Other Questions.

Departmental Bodies.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

43 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason it was necessary for Údarás na Gaeltachta to make an exceptional provision for depreciation in 2002, ten times the normal annual provision; if the previous policy on depreciation was inadequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33281/04]

Note 11(b) of the financial statements of Údarás na Gaeltachta's published 2002 annual report states:

In previous years property and industrial facilities were depreciated on the basis of an estimated life of 50 years. As a result of a review carried out in 2002 it was decided that a more accurate estimate of useful lives was 25 years for property and 33 years for industrial facilities. In 2002 these assets have been depreciated accordingly and, in addition, the net book value of these assets at 1 January 2002, has been reduced by €37,952,810 on foot of the accumulated impairment in value of these assets up to 31 December 2001.

I have been informed by Údarás na Gaeltachta that the decision was made on the basis of prudent policy, having consulted with the Office of Comptroller and Auditor General. It takes into account policies in similar organisations and the changing nature of business and industrial property and facilities in recent years. This approach reflects a continuing development of best practice in accounting policies.

Does the Minister accept it is somewhat extraordinary, given conventional accounting standards, that this adjustment was made in one year? The re-adjustment was twice the normal level of depreciation on some buildings and two thirds on industrial buildings, but it took place for one financial year. Depreciation affects the bottom line of income and expenditure in any organisation. The picture is distorted as to whether Údarás na Gaeltachta is cash rich or needs cash injections from the Exchequer. Has the Department expressed any concern that this particular adjustment happened in the one year and was not made a contingency over a longer period?

No, we are not concerned. The note in the annual report explained the action in financial terms. For anyone examining the accounts, the given figure in the report had a note beside it, giving a full explanation of the exact procedure used. Many accounts and annual reports contain these. Unlike a normal trading company, Údarás na Gaeltachta has a large number of assets, exceeding €100 million. It does not borrow against those assets and, therefore, this accounting practice does not have any implications for bank borrowings. Údarás na Gaeltachta's borrowings are modest, usually relating to day-to-day operations. It is a book value adjustment to the assets that has no effect on the body's liquidity or its demand for State money.

Other development agencies, such as the IDA and Shannon Development, have been affected where leased properties have been leased back at high value, with losses to the agencies and bodies. Has Údarás na Gaeltachta leased properties that have remained unused and distorted the book and asset value of the body itself?

Traditionally, Údarás na Gaeltachta has a policy of constructing its own buildings and then leasing them. Reductions in rental income have occurred due to several factors, including EU rules and the closure of big factories in areas such as Gweedore, County Donegal. However, this has not had a serious effect on Údarás na Gaeltachta, as it owns most of the properties it leases to clients.

If properties are depreciated as such, can they then be sold off at a lower value?

No. We had a good debate earlier this year on procedures to be used in selling Údarás na Gaeltachta property. In selling any property, the full value, as far as is possible, must be attained. Even if a property had been written off at zero value, it does not take away from the obligation of Údarás na Gaeltachta to maximise its return from the sale of property.

Factory buildings were considered to be permanent structures. However, changing technologies mean that many Údarás na Gaeltachta's advance factories, built from the 1940s to the 1980s, must be refurbished from scratch if new industrialists are to locate in them. The nature of industrial buildings has changed dramatically and they are now more purpose built. I have discussed with Údarás na Gaeltachta the need to adjust its policy on buildings. The old idea of the advance factory and standard units is not the same as it was in the 1970s and 1980s when many of them were built by Údarás na Gaeltachta. Many industries locating in these areas want purpose-built facilities, not standard units.

Community Development.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

44 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has proposals to provide extra funding for those whose needs he had intended to meet originally under the RAPID programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33228/04]

My Department has made a number of specific allocations to projects that were submitted in RAPID plans. Six new community development projects in RAPID areas were prioritised since the commencement of the programme, with each receiving a renewable one year contract for funding of €60,000. Approximately €3.6 million was allocated to specific projects from RAPID plans from funding available to my Department for local drugs task forces and the young people's facilities and services fund. A further €1 million was also allocated under the premises initiative for a community drugs project. Special provision was made for RAPID areas under the dormant accounts plan. Of the €30 million dormant accounts fund allocated to date, 70%, or €21 million, has been allocated to RAPID areas.

As the Deputy is aware, I have also put in place a mechanism to help progress small scale proposals at local level in RAPID areas, supported by a dedicated fund of €4.5 million in 2004. These proposals are being co-funded by the relevant Department or local agency under a number of categories, with broad levels of funding agreed at national level. Funding totalling €2 million was allocated to RAPID areas under the local authority housing estate enhancement scheme, which is co-funded by my Department and the local authorities. Under the RAPID playgrounds scheme, which my Department co-funds with the Department of Health and Children, a total of €3 million was allocated to RAPID areas. My Department has provided top-up funding of €2.2 million to successful projects in RAPID areas that were endorsed by the area implementation teams under the sports capital programme 2004, which is administered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. My Department is also providing approximately €170,000 to co-fund a number of specific projects in RAPID areas with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The roll-out of these co-funding measures will continue into 2005 with an increased allocation of €6 million. I hope to make further announcements in this regard in the New Year.

As regards the larger projects from RAPID plans that have already been submitted to Departments, these will continue to be considered for funding within existing fundingstreams in each Department. However, I expect that Departments will now be dealing with a smaller number of projects and will, therefore, be in a better position to prioritise projects and set out time scales for further actions. Work on improving integration and co-ordination of service delivery at local level will also continue, as this is a key component of the RAPID programme.

Finally, I will continue to raise prioritisation of the RAPID programme with my ministerial colleagues, particularly in regard to non-capital issues from RAPID plans.

In view of the report published yesterday on poverty, particularly among women, will the Minister ask RAPID teams throughout the country to identify projects which would target this problem? I welcome the Department's increased allocation from €4.4 million to €6 million for next year.

It pleased me that, under the equal measure, which is targeted towards women, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform specified that €7 million of the €12 million would be spent in RAPID areas. This indicates that Departments are entering into the spirit of things in regard to the RAPID programme, which is a significant step in the right direction.

When I visit partnerships and community projects, I generally find that women are very much to the fore and the leaders in much of the development taking place. I welcome this, even though it is also important to have gender balance.

The report indicates that women are least likely to become involved in the business of local government, politics and so on. While I agree with the Minister that women are particularly prominent in community projects, attention should be directed to the specific issue identified in the report with a view to devising strategies for the greater involvement of women in public life in particular.

We are straying into a much bigger question if we are talking about local and national politics and so on.

It is empowerment.

It might be many things. However, many people would say the career of a Deputy, particularly a non-Dublin Deputy, is not one that leads to a great lifestyle in terms of being away from home and so on. People must make choices, and who is making the wise choice? I am sure all of us in this House like what we do, but many people tell me that they would not do this job.

Even standing for local councils or town commissioners.

All the parties should address this issue in their national programme. I would like to see many more women involved in politics. However, it is a much wider issue than the RAPID programme. We must continue to address the matter nationally.

It is about building confidence in communities. One in four women lives in poverty. I did not expect the figure to be so high. It is not an intellectual wish, it is a fact that we need to do more about getting women involved in politics and so on.

We should separate the two issues. Perhaps if we changed our lifestyle we would attract more women into politics.

However, to go back to the other issue, it is fair to say that if one visits the communities targeted in the RAPID programme, one will find that a disproportionate number of women are engaged in the process, which is a good thing. Yesterday, I visited a project in which just one man was involved. All the others involved were women. At times the problem is ensuring that men engage in projects, because we do not want just one man involved. We want a balance. I have always said that in many ways women are the key to their own self-development and they are a huge driver of change. It is important to ensure that women are involved in these projects.

In his original reply, the Minister referred to the dormant accounts fund, the young people's facilities and services fund and funds for local drugs task forces. Does citing these funds not leave the Minister open to the charge that many community organisations made, that the RAPID programme is now a badging exercise? Rather than having separate funding in its own right, it is re-allocated funding from other sources which the Minister is choosing to refer to as RAPID funding.

I do not know how often I must repeat myself. I did not create the RAPID programme, which was introduced to bring about re-prioritisation under the national development plan. Some €17 billion was included in the national development plan for social inclusion and RAPID was meant to be a front-loading of that into RAPID areas. Therefore, it was explicit from the beginning that there would not be a specific fund for RAPID. Because I felt it would be a significant addition to RAPID, I persuaded the Government last year to provide €4.5 million matching funds to deal with small issues and €6 million this year. The dormant accounts plan was changed to ring-fence money for RAPID areas. We are also dealing with issues raised in RAPID plans that had nothing to do with the national development plan. These are all added on to RAPID. The Deputy should read the documentation and the press releases. When announced, the RAPID programme was about exactly what I read out in the reply to the question. It was about prioritising spend under the national development plan on social inclusion measures in RAPID areas.

Legislative Programme.

Jack Wall

Question:

45 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the position regarding publication of draft legislation on charities; if there is a possibility that this legislation will be published before the end of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33264/04]

In response to a similar question recently from a colleague, I confirmed that the current best estimate publication date for the draft legislation on charities regulation would be the end of 2005. I advised that the most up-to-date information on progress has been available on the charities regulation web page of my Department's website athttp://www.pobail.ie/en/CharitiesRegulation.

I informed the House that the content of the draft legislation would be likely to reflect the proposals in the Government approved consultation paper on establishing a modern statutory framework for charities, which received a broad overall endorsement in the public consultation phase earlier this year. I indicated that the draft legislation would be substantial in size given that, as already signalled in the consultation paper, it would involve statute law revision and restatement in addition to the new legislative provisions to regulate the charities sector.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He has an unenviable task in bringing this legislation to conclusion. I am somewhat concerned about an article which appeared in a newspaper some months ago. It deals first with the warning by the UN, following the tragedy of 11 September 2001, that member countries should review their laws on charity because terrorist organisations could use charities for funding or for money laundering. The article states the Minister of State said there are some charities in Ireland which do no fundraising, and that he made the point that our lax laws would leave us wide open to terrorist organisations setting up such a charity in Ireland.

There seems to be an implication in the article that such a problem may already exist. If so, do we need to look more urgently at that situation and possibly take some short-term action?

I have no knowledge of any current situation of great significance, but the structure and the system are basically so wide open that anything could be going on. We are proceeding on different levels and the end of the year is the best estimate for enacting the legislation. With regard to legislation, consultation with Departments is often a slow process. We are not proposing any single measure. The EU is also taking an initiative and is moving on the issue following on the UN moves and in light of the 11 September 2001 tragedy. A meeting was recently called by the EU to formulate policy on the issue of terrorist organisations. That is at quite an early stage but the Department was represented at the meeting and the process has been kick-started. We can expect developments on the EU level in the future.

I accept the answer, but could the Minister of State confirm that contact has been made by his Department with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform or with the Garda to find out if there are any areas we should be concerned about?

We are conducting reforms through my own Department but on an EU level we are working with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The European Commission's Director General for Justice and Home Affairs organised the recent meeting and regarding the issue under consideration we are operating on that level with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Our own relevant regulation, previously the responsibility of that Department and before that the responsibility of what was then the Department of Social Welfare, is now my responsibility. There have been a couple of examinations by Deputy O'Shea's colleagues and others over the past ten or 15 years, and long before 11 September we were working towards bringing in new legislation in the area. We are certainly co-operating with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and working together on the EU issue. Presumably much legislation exists with regard to criminality and fraud in general and is available to the Garda and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The entire charity structure is nevertheless wide open. There may be nothing wrong going on, but no one has to register, to publish data, to say how much money is collected or how much, if anything, is given to a particular charity. The area is wide open, as has been signalled by different people and reports in recent years.

For 25 years.

We need to regulate it and we are trying to do so as quickly as possible. It will take at least a year, and hopefully no more, before we bring forward the legislation.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.