Tuesday, 3 July 2007
Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 [Seanad]: Second and Subsequent Stages
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Cúis áthais dom an deis seo a fháil chun an Bille um Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta (Forálacha Inghnéitheacha) 2007 a chur in bhur láthair. Is é bunchuspóir an Bhille ná bonn comhtháite reachtúil a chinntiú don raon leathan feidhmeanna agus dualgas a thagann faoi mo choimirce mar Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta. Dá réir sin, féachann an Bille le mandáid reachtúil níos soiléire a dhaingniú do na feidhmeanna uile a aistríodh ar bhonn Ionstraimí Reachtúla nó Orduithe Aistriú Feidhmeanna, mar aon leis na cláracha nua a tionscnaíodh, ó bunaíodh mo Roinnse i Meitheamh 2002.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to bring the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 before Dáil Éireann and to outline its main provisions. Members of the House will note that this is a short Bill, with a total of nine sections, and that many of the provisions reflected in the Bill are primarily of a technical nature. The main purpose of the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 is to confirm and secure an integrated statutory basis for the broad range of functions and responsibilities of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Essentially, the Bill aims to secure a more coherent statutory mandate for functions previously transferred to the Minister by way of statutory instrument and transfer of functions orders, with new programmes introduced since the establishment of my Department in June 2002. In addition to this, a number of technical amendments to existing legislation are also proposed in the Bill.
The objectives and key features of the Bill, including the technical amendments to existing legislation, will confirm the powers, functions and responsibilities of the Minister. The Bill will also provide for the inclusion in the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 of section 18 of the Western Development Commission Act 1998 and amend section 8(5) of the Western Development Commission Act 1998, raising to €1 million the limit of financial or other material aid to enterprises or projects, which the Western Development Commission can provide without the consent of the Minister. Section 2(4) of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003 will be amended in respect of transport services for island students, while sections 3(1)(b) and 3(1)(c) of that Act will be amended to clarify the Minister's remit regarding specified functions in respect of new aerodromes and ancillary facilities connected with the provision of air services between the islands and the mainland. The Bill aims to repeal the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts from 1949 to 2002.
I will now outline on a section by section basis the key aspects of the Bill. In line with the main purpose of the Bill which is to confirm the statutory basis for the broad range of functions and responsibilities coming within the remit of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, section 2 sets out a range of functions that are and are deemed always to have been functions of the Minister. Members will note that the range of functions outlined includes community development, voluntary activity and philanthropy, rural development and the co-ordination of the national drugs strategy. Functions outlined also cover the Irish language, including the co-ordination of policy in this regard, the development of the Gaeltacht and the islands, and North-South co-operation within the ambit of these functions, including matters relating to Ulster Scots heritage, culture and language. This provision is without prejudice to the generality of any other provision of the Bill or any other enactment conferring functions on the Minister. In other words, the provision in the Bill does not affect any other existing statutory provisions in relation to the functions of the Minister. In addition, section 2 of the Bill provides for powers to develop, implement, maintain, expand or terminate any scheme that, in the Minister's opinion, supports or promotes the functions set out in the Bill.
It should be noted that section 2 does not seek to limit or assume in any way the powers, functions and responsibilities of other Ministers or State agencies or bodies. Accordingly, there is provision in the Bill for appropriate consultation with other Ministers.
Responsibility for rural development falls within the remit of my Department. One of the bodies falling within the ambit of my Department is the Western Development Commission, WDC. In line with the requirements of the Department of Finance regarding the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and the WDC, I have taken the opportunity in the Bill to provide in section 3 for the inclusion in the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 of section 18 of the Western Development Commission Act 1998. Essentially, the effect is that this provision which relates to a prohibition on the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information can no longer be cited as grounds for refusing access to records sought under the Freedom of Information Acts. This section of the Bill provides for greater transparency and will enable the public have access to Western Development Commission records previously unavailable to them.
Section 4 also relates to the Western Development Commission. As the Deputies will be aware, the commission was established under the Western Development Commission Act 1998 to promote the economic and social development of the western region. This Act requires that direct assistance provided by the commission shall be in the form of the purchase of shares in share capital and the provision of loans, but excluding grant aid. The commission is unique among State agencies in that it provides such venture capital by means of its own investment vehicle, the western investment fund.
Section 8(5) of the Western Development Commission Act 1998 provides that:
Financial or other material aid provided to enterprises or projects by the Commission shall be in such form and subject to such terms and conditions as may be determined from time to time (at such times as may be specified by the Minister) by the Commission with the consent of the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, and the amount thereof, in the case of any particular enterprise or project, shall not exceed £250,000 (€317,434) without the consent in writing of the Minister.
The figure of £250,000 provided for in the 1998 legislation was set down at a time when fewer projects were being approved for funding by the Western Development Commission. Given inflation and the increasing number of projects funded by the commission that now exceed the £250,000 value, I have decided in section 4 to provide for the raising to €1 million of the limit for financial or other material aid to enterprises or projects which the commission can provide without seeking the formal consent of the Minister. It is my view that the proposed new limit will provide for a more efficient and streamlined project approval process.
I now propose to deal with sections 5, 6 and 7. As I have previously stated, I am taking the opportunity in the Bill to make a number of technical amendments to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003. Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 2 of the 2003 Act and will enable my Department to pay subsidies in respect of travel by island students to second level schools on the mainland which are outside the radius of 120km of the terminus currently provided for. This will enable my Department to address issues that have arisen in respect of students on Inishbofin. My Department had been subsidising, as part of the Inishbofin subsidised ferry service, a bus service on Sunday and Friday afternoons between Cleggan Pier and St. Jarlath's College, Tuam, which is within the aforementioned 120 km radius of Cleggan. Within the past couple of years, however, St. Jarlath's College has ceased taking first year boarders, which means that students from Inishbofin now attend Garbally College, Ballinasloe. This has created a difficulty in that Garbally College lies outside the 120 km radius of Cleggan, thus prohibiting payment of a subsidy in respect of the bus service to that location. It would only be in exceptional circumstances such as this that my Department would be required to use the provision proposed in the Bill. Any regulations made in respect of such cases would be made following consultation with the Minister for Education and Science and with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Transport.
In the Bill I am also providing for the amendment of section 3 of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003. This amendment is provided for in section 6 and will clarify the Minister's remit in respect of specified functions relating to both existing and new aerodromes and ancillary facilities connected with the provision of air services between the islands and the mainland.
My Department recently took legal advice on the use of the words "any such" in section 3(1)(b) and (c) in the 2003 Act and the advice was that this wording could be deemed to restrict the Minister to performing these functions solely in respect of existing aerodromes acquired in accordance with section 3(1)(a) of the 2003 Act.
The Bill provides for the repeal of the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts from 1949 to 2002, following the transfer of the State shareholding in the former commercial State body Arramara Teoranta to Údaras na Gaeltachta with effect from 16 October 2006. Alginate Industries (Ireland) Limited was established in 1947 as a company limited by shares and changed its name to Arramara Teoranta by certificate in 1955. The principal activity of the company is to produce seaweed meal for use in the alginate industry. The State's involvement arose from the acquisition of shares in the company, as provided for in the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts, over a period from 1949 to 2002. In 2006 the Government decided to transfer its shareholding in Arramara Teoranta which is located in the Connemara Gaeltacht at Cill Chiaráin to Údaras na Gaeltachta, the State body with responsibility for the overall economic development of the Gaeltacht. It is within this context that the repeal of the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts 1949 to 2002 is proposed.
It is my view that the transfer of Arramara Teoranta to Údaras na Gaeltachta has been very positive for the body. Arramara Teoranta's seaweed business is a good fit with Údaras na Gaeltachta's focus upon indigenous and natural resources in the Gaeltacht generally. As a result of this action, Údaras na Gaeltachta now holds the entire shareholding of the company and its stewardship will offer scope for expansion of the existing business into more value-added products. In the longer term this move will achieve optimum coherence regarding State investment in industry in the Gaeltacht, in addition togreater flexibility in regard to the development and future of Arramara.
In addition to facilitating a number of amendments to existing legislation, the legislative proposals will provide a firm and more coherent statutory basis for the wide-ranging functions and responsibilities currently assigned to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
I thank my colleagues, Deputies McGinley and O'Shea, for agreeing to take all Stages of this primarily technical Bill today and look forward to the debate on its provisions.
Déanaim chomhghairdeas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle ar a thoghadh ar an 30ú Dáil. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sé sult, taitneamh agus aoibhneas as a sheal sa Chathaoir údarásach sin ina bhfuil sé ina shuí i láthair na huaire. Chomh maith leis sin, déanaim chomhghairdeas leis an Aire ar a athcheapadh i mbun na Roinne. Tá buntáiste amháin le é a athcheapadh go bhfuil leanúnachas i bpolasaí na Roinne fad agus a bheas sé ansin.
Is Bille neamhurchóideach teicniúil é seo. Tá sé de chuspóir aige ord agus eagar a chur ar dhualgais agus freagrachtaí éagsúla na Roinne. De réir mar a thuigim, tháinig an moladh ón Ard-Aighne go dtabharfaí an Bille seo isteach agus go ndéanfaí é sin. Mar sin, is féidir liom a rá ag an tosach nach mbeimid ag cur i gcoinne an Bhille agus go mbeimid ag tabhairt lán-tacaíochta agus comhoibriú dó.
This technical, non-controversial Bill is intended to perform a tidying up exercise at the request of the Attorney General. The legislation was initiated in the Seanad when most Deputies were otherwise engaged, although the Minister probably had to abandon important business in Galway West to attend proceedings in the Seanad. I am not aware what would be constitutional position in the event that the legislation is passed by the new Dáil. Must it go before the current Seanad or a newly constituted Upper House? It may a straightforward matter. Perhaps it will be sent directly to the President for signature if it is passed without amendment in the Dáil this evening.
I accept the need to secure an integrated statutory basis for certain ministerial functions and I am grateful to the Minister and his officials for itemising the functions in question. They include community development, voluntary activity and philanthropy, rural development, the national drugs strategy, teanga na Gaeilge, including the co-ordination of policy in this regard and the development of the Gaeltacht and the Islands, and North-South co-operation — Comhoibriú Thuaidh-Theas — including matters relating to Ulster-Scots heritage, culture and language, in which there is particular interest in parts of my constituency. Appropriate consultation with other Ministers is provided for in the Bill. These are worthy objectives.
Section 3 provides for the inclusion in the Third Schedule in the Freedom of Information Act 1997 of section 18 of the Western Development Commission Act 1998. The effect will be that this provision can no longer be cited as grounds for refusing access to records sought under freedom of information legislation. The previous Government, of which the Minister was an important member, restricted access to information and any provision that makes it easier to obtain information from Departments of State or semi-State bodies is more than welcome.
Section 4 provides for the raising to €1 million of the limit of financial or other material aid to enterprises or projects, which the Western Development Commission can provide without seeking the formal consent of the Minister. Tuigim go bhfuil sé sin fíor cheana féin, chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé le hÚdarás na Gaeltachta. Bhí sé de cheart ag Údarás na Gaeltachta b'fhéidir IR£200,000 a thabhairt, agus tá sé sin imithe suas go dtí thar IR£1 milliún. Má táimid ag déanamh an rud céanna le Coimisiún an Iarthair, tá sé loighciúil agus prataiciúil go ndéanfaí é sin. Cuireann sé iontas orm gurbh é an teorainn a bhí ann go dtí seo ná IR£250,000. Is dóiche go bhfuil sé in am againn aistriú ó phunt go dtí euro, fiú amháin chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé le Coimisiún an Iarthair.
Section 5 enables the Minister to pay subsidies in respect of travel by island students. Baineann sé seo go príomha leis an chás ar Oileán Inis Bó Finne ar chósta na Gaillimhe, ní Inis Bó Finne ar chósta Dhún na nGall. Pupils from Inis Bó Finne do not travel to school on the mainland because they all live on the mainland. I approve of the section.
Is it time to establish post-primary facilities on Inis Bó Finne. Since I entered the House I have seen excellent developments in my constituency regarding provision of post-primary facilities. I recall when former Minister for Education, Gemma Hussey, approved a secondary school for Oileán Árainn Mhóir during the term of the coalition Government of 1983 to 1987. Gairmscoil Mhic Diarmada on the island does excellent work. It has won competitions and former pupils have graduated from various universities and travelled to different parts of the world. I remember travelling to the island at the start of my career in the House more than 25 years ago. On Sunday evenings every parent on the island would be at Leadhb Gharbh watching their offspring heading off to spend the week on the mainland. It was a sad sight to behold.
The Minister was probably partly responsible for approving an mheánscoil ar Oileán Thoraí, atá ag dul go maith. I was on the island one Sunday two or three months before the election was called and it was clear that the islanders were proud that, for the first time in many years, young people from the island were graduating from university. Tá múinteoir oilte ar Oileán Thoraí anois a fuair a cuid oideachais agus a bhí in ann teacht ar ais go dtí a hoileán féin le glacadh le cúram na scoile. That is progress.
I do not know what is the position on Inis Bó Finne, although I am sure it has a bunscoil. Perhaps the provision of subsidies to bring pupils from the island to Garbally Park since the closure of St. Jarlath's College is a good idea. However, for the future of the island, its children, their parents and the family unit, we must consider providing a secondary level school on the island.
Section 6 clarifies the Minister's remit in respect of existing and new aerodromes and ancillary facilities. While progress has been made on access to the islands, we are trying to secure airstrips on most islands. At the risk of being parochial, I refer specifically to Oileán Thoraí, with its population of almost 200 souls, which has a primary and post-primary school. Although it has a good ferry service, which I have often used, including a number of times in recent weeks, the island is ideally suited to having an airstrip. I understand land has been identified, negotiations are taking place with the Land Registry and planning permission has already been granted by the local authority, but the situation is dragging on a bit. During the course of the 29th Dáil, more questions were put down by myself and others with regard to the airstrip there than any airstrip on another island. I hope that during the lifetime of this Dáil we will have a functioning airstrip on Oileán Thoraí.
The functions of Arramarra Teoranta have been given over to Údarás na Gaeltachta. The danger is that we would fragment the industrial development agencies. Údarás na Gaeltachta is very well equipped and knows the situation with regard to the Gaeltacht and the islands. Moreover, the handover of the functions of Arramarra has already happened — it is a fait accompli. I agree with this decision.
I am familiar with Arramarra, although it is now located in the Minister's constituency at Cill Chiaráin. Previously, it had a long tradition at Dungloe in my constituency, where it provided employment to people living in coastal communities. When it was transferred to Cill Chiaráin, an undertaking was given that Donegal seaweed farmers would be allowed to send their product to Cill Chiaráin, but we all knew this was a non-runner due to the cost of transport and so on, and that it was just a sop given at the time. However, an industry survives in the Kilcar area which exports seaweed throughout the world for use as fertiliser on golf courses. I am glad there were people with the imagination to fill that vacuum. Perhaps half a dozen people work at that plant, which I visited a number of times recently. At least something is happening as far as seaweed and natural product is concerned.
One of the measures in the Bill refers to drugs. We are all very concerned with what has happened in Cork in recent days. Island people and seafaring people are very observant and have great experience. If we are to tackle the drugs problem, we must harness the co-operation and interest of all. Why should we not have a voluntary core of people, perhaps on the islands, who would be able to report any unusual activity to those who can deal with such activity? We all need to get involved. I am sure the island people would love to have a role to ensure nothing illegal is imported into the country. If we can harness their interest, powers of observation and experience, it would give them a meaningful role.
On some islands the population doubles or trebles during the summer months due to visitors to Irish colleges and so on. It is a great pity there will not be a permanent Garda residence on the islands during those times. There have been a number of incidents on islands in my constituency recently — one as recently as last weekend — where people had to be brought to hospital due to what happened late at night. While gardaí visit the islands during the day, the Minister should use his influence to have a presence at night or perhaps a permanent presence during the summer. The people of the islands are tax paying citizens and, therefore, are entitled to the protection of the State. It is an issue of law and order. While this may not be the Minister's area of responsibility, he is interested in the islands and wants the people there to have the best of what we have on the mainland.
Is Bille neamhurchóideach, teicniúil é seo agus tá áthas orm tacaíocht a thabhairt dó. Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh Billí eile ag dul tríd le linn thréimhse na Dála nach mbeidh an comhoibriú céanna ann. Ní thabharfaidh an Bille seo, áfach, an Rialtas anuas an uair seo.
Déanaim chomhghairdeas leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle as ucht an onóra a bhronn an Teach seo air nuair a toghadh mar Leas-Cheann Comhairle é. Tá mé cinnte go n-éireoidh go geal leis sa phost sin. Tréaslaím leis an Aire faoi mar atá sé ina Aire sa Dáil arís agus tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go geal leis fosta. Tá fadhbanna idir lámha ag an Roinn agus caithfidh fuinneamh a bheith aige.
I thank the Minister for consulting Opposition spokespersons on the Bill in the course of the previous Dáil. We know its content and I do not propose to discuss the detail of its main provisions. We agree with the Minister. The Labour Party will not oppose the Bill and has not put down amendments to it. We accept the Bill for what it is, as outlined in the explanatory memorandum, which states: "The purpose of the Bill is to confirm and to secure an integrated statutory basis for the broad range of functions and responsibilities of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs." Nonetheless, I will make some observations on other issues that arise in the context of the Bill.
The term "scheme" is one of the terms defined in section 1, which states:
(a) means programmes or measures operated, managed, delivered or sponsored, whether in whole or in part, directly or indirectly or in conjunction or co-operation with any other person (including the European Union or any Department of State), by the Department in relation to the performance of any of the functions of the Minister...
I have a concern in this regard, namely, the elimination of duplication of schemes operated or provided by different Departments, although I accept an effort was made to deal with the issue during the lifetime of the last Government. The other Departments that are most important to the schemes of the Minister's Department are the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Minister put much work into this matter during the term of the last Government. Is he satisfied substantial progress has been made? Is more to be accomplished on this front? It is an issue that has given me some concern in the past. Obviously, substantial progress in this regard would be welcomed on all sides of the House.
I next turn to section 2 of the Bill, which concerns the functions of the Minister, including with regard to the Irish language. The section states: "...support and promote the Irish language, including the coordination of policy in this regard". What is meant by the co-ordination of policy? Obviously, the function in regard to the Irish language is spread over virtually all Departments in one form or another, although the Department of Education and Science would certainly be a major player, as would the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in the context of the funding provided for Irish language broadcasting.
There is no strategy for the Irish language although the Minister published a document last December. I am concerned about this because proper co-ordination is achievable only in the context of a strategy with clearly stated and defined objectives. What will the role of the Department, as described in the Bill, and that of the other Departments which have substantial responsibilities in respect of the Irish language, mean on a daily basis? Better co-ordination offers scope for getting better results from the available resources. Strategy is fundamental to that process.
Under the Bill the Minister has a responsibility to "co-ordinate the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy (including matters relating to the allocation of services and facilities to counter drug misuse in areas of the State where such misuse is significantly higher than in other areas of the State)." I hope that this does not envisage an over-concentration of facilities in certain areas because the problem of misuse of drugs exists everywhere and is growing. This was frequently aired during Question Time in the previous Dáil.
What exactly does "co-ordination" mean in this context? It is a weak term in respect of what is needed. It does not mean that the Minister can direct other Departments or State agencies to do what he feels is necessary. The Minister cannot nominate the priorities for other Departments and State agencies. We are losing the battle on this issue although there is a Cabinet sub-committee dedicated to it, as is the case with the Irish language. We need to step up the commitment to dealing with the problem. The Department should have more power to get things done and to see that other Departments and State agencies do not drag their feet.
I would like to see more openness in the selection of projects for community development. The patronage system that can develop over the lifetime of a Government that has been in office for ten years and looks like it will be there for another five can be detrimental to democracy. There is a need for this Government not to do as it did with the Dormant Accounts Bill, which this Minister stewarded through the last Dáil and which ceased the allocation of these funds by the independent board, giving that power to the Government. Does the Cabinet approve all the allocations or do certain Departments make allocations as they will? The use of national lottery money during the last general election campaign shows that a patronage structure can develop whereby certain funds become slush funds during the lifetime of a Government that has been too long in office.
Is anything emerging from North-South co-operation on the revival of Ulster Scots or Scottish Gaelic in which we can rejoice? We need clearly defined strategies for every aspect of the Irish language and its revival.
That the Western Development Commission is coming under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act is welcome. I spent a long time investigating this earlier today and it seems that more information will be available, which is progressive. That is one of the reasons for our support for this Bill.
The raising of the limit for financial or other material aid from £250,000 to €1 million is also welcome. I compliment the Minister on this move because it was the right decision. I recall his telling me that this concerns decentralisation and that some of the less momentous decisions can be taken away from the Department. The Minister believes that there should be more delegation of this type. In general, I welcome this legislation but there are issues relating to the Minister's functions on which I would like more clarity. I would also like to know the working situation as it differs from what is in the Bill.
Go n-éirí leis an Aire sa tréimhse atá romhainn agus go n-éirí leis ó thaobh na mBille seo.
Os rud é nach bhfuil ach cúig nóiméad fágtha sa díospóireacht seo, ní bheidh deis agam déileáil le gach rud atá ardaithe ag na Teachtaí. Déanfaidh mé iarracht labhairt mar gheall ar cuid acu.
I thank Deputies O'Shea and McGinley for their contributions and I will briefly deal with some of the issues they raised. There are post-primary schools on Tory, Arranmore, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr but there is none on Inishbofin, Inishturk, Clare Island or Cape Clear in Cork. To my knowledge, they are not considered desirable by the communities on those islands because of the projected future numbers. However, if it is not possible for there to be a school on an island we want to make sure children return home every weekend, which was not the case in olden days and was most unsatisfactory.
There are two other islands, Sherkin and Bear island, where children attend school every day and return home every day and that is a very satisfactory arrangement. I agree with Deputy McGinley that the provision of the airstrip on Tory Island has been awaited for a considerable time and we have asked Donegal County Council to take out a compulsory purchase order in that regard. The Bill will facilitate progress in this matter because it will mean we do not have to transfer the airstrip to the Minister prior to commencement of construction. I hope, therefore, the Bill will help to progress the project because it is very dear to my heart. More than all the islands in Ireland Tory still suffers from isolation, despite the improved ferry services. We all agree that Oileán Thoraigh — an ceann is faide amach — is ea an oileáin is mó go bhfuil fadhb acu. Tá ceisteanna mar gheall na gardaí ar na hoileáin tógtha agam cúpla uair. Tá gardaí ar Inis Mór, ar ndóigh, ach taobh amuigh de sin tá fadhb ann. Tá mé i i gcónaí ag brú go gcuirfear an dlí i bhfeidhm go hiomlán ar na hoileáin. The islanders themselves are always looking for that and I concur with what the Deputy said on the subject of the islands.
In answer to another issue raised by Deputy McGinley, I understand that, if the Bill is passed today, it goes straight to Áras an Úachtaráin because it has already been taken in the Seanad and there are no amendments. I am no expert on these matters but that is what I am advised.
Deputy O'Shea raised a number of issues. We are proceeding with the cohesion process and hope to have it finalised in the coming month or two. It will provide full coverage throughout the State for partnership and, in rural areas, will mean there is one company delivering the various programmes, whether they be the rural social scheme, the local development social inclusion programme, the LDSIP, or the Leader programme. It will lead to a much better operation.
The Deputy also asked about the role of the Irish language. The Department used to co-ordinate policy relating to the language in an informal way. For example, it co-ordinated ráiteas na Gaeilge, even though elements of it related to education, communication etc. This Bill formalises its role and makes it absolutely clear the Department has the co-ordinating role in regard to Irish language policy. We always said it would take two years to develop a detailed strategy for the Irish language, based on the ráiteas, agus tá sé i gceist dul ar aghaidh le sin. Creidim go bhfuil sé fíor-tábhachtach go mbeidh straitéis láidir ann. Tá thuas agus thíos i gceist ó thaobh cursaí Ghaeilge sa tír i gcoitinne. Creidim nach féidir linn dul chun cinn a dhéanamh gan straitéis cuimsitheach.
On the subject of the schemes, there is always a debate in this House in which Members ask why a Minister does or does not have certain powers. In the exercise of the powers vested in me as Minister I have always tried to make sure good procedures are followed. Accordingly, we have tightened up many schemes. For example, the Ciste na Gaeilge is much more systemised now and it is clearer how it operates, as is the case with scéim bóithre áise and all the other schemes in the Department.
I have two firm objectives in mind. One is ease of application and the other that people feel they get a fair decision and that everybody is treated equally. We can create systems on paper that are very fair but so complicated to access that only those who have a degree in form-filling can get through them. On the other hand one must have a system where the process is clear and the decisions fair. A measure I look at very carefully is the number of written parliamentary questions on the subject of the schemes as they are an indicator of people's satisfaction. Another is the number of people in any year who visit the Ombudsman with a complaint about administration in the Department. It is a credit to the officials in my Department how few complaints are so referred. I hope the schemes are as transparent, fair and equitable as possible.
An féidir liom focal a rá ar Ulster Scots? Togadh an córas nua isteach faoi Comhaontú na Breataine-na hÉireann. Creidim go bhfuil an-tábhacht leis. Déanaim iarracht comhoibriú iomlán a thabhairt don fhoras úd. Cuireann siad an-bhéim ní amháin ar an teanga ach ar chúrsaí cultúrtha, mar a fheiceann siad é, freisin. Sílim go gcaithfimid aitheantas a thabhairt do rud a deireann an chomhlacht go bhfuil sé tábhachtach. Déanaim iarracht an-tacaíocht a thabhairt dóibh leis an obair sin.