that road, the project needs to be progressed. I am happy to arrange for my officials to discuss this with the committee.
Tá cúpla ceist agam don Aire faoi seo, the National Parks and Wildlife Service. As Deputy Ó Cuív mentioned, we had a delegation from the local authorities last week. One of the issues that they cried out for was defined periods of time in which the National Parks and Wildlife Service had to respond to the process. Galway County Council had submissions with the NPWS and had not received responses on six out of eight issues.
The Minister is looking at me with an incredulous face. They felt that this information needed to be put to her. Obviously there is some confusion here. I ask the Minister to look at that one for us.
We would be happy to deal with specific examples. I understand that if my Department wants to make a submission on a planning application, it must do so within the same timeframe as anybody else. Is the Chairman referring to another issue?
Good stuff. As sure as we are sitting here today, there will be floods engulfing part of the country at some stage in the next 12 months. Can the Minister give us figures for exactly how much has been spent on actual flood defences in 2016?
My Department, in line with its heritage and environment roles, wanted to have protocols in place with the OPW so that we would not delay any projects that are being pursued to alleviate flooding problems.
Tá soláthar de thart ar €51.2 milliún ar fáil sa bhliain 2016 don chlár Gaeilge, Gaeltachta agus oileán. Tá suim reatha de €34.3 milliún san áireamh anseo, mar aon le suim €16.87 milliún do chaiteachas caipitil . Bhí ollchaiteachas de €16.1 milliún san iomlán do chlár C go dtí 30 Meitheamh 2016, sé sin 40% den soláthar don bhliain. Faoi 31 Lúnasa 2016, bhí sé seo méadaithe go €23.314 milliún, nó 50% den soláthar don bhliain.
Tá an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge mar dhúshraith do chur chuige mo Roinne sna réimsí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Tá os cionn €11 milliún le caitheamh i mbliana ar na scéimeanna tacaíochta Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta chun tacú le cur i bhfeidhm na straitéise taobh istigh agus taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht, go háirithe leis an bpróiseas pleanála teanga faoi Acht na Gaeltachta a fhorbairt, an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn san earnáil digiteach agus an plean chun deireadh a chur leis an maolú don Ghaeilge san Aontas Eorpach a chur i gcríoch. Anuas ar sin, tháinig méadú de bheagnach dhá oiread ar an méid a leithdháileadh don straitéis féin, ó €551,000 sa bhliain 2015 go €1 milliún i mbliana. Cabhraíonn an buiséad seo le dul chun cinn níos fearr a dhéanamh ar na réimsí leathan beart agus tionscnamh a bhaineann le tacaíocht a chur faoin straitéis agus faoin bpróiseas pleanála teanga.
Tá soláthar méadaithe de €18.51 milliún ar fáil i mbliana chun cabhrú le Údarás na Gaeltachta a gcuid spriocanna fostaíochta agus teangacha a bhaint amach sa Ghaeltacht. Mar is eol don choiste, d’éirigh linn trid an bpróiseas Meastachán Athbhreithnithe cistiú breise de €1 milliún a fháil i mbuiséad caipitil an údaráis níos luaithe sa bhliain. Anuas ar sin, tá áthas orm a rá go bhfuil cead faighte agam €1 milliún breise eile a chur ar fail don údarás i mbliana i bhfoirm caipitil. D'fhógair mé an nuacht sin ag bord Údarás na Gaeltachta sna Forbacha Dé hAoine seo caite. Is cinnte go gcuirfidh sé seo ar chumas na heagraíochta dul chun cinn a dhéanamh ar roinnt tograí caipitil atá ar na bacáin acu, rud a chiallaíonn go ndéanfar na poist atá ann cheana féin a chosaint agus, ar an dul céanna, a chabhróidh le poist nua a chruthú. Táthar ag súiI le 500 post úr a chruthú sa Ghaeltacht i mbliana. Tá cúpla togra le dul ar aghaidh ansin i mbliana. Mar shampla, tá sé i gceist ag Údarás na Gaeltachta dabhacha séarachais nua a chur isteach in ionad tionsclaíochta an Tulach.
Maidir leis na hoileáin amach ón chósta, cuireann mo Roinn maoiniú ar fáil idir reatha agus chaipiteal; ina measc sin, maoiniú do sheirbhísí iompar do 19 oileán, idir sheirbhísí farantóireachta paisinéirí agus lastas agus seirbhísí aeir. Ar ndóigh, tá seirbhís aeir Oileáin Árann go mór sa nuacht le tamall anois. Tá próiseas tairisceana ar siúl faoi láthair faoi stiúir an Oifig urn Sholáthar Rialtais d’fhonn conradh ceithre bliana a shocrú do na hoileáin sin. Tá mé sásta go raibh sé ar mo chumas fógra a dhéanamh i rith na seachtaine se go bhfuil síneadh tri mhí suas go deireadh na bliana curtha leis an gconradh reatha. Ar an taobh caipitil, tá mé sásta go mbeidh ciste ar fáil sna blianta romhainn d’fhorbairt Cé Inis Oírr. Is tionscadal tábhachtach é sin do phobal an oileáin. Tá mé sásta chomh maith go raibh sé ar mo chumas i rith na seachtaine tairiscint €6 mhilliún a dhéanamh chuig Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe mar réiteach iomián agus críochnúil ar éilimh ar chaiteachas breise i dtaobh forbairtí a rinneadh roinnt blianta ó shin ar chéanna an Chaladh Mhóir agus Chill Rónáin. Lean mo Roinn i mbliana ag cur maoiniú ar fáil do na húdaráis áitiúla ábhartha chun tabhairt faoi thionscadail infreastruchtúr ar na hoileáin; sé sin, obair ar nós feabhsúchán ar bhóithre agus céanna. Tá €6.644 mhilliún ar fáil faoin mbuiséad caipitil in 2016 agus is ardú suntasach é sin ar an méid a bhí ar fáil sa bhliain 2015.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an obair atá á dhéanamh ag an Aire Stáit. Tréaslaím leis as a chuid oibre. Is dócha gur tháinig sé isteach ag am an-deacair nuair a bhí go leor fadhbanna fágtha dó.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an síneadh atá curtha leis an gconradh le haghaidh seirbhís aeir Árainn go dtí deireadh na bliana. An gceapann an Aire Stáit go mbeidh conradh nua in áit roimh dheireadh na bliana? Tá éiginnteacht á chruthú ag na seirbhísí leighis. Tuigeann an tAire Stáit an scéal - ach an oiread liom féin, tá sé sa Dáilcheantar - leis an éiginnteacht seo. Ar ndóigh, tá chuile dhuine againn ar bís go mbeidh conradh ceithre bliana i bhfeidhm. Is trua é nach ligeann an Aontas Eorpach dúinn conarthaí níos faide a réiteach. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta go bhfuil tairiscint de €6 mhilliún déanta le Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe i dtaobh breis chaiteachais ar chéanna Inis Meáin agus Inis Mór. Is í an fhadhb a bhaineann le tógáil céanna ná nach fios go dtí go dtosaíonn an tógáil cén leibhéal caiteachtais a bheidh ann. Ní fios céard atá ar ghrinneall na farraige. Tá dhá cheist bheag agam faoi sin. Cárbh as a tháinig an t-airgead? Conas a fuair an tAire Stáit an sábháil? Ní bhíonn "underspend" riamh ag na Ranna éagsúla - bíonn "savings" acu i gcónaí. Is sean-nós é sin. An bhfuil sé curtha in iúl don Aire Stáit ag lucht an chomhairle chontae go bhfuil siad tar éis glacadh leis sin mar íocaíocht iomlán ar an méid airgid atá ag seasamh amach? An nglanann sé sin an bealach le dul ar aghaidh le tograí eile?
Tá tagairt don Ghaeilge ar leathanach 146 de chlár an Rialtais. I líne leis an socrú a bhí déanta le Fianna Fáil nuair a bhí na cainteanna ar bun idir an dá pháirtí, tá gealltanas i gclár an Rialtais go ndéanfaí breis infheistíochta i gcúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Tá iarratas déanta ag Conradh na Gaeilge ar €4 mhilliún, agus sé sin gan cúrsaí infreastruchtúr oileánda agus Gaeltachta san áireamh. Cheap mé féin go dteastódh €6 mhilliún, ar a laghad. Is eol dúinn go bhfuil sé soiléir go dtiocfaidh an t-airgead sin as an tsábháil mór ar chaiteachtas 1916 a bheidh ag an Roinn an bhliain seo chugainn. An mbeidh méadú, i líne le clár an Rialtais, ar an gcaiteachas ar an nGaeilge an bhliain seo chugainn? Rinne an tAire Stáit tagairt don an tríú cheist atá agam. An gceapann sé go mbeidh conraitheoir ceaptha an bhliain seo chugainn le haghaidh tógáil agus síneadh na céibhe ar Inis Oírr? An bhfuil sé i gceist aige iarraidh ar Chomhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe dul ar aghaidh agus cead pleanála a iarraidh don togra ar Ché Inis Méain - is togra beag é i gcomhthéacs na tograí oileánda - chun an dara chuid den obair ar an gcé sin a dhéanamh? Tá an obair throm déanta. Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, déanfadh beagáinín airgid breise an-difríocht don togra seo. An bhfuil sé i gceist cead a thabhairt don chomhairle chontae dul ar aghaidh agus cead pleanála a lorg? De réir mar a thuigim, tá €500,000 ag an gcomhairle cheana féin don togra seo. Dá bhrí sin, ní bheadh mórán caiteachas i gceist.
Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, tá an-chonspóid ann le tamaillín beag anuas faoi scéim na gcúntóirí teanga. De réir mar a thuigim, tá méadú tagtha ar líon na scoileanna atá clúdaithe faoin scéim agus laghdú tagtha ar an méid airgid atá ar fáil faoin scéim.
Tá an t-airgead laghdaithe ó anuraidh agus ón bhliain roimhe. An féidir leis an Aire Stáit míniú a thabhairt cén fáth a raibh an fógra maidir leis na cúntóirí teanga deireanach i mbliana? Cén fáth go raibh laghdú airgid ann agus muid ag iarraidh an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge a chur i bhfeidhm? Ar ndóigh, táimid, agus Conradh na Gaeilge mar shampla, ag rá go mba cheart go mbeadh €4 milliún breise dó sin an bhliain seo chugainn. An feidir leis an Aire Stáit míniú cén chaoi ar tharla sé seo? An mbeidh sé in ann an breis airgid an-bheag atá i gceist a chur ar fáil leis an scéim a chur ar ais mar a bhí sé do na scoileanna a bhí ann go dtí seo agus le maoiniú breise a thabhairt do na scoileanna breise atá tagtha sa scéim. Mé féin a thosaigh an scéim áirid sin, mar a tharla, ar bhonn náisiúnta agus fáiltím roimh an gcinneadh a rinne an tAire Stáit é a leanúint, ach níl aon mhaith é a leanúint mura mbeidh an t-airgead ann.
An cheist dheireanach atá agam ar an Aire Stáit ná an bhfuil aon eolas aige faoi cén uair a bheidh an t-ionad i dTeach an Phiarsaigh i Ros Muc críochnaithe agus réidh le hoscailt. An bhfuil plean in áit nó comhréiteach déanta leis an OPW le foireann a ceapadh leis an áit a riar ar nós gach ionad eile atá ag an OPW ar fud na tíre?
Bhí conradh Aer Árann fíor-thábhachtach do mhuintir na n-oileán agus tá An Oifig um Sholáthar Rialtais ag déileáil leis na tairiscintí faoi láthair. Tá mé dóchasach go mbeidh cinneadh ann go luath. Tá an próiseas ag dul ar aghaidh agus tá mé dóchasach go mbeidh muid in ann conradh ceithre bliana a shíniú i mbliana. Sin an aidhm atá agam. Mar a dúirt mé, beidh mo Roinn agus An Oifig um Sholáthar Rialtais ag obair air sin ach, mar mar is eol don Teachta Ó Cuív, tá próiseas ar bun faoi láthair ó thaobh na dtairiscintí.
Maidir leis an gcinneadh a rinne mé an tseachtain seo caite ó thaobh an €6 mhilliún a thabhairt do Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe mar réiteach iomlán agus críochnúil, mar chuid de na coinníollacha a bhí ag baint leis an airgead bhí ar an gcomhairle contae glacadh leis an gcinneadh. Bhí muid ag plé leis an Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe faoi sin. Sin na coinníollacha a leagadh síos an Roinn sin don airgead sin.
Ó thaobh as cén áit a tháinig an t-airgead sin, mar is eol don Teachta, fuair muid €6 mhilliún ón Roinn comhshaoil i mbliana don togra mór d'Inis Oírr. Ní rabhamar in ann dul ar aghaidh leis an togra sin i mbliana. Bhí an €6 mhilliún ann agus bhí mé ag iarraidh go ndéanfaimid rud éigin leis agus gan é a thabhairt ar ais. Tá mé lánsásta go bhfuil sé sin déanta.
Beidh sé ar fáil. Bhí cruinniú againn leis an stiúrthóir seirbhísí, Mr. Liam Gavin, i nGaillimh an Aoine seo caite maidir leis an togra agus tá sé sásta dul ar aghaidh leis. Ag cruinniú na comhairle contae inniu, chuir comhghleacaí an Teachta, Seán Ó Tuairisg, ceist faoi agus tá an chomhairle sásta go mbeidh airgead ar fáil don togra. Tá innealtóir na Roinne chun teacht ar ais agus beidh sé ag obair ar an togra sin.
Ó thaobh breis infhestíochta de agus an gealltanas a bhí sa deal idir Fhianna Fáil agus an Rialtas, tá sé sin ráite agam leis an Aire sinsearach agus leis an Aire Caiteachtais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe. Mar sin, beidh mé ag iarraidh roinnt airgid don Roinn mar gheall ar an ngealltanas sin, ach b'fhéidir go mbeidh an Teachta Ó Cuív in ann an cheist a chur ar an Aire sinsearach freisin.
Yes. Ceadaíodh €719,000 an tseachtain seo caite don togra maidir leis na gcúntóirí teanga. Cé gur laghdú é seo de thart ar €62,000 idir Mhuintearas agus Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne ar an soláthar a ceadaíodh le dhá bhliain anuas, níl aon ghearradh siar déanta ar an airgead atá á chur ar fáil don obair a dhéanann na cúntóirí iad féin. Is laghdú é ar an soláthar a íoctar do riaradh na scéimeanna atá déanta ar dhá chúis. Tá na heagraíochtaí i gceist - Muintearas agus Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne - ag fáil airgead substaintiúil ón Stát cheana féin i bhfoirm deontais agus a reáchtáil ar bhreis agus €600,000 do Mhuintearas agus breis agus €220,000 i gcás Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne. Tá siad ag fáil an t-airgead sin ó Údarás na Gaeltachta.
Chomh maith le sin, tá brú ar leith ar mo Vóta de bharr na méadaithe atá tugtha i mbliana ar an líon daltaí atá ag freastal ar na coláistí Gaeilge. Cé nach bhfuil na figúirí críochnúla ar fáil go fóill, tá thart ar 24,300 aitheanta faoi scéim na bhfoghlaimeoirí Gaeilge go dáta agus tá roinnt íocaíochtaí le déanamh go fóill. É sin ráite, tá me sásta iarraidh ar mo chuid oifigigh - agus tá sé seo pléite agam leis an Ard-Rúnaí - an cheist a phlé leis an údarás ach ní féidir liom aon ghealltanas a thabhairt faoi láthair faoi sin. Tá a fhios agam cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an scéim agus sin an fáth nach bhfuil aon laghdú ann ó thaobh an méid atá ar fáil ó thaobh phá na gcúntóirí. Tá na hoifigigh sa Roinn agus san údarás chun é seo a phlé.
Ba mhaith liomsa labhairt faoin straitéis 20 bliain. Is é seo an straitéis is mó atá ag an Rialtas maidir le dul chun cinn na Gaeilge agus méid na gcainteoirí Gaeilge thar timpeall na tíre. Tá sprioc ann sa straitéis go mbeidh 250,000 duine ag labhairt Gaeilge gach uile lá. Tá sé bhliain ann ó foilsíodh an straitéis in 2010 agus tiocfaidh sé chun críche in 2030. An bhfuil an tAire Stáit sásta go bhfuilimid ag baint amach na huimhreacha sin agus go mbainfidh muid amach an oll-fhigiúr sin. Ag an móimint, de réir mar a thuigim é, de réir an daonáirimh dheireanaigh bhí 83,000 duine ag labhairt Gaeilge go laethúil - taobh amuigh den chóras oideachais - sa tír seo. Ba cheart dúinn a bheith ag druidim le 150,000 duine faoin am seo chun an sprioc a bhaint amach. Tá bearna mhór ann idir an sprioc agus an méid atá bainte amach go dtí seo.
An fhadhb atá agamsa ná, de ghnáth, nuair a bhíonn muid ag caint faoi na figúirí seo, bíonn muid ag caint faoi figúirí agus ní performance indicators. An key performance indicator atá ann ná an méid daoine a bhfuil ag labhairt Gaeilge. Cad iad tuairimí an Aire Stáit faoi sin? Cén fáth nach bhfuilimid ag baint amach na spriocanna? Cad is féidir linn a dhéanamh? Cé mhéad airgead atá de dhíth ar an Roinn chun an sprioc sin a bhaint amach?
Rinne mé dearmad ar cheist dheireanach an Teachta Ó Cuív. Tá mé dóchasach go mbeidh an ionad i dTeach an Phiarsaigh oscailte i mí na Samhna. Táimid ag fós ag obair agus ag plé leis an OPW maidir leis an airgead reatha - an buiséad ó lá go lá - don togra.
Déanann sé sin ciall.
Ó thaobh cheist an Chathaoirligh, tá dul chun cinn déanta ó thaobh na straitéise ach tá níos mó le déanamh. Tá ceart ag an gCathaoirleach ó thaobh an daonáirimh dheireanaigh go bhfuil ardú ann ó thaobh na n-uimhreacha.
Beimid in ann na figúirí sin a fháil. Den chéad uair, cuireadh €500,000 ar fáil don straitéis agus tá €1 milliún ar fáil i mbliana.
I gceann b'fhéidir coicís nó trí mhí, beidh an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna ag foilsiú an polasaí oideachais. Is plean é sin atá idir an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna agus Roinn na Gaeltachta maidir le moltaí nua. Tá an polasaí sin lárnach sa straitéis ó thaobh an oideachais. Is aidhm é dul chun cinn a dhéanamh sna huimhreacha de dhaoine óga faoin straitéis agus sna huimhreacha de dhaoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge. Tá sé sin fíor-thábhachtach. Is dea-nuacht é. Teastaíonn airgead breise ón Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna chun an polasaí sin a chur i bhfeidhm ach beidh sé foilsithe go luath. Maidir le figiúirí an daonáirimh, dúirt 1.77 milliún duine go raibh siad in ann Gaeilge a labhairt i 2011.
Gabh mo leithscéal. Foilsíodh an straitéis i 2010 agus an uimhir a bhí ann ar an lá sin ná 83,000. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil deacrachtaí faoi na huimhreacha. I mo thuairimse, is féidir linn suí anseo agus labhairt go laethúil mar gheall ar an rud seo agus an rud siúd, ach tá plean ag an Stát. Ceapaim go bhfuil an Rialtas ag obair ar chuid den phlean sin agus cuid de na spriocanna sin. An rud atá muid ag rá ná go bhfuil sé iontach soiléir ag an nóiméad seo nach bhfuil a fhios againn cén dul chun cinn atá déanta maidir leis an méid duine atá ag labhairt Gaeilge go laethúil taobh amuigh den chóras oideachais. Tá sprioc de 250,000 duine ann. Táimid i bhfad ón sprioc sin. Mar a deirtear as Béarla, táimid treading water. Nílimid ag dul i dtreo na sprice ar chor ar bith. Ciallaíonn sé sin go bhfuil ag teipeadh ar an Rialtas leis an straitéis sin. I gceann ceithre bliana, beimid in ann an straitéis sin a sháinneadh ina liathróid bheag agus a chaitheamh sa bhosca bruscair. Beimid leath-slí tríd an straitéis gan aon dul chun cinn sna huimhreacha ar chor ar bith.
Níl sé sin ceart. Tá figiúirí ann ó thaobh an daonáirimh. Níl siad agam faoi láthair agus go mo leithscéal as sin. Bhí siad agam anuraidh mar bhí mé ag féile i Milwaukee agus bhí óráid agam faoin dteanga bheo. Bhí na figiúirí agam an lá sin agus gabh mo leithscéal nach bhfuil mé in ann iad a fháil faoi láthair. Beimid in ann é a fháil. Táimid-----
Nil figiúirí 2016 foilsithe fós ag príomhoifig na straitéise. Is firic an tsaoil é sin. Ní bheidh a fhios againn go dtí go dtagann sé sin amach cé mhéad a thiocfaidh amach as féin. Níl na figiúirí ar fáil.
Tá rudaí ann cosúil le bailte seirbhíse, uirlis a bhí ag an iar-Aire Stáit, Dinny McGinley, ina Bhille lena mbeadh muid in ann an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Táimid ag caint faoi Ghaeltacht Ráth Chairn agus Baile Átha Bhuí díreach in aice leis agus a bheith in ann struchtúr a chur ann chun i bhfad níos mó Gaeilge a chur isteach sa bhaile sin. Níl pingin rua ann, áfach, chun an jab sin a dhéanamh ón am a d'imigh an iar-Aire Stáit McGinley ón bpost sin. An fhadhb atá ann ná go bhfuil cúpla céim agus uirlis ann chun an sprioc sin a bhaint amach ach, i ndáiríre, nílimid ag dreapadh na céimeanna sin ar chor ar bith.
Chuireamar airgead ar fáil trí Foras na Gaeilge chun dul chun cinn a dhéanamh le Gaeilge i Leitir Ceannain, Inis, Baile Locha Riach, Cluain Dolcáin i mBaile Átha Cliath agus cathair na Gaillimhe freisin. Tá siad ag obair ar na rudaí sin. Tá Foras na Gaeilge ag ullmhú pleananna do na bailte sin. Mar sin, tá airgead curtha ar fáil do na bailte sin.
Níl a fhios agam an mbaineann sé le na bailte seirbhíse, ach an t-eolas atá agamsa mar gheall ar an earnáil sin ná nach bhfuil aon airgead curtha isteach chun bailte seirbhíse a fhorbairt. Ní baile seirbhíse é Cluain Dolcáin toisc nach bhfuil Gaeltacht in aice leis. B'fhéidir gur scéim eile atá i gceist ansin. An rud atá mé ag rá ná go bhfuil airgead ag dul isteach i cúpla tograí. Tá daoine ag déanamh obair mhaith agus tá dul chun cinn áirithe anseo agus ansiúd. Má bhreathnaítear ar an ollphictiúir, áfach, tá fadhbanna uafásacha ann agus níl an dul chun cinn á dhéanamh.
Mar gheall ar Fhoras na Gaeilge, bhí cúlú airgeadais ann an bhliain seo caite. Bhí cúlú airgeadais i mbuiséid Údarás na Gaeltachta agus Foras na Gaeilge an bhliain seo caite. Chuala mé go bhfuil pinsin á íoc ag an Roinn go dtí gach ball foirne atá ag obair sa Roinn, nó faoin Roinn, ach amháin Foras na Gaeilge. Mar sin, tá an dualgas ar Fhoras na Gaeilge an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh iad féin ar phinsin. Toisc go bhfuil níos mó daoine ag dul tríd an córas, tá an pota airgid sin ag Foras na Gaeilge ag cúlú ó thaobh airgead a úsáid le haghaidh tograí úsáideacha don Ghaeilge. Cad gur féidir linn a dhéanamh faoi sin?
D'íoc Údarás na Gaeltachta as ucht a chuid phinsin ón airgead atá acu freisin. Ní hé Foras na Gaeilge an t-aon dream atá mar sin. Ó thaobh bhuiséad Fhoras na Gaeilge, tá a fhios ag an gCathaoirleach go bhfuil comhoibriú ann idir Rialtas an Tuaiscirt agus muid féin, le briseadh síos ar bhonn 25:75. Más rud é go bhfuil aon Rialtas ag iarraidh airgead an bhuiséid a ardú-----
Le críochnú leis an Aire Stáit, tá mé an-shásta gur éirigh leis comh-mhaoiniú a chur ar fáil do na comhairlí contae ar na hoileáin ó thaobh bunstruchtúr a chur ar fáil. Bhí sé sin ag teastáil. Tuigtear dom, agus bhí an ceart ag an Aire Stáit mar bhí sé deireanach sa bhliain, gur 75% ón Roinn agus 25% ón gcomhairle contae atá i gceist. Má dhéanann sé é an bhliain seo chugainn, tá súil agam go ndéanann sé é luath sa bhliain agus ar bhonn 50:50, mar a bhí á ghearradh agamsa. Ní dóigh liom go mba ceart dúinn scaoileadh le dualgas an chomhairle contae a gcuid airgid féin a chur isteach sna hoileáin. Molaim an tAire Stáit agus is iontach an scéal é go bhfuil an t-airgead beag sin curtha ar fáil. Le cúnamh Dé, tógfaidh ar ais scéim na mbóithre áise an bhliain seo chugainn.
Go raibh maith agat. Sílim go bhfuil an obair déanta ar Inis Oírr agus Inis Mór faoi láthair. Chuaigh mé ar chuairt go Inis Toirc coicís ó shin agus bhí tuilte agus flash floods ansin. Tá mé sásta go mbeimid in ann breis airgid a thabhairt do Inis Toirc freisin chun é sin a réiteach.
As the committee is aware, rural development is a key priority in the programme for a partnership Government. There are more than 80 commitments in the programme for Government for delivery across a range of Departments and agencies, which will have a positive impact on rural Ireland. My Department has been tasked with providing greater co-ordination and prioritisation of the work across Government in areas that impact on rural Ireland.
My Department is also directly responsible for the delivery of a number of programmes and initiatives to support rural development. In this context, my Department's Vote includes €61.2 million under programme E for regional development and rural affairs. Of this, €58.2 million or 95% of the total relates to direct programme expenditure, with the balance covering pay and non-pay administration costs. Total gross expenditure for programme E up to 30 June 2016 was €8.694 million, which accounts for 15% of the 2016 allocation. By 31 August 2016, the figure had increased to €10.71 million or 18.5% of the 2016 allocation programme.
Since I last met the committee on the 2016 Estimates, I have established a new division for regional and rural affairs in the Department and announced a number of initiatives which were committed to in A Programme for a Partnership Government to support rural development. These include the launch of the 2014-20 Leader programme, which has a budgetary allocation of €250 million over its lifetime; the launch of the town and village renewal scheme with funding of €10 million for 2016; the launch of a new round of the rural economic development zone, REDZ, initiative with €5 million available for the scheme this year; a new round of rural recreation project funding, with total approvals of €4.5 million to 75 projects nationwide; and the establishment of a national task force to identify practical measures which can be taken in the short term to improve access to broadband and mobile telephone reception in rural areas. My Department is working closely with local authorities to prepare for the roll-out of broadband under the national broadband plan when contracts are awarded in 2017.
While these initiatives individually will make a contribution to rural development, it is their combined impact, along with other initiatives across government, which will make a real and sustainable difference to rural areas. To ensure a more integrated approach to rural development across government, my Department has commenced work on preparing an action plan for rural development. The action plan will act as an overarching structure for the co-ordination and implementation of initiatives across government to support economic and social progress in rural areas. I have arranged an information session on the action plan for Members of the Oireachtas in Leinster House tomorrow at 9 a.m.
I will be brief. A further €3 million in savings have been allocated to the CLÁR programme under the national rural development scheme to address depopulation and defects in infrastructure and services in rural areas. The joint committee discussed previously the positive contribution the CLÁR programme can make in rural areas and I am pleased we have made prompt progress. I hope to open the scheme this week, with funding of €3 million.
As members will be aware, the Tidy Towns awards were announced this week and I take this opportunity to congratulate Skerries on its win. The Tidy Towns committees nationwide do a tremendous job and cannot be thanked enough for the work they do. In many towns, they do much work that State agencies would otherwise have to do. We do not sufficiently recognise the role these organisations play. Every single Tidy Towns committee does a great service to the country as well as to villages and towns and I thank them for doing so.
The definition of rural Ireland used by rural Ireland includes an area with significant towns that covers more than 2 million people or almost 40% of the population. It always amazes me when we speak about rural Ireland that people believe tens of millions of euro will be a sufficient allocation. When problems arise in urban areas, we all accept that hundreds of millions of euro will be required, even if the problem is a finite one. For example, €200 million was announced recently to fund basic infrastructure in Dublin to open up sites and allow housing to be built. We would not have such a housing problem in Dublin if more people stayed in rural areas. We also heard about an investment of €500 million in Limerick city. While I am not against such investment, if a city with a population of 80,000 people needs this level of funding, how do we expect areas with a total population of 2 million people to be developed suddenly with expenditure of €3 million, €5 million or €10 million?
The Minister was able to provide the Minister of State with €19 million borrowed from the Leader programme this year. Put another way, the underspend in the Leader programme, which I predicted at our previous meeting, has been allocated to projects within the remit of the Minister of State. This is a welcome development.
It is also striking that expenditure on rural and regional affairs in the first half of this year amounted to only €8.6 million or €4 per capita. If anybody believes this level of spending will resolve the problems faced by rural Ireland when billions are needed to sort out problems in our cities, then rural Ireland must be the greatest place on earth. Rural areas have great potential but they need investment.
A major saving will be recorded in the Leader programme this year. How much of the €40 million provided for the programme will not be spent? The Minister correctly decided not to return these savings to the Exchequer or roll them into next year and, instead, €6 million was reallocated to town and village regeneration, €5 million to the national rural development schemes, €4 million to rural recreation projects, €1 million for rural broadband and €3 million for CLÁR infrastructure. The allocation for this year has, therefore, been fixed, which is fine. However, I presume the Department will need €40 million for the Leader programme next year. Does the Minister anticipate spending €40 million on administration and projects under the programme next year? If so, where will she secure the €19 million required just to stay still in the other programmes I outlined? Will they go by the wayside?
If €40 million is not expended under the Leader programme next year, we will fall far behind the €250 million expenditure target which, in any case, amounts to only €25 per capitafor the population of the Gaeltacht. If the full allocation is spent, where will the money come from to maintain expenditure on other schemes at the current levels?
Will funding be provided to the mountain rescue service? I address that question to the Minister of State. I understand Mountain Rescue Ireland has been in negotiations with the Department and has met Comhairle na Tuaithe. Rural recreation cannot be developed if people who are lost or injured cannot be moved off mountains. Somebody must take responsibility for this because Mountain Rescue Ireland has a major problem with equipment and insurance.
Is it intended to focus only on towns and villages and ignore the fact that the majority of people in rural areas live in parishes and the countryside rather than the towns in which the Department ofHousing, Planning, Community and Local Government wants them to live? Most GAA teams are parish rather than town based. Will this geographical reality be recognised and will money be provided for the basic infrastructure required by those of us who happen to live in houses outside towns and villages?
I congratulate the Minister of State on getting the CLÁR scheme back on the agenda. He has done the big job first in ensuring the Vote includes a line for the CLÁR programme. This is a major achievement. While €3 million is a tiny allocation, he will have a job spending it by the end of the year. I wish him good luck in accepting that challenge. On what does he propose to spend this funding? Will he seek to secure for next year the level of funding that used to be provided for the CLÁR scheme? While it will be challenging to spend money under the scheme in the short term, will he seek €20 million or thereabouts for the scheme next year? Failing that, it will not be the CLÁR programme but a leithscéal de chlár.
In view of the new census figures showing many rural areas with a steep decline in population, is it proposed to revise the CLÁR areas, which were determined scientifically and objectively on the basis of having experienced a population decline of 30%?
There is €1 million allocated for the roll-out of broadband. It is extraordinary what is going on. At the moment Eir, a private company, is rolling out eFibre to homes in many places in Ireland, including Corr na Móna, where I live, which is very rural. What is the €1 million being spent on if a private company can just get on with the job and bring eFibre at 1 Gb if customers give it €30 or €40 a month? Will the Minister explain what exactly is being done with the €1 million when, way ahead of the Government doing this, the fibre is being rolled out by a private company without all the backup? All it is doing is hanging the fibre on the existing telephone poles, taking down the copper wiring and away we ago, all happy and home for tea. Instead of a bit of copper coming into a house, a bit of fibre comes in to the house. One is able to switch in and there is nothing much more to it.
With regard to the Leader programme will the Minister clarify that there was a limit of €500,000-----
Perhaps the Chairman will give me a minute and a half - there was a limit of €500,000 to ensure Leader programme money was spent on projects that would be there for the long distance future, because €1 million does very little these days? I understand that the figure is now reduced to €200,000 for non-commercial projects. One will not do anything with any decent community facility with that kind of a grant. Will the Minister confirm that is what has happened and will she explain the raison d'êtrebehind it? It seems that it is going to diminish the effect of the Leader programme in moving away from very small projects that are not long term to ones that would have significant long-term distance?
My last two questions will be very quick. Has the Department any plans to fund Rural Resettlement Ireland? It is my understanding that it has no source of funding and it has been doing good work repopulating rural Ireland and bringing in people from the urban areas where there is excessive pressure. Will the Department fund that organisation to ensure its long-term existence?
Has the Department any plans to provide long-term funding for social farming? I believe there was a pilot project under the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas, CEDRA, but is funding going to be provided for long-term social farming? The Minister is aware of the concept of social farming and is she going to provide funds for it long-term?
There are a number of things to welcome. The €10 million for the village renewal is very welcome, and even though it is only a small amount, it is a step in the right direction. I believe the local authorities are to submit their applications to the Department for approval by Friday. I ask that the Minister does not delay long in turning it around. I understand that the work must be completed and the money drawn down before the end of the year.
With regard to the Leader programme, it is my understanding that no money has come to any development company yet nor has the funding been given to them, or indeed to IRD Duhallow or to the north-east Kerry or south Kerry partnerships. There was €250 million announced. Is it coming next year? It has not arrived yet so are we talking about 2017? Will we get extra funding when we go into another year given that the Department has saved so much this year?
The Minister said that a further €3 million is being added to the CLÁR programme. I can tell her that for the past ten years we did not get a bone farthing. Was some section of the community or some part of Ireland being included, was it left included or was it still getting funded? We were not getting any and it meant an awful lot. I ask that our fair share is given to us in Kerry because there are a lot of little roads that used to be done under that scheme, along with group water schemes, and for which there is now a demand again. Even group sewerage schemes in certain places qualified. If the Minister is saying to me that a further €3 million is available, I want to know how much was being given out to the other counties in recent years.
We all have a wish list and I have already spoken about local improvement schemes. The Minister gave me an answer and I could not get back to her. She said that the local authorities were still allowed to do local improvement schemes. Of course they can do them but they must get the funding. There is currently funding for five schemes this year. We have 160 schemes on our list sanctioned and approved. There are 500 or more waiting to be assessed. At five a year it will take about 200 years to deal with what is inside the offices of Kerry County Council. I remember years when we did about 48 or 50 schemes. Some years we did 110 or 111 schemes in one year. I want that kind of money restored to those people on those roads.
I can remember my father telling me that in 2010 the Department of Finance tried to get the former Minister for transport, Noel Dempsey to abolish that scheme. He did not let them that year. However, the next year the then Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, abolished the scheme and it was ordained by the Department of Finance. It said that it was not fair for the taxpayer to be paying for private roads. However, these are not essentially private roads. They are private in the sense that they are not in the control of the local authority but there are as many as ten, 12 or 15 houses on some of these roads. They pay their car tax, their property tax and every other thing they are being asked to pay for. They have their own water and are not looking for free water. They have to provide their own septic tanks. They are entitled to a road to their door if there is money and if things are improving a bit. These people have been languishing since 2008. Some of these people have made their application under this scheme as far back as that and they are languishing. We are nearly going into 2020 and there is no sign of any improvement for them.
The Minister is from rural Ireland also. She should not tell me that the local authorities have the funding to do the work because they do not have it. They only get so much for the county roads programme and if they take the funds from that then some other road that was on the list for the three-year roads programme would have to forgo the money, which would not be fair.
I do not want to hog the meeting but I am glad to get the opportunity. It is something that is very important to many people in the place I represent.
I will answer Deputy Healy-Rae first. With regard to the Leader programme, the funding is going to companies that have signed the contracts. Some of the Leader companies have been receiving transitional funding while they were preparing their strategies. The funding is there. It will be fine if there is any specific issue that the Deputy would like to bring up with me later with regard to his company in Kerry but it is my understanding that the funding is available to them.
On the question of mountain rescue, the Minister is quite correct. They are looking for the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to take that over, and I will. I shall explain why. The same thing happened in the previous Department which covered it, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Nobody would give them any funding. I put up a scheme, which I should not have done and I was advised by officials not to do it, but I did it because I felt that mountain rescue was entitled to support. At the time I gave them €3.5 million - I am open to correction on that figure - under the sports capital programme, even though technically it was not sports capital. A lot of walking, cycling and other sports facilities take place and the mountain rescue people would be there so I gave them some funding. It is an area I will look at again because I think they deserve support. They do a tremendous job and deserve to be supported. They do it in a voluntary capacity and they should have the equipment and whatever they need. I will certainly take it on and I will be looking at it for the new year.
The Deputy raised the work of the CLÁR programme since 2010.
I have to say this because the person responsible is here today: the CLÁR programme was one of the best schemes introduced for rural Ireland. We have not had one since 2010 and I am glad that has changed. I welcome the €3 million we have got for this year. Of course it is not enough money. I would love to get €20 million like Deputy Ó Cuív got in his day, but we will not be that lucky - they were the very good times. We do not have good times now. Anyway, I will be back in the Department trying to get as much as possible for a CLÁR programme for next year. I will I make my case to try to get the programme funded. The good news is that it has been opened again.
Deputy Ó Cuív referred to the rural recreation fund. Deputy Ó Cuív's county got €232,101, which was fair, out of €4.5 million. The sum related to the schemes applied for. In the case of Kerry County Council applications, anything that was valid was grant-aided. Last year the Department asked for submissions from local authorities. Officials went back to some of the local authorities again this year. Some of the local authorities had the work done in respect of the applications. Any local authority with a scheme that was valid and that fell under the criteria got grant-aided. We have gone back to local authorities again. We are asking them to come in with further submissions and we will have a further round in the coming weeks. Kerry got its fair share, as did every other county.
A number of parliamentary questions were tabled to me about counties that did not get funding. I had to answer one yesterday, and I was embarrassed when answering it for the Deputy. It would be hard for me to give money to any county that did not make an application and the county in question did not. Another county made two applications, one of which was invalid. I was accused by a Deputy of not giving funding for the other one but the job had been done by a local authority. We cannot grant-aid twice. We simply cannot do that.
I fully support Deputy Healy-Rae's comments on the local improvement scheme. He is 100% right. I want members to bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, before the committee and make the case. Deputy Healy-Rae is quite correct to say that when I was in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport the scheme was abolished. I got it back in the way that it is back now. Anyway, I am keen for Deputy Healy-Rae to ensure that he brings the Minister before this committee. Deputy Healy-Rae is quite correct about the people living in rural Ireland. I understand it better than Deputy Healy-Rae. Along with him, Deputy Ó Cuív and everyone else who lives in rural Ireland, I realise that the local improvement scheme is about the road up to the house or the road in and out of the main road. People living there are as entitled to have it as anyone else. We need to get funding put in place for it. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport needs to look at getting that scheme up and running again. It worked well. Deputy Healy-Rae did not make this point, but people forget that these people pay their taxes, rates, water charges and whatever they are asked to pay. They also make a contribution towards that road as well. The scheme worked well and I support Deputy Healy-Rae 100%. I am asking the Deputy and this committee to bring in the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to ensure funding is put in place for that scheme for next year.
If a crisis begins to develop with the local improvement schemes throughout the country, it is something I can look at in the context of the CLÁR programme. However, at the end of the day I have no wish to be doing the job of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport when it comes to putting funding into roads. As Deputy Ó Cuív knows, we need the CLÁR funding for many other projects in the programme that need to be subsidised and helped. We need to do that.
The time is tight. We will leave those until afterwards because there are other people on this committee. Perhaps the Minister of State will answer those questions after the other questions are addressed because we have all agreed to do ten minutes of questioning and responses. When we reach those ten minutes, we have to proceed to the next speaker.
The Minister of State spoke about the greenways and of his having an objective of bringing the project back to this Department. Can you give us some detail on how you are getting on with that?
I am not going very well and I am very disappointed. I was asked to chair a co-ordination group to do the greenways and I will not do it. I am not going to chair it if I do not have responsibility. We have the walks and trails within our Department but the greenways are staying with Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I am disappointed because I believe it should be co-ordinated by one Department only. I believe this is the right Department because we are good at talking to farmers. We have the walks scheme in place. We saw it handed over to the National Transport Authority or the National Roads Authority, as it was known then. What happened? Those responsible thought they could go in and walk over farmers, go in on their green land and put greenways in place. It did not work. It is not going to happen, Chairman. I am disappointed because I had thought I was going to get it, but it is not going to happen.
Go raibh maith agat. I have a question for an tAire, an Teachta Humphreys, with regard to the Leader programme. You signed the contracts for the Meath Partnership in recent months. I know there had been some difficulties with Meath Partnership previously. Does Meath Partnership owe the Department any money?
The Chairman is aware of a confidential legal agreement that was put in place with Meath Partnership. That was entered into by the then Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I have not seen that contract. However, I understand there is a clause in it that allows the Comptroller and Auditor General to view the contract.
We are elected representatives trying to get confidence that taxpayers' moneys are well spent. Yet there is a legal block on me asking the Minister a question on whether the Meath Partnership owes the State funds. Is that correct?
Yes, as I said, there is a clause in the contract to the effect that the Comptroller and Auditor General will have access to the contract. I can take advice to see what I can let the Chairman know about it.
I will give you a minute or two to think about it. Obviously, there is a confidentiality agreement and yet a new contract has been signed with the same organisation. Does that lead to a challenge to you in any way?
I am satisfied that we have signed new contracts. There is a strategy that has to be adhered to. The strategy was independently assessed in respect of the different Leader companies decided upon. I am satisfied there are controls in place and that the strategy has to be met.
I have one final question. I tabled a parliamentary question previously relating to Meath Partnership. I asked whether Meath Partnership was under investigation by the Garda. The reply I received stated it was the Minister's understanding that this was the case. However, the partnership refutes that. We put the same question to Meath Partnership and those responsible say they are not under investigation by the Garda. Is it your understanding that they are?
Okay. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire faoin mhéid sin.
Tá ceist agam, agus muid ag caint faoi eagraíochtaí trasteorann, a bhaineann le Foras na Gaeilge. Fuair mé eolas cúpla lá ó shin mar gheall ar rudaí atá ag titim amach i dtaobh an fhorais. De bharr an gearradh siar airgid nó an cúlú infheistíochta san fhoras, tá na cultúrlanna i nDoire agus i mBéal Feirste i mbaol. Tar éis d'ionadaithe an fhorais agus na cultúrlanna cruinniú a bheith acu, tá siad ag caint anois faoi leath an bhuiséid a fhaigheann an dá chultúrlann a ghearradh siar. Ciallódh sé sin go dtiocfadh bac ar fhás an Cheathrú Ghaeltachta i nDoire agus i mBéal Feirste agus freisin go gcaillfear ceithre phost i nDoire agus trí phost i mBéal Feirste. Tá faitíos ann go mbeidh orthu na háiseanna seo a dhruid. I slí amháin, tá an Tuaisceart i bhfad níos fearr mar gheall ar an nGaeilge a chur chun cinn i measc an phobail lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht. Bheadh sé go hiontach dá mbeadh cultúrlann i ngach cathair sa Deisceart. Is sampla é seo den tairbhe atá caillte nuair a déantar gearradh siar ar suimeanna airgid sa chaoi seo. An féidir leis an Aire Stáit a rá linn inniu go mbeadh níos mó airgid ag Foras na Gaeilge an bhliain seo chugainn, ionas go mbeidís in ann stop a chur leis an gearradh siar seo?
Níl mé chun gealltanas a thabhairt don Chathaoirleach faoi bhuiséad an fhorais. Déanaim cásanna ar nós an cás seo a chur roimh an Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe i gcónaí.
Phléigh mé le mo chomhghleacaithe anseo sa Roinn é. Ó thaobh fadhbanna laistigh den fhoras sin de, is ceist é sin do bhord an fhorais sa chéad áit. Caithfidh mé a rá nach bhfuair muid aon eolas ó thaobh na fadhbanna sin de. Chas mé leis an bpríomhfheidhmeannach agus an cathaoirleach roimh an sos agus phléigh muid cúrsaí búséid ach níor phléigh muid an cheist seo. Ní bhfuair mé aon cheist as sin amach.
I launched the Leader programme as the Deputy has outlined, with €10 million for the town and village project; €5 million was announced last week for the Rural Economic Development Zones, REDZ, programme; €4.5 million for the rural recreation projects and the Minister of State intends to announce details of the new CLÁR programme shortly. We have done a lot in a relatively short period. None of these schemes in isolation is a silver bullet for the problems facing rural Ireland. I am very conscious of these problems. These schemes form part of a suite of measures to support rural communities.
The Department has commenced work on the action plan for rural development and the programme for a partnership Government contains more than 80 commitments relating to rural Ireland. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, I or the Department cannot single-handedly solve all the problems facing rural Ireland. That is why we need a cross-Government approach. We need joined-up thinking to ensure that all policies and initiatives are rural-proofed. I have written to my Cabinet colleagues asking them to outline the steps their Departments will take to support rural Ireland. It is a question of holding Ministers to account on what they are doing for rural Ireland. As the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, said, the Ministers need to come in to discuss the local improvement schemes. I will hold them to account under the action plan but this committee needs to hold them to account too. I want to see other Departments discriminate positively in favour of rural Ireland. There are 2 million people living in rural Ireland and I am one of them. I live in the middle of a parish in the middle of the country. That is why the REDZ programme asks the towns to work with the hinterland. This is not just for the towns. There is tremendous community spirit and we need to tap into that. That is why I am going out on regional consultations. On Friday morning, I am going to Cavan for the first of these. They are organised through the local authorities and I will ask different community groups for their ideas. I do not have all the solutions. It is a question of working with communities across the country and harnessing that energy and the commitment that I and all the rural Deputies know exists.
The action plan will be an overarching structure for the co-ordination and implementation of initiatives across Government. It is the first co-ordinated approach to rural Ireland. I believe it can make a difference and will benefit rural Ireland. My objective is to finalise the plan for publication in November. I will give a briefing session on the plan to Oireachtas Members in the audio visual room tomorrow. I have written to this committee and am happy to take any of the committee members' suggestions on board because we need to work together to find solutions.
In respect of the €1 million being spent on broadband, I am asking local authorities to help roll out the broadband to rural Ireland. I have asked each local authority to appoint a broadband co-ordinator in order that when the national broadband plan is rolled out in 2017, it will not find on going into a county that there are excessive development levies to build infrastructure for broadband. There should be no barriers to it because we need it rolled out as quickly as possible. I am working with them to find how we can deliver short-term solutions.
Deputy Ó Cuív mentioned Eir rolling out broadband, which is all fine and well. I am delighted to see the company rolling something out at long last because there seemed to be a reluctance to roll anything out before the national broadband plan was mentioned. Now it is in the procurement process and is planned for 2017. There seems to be a sense of urgency all round now to deliver broadband. I am very happy about that. The Deputy also lives in rural Ireland. When I go to make a telephone call, I am hanging out the window with the mobile phone because there is no coverage. These matters need to be addressed. I am glad that the commercial operators are starting to step up to the mark.
The Deputy mentioned the limits on the Leader funding. I am not familiar with that particular operating rule but I will consider it. I do not want any rules in place that will prohibit putting together and delivering projects for the benefit of rural Ireland.
One of the issues in the early Leader programmes was that we got plenty of very small things but not the kind of things that would make people say 20 years on that they are fantastic. Most of those developments need much more than €1 million. They need €0.5 million of Leader funding because there are very few other sources of funding other than local authorities and local collecting. That was why the €500 million for the non-commercial was set the last time. Anybody who was dealing with the Leader programme would say that got flagship things done in counties that needed them, big and small.
I asked the Minister a core question. There are all these nice programmes to be done with €19 million because there was an underspend in Leader. Presumably she does not expect there to be an underspend in Leader next year because it will be up and running then. The money will be rolled out very fast because we are into the third year of a seven year plan and we need to get it going. Allowing that it spends €14 million next year between administration and other matters, where will the Minister get the €19 million just to stay steady with all the other programmes she funded this year out of the underspend?
The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is dealing with the national broadband plan and the Minister, Deputy Naughten, would be able to answer that question. My role is to work with the local authorities and preparing for when the plan is being rolled out. The Chairman would have to ask him that question because I do not know the answer.
My understanding is that the State will pay an annual fee but I have no idea what that figure will be. The State will put €275 million in to help the private sector build an infrastructure and then it will pay an annual fee to the private organisations to run it.
I am not familiar with the details of the national plan, that is for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I know, however, that the State has to subsidise the commercial operators to roll out the broadband, whoever the preferred bidder is, to rural Ireland. Unfortunately 30% of the people who do not have broadband live in 95% of the landmass. It is akin to rural electrification. It is a massive task.
There are two jurisdictions for the contracts, therefore one provider could win one jurisdiction and another provider the other jurisdiction. The outputs, speeds, capacity and cost of the systems could very easily be different in two jurisdictions. Two villages five miles apart might have two separate cost structures and speeds delivered in this process.
This falls within the remit of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment but I understand that certain standards have to be met and there is a benchmark. The customer should not pay any more for broadband in rural Ireland than in the cities.
There is a benchmark for what people will pay and the figure should be similar across the country.
There is a benchmark with regard to a broadband speed of 30 Mbp but with respect to speeds above that level, one provider could provide a broadband speed of 15 Mbp and another could provide a broadband speed of 100 Mbp under the new contract arrangements.
The Minister mentioned that we are contacting the local authorities to get them on board to ensure the facilities are in place for the roll-out of this service with respect to wayleaves and all the aspects involved. Would it not be better for the Government to direct the councils that a certain standard is necessary for the roll out given that under the current system, we could reach the stage where a number of local authorities have not got their act together and that could result in a delivery delay? I am being told there is no guarantee the final roll-out of broadband will be completed by 2022, that it could continue beyond that.
I had bilaterals with every local authority last week and I had previously met the County and City Management Association. I work closely with them and from my experience, they all want the roll-out of broadband. They know the importance of broadband to every county. Every one of them said they were up to the mark, that they want to work with us and that their county needs broadband. It is major priority for them. They have all agreed to put broadband co-ordinators in place and to put a senior official at directorate level in charge of it to make sure it can happen. They are taking the issue seriously.
The Minister mentioned the issue of mobile phones. It is obvious that the quality of the reception coverage has been deteriorating in recent times. I believe, as do many others, that the reason for that is that the larger phones are taking more out of the system. I am not doing that with my phone as I have one of the older ones. The providers need to be tackled about this. In areas where one could get coverage previously, one cannot get it now. When one gets off an airplane in Farranfore now, one cannot get coverage but coverage was available previously. When I got my first phone, I knew all the areas that had bad coverage at the start. However, those areas have now got bad coverage again. The service providers in all the areas should be tackled about this issue. They should be told that this is what we believe is happening and that they need to enhance their service. It is not good enough in today's world that people do not have good mobile phone coverage. As in the case of broadband, we should have a good mobile phone coverage all over the country.
I was advised of a case a few weeks ago where a man in Scotland was knocked down by a bull but, thankfully, he was able to use his mobile phone to call for help. Most farmers are operating on their own and they do not have any help. A mobile phone is their only saviour to let someone know if they get into trouble. One can get into trouble on a farm. The same is the case for sole traders operating on their own. A mobile phone is a necessity as it could save someone's life but he or she does not have coverage, he or she might as well throw the phone into the bin and forget about it. I ask that the lack of coverage be tackled right away.
I asked a question about rural resettlement but I do not believe I got an answer. I also asked a question about social farming. I would make two points. I am always worried about the terminology of the establishment and I do not mean that in a complimentary way. The idea that people who live outside towns are in the hinterland seems to infer that we have a dependency on the great urban centres. I know it is only a term by using it, we all buy into a concept that those of us who live outside the towns do not live in real places. To me, the hinterland is the town and I believe I am living in the centre of the universe. I am sure the Minister is living in rural Ireland like myself and she would think the same about this issue. Those of us who are part of the 1.5 million living outside towns with a population of 1,500 in pure rural areas have a huge challenge to fight back collectively against the mindset that sees us as some adjunct to society but not a central part of it. It is not as if we are a tiny minority.
That brings me on to my second issue of concern. Údáras na Gaeltachta did a deal with Arramara Teoranta. There is a confidentiality clause in it as there is with respect to the Leader programme in Meath. We, the public representatives, cannot find out how much money the State got out of the deal with Arramara. It seems there are two are conflicting laws here. There is the right of the Oireachtas to information on Government income and expenditure, the details of it and whether there were good or bad deals but the new fashion everybody seems to be following, including the State which I find obnoxious, is the signing of confidentiality clauses. I believe that no state should sign a confidentiality clause except on personal details but on financial details regarding taxpayers' money, there should be no such thing as a confidentiality clause. If money was given to, written off or some arrangements were arrived at with Meath Partnership in respect of Leader funds, we should be privy to that. If the State did or did not receive money from Arramara Teoranta, we should be privy to that because it is Oireachtas Éireann's money because we, not the Government, vote all the money for expenditure and part of that is the accruals that come back in. I feel quite agitated about this. With every way we went about asking the simple question of how much the State got for the sale of a factory, we got the bum's rush. With respect to every parliamentary question, direct question and media question to Údaras na Gaeltachta, it refused, after the event, to tell us how much money it got for the sale of a factory. If it signed a confidentiality agreement, that is totally wrong. The Government should give an instruction that where State money is involved, there cannot be a confidentiality agreement around the amount of VAT money.
In response to Deputy Danny Healy-Rae's question, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment, the Minister, Deputy Naughten, and I chair a mobile phone and broadband task force, the role of which is to examine immediate measures we can take in the short-term to alleviate the broadband and the mobile phone service deficits right across the country. The task force has identified some measures and actions that need to be taken to improve the mobile coverage and it will report back to us on a number of issues at the next meeting. We have had one meeting with them and they have met a number of times. They have identified a number of issues. It is about trying to improve coverage.
In terms of social farming, that falls under the remit of the Department of Social Protection, it does not come under our Department's remit. On the question on rural resettlement, that comes under the remit of the Department of Social Protection. That is where the action plan comes into play and that Department will set out actions with respect to those matters.
Deputy Ó Cuív made a point about confidentiality agreements and I understand where he is coming from. I inherited this position and I take his point on board.
The Deputy is right about changing the narrative on rural areas. I am in the same position as the Deputy because I live in the middle of the country. When I speak to people in rural areas, I note there is no better sense of community and commitment than there is among them. The Deputy and I know that when something is wrong in a household, the whole community comes together to assist. When someone wants to solve a problem or when the football club wants to raise a few bob, all members of the community come together. There is sometimes far greater strength of community in the rural areas than in the towns. There is a greater community, a real community, in rural areas because we look after one another. I accept the point that we need to change the narrative. The Deputy is correct that the word "hinterland" is not the correct word. We will do what is proposed.
I would like to bring this rural love-in to a close. I thank the Minister for giving of her time generously to the committee. It is very much appreciated. No doubt, we will be in contact in the near future.