Priority Questions.

Community Development.

Damien English


1 Mr. English asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he is satisfied regarding the outcome of the work undertaken by Comhairle na Tuaithe; the strategies he intends to introduce to overcome existing opposition to the proposed countryside recreation strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31395/06]

I am very pleased to inform the House that Comhairle na Tuaithe has completed its work on the development of a national countryside recreation strategy. Its report was presented to me in September.

Comhairle na Tuaithe comprises representatives of State bodies with an interest in the countryside, the farming organisations and recreational users of the countryside and is chaired by my Department. Comhairle na Tuaithe's strategy defines the scope and vision for countryside recreation and it sets out the broad principles under which it recommends that sustainable countryside recreation can be managed into the future. The members of Comhairle na Tuaithe, with the exception of the Irish Farmers Association, have endorsed the report.

Comhairle na Tuaithe's vision encompasses a countryside which welcomes all visitors who practise responsible use of the resource and where the rights and responsibilities of both landowners and recreational users are respected. The report sets out the broad principles under which it recommends that sustainable countryside recreation can be managed into the future. It also sets out the tasks which Comhairle na Tuaithe recommends should be undertaken to achieve this vision and recommends the actions needed to be taken and by which bodies.

I welcome the report and wish to put on record my thanks to the members of Comhairle na Tuaithe for all their hard work and dedication in coming to this agreement. I will study the recommended strategy and will consult as appropriate with other Departments and public bodies on the wider recommendations in the report.

Comhairle na Tuaithe has raised a number of legal issues to be addressed and I am concerned to ensure that these matters are addressed as a matter of priority. To expedite matters, I intend to establish an expert group, comprising a senior counsel and officials from the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and from my Department, to urgently advise on tackling each of the legal issues raised.

I also intend taking a number of immediate actions arising from my initial consideration of the report. I will make €1.5 million funding available for capital work under the rural social scheme and I will ask implementing bodies, which are in most cases Leader companies, to give particular priority to walkways and ancillary services.

Fáilte Ireland has already identified a selection of looped walks which it has publicised in its brochure, Walking Ireland, and on its website. My Department, in consultation with the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, Fáilte Ireland, Comhar Leader na hÉireann and the national waymarked ways advisory committee, is identifying further looped walks and waymarked ways for development. Details will be made available over the coming weeks and months of the work required to bring these up to the best international standards. It is my intention to set aside a further €1.5 million for this purpose.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The rural development package 2007-2013 means a trebling of EU and national funding for rural development under a Leader-type programme. Three of my priorities under this programme will be the development of recreational tourism, including the development of facilities for walking, cycling, angling, pony trekking, bird watching etc, and ancillary facilities, such as car parking and other services such as signage, village renewal etc; the complementary development of the broader rural tourism package, such as upgraded accommodation, food tourism and other services; and the development of small or regional food sectors to add significantly to the unique experience for our visitors.

I have reached agreement with Fáilte Ireland for the employment of up to ten walk managers under the community services programme to promote walking tourism in areas where there are clusters of suitable and accessible walks.

I consider a localised community-based approach is the way forward where countryside recreation and issues relating to access to the countryside for this purposes arise. I believe that the majority of people in rural areas see the benefit of these local solutions brought about by working in partnership together. Where it is not possible to reach agreement in a particular area, alternative routes should be explored and developed.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the funding that has been allocated and I acknowledge his commitment to finding a solution to this issue. I believe he genuinely wants to solve this problem.

Comhairle na Tuaithe is to be commended for its report. However, another group has been set up and I question whether we are back to square one and still stuck on the main issue. How long will it take to solve that problem? When does the Minister expect the expert group to report? Has he set a timeframe?

I acknowledge much work has been done and new walkways have been opened up, which are working well in some places. The Oldcastle development committee has developed some nice walks and many other groups are also doing so.

However, a fundamental problem exists. The Minister stated he does not agree with compensating farmers and I understand his view. Other organisations, such as the Irish Farmers Association, do not represent everybody but they are digging in their heels and saying "No" to access to land. There is still a principal problem, regardless of all the improvements and other bits and pieces which are going well and being sorted out. What are the Minister's views on a solution to provide some form of compensation or way of easing the pain and burden on landowners or farmers?

I would like to hear the Minister's view of a scheme which is used in foreign countries, a ski pass for those skiing in an area for a week or two. The pass is paid for by the skiers and allows them access to all the ski routes for that week. The revenue collected is used to administer the scheme and to pay compensation to landowners. A walker or tourist could be given a pass for a set period of time in a specified area. The money collected would provide a fund to develop the walks, cover insurance costs and to compensate farmers. This would provide an incentive to the community to promote their area as a walking area. More walkers would mean more money from the sale of passes which would benefit the community and contribute to the development of an area. Farmers and landowners will want to have walkers on their land because it will be worth their while both economically and socially. Could this scheme provide a solution? There must be some means of offering encouragement through incentives. I agree with the Minister that people have a right to walk on the land. However, regardless of all the good being achieved, we must find a solution.

I wish to clarify that the legal issues were raised by the ICMSA and by Keep Ireland Open. They were agreeable to the proposition that these would be examined by either the Attorney General or the Law Reform Commission. An expert group involving the various offices is regarded as the best method. The IFA did not raise legal issues. I note there is no fundamental difference between my position and that of the IFA which has conceded it is looking for maintenance money.

I am not a member of Comhairle na Tuaithe but my officials are members. I understand the IFA wanted its specific proposal to be accepted by Comhairle na Tuaithe, that maintenance money would be paid by rote, irrespective of whether a farmer had a lot or a little maintenance on his land. This is not a good way of proceeding for a number of reasons. My door is open to discussion and negotiation. The IFA is no longer looking for money for access because it accepted since it published a document that it is not a tenable argument.

The suggestion made by the Deputy is that anybody on their own private land can charge for access and earn more if they allow more people on the land. I agree that private landowners can do so. However, what was in question was the idea of the State paying for access and I said this would not happen. This was taken on board by the IFA and it published a document. It suggested a payment of maintenance by rote. I am not keen to go down that route for a number of reasons.

I have fully accepted the principle that farmers should not have to expend any of their money in maintaining a walkway if they are not receiving a direct benefit. The State or somebody else, but probably the State through the rural social scheme, should bear the full cost of maintenance.

The issue is that if the land of 80 farmers is on a walkway — my view is that each one should maintain their own land — the first practical issue is that many of them might not be capable of maintaining their own land, as in the case of 80 or 85-year-old farmers in hilly areas. The second issue is why should everybody be given the same when the work might be very different? The third issue is that if each one does their own, there may be a way of supervising——

We must proceed with the next question.

The Minister and I are in agreement. I suggest that the pass would provide a fund which could be distributed and used to employ people to maintain the routes or given to farmers who put in a given number of hours' work on the routes. There could be a way of administering it with no charge on the State. However, the State should encourage and facilitate it. This might increase our tourism numbers, which are considerably reduced for hill walkers.

We need to move on to the second question.

We are on the same wavelength in this regard and let us give it a push. Rather than waiting for them to approach the Minister, let us suggest some initiatives.

Last Friday I had a very constructive meeting with representatives of the South Kerry Partnership who had some very good ideas. All the time we are trying to move forward. We are not wedded to the belief that this is the only proposal. We are considering creative ways to address the issues. However, from a psychological point of view I am not keen on charging people to climb mountains etc. because we would lose more than we would gain for tourism. I do not mind us investing in it and getting an indirect return as we invest in national parks. I agree with 90% of the IFA paper. However, the proposal for a standard payment per metre would create problems. The obvious one is very simple. If I start paying on 50 walks per metre, the people living around Carrauntuohill, Croagh Patrick and the Sugar Loaf in County Wicklow, all of which attract many climbers, would claim they need to maintain their——

The final point is——

We need to proceed to Question No. 2. We are way over time.

—— in the US national parks nobody minds paying a fee of $100 to get access to all areas. I do not see what is wrong with the principle of charging for hill walking if it is done at a fair price.

While I will consider it, I must point out the number of walking tourists increased dramatically in 2005. It had reduced but increased again in 2005.

Departmental Bodies.

Brian O'Shea


2 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he is satisfied that the proper rules and procedures have been followed in all appointments made and contracts granted by Údarás na Gaeltachta since he came to office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31387/06]

Údarás na Gaeltachta is a non-commercial State body which comes under the aegis of my Department and is governed by the legislative provisions of the Údarás na Gaeltachta Acts 1979 to 1999, in addition to national and European regulations and guidelines, including the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. Accordingly, while my Department holds responsibility for the body in regard to corporate governance matters, it has no function in the micro-management of its day-to-day administration.

As the Deputy is aware, Exchequer funding is provided to Údarás na Gaeltachta annually through my Department's Vote and, as part of the formal notification process, my Department sets out appropriate guidelines and conditions in regard to the various programmes of expenditure with a view to ensuring good practice for both the body and the various stakeholders. The expenditure programmes and processes are, of course, subject to formal scrutiny and audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General on an annual basis.

In fulfilment of its statutory obligations, Údarás na Gaeltachta publishes its report and accounts annually and these are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. In addition, arising from the code of practice for the governance of State bodies, the chairman provides a report each year to me in my role as Minister in regard to the performance and compliance of the body in the particular year. As part of this report, the chairman is required to confirm that all appropriate procedures for financial reporting, internal audit, procurement and disposal of assets are being carried out by the body and that the codes of business conduct for directors and employees, the guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure proposals and the code of practice generally have been adhered to. An internal audit function is also in place in the body.

Moreover, as a result of particular issues which came to light during my tenure as Minister — I cite for instance, the sale of holiday homes in Eanach Mheáin and payment of a grant to a company outside the Gaeltacht boundary, both of which have already been debated extensively in this House — I can say that procurement practices and processes have been improved to ensure good practice. For example, following scrutiny of the procedures adopted in the case of disposal of assets in Eanach Mheáin, my Department acted to highlight the need for board decisions and the underlying processes to be fair and transparent both in legal and administrative terms. I can also confirm that, in accordance with its governance role, my officials hold meetings with Údarás executives on a regular basis to monitor and review progress and to discuss relevant issues.

Having regard to the foregoing I am satisfied as to the general arrangements in place for the award of contracts.

When one cuts through the waffle, I take it from the Minister's answer that he is not aware of any irregularities in appointments or awarding contracts. I understand the Minister was present at the announcement of the task force for the Donegal Gaeltacht on 16 December 2002. Is he aware that the post of ard-bainisteoir, the person appointed by the Údarás to the task force, was appointed without the post being advertised or a competition taking place? Is he aware of concerns of the AMICUS trade union regarding this appointment? Regarding the appointment of a permanent ard-bainisteoir to Údarás na Gaeltachta on 8 December 2005, is he aware of a relationship between the successful applicant and any of the interviewers?

Will the Minister have these matters investigated?

I certainly will if the Deputy says there are issues to be addressed. I have no recollection of receiving any communication on whatever happened at the meeting in Donegal, which of course I did not attend. I did not attend any Údarás na Gaeltachta board meeting in Donegal.

I did not mention a board meeting, I spoke about the launch.

I cannot remember any appointment or decision having been made at the launch.

I did not say there was. However, I understand an appointment was announced.

There could have been, I cannot recollect here. All of us attend functions at which announcements are made, but just because an announcement is made at an occasion, I do not need to go back the next day and check that the body did the job right. It is a matter for Údarás to follow its procedures. If the Deputy has specific allegations he should give me details and I will check them out. If anybody comes to me with an allegation, I will have it checked. It would not be the first time an allegation was made. In one case when an allegation was made the Údarás spent considerable sums of money checking it out thoroughly.

I have given the Minister specific details and I ask that these issues be checked and that he comes back to me on the issues raised. I have given dates and considerable detail.

Is the Deputy saying that somebody on the interview board was related to the successful applicant?

The Minister heard what I said.

So that we are all clear on what the Deputy said, was that what he said?

I am asking whether the Minister is aware of any relationship between a successful applicant and an interviewer. I ask him to confirm it one way or another.

I am not aware. The Deputy seems to be saying he is aware of something of which I am not aware. I have already answered that I am not aware. If the Deputy is asking me to investigate whether there is any truth in something he was told, I will investigate it. I ask the Deputy to clarify what the position was. Although I may be somewhat vague, my memory was that a person was appointed to work on the task force in Donegal. Is that what we are discussing? It was an internal appointment.

There are two issues. I understand a temporary ard-bainisteoir was appointed for the Donegal task force.

From within the Údarás.

Yes, that is the first one I mentioned. The second one was a permanent appointment of an ard-bainisteoir on 8 December 2005. There are two separate issues. If the Minister reads the record he can see what I said.

We will look at the record and try to find out what the basis is.

Youth Services.

Seamus Healy


3 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will immediately grant young people’s facilities and service fund status to the town of Clonmel, as requested by the RAPID organisation, in view of the fact that Clonmel is under-resourced in the staffing and provision of youth programmes, that this deficiency has precluded the development of important initiatives to enhance social inclusion and that a significant drug problem has developed in the town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31391/06]

The young people's facilities and services fund was established by Government in 1998 to assist in the development of youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities, and services in disadvantaged areas where a significant drug problem exists or has the potential to develop. The objective of the fund is to attract "at risk" young people into these facilities and divert them away from substance misuse. The fund currently covers the 14 local drug task force areas in Dublin, Bray and Cork, as well as projects in Limerick, Waterford, Carlow and Galway. The possibility of expanding the number of urban areas which are eligible for funding from the young people's facilities and services fund may be considered in the coming period. Any decision in that regard would be based on evidence of a significant drug problem in a particular centre or the potential for a drug problem to develop. In that regard, I have recently received a paper from the national drugs strategy team, prepared under action 85 of the national drugs strategy, which identifies the urban areas of greatest need based on treatment numbers, seizures of heroin and cocaine and a number of indicators of socioeconomic disadvantage. Clonmel is not identified as a priority in this paper.

The ten regional drugs task forces, including the south-eastern regional drugs task force which covers the Clonmel area, are now implementing the actions plans for their regions and a sum of €5 million has been allocated this year in that regard. Opportunities for funding projects in Clonmel may arise in this context, given that the south-eastern regional drugs task force allocation is approximately €900,000 for 2006. The Deputy may also be aware that a portion of the allocations from the dormant accounts scheme in 2006 is ring-fenced for RAPID areas such as Clonmel. In this regard, I am pleased to advise that an allocation of €180,000 to Clonmel Community Partnership was approved in July. This provision will pay for the refurbishment of a community facility, staffing for two youth workers, and activities and developmental programmes for young people in the Clonmel area.

I am disappointed with the Minister of State's reply because it indicates that the fund will not be made available to Clonmel. Does the series of drug-related murders which took place in the town over the past few years not represent evidence of a drug problem? A youth task force based in the town, Clann Óg, sent a request to the Minister for additional youth workers and reported that Clonmel is seriously under-resourced with regard to youth workers and facilities. Is prevention not better than cure and is it not preferable to provide services and facilities at an early stage so as to nip problems in the bud? Far more resources and funding will be required if these problems have to be addressed at a later stage. The request from Clann Óg for five additional youth workers is evidence of the need to make funds available to Clonmel. Does the Minister of State not agree on the necessity of funding programmes such as a springboard family project, a neighbourhood youth programme for Elm Park and youth services for the RAPID areas of the town? I urge him to reconsider the issue with a view to providing funds and additional youth workers to Clonmel.

While I acknowledge the Deputy's comments, it would be misleading to give the impression that Clonmel or the south east has not been well resourced simply because the young people's fund covers the 14 local drugs task forces. Several years ago, four additional provincial centres, namely Limerick, Waterford, Carlow and Galway, two of which are in the south east, were selected for funding for current services. In the past couple of months, Carlow, Waterford and Limerick were the first areas outside the original 14 to receive funding for capital projects. The south east has done extremely well and Clonmel has benefited from the dormant accounts scheme, which allocated €300,000 to urban areas and €200,000 to smaller towns. The Clonmel Community Partnership received €180,000 to cover the cost of two youth workers, as well as funding for other projects. In the past few years, Clonmel has also received a significant grant for a swimming pool.

The Department of Education and Science provides the majority of funding for youth workers, whereas the young people's fund from my Department specifically covers at-risk youths. The independent report of the drugs strategy team referred in particular to Leinster towns such as Arklow, Portlaoise and Athlone and did not identify Clonmel as a priority. I had no part in the authorship of the report and, as far as I am aware, it based its findings on treatment, drug seizures and socioeconomic data. I will ask the team whether murders were also considered. A representative of the Garda Síochána was on the team and all relevant data should have been considered.

The report by Clann Óg stated that Clonmel is under-resourced with regard to the number of youth workers in the town delivering youth programmes, a deficiency which precluded the development of important initiatives which could have enhanced social inclusion. Clonmel has not been granted funding for facilities and services for young people or for the springboard project and has not received adequate funding for projects under the drugs task force fund in 2005. I ask the Minister of State to read the Clann Óg report and to put Clonmel on the map for the youth services fund and additional youth resource workers.

The Department of Education and Science provides the bulk of the funds for youth workers. My Department has funded youth workers in Clonmel under the dormant accounts scheme and the RAPID programme. I do not know whether these workers are in place. We are considering an expansion of the young people's fund but I do not want to give the Deputy false hopes because, based on the report I have received, Clonmel is not in the running.

Is the Minister of State aware of the report by Clann Óg?

That report clearly indicates the town does not have sufficient resources or youth workers and that it has not attracted the level of funding received by other towns over the past year.

Have youth workers been employed yet with the money provided in July?

The money provided in July represented a one-off grant from the dormant accounts scheme.

The grant provided for the employment of two youth workers.

However, Clann Óg has requested five additional youth workers. Two are welcome but more are needed because the town has suffered serious drug-related crime over the past few years.

Community Development.

Damien English


4 Mr. English asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reforms proposed for the delivery of the RAPID programme in view of weaknesses identified in its recent evaluation report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31396/06]

The RAPID programme aims to ensure priority attention is given to tackling the spatial concentration of poverty and social exclusion within the 45 designated RAPID areas. In addition, RAPID priority status was recently extended to Ballyfermot. My Department, with the support of Pobal, has overall responsibility for the co-ordination of the RAPID programme. As I indicated in my response to Question No. 41 of 14 June 2006, it is a matter for each Department to respond to the recommendations in the report in respect of their specific areas of responsibility.

It is important to note the report indicates that, in general, the experience of the RAPID programme has been positive. The report found that the programme has made substantial progress in identifying the needs of disadvantaged communities and in implementing important local projects in response to locally identified needs. A number of weaknesses in the delivery of the programme were identified, pertaining to strategic planning, limited implementation of the programme in a small number of areas, the interaction of some State agencies in some areas and difficulties in identifying sources of funding for some projects.

The report recommends enhanced monitoring structures, the adoption of annual work programmes and improved corporate and business planning in agencies to prioritise RAPID areas for investment. I have initiated a process to implement these recommendations. My aim is to address the identified weaknesses by working with the various stakeholders at national and local level.

I am glad the Minister went through the faults of the report, so I will not have to list them, and the changes that need to be made. There is a lack of focus in a few RAPID areas and that is addressed in the report. It might help to have a person in each of the various bodies that are dealing with the RAPID co-ordinator assigned to RAPID. It is hard to get things moving at a fast pace, so there should be one person in the council who deals with the RAPID co-ordinator and reverts back to the council staff. Fingal County Council is starting that initiative in a few areas of its business so we should consider the same option for RAPID. There should be one person in the health board, the Garda, the council and so forth in charge of bringing back the message.

In some areas the priorities we and the co-ordinator have for RAPID are not always a top priority for the residents of those areas. Sometimes RAPID is more involved in social capital, for example, providing a community magazine or newspaper, rather than providing for people in the area who do not have central heating, whose houses have damaged windows or where there is a litter problem. The priority does not seem to be getting the area in shape first and then doing the additional, nice things.

Many of the RAPID areas are older council estates and the houses are now worth a great deal of money. People who try to buy their houses are hit with the market price, minus a percentage for the number of years they have been renting the house. They cannot afford to buy them. The council, therefore, is left with hundreds of houses that must be maintained but it cannot afford to maintain them to a high standard. If we relaxed the conditions for certain age groups in the RAPID areas, people could buy their houses. Money raised from the sales could go into the council fund to repair the other houses or to bring the area up to a certain standard.

The people I have in mind are generally older people who want to provide for their future but they do not own an asset. If they try to buy their house, they will be caught by the conditions. Perhaps there is room within RAPID to consider an initiative to help them. It might also help the area by generating money and by giving people more responsibility.

The Minister referred to including the Ballyfermot area when the RAPID boundary was extended. What are the procedures in other towns and counties for the extension of RAPID? In some places there are estates located side by side and only one of them might be in RAPID. The boundaries were well drafted but there are a few areas where they could be moved slightly to make it more effective. Will the Minister explain the procedures for doing that?

The Deputy's first question is valid but nobody has an answer to it. No matter what structure one puts in place, it is dependent on people. Some people are good and some are not so good. There is no logical reason for Kerry winning so many All-Ireland titles. The people are no taller, stronger or smarter than the rest of the country, although they think they are. There is something in the people and in the culture to make them succeed in Gaelic football.

The same issue arises here. We cannot create a system or structure that guarantees that everybody within that system or structure works efficiently. To a certain extent we must turn that into a strength, in other words, make it more competitive. The areas that get ahead will get more and the areas that do not could be shown up, which is the best way to get them going. A major finding in the report is that some areas are getting ahead while some are not.

The second issue is agencies. I am taking two approaches to that. One of the dividends of the cohesion process is fewer bodies in every county. I hope, therefore, that we will make fewer demands on bodies such as FÁS, the VECs and so forth to have to run from body to body. As a consequence, I hope they will be able to send more senior people to the few bodies that will remain. In County Meath, for example, there will be one Leader partnership for the county. Instead of four or five agencies, we will now only require one person to go to one meeting per month. That makes sense. However, the quid pro quo must be that it is somebody more senior who has more clout in the subdivisions within their own organisation to make things happen. There is a methodology behind what we are doing. People from the agencies must take responsibility.

I sometimes wonder if the second issue could apply to the House. Some of the debates that get headlines in the newspapers do not relate to what people come to me about, which is always houses, roads, social welfare and other practical matters. I am driven by the practical issues that affect people. Obviously, there are very poor housing estates. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, in his capacity as Minister of State in another Department must carry out the big refurbishment of those estates.

With regard to smaller works, there is huge demand for the cleaning of estates, fixing boarded-up houses and getting them back into the market. There was a meeting of the national monitoring committee today at which we considered how we could do more for estates with the enhancement scheme. One of the frightening things is that we cannot spend the money. Amazingly, many of the people involved in estate enhancement have not yet spent the 2005 money, let alone the 2006 money.

To give them a better opportunity to plan we said we would provide the 2006 and 2007 money together. I was hopeful that some might spend the two years' money in 2006. In fact, the opposite is happening; the tendency is for them to spend the two years' money in 2007. It is an amazing world. People, particularly local authorities, keep telling us they have no money but when we provide it we cannot get the work done. There are issues in that regard and today we discussed ways of rewarding those who get up and going and penalising those who sit on their butts and do not deliver after all the talk.

The Deputy asked a valid question about extending the RAPID areas. The Ballyfermot area was separate so I will deal with that first. When the initial analysis was conducted, Ballyfermot qualified. What disqualified Ballyfermot was the fact it had been given a European programme called URBAN. Somebody made what I consider a wrong decision, that if an area is given the URBAN programme and qualifies for RAPID in every respect, it cannot participate in RAPID as well, even if it is the most deprived area in the country. It was a long process to get it right but Ballyfermot should have been in it on the first occasion. That is the reason it is included now.

The Deputy is correct that there are areas adjacent to existing RAPID areas that have a good case for inclusion. There might be new housing estates which did not exist when we started. RAPID is different from CLÁR. CLÁR is about leverage funds so all I need do is double the funds and double the area. It is quite simple. However, as RAPID involves prioritisation of mainstream funding across all Departments, if I double the areas I will dilute prioritisation by half. That is the challenge. If I ever get around to looking at extensions and adjustment of borders on the basis of new statistics, it will be in the 5% to 10% bracket. It will not be a doubling like CLÁR. If I doubled it, I would undermine the basis of the programme, which is prioritisation. It is not analogous to CLÁR, which is 90% about leverage funds. All I did in that programme was double the funds and double the areas.

Was there another question?

I asked about people buying their houses and whether there is any hope for them. I do not expect a full answer today as it is a new topic I have raised.

The Deputy made a fair point. The Minister of State and I have discussed that issue. A valid argument can certainly be made because the more people who own their houses, the better. However, there is a snag. I have been a great proponent of people owning their houses from the day I was elected to this House but I have been told that, in certain cases, when people bought the houses, particularly in towns with third level institutions, within ten years all those houses were let. This gave rise to a new type of dereliction, with landlords letting the houses to students, migrant workers and so forth. The houses in the estates were not cared for.

I am glad the Minister is thinking about it. He will get support from this end. We can invent new clauses to prevent problems arising. RAPID was to correct problems of the past, such as bad planning, bad housing and so on. Can we learn from the RAPID report and the work of RAPID to prevent this happening again in other areas? Whose job is that?

If the Deputy looks at even the physical design of new estates, he will see it is much different. The second issue is providing the facilities as well as building the houses.

Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Brian O'Shea


5 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has received the confirmation he sought from Údarás na Gaeltachta that the proper rules and procedures were followed in regard to the awarding of a contract to a consultant under the consultancy agreement between Údarás na Gaeltachta and NUI Galway which came into effect on 1 November 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31388/06]

I have been informed by Údarás na Gaeltachta that due regard was given to proper rules and procedures in the case in question. Furthermore, Údarás has also informed me that the expenditure in question accords with the basic principle of ensuring value for money in the promotion of its strategic objectives. Again I reiterate that, as Minister, I have no statutory function in regard to the day-to-day administration of Údarás na Gaeltachta.

I thank the Minister for his response, although I am quite astounded by it. Does he stand over the granting of a three year contract costing €185,000 plus expenses, including foreign travel, which is 60% funded by Údarás, when it was not advertised, no competition took place, no announcement was made when the contract was awarded and no correspondence was produced in response to a freedom of information request from "Nuacht TG4" in respect of the efforts made inside and outside NUI Galway to identify a suitable person for the contract?

The day-to-day operation of Údarás and compliance with Government procedure are matters for Údarás. The auditing of the accounts is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General who will be the final arbiter in regard to financial probity and so on. However, as the issue was raised with me, I raised it with Údarás na Gaeltachta which assured me that it acted in accordance with proper rules and procedures. My Department was not in any way involved in this and, therefore, all I can do is ask Údarás about it. It said the expenditure in question concurs with the basic principles of ensuring value for money.

The issue surrounds the awarding of this contract. The value for money issue is an important one but the awarding of the contract is the one I raised. Is the Minister satisfied with the assurances he received? Is he prepared to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to fully look into this issue to see if the proper procedures were followed?

The Comptroller and Auditor General is legally obliged to fully look into this issue. He does not need me to tell him to so do; it is his job. That is the role of his office. I assure the Deputy he does not need me to tell him to do his job. That is a slight on the Office of Comptroller and Auditor General.

It is no such thing. Information was obtained by "Nuacht TG4" on foot of freedom of information requests. That raises very serious questions and the Minister is too glibly accepting the assurances he received. This issue needs to be looked at independently and that is no reflection whatever on the Comptroller and Auditor General. All the detail relating to various activities is not always available when an inspection is done. On foot of the information that has been obtained by "Nuacht TG4", this issue requires immediate and more in-depth scrutiny.

The allegations are flying even further. It must be allegation week. Údarás is obliged to keep proper records.

Is the Minister satisfied? Does he believe the answer he received?