Thursday, 19 November 2020
12. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if there will be any funding difference between Scéim Pobal Gaeilge located in an area with an Irish language network or a Gaeltacht service town. [37345/20]
This question is about the language community schemes, which are essential for the promotion of the Irish language in Mayo and elsewhere. The scheme makes it possible to employ a language development officer, to provide funding to run an office and to provide activities to promote the Irish language. I ask if there will be any funding difference between language community schemes located in an area with an Irish language network or a Gaeltacht services town.
Budget 2021 provided an indicative increase of €1.779 million for cross-Border co-operation in the languages sector. This includes funding of €450,000 for commitments made by the Southern Government under New Decade, New Approach. The 2021 allocation, which is subject to further discussion with the Department for Communities in the North and the Deputy's colleague there, and to approval by the North South Ministerial Council, would allow Foras na Gaeilge, one of the agencies of An Foras Teanga, expand its language and cultural programmes to new areas and increase funding, where appropriate, for existing language groups, to include those funded under An Scéim Pobal Gaeilge, SPG.
A primary objective of the revised SPG will be to support Government policies, North and South: in the South, as set out in the Gaeltacht Act 2012 in respect of Irish language networks and Gaeltacht service towns; and in the North, as demonstrated in the strategy to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language. The new scheme, the funding levels of which are currently being finalised by Foras na Gaeilge, will be advertised in the new year. As part of a progressive approach, it is envisaged that the new scheme will be focused on the principles of language planning and that a long-term objective of the scheme would be that applicants eventually achieve recognition as an Irish language network.
My Department currently approves language plans for Irish language networks and Gaeltacht service towns which can apply for a further €80,000 per annum, through Údarás na Gaeltachta or Foras na Gaeilge, depending on their location, for the plan's implementation on top of the funding received under SPG. Due to their populations and size, the cities of Galway and Cork will be awarded an additional €100,000 in total towards the implementation of their language plans. All in all, therefore, this represents a significantly increased level of funding available to SPGs operating within Irish language networks and Gaeltacht service towns when compared to those operating outside these areas.
The Minister of State has given me an assurance that no consideration has been given to proposals that would cut funding for the language community schemes based in the towns.
I know from my constituency that there are cases where a scheme seeking to become a Gaeltacht service town are concerned that they may lose funding as a result. That would result in them being unable to continue employing an Irish language development officer. I take the Minister of State's assurance that there are no plans to cut the funding of these schemes, despite the fact that the schemes have been very successful in promoting the Irish language outside the Gaeltacht. I welcome the extra funding for Foras na Gaeilge in budget 2021. It is imperative that the additional funding ensures that no difference will be made between any scéim pobal Gaeilge, SPG, located in an area with an Irish language network or a Gaeltacht service town.
In line with the 20-year strategy for the Irish language and Foras na Gaeilge's understanding of best practice in promoting the Irish language it is recognised that there should be an emphasis on long-term, strategic language planning. Preliminary consultation meetings were held by Foras na Gaeilge, in conjunction with Conradh na Gaeilge and Glór na nGael, with stakeholders in 2019. Other preliminary meetings were held in June this year, which were attended by more than 80 people, on the recommendations of a consultation document.
The criteria of the scheme will be based on the main language planning areas and on language planning principles, including the areas criteria in use by Foras na Gaeilge for the Irish language networks in the North and by the Government in the South for the language planning process. I might go into further detail on that when I come back in but as the Deputy will know from the budgetary allocation for the entire Gaeltacht area, it is an expansionary budget to support the Irish language and the language planning officers. Fears of cuts are mislaid. I know in the Deputy's county of Mayo, where I have many family members, the importance of the language planning system. We are working to try to put a long-term framework around that through Foras na Gaeilge.
It is very welcome if the Minister of State is saying that people do not need to be concerned about any differentiation in how the money is allocated. From my engagement with the people involved I would argue that €55,000 needs to be confirmed for each scheme in the new SPG. There is a need for the Department to ensure that the increased funding in the budget is reflected in the funding that actually reaches the SPGs. I would encourage the Minister to engage further with Foras na Gaeilge to make sure that this happens. I thank him for the reassurances he has given and I take it as a commitment that there will be no differentiation between the moneys allocated.
In my previous answer I gave clarity on that. There will be ongoing engagement with Foras na Gaeilge in the long-term planning process. As I said, the Department is providing separate support for Scéim Pobal Gaeilge. We are being thorough around that. We have to align it to the 20-year language planning process but in the context of workers and language planning officers, we are trying to retain, enhance and expand that concept across the country, particularly in Gaeltacht areas, some of which are in the Deputy's constituency where there is a strong essence of the language. I hope that provides clarity. I am happy to engage with the Deputy separately on it. We are agreeing the Foras na Gaeilge funding through the North-South process. We will have a meeting on that in the next couple of weeks when I hope we can get the budget agreed and ensure certainty for next year.