Ceisteanna — Questions. Priority Questions. - Interdepartmental Committee.

Donal Carey

Question:

4 Mr. D. Carey asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if she will report on the work and remit of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Islands, the Gaeltacht and the Irish Language; the meetings, if any, that have taken place to date; the proposals, if any, arising from these meetings; and the action, if any, taken by her Department as a result. [19684/98]

The Interdepartmental Committee on the Islands, the Gaeltacht and the Irish Language was established to co-ordinate the implementation of Government policy with regard to the offshore islands, the Gaeltacht and the Irish language; to seek to ensure this policy is implemented in an effective manner; to review the provision of services to offshore islands and Gaeltacht regions by Government Departments and State agencies; and, where duplication occurs, to rationalise these services by consultation and agreement.

Four full meetings of the committee have already taken place as well as a number of bilateral meetings with the various Departments represented on the committee. The main role of the committee is to assist me and my Department in ensuring Government policy in relation to the offshore Islands, the Gaeltacht and the Irish language is implemented in a co-ordinated and effective manner. A number of issues have been discussed by the committee concerning,inter alia, the provision of adequate levels of services for islanders, the promotion of the sustainable development of our offshore islands, the promotion of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht, the development of the Gaeltacht and the promotion of Irish throughout the country.

The Minister of State did not say how many meetings had taken place.

Ceithre chinn.

Although the programme for Government, which was put to the electorate at the last general election, included provision for an islander allowance, the Minister of State did not refer to any discussion about that allowance taking place at the interdepartmental committee. What is the position regarding the islander allowance? When I visited the islands I discovered that distance from the mainland and the lack of landing facilities are causing great difficulties. In that context, the islander allowance appears to be a good idea. Why has there been a delay in introducing it? Has the Minister of State obtained agreement from the Department of Finance about this?

In his reply the Minister of State referred to the way the interdepartmental committee considered the problems of the Gaeltacht islands. I remind him that there are also non-Gaeltacht islands. In the report on the islands, originally commissioned by the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Andrews, great emphasis was laid on the way in which non-Gaeltacht islands had been neglected by successive Governments. The Minister of State did not indicate that he has made any effort to ensure that non-Gaeltacht islands are treated equitably. He spoke about giving encouragement to islands in Gaeltacht areas but failed to mention non-Gaeltacht islands.

I did refer to them.

I would appreciate it if the Minister of State could expand further on the position in respect of non-Gaeltacht islands.

Deputy Carey did not listen carefully to the syntax of my original reply. I referred to "the islands"— a term which includes all islands — and to islands in "the Gaeltacht", which form an overlapping set. I then referred to the Irish language in the country in general. I have made it my business to treat all islands equally. For example, in respect of the non-Gaeltacht islands, I have provided subsidised boat services for the first time and I hope to continue to do so on an ever expanding basis. That did not happen when Deputy Carey served as Minister of State.

I left behind plenty of money to enable the Minister of State to provide such services.

I now have access to far more money.

Will the Minister of State leave behind the same amount of money when he leaves office?

No. I will ensure it is spent on providing services for the islanders.

It will be well used.

I congratulate the Deputy on securing £1 million per year for the islands when he served as Minister of State. However, that figure was increased to £1.6 million this year. Moneys far in excess of that figure have already been allocated to projects which were approved and are now under way. During the past week I announced the provision of grants amounting to £1.1 million to non-Gaeltacht areas on the Cork islands. These were additional to the £570,000 already allocated. This year I have already allocated £2 million to the Cork islands, only one of which is a Gaeltacht island.

The islander allowance is being considered by the Interdepartmental Committee on the Islands. Unfortunately, the committee has considered so many matters involving the Gaeltacht, the islands and the Irish language that I would not have time to provide details at this stage. However, I assure the Deputy that the matter is under consideration but a decision on it will have to be taken in the budgetary context.

The time for priority questions is exhausted.

I want to ask a final supplementary question.

A strict time limit applies to priority questions and I have no option but to apply it. The House has laid down the rules and I am obliged to enforce them. The six minutes allocated to question No. 4 have expired.

I was under the impression that priority questions would continue until 3 p.m.

No, six minutes are allocated per question and I have no discretion in the matter. We must proceed to deal with question No. 5.

What about the fact that the Minister of State was long-winded in his reply?