Thursday, 7 July 2016
National Heritage Plan
It is my intention to develop and publish an updated national heritage plan. I am looking at how best to do this. The plan has a number of different components and a lot of work has gone into it, including the national landscape strategy, the peatlands strategy and the national biodiversity plan. I will consult stakeholders and I want to work very closely with the Heritage Council in terms of this plan.
Deputy Smyth mentioned investment in our cultural institutions. The investment in the National Gallery is in the order of €33 million. The historic Dargan and Milltown wings of the gallery are near completion and it is hoped that they will be opened to the public in early 2017. I also mentioned the National Library and omitted to say that I visited the library to see its storage facilities. The building goes back to the 19th century and badly needs investment. This is phase one of that investment where we were able to provide it with €10 million to get it started because the National Library does tremendous work. It is a tremendous asset in terms of our cultural institutions along with the National Museum, including the museum here on Kildare Street, the museum at Collins Barracks and the Museum of Country Life in Mayo. Huge numbers of people visit those cultural institutions and the number continues to grow. Some people forget they are all free of charge. They are tremendous assets.
The one thing I want our cultural institutions to do is to start loaning material to local museums. There is a magnificent local museum in Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan. I know the tremendous work that has been done there. Last year, I increased the budget for the loaning of items to local museums because it is important that cultural institutions based in Dublin share their material with rural Ireland.
I have a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for that update. I have an interest in the national heritage plan, particularly the Heritage Bill, which I believe is imminent. I represent Kildare North, which has probably more kilometres of canal than perhaps any other county in Ireland with the possible exception of Dublin. I recently met representatives from the inland waterways group and some canal users and canal dwellers. I am aware that canals have a section in the Heritage Bill. I think it is the first or second section in the new Bill. There is a view among users of the canals that the canals are difficult to navigate and have problems in terms of supporting structures and the development of tourism. Blueways and greenways are being promoted but canal traffic itself - pleasure cruising, barges and recreational and tourism usage - is not being promoted to the extent that it could be.
Where is the Heritage Bill in the legislative programme? Will the Minister consider a separate canals Bill dedicated to the management of canals, the by-laws and the conditions around same? Will the Minister consult the stakeholders prior to making that decision?
The Heritage Bill was ready to go into Committee Stage during the term of the previous Government and stopped in the Seanad on Committee Stage. I have requested of the Seanad that we recommence the Bill there. I am waiting on a date to continue with the Bill. It covers the canal by-laws, about which there has been consultation. Other Deputies have raised this with me. It is on Committee Stage in the Seanad and must then come back to the Dáil. I will be happy to discuss it with the Deputy when it goes through committee but this is where it stands at the minute. The Bill was raised in the Seanad so that is where it is.
I thank the Minister for that update. From what she said, my understanding is that the Bill is on Committee Stage in the Seanad. Is it likely to come before the House or progress before the summer recess? Has the Minister given consideration to producing a separate canals Bill? A number of stakeholders have requested that this be done, arguing that the canals are a sufficiently important infrastructure in their own right to merit a Bill dedicated to them. It is a significant issue to the users of canals and everyone involved in tourism, boating and living on the canals, as I do myself. Will the Minister consider a separate canals Bill that involves taking that section out of the Heritage Bill and putting it into a stand-alone Bill? Does she think that is likely to come before the House or progress before the summer recess?
It is part of the Heritage Bill, which addresses many of the issues raised with me. I do not have any plans to produce a separate stand-alone Bill. It has yet to come to the Dáil and go through Committee Stage in the relevant select committee. I will be happy to hear the Deputy's views on the Bill at that stage. It falls under my remit under Waterways Ireland and a tremendous amount of work is being done on the waterways in terms of developing blueways along the towpaths and as a tourist amenity.
Recently, I was at the launch of a programme on the Shannon-Erne waterway. It does not take an awful lot but when the waterways are developed for recreation, there will be young people out kayaking on the water. It is a tremendous asset to any town. The one I was in was in Ballyconnell and it was powerful to see the young people out on the waterways. Waterways Ireland is particularly good at working with local communities and local councils to develop the waterways. That is something I would like to see and support. I was happy I was able to give them some additional funding in the 2016 budget to carry out more of the good work they do because there is so much more interest in getting out and having a healthy lifestyle. To see the young children out on the water kayaking was powerful and it is something we need to do more. One of them was supported by the rural economic development zones, REDZ, scheme. That is something I want to work on.