Wednesday, 8 February 2006
Dormant Accounts Fund.
Question 108: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on recent remarks made by a person (details supplied) the chairman of Integrated Rural Development, Kiltimagh, on a show (details supplied) regarding the changes in the dormant fund allocation system which he claims has made the system less accessible and accountable. [4504/06]
The Deputy will be aware that I have outlined in the House on a number of occasions the reasons the Government decided to make changes to the dormant accounts scheme. In summary, these were to fully address governance and accountability issues and to provide for greater transparency in decision-making on disbursements.
On 4 January 2006, I announced details concerning the allocation of €24 million from the dormant accounts fund this year for the purpose of supporting programmes and types of projects tackling social and economic disadvantage. Following this announcement, there was a certain amount of media coverage, including an interview on national radio with a representative from Integrated Rural Development, Kiltimagh, concerning the changes introduced by Government on dormant accounts.
There may have been an impression given in the interview that Pobal was previously the decision-making authority with regard to disbursements from the dormant accounts fund. This is clearly not the case. The Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board engaged Pobal as a service provider to administer the initial round of funding on its behalf. In this regard, Pobal received and evaluated applications and submitted its advice to the board which then made decisions on whether applications should be approved or not.
Under the new arrangements recently put in place by the Government, applications will be received and assessed against published criteria by or on behalf of public bodies and the results of such assessments submitted to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The Minister will then submit the results of the assessments to the Government for approval. It is anticipated that Pobal will, in the main, be engaged as a service provider to again carry out the function of receiving and assessing applications similar to its role for the former board.
Will the Minister of State agree that this criticism, coming immediately after the first round of allocations under the new system, undermines many of the arguments the Minister has been making, particularly in the recent dormant accounts legislation? If a system is to be seen to be accountable and accessible, it does nothing for the Government's credibility if those who have had most experience of such allocations in the past, including personal direct experience in the assessment of allocations for communities, react in such a negative way immediately following a new system being operated. For those of us who criticised the new system of allocations as having the potential to be open to abuse, particularly with successors in the Department of Community, Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs, we now have confirmation on the ground that the system does not find acceptance, is not seen to be working and has none of the qualities described by the Minister of State in terms of being open or transparent.
I do not agree with Deputy Boyle. There was much favourable media comment after we made our announcements in early January. I am not sure if I heard that interview but I heard a few of them — I may have heard that one. Some people were all mixed up. Deputy Boyle may have drawn conclusions, or one interview followed another and people quoted things as gospel which were absolutely not so. I realise that person had previous experience and knowledge of ADM but some of the things I heard on radio were due to people not realising what was happening. We clearly explained the system several times and I think it will work and be accepted and appreciated by people as the schemes are rolled out during the year.
My question was specific. It related to a specific interview and the experience of a particular individual. If this person who has had direct experience of the assessment process in the past is unhappy about how the new system is working, that reflects greater unhappiness among the community and voluntary sector as a whole. It is an attempt to obscure the issue for the Minister of State to talk about the lack of knowledge apparent in other interviews. The Government is in difficulty on this issue and if it wants to bring credibility to this process it must urgently examine how these allocations are made and by whom so that those who make the applications know they are being assessed honestly.
The system we have introduced is in accordance with the legislation. It is very open and transparent. We have gone through that several times so I will not rehash the debate we had on the legislation. ADM was employed by the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board as a service provider in the previous round of funding. ADM is now called Pobal and it will have much the same role this time — as a service provider. It was not a decision maker in the previous round and it is not a decision maker this time. I cannot swear that I heard that interview and I did not listen to it a second time, but I believe that some people, perhaps including the person to whom Deputy Boyle referred, were a bit mixed up. The journalist may not have been all that well up on this area. There is no real change in the role of ADM.