Other Questions. - Islander Allowance.

Jimmy Deenihan


9 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands if the Interdepartmental Committee on Islands, Gaeltacht and the Irish Language has considered the matter of an islander allowance in consultation with her Department as promised in An Action Programme for the Millennium; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19687/98]

The question of a special islander allowance is under consideration having been discussed with the relevant authorities and by the Interdepartmental Committee on the Islands, the Gaeltacht and the Irish Language. No decision has yet been made on the matter.

Will the Minister of State outline the relevant authorities where the discussions have taken place?

The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs and the Department of Finance, as one relates to tax and the other to social welfare.

I remind the Minister that the Minister for Finance, in reply to a written question I tabled this week seeking the number of PAYE personnel on all our offshore islands, stated that this would take an inordinate amount of time to determine.

Will the Deputy ask a question?

Any child in sixth class given this as a project could do it over a weekend. The number of PAYE workers — teachers, postmen etc. — on most of the islands can be counted in less than five minutes. I do not accept the reply of the Minister for Finance that it is impossible to determine the number of PAYE workers in a short time.

Will the Minister conclude discussions with the relevant Departments so the islander allowance can be included in the budget in December? Will we know what the allowance will be? Will it be more than the £9.60 which a former Taoiseach on this side proposed as a tax break many years ago but which never saw the light of day?

It is difficult to get accurate information through the tax system as, for example, teachers are paid from Dublin. The Deputy and I know there are only 3,000 people permanently living on islands. We have an idea of how many are on social welfare and therefore it is easy within the broad parameters needed to make such a decision, to roughly calculate how many are involved from week to week and from month to month.

However, that is not the problem. Other issues must be taken into account. I must disappoint the Deputy by saying that when a decision is made we will announce it. When an amount is decided we will announce it. I will not say when a decision will be made.

The Minister is learning fast.

Obviously, as the Deputy is aware, in other circumstances I refused to be drawn on other questions. However, subsequently the decisions were made and action was taken. We will wait until we are finished our discussions to announce the decision and when it will be made.

I accept the position of the Minister of State on this matter. Does he hope the discussions will be concluded in time to have an allowance included in next year's budget?

I will work to quickly and fully implement the detailed programme I prepared for islanders prior to the last election. We have already made significant progress and I would like to bring it to finality as quickly as possible. A date has been fixed for the budget in December and the Deputy will have to wait until then for an answer to his question.

In answer to previous questions, the Minister of State said there would be no scarcity of money in looking after the social needs of islanders. Is the Minister now saying there is a scarcity of money? Is that why he is being so cautious in replying to Deputy Kenny? Is he cutting back in his Department?

My Department will not pay such an allowance. It will be paid to taxpayers through the tax system and to those in receipt of social welfare through the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. It is not a budgetary matter for my Department. I will not leave the money unspent.

If the Minister has any regard for the islanders or wants equity for them he will not.

It could be described as an offshore account.

If the Deputy is in the happy position to succeed me as Minister of State with responsibility for the islands, he will find that the money will have been spent and most of the jobs on the islands will have been done.

The Minister used to accuse me of spending the money without doing the work.

I did not accuse the Deputy of such a thing.

Will the Minister tell AIB about the offshore accounts?

I hope the Deputy is not making an allegation that they are on the islands.