Seanad debates

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Planning Issues.

Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta

5:00 pm

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá beagán díomá orm nach bhfuil an tAire ó hÓgáin anseo leis an gceist seo a fhreagairt mar is ceist fíor-thábhachtachí i gcomhthéacs na Gaeltachta í agus sílim go bhfuil ceist le freagairt aige.

Táim ag caint faoi Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta, MFG. Go minic nuair a bhíonn jabanna á chailliúint ar fud na tíre, feiceann muid Airí agus Airí Stáit ag léimneach suas agus anuas agus ag déanamh scéal chailleach an uafáis os comhair na ceamaraí teilifíse agus raidío, ach is beag caint atá déanta faoi MFG. Tá 130 jabanna sna ceantair Gaeltachta ag imeacht mar gheall ar an teip atá ar an gcomhlacht seo agus tá ceisteanna tromchúiseacha le freagairt faoi sin. Tá sé curtha in iúl go rí-mhinic agam féin agus ag daoine eile go raibh deacrachtaí le Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta le roinnt blianta anuas. Go deimhin, d'ordaigh an t-iar Aire go ndéanfaí cúpla iniúchtaí ar an gcomhlacht ó thaobh chleachtais bainistíochta an bord stiúrtha agus iad a chomhlíonadh, na dualgais, cúrsaí airgeadais agus mar sin de.

Chonaic muid an tseachtain seo caite go bfhuil an comhlacht le scor, go bhfuil na jabanna le n-imeacht, go bhfuil cuid de na cláir le cur in áit éiginnte agus nach bhfuil sé soiléir cén todchaí a bheidh ag an chuid eile. Tá imní orainn ó thaobh na daoine atá fostaithe sna comhlachtaí, ach imní orainn freisin i dtaobh na daoine ar a bhfuil na cláir seo ag freastal. Le coicís anuas, táim ag iarraidh soiléirithe a fhail ó Phobal, ón Roinn agus ón gcomhlacht féin faoi céard atá ag tarlú. Tá faitíos orm go bhfuil daoine ag dul ar chúl sceiche le cuid den scéal seo.

I will revert to English to make this point. I believe there is significant buck passing happening in the Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta scenario. We have the Department funding programmes through Pobal to the independent company, Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta which operates State-funded programmes. When one asks MFG what is going on, one is told it is a question for Pobal. When one asks Pobal, it says it cannot say anything until it talks to the Department and when one talks to the Department, one is told it is an issue for the independent company, Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta. This is completely unacceptable. There are 130 jobs in the balance but this has not made the media headlines it should have and when I have asked for answers, they have not been forthcoming.

We have been raising serious governance issues about this company for quite a long time. As far back as three years ago, the directors of the company were written to by certain parties warning them of their responsibilities as directors with regard to the governance of the programmes they administer. These are all State sponsored programmes. Three of these programmes were audited approximately a year and a half ago by Pobal, but the report has not been published despite our calls for its publication. I have seen a copy of the report and it raises massive issues regarding the governance of the company. Why did the Department and the Minister not step in sooner? Why has Pobal not acted and why was the board of directors of Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta not held to task before we ended up in a scenario where the company is to close down - I believe there is talk of it being liquidated - and 130 jobs are to go? It is an incredibly serious issue and the people of the Gaeltacht are dismayed and angry that the reaction to the news has been so slow and muted.

Sin í mo cheist agus sin an fáth gur chuir mé an cheist. Cuirfidh mé fáilte roimh an freagra ón Aire Stáit.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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The Minister is away on Government business and cannot be here.

Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta Teoranta, MFG, is an independent company with its own board of management and memorandum and articles of association which has responsibility under company law for the proper stewardship of the company. My Department has no role in the internal operations of local development or partnership companies and, therefore, does not have a role in staff matters, which are for the board of the company as the employer, to manage.

Pobal, which manages programmes on behalf of the Department, commenced an audit of MFG in January 2010. The audit findings and associated recommendations were notified to MFG in June 2010. An independent executive, Mazars, was appointed by Pobal to MFG on 30 June 2011 to examine the outstanding audit issues and to identify suitable mechanisms for their resolution. The executive presented its interim findings to Pobal in mid-August 2011 and presented its recommendations and progress to the board of MFG on 7 September 2011. The final status on the recommendations was scheduled to be presented by the independent executive to Pobal by 30 September 2011.

MFG has confirmed that its board, on examination of the company's financial situation, took the decision to cease trading as of 4 p.m. on 7 September 2011 on the basis of insolvency. The board has also confirmed that all staff contracts have been terminated since the board meeting. The Department and Pobal met with MFG and the independent executive, Mazars, on 9 September 2011 to establish the facts with regard to the specific decisions taken by the company and on its progress on implementing these decisions. The company was strongly encouraged to avail of financial advice alongside the legal advice, which it was stressed was imperative, and it was encouraged to access the same immediately. It also committed to immediately effect all other necessary work to meet its statutory obligations with regard to staff. It was agreed at that meeting that MFG would take full legal advice on the necessary steps in this process and ensure it fulfils all statutory duties in that respect. The Department and Pobal are awaiting a written update on the implementation of this work. Pobal will continue to offer any appropriate support to aid this work. In parallel, my Department and Pobal are examining mechanisms to support the continuation of services previously supplied by MFG within the Gaeltacht areas. However, it should be noted that MFG is a private limited company and it is beyond the remit of my Department to direct the business of such a company in any way. It is the responsibility of the company's board of directors to fulfil all its obligations under company and employment law. As the Senator will know, the issue of employee rights is the responsibility of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation while responsibility for welfare rights rests with the Department of Social Protection.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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I understand the Minister of State is saying that he has no right to interfere with an independent company, but the programmes are State programmes that are directed by the Department. Guidelines are laid down for the proper implementation of the Leader programme, the LCD programme, the CSP programme, etc. Does the Minister of State agree that this gives him a right and that the Department should have stepped in sooner? If it had a report in June 2010 that showed up such deficiencies in the company, why did he not act sooner so that, instead of the jobs going, the company could perhaps have been salvaged and the jobs saved?

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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This is an issue I will follow up in the context of the particular matter the Senator has raised.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 September 2011.