33 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has considered the 20-year strategy for the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46121/10]
Vol. 725 No. 1
33 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has considered the 20-year strategy for the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46121/10]
41 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his plans regarding progressing the 20-year strategy on the Irish language in 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46055/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 41 together.
As I mentioned earlier, the 20-year strategy on the Irish language was approved by Government at its meeting of 30 November. It is intended to publish the final document next week and further information will be available at that time concerning the steps to be taken for its implementation. The strategy has been developed in line with the Government's policy statement on Irish of December 2006, which affirmed the Government's support for the development and preservation of the Irish language and the Gaeltacht. As discussions have gone on, I think the House is united on this.
The objective of the strategy is to increase on an incremental basis the use and knowledge of Irish as a community language. The strategy is the culmination of a process that involved widespread consultation with the public, key stakeholders and a cross-party Oireachtas committee.
The strategy has a number of areas for action such as education, the Gaeltacht, family transmission of the language, public services and the community. The implementation of the strategy will begin in 2011 when appropriate structures will be put in place and legislation brought forward in order to ensure the successful implementation of the strategy in a cost-effective manner over its 20-year time frame.
Táimid ag comhoibriú le chéile.
Is iontach an rud é.
Whatever about the policy of Straitéis na Gaeilge, on which all parties are agreed, does the Minister agree that its implementation is now a top priority? Is the Minister seriously stating it will be possible to implement all aspects of that policy when there are such huge cutbacks to the resources available to Roinn na Gaeltachta and Údarás na Gaeltachta. The latter bodies will have a certain responsibility in the implementation of this policy. It will be an impossible task and this calls into question the Minister's seriousness and the Government's commitment to the strategy at this late hour.
It is a 20-year strategy, not a 20-week one. Everybody is serious about this matter. A unit has been established in my Department to co-ordinate the implementation of the strategy as soon as the final document is published. Some €1.5 million has been set aside in the coming year's Estimates specifically for rolling out the initial phases. Whatever Governments are in office over that 20-year period will have to adhere to the strategy. It is recommended that the Cabinet sub-committee on Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht will have a monitoring role in implementing the strategy, as will the Dáil, and the Seanad if it is around. To answer Deputy McGinley's question, I am convinced that it is possible to implement the 20 year strategy in full, but every Government will have to make a commitment. The fact that parties on the other side of the House have taken ownership of the strategy reassures me that it will be possible.
Of course it will involve resources, year on year. That is why resources will have to be committed to it. I am advised that €1.5 million will be sufficient to roll out the initial phases of the strategy. There will be other parts to it. The education sector will have to play a part in the strategy, as well as other Departments.
I share the concerns of Deputy McGinley. A new strategy has been put in place but there is far less money to put it into effect. Less money will be spent on the Irish language.
The Minister mentioned a co-ordinating unit in his Department. What powers will the unit have? Will it merely consult with other Departments or has it powers to make sure the various recommendations of the strategy are put in place? Will it simply be another harmless talking shop with no effective function?
I repeat that the strategy is a 20 year one. The next couple of years will be frugal, but I am sure that whatever Government is in power will put in enough money to roll out the initial phases of the strategy.
The unit is not a toothless talking shop. It is headed by an official at director level. She will be working with a team of people across the Department to ensure that the objectives of the strategy are implemented. It will not be a toothless tiger. It will make sure that the objectives are pursued and fulfilled across Departments. An Coimisinéir Teanga also has a role in this. There will be a high level committee of senior civil servants and the Cabinet committee on Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht will be there also. The implementation group is based in Furbo. The senior officials group has been in place for some time and is working on the drafts of the strategy, and there is also the Cabinet Committee on Gaeilge and the Gaeltacht.
Whether I am here or not, I will be disappointed if this approach is not continued. I think it will be. While the targets are ambitious, they are achievable.
Cén dáta a foilseofar an straitéis ag an Rialtas?
Maith an fear.
Foilseofar an straitéis an tseachtain seo chugainn. Cuirfidh mé eolas cruinn chuig an Teachta nuair atá an dáta socraithe. Déanfar iarracht í a foilsiú Dé Máirt seo chugainn, más féidir liom é sin a eagrú. Beidh mé i dteagmháil leis an Teachta.
Agus cén t-am?
Níl a fhios agam fós, ach tá mé beagnach cinnte go ndéanfar é go luath san iarnóin.
34 D’fhiafraigh Deputy Jan O’Sullivan den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail; Comhionannais agus Gaeltachta cathain a bheidh an reachtaíocht ar fáil d’Údarás na Gaeilge; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [46059/10]
Mar a chuir mé in iúl don Teach cheana, is i gcomhthéacs an Straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge a dhéanfar athruithe maidir le cumhachtaí agus feidhmeanna Údarás na Gaeltachta a chur i gcrích.
Ó tharla go bhfuil an straitéis faofa ag an Rialtas anois agus le foilsiú go han-luath, beidh tús á chur láithreach leis an bpróiseas chun feidhm a thabhairt do na moltaí éagsúla atá inti. Mar chuid den phróiseas sin, beidh Bille maidir le hathstruchtúrú Údarás na Gaeltachta le réiteach agus déanfar gach iarracht an Billle seo a thionscnamh chomh luath agus is féidir. Níl sé indéanta ag an tráth seo, áfach, dáta tionscanta cruinn a thabhairt. Is dócha go dtuigfidh an Teach cén fáth.
Nuair a cuireadh síos an cheist seo ní raibh an buiséad curtha os comhair an Tí. Nuair a déanadh sin, fuaireamar amach go laghdófar deontas Údarás na Gaeltachta le haghaidh tionscnaimh agus caiteachas caipitil ar fhoirgnimh ó €18 milliún síos go dtí €16 milliún. Tá eagla orm go bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Rialtas cúraimí forbartha maidir le poist agus eacnamaíocht a sheoladh chuig eagraíocht éigin eile, ar nós Fiontar Éireann nó an IDA. An bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Rialtas feidhm eacnamaíochta agus forbartha sa Ghaeltacht a chur go dtí eagraíocht éigin eile?
Ní hí sin an aidhm atá ag an Rialtas. Teastaíonn uainn go bhfanfadh cúraimí fiontraíochta agus fostaíochta ag an eagras nua. Ar ndóigh, is féidir an cheist sin a plé sa Teach nuair a pléifear an reachtaíocht nua.
Maidir leis an chéad cheist a chuir an Teachta O'Shea, tá €12 mhilliún le haghaidh Údarás na Gaeltachta sa chuntas caipitil don bhliain seo chugainn. Tá an méid srianta siar, ceart go leor, ach tá mé cinnte gur féidir leis an Údarás a chúraimí a chur i gcrích, fiú amháin leis na ciorraithe sin.
An nglacann an t-Aire leis go bhfuil todhchaí na Gaeilge fite fuaite le todhchaí na Gaeltachta? Má tá an Ghaeilge le caomhnú agus le forbairt sa Ghaeltacht, an nglacann sé leis go gcaithfear poist a gcur ar fáil chun an t-aos óg a choimead sa Ghaeltacht agus chun go leanfadh an teanga mar theanga bheo? Muna dtarlaíonn sin, an bhfuil deireadh le hathbheochan na Gaeilge agus lena forbairt amach anseo?
Is dócha go bhfuil. Sin an freagra is giorra gur féidir liom a thabhairt. Ach, tá an-éifeacht ag scéim na gcuntóirí teanga ar fhás na Gaeilge ins na scoileanna. Ba cheart na hionaid teaghlaigh a mhéadú bliain i ndiaidh a chéile le linn tréimhse na straitéise. Má leanann gach Rialtas leis na spriocanna atá sa straitéis, tá mé cinnte gur féidir athrú an-mhór a dhéanamh ar staid na Gaeilge.
Ceist eile is ea teorainneacha na nGaeltachtaí. Ceist chasta í sin, agus caithfear í a plé go macánta amach anseo.
35 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the impact of the reduced allocations totalling €9 million in 2011 across community development programmes and projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47124/10]
The adjustment to my Department's community development budget has been structured to protect front line services and supports at the expense of administration, overheads and ancillary costs. While the overall adjustment will impact on some programmes, my Department will continue to prioritise front line services to the greatest extent possible.
In the case of the Local and Community Development Programme, the Deputy should note that the 2011 funding allocation has been maintained at close to 2010 levels. The allocation to the programme for next year of €63.5 million represents a cut of the order of 6% on the funding available last year. I am confident that this will allow for the continuation of important support for people in disadvantaged communities and will allow for the key, essential, front line services delivered through the programme to be maintained for 2011.
In order to protect the invaluable work being done at the coalface by community and voluntary groups, my Department will shortly commence a structured dialogue with the community and voluntary sector with the aim, inter alia, of ensuring that the impacts of any budgetary adjustments to the services provided by the sector are minimised, as far as possible. To this end, my Department will be working with the sector to achieve greater consolidation, co-ordination and efficiencies among service providers.
As the Deputy may be aware, contracts under the scheme to support national organisations will finish at the end of this year, and I am pleased to note that a new scheme for national organisations has been developed and this will be advertised shortly. Funding under the old scheme will be extended on an interim basis — until March 2011 at the latest — to allow for the new scheme to be rolled out.
The Minister and I are of one mind with regard to the need to protect front line services to the greatest degree possible. The latter was my main concern in respect of tabling this question. As the Minister is aware, there are hundreds if not thousands of small community groups throughout the country which are doing outstanding work, mainly on a voluntary basis. Their efforts are being supported through an extremely small allocation of State funding. I am keen that the enormous amount of voluntary work that is being done should continue.
Having indicated that front line services will be protected to the greatest extent possible, is the Minister in a position to indicate the areas in which the €9 million will be saved? If he can provide clarity in that regard, I will be able to rest assured that the services to which I refer will be fully protected. Will the relevant savings be made in the administrative or bureaucratic areas or in other areas?
In the interest of assisting Deputy Jim O'Keeffe, I am in a position to inform him that there are approximately 24,000 of the voluntary groups to which he refers. As far as I am concerned, these are the most important groups of their kind, particularly in the context of the way they deliver front line services. The relevant subhead also includes partnership and integrated companies and covers a range of areas and significant funding has already been allocated in respect of it. I have informed the organisations that reductions will have to be made in the areas of administration, overheads, the printing of glossy brochures, the holding of fancy launches, travel, etc. In addition, they will be obliged to consider salary comparisons across the sector. It is in these areas that savings can be achieved. From my contacts with the organisations in question, I am convinced that such savings will be made.
There are 22 volunteer centres throughout the country and these do extremely good work. I am anxious to continue to provide support to these centres. The Department also supports 64 of the larger national organisations and a new scheme relating to these will be advertised and rolled out in the coming year. Most of what is happening at present will continue to happen.
Members will be aware of what has taken place this year in the context of the integration of community development projects into the local companies. In most cases, work in this regard has proceeded in a reasonable manner. I am under no illusions but that there has been some pain involved at a local level. However, the vast majority of the community development projects are well on their way to being integrated. There may be a small number in respect of which additional time may be required for such integration.
Will the Minister indicate how the consultation process will operate, particularly in light of the large number of groups and projects involved? Will officials from the Department be handling the process or does the Minister propose to appoint consultants? How long will it take for the consultation process to be completed?
The structured dialogue I referred to earlier was suggested by those within the sector. In some respects, it flows from what took place in the social partnership process over many years whereby the social partners and the Government would engage with each other. The Department is proposing to develop, in conjunction with those in the sector, draft papers. This process will facilitate and enable the discussion to take place. I am of the view that the consultation process should not be too lengthy. The basis for agreement is about right and most people are aware of what we want to try to achieve, namely, a more equal and more healthy society in which individuals feel they have a role to play.
We want to build on the strengths that already exist. I was not being frivolous when I stated that there are 24,000 voluntary groups throughout the country. These groups are both large and small, some of them are extremely ineffective while others are great at what they do. During the recent two-week period of bad weather, these groups came from nowhere to provide assistance. They operate under the radar but they were there when the cold snap arrived. We must try to ensure that we get the best out of these groups.
I must admit that I obtained the idea for this consultation process from the neighbouring island, where the structured dialogue with the voluntary sector has been quite successful. As long as I hold office and am in a position to exert any influence, the objective of the process will be to develop in this country a civic society that will make a difference.
36 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on recently published Central Statistics Office figures on poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46069/10]
The annual survey on income and living conditions, SILC, published by the CSO is the official source of data on national poverty indicators, such as at-risk-of-poverty, material deprivation and consistent poverty. The SILC poverty figures for 2009, published on 25 November last, provide the first indications of the impact of the economic crisis on living standards and poverty levels. The at-risk-of-poverty rate was 14.1%, a decrease from 14.4% in 2008. The fact that the at-risk-of-poverty rate did not increase and, despite the rise in unemployment, actually fell slightly highlights the key role of social transfers in ensuring minimum living standards in times of economic difficulty.
The consistent poverty rate of 5.5% in 2009 is a slight increase from the 2008 level of 4.2%. While disappointing, this trend must be seen in the context of the continuous decline in consistent poverty since 2003, when the rate was 8.2%. The 2009 rate is comparable to the 2007 figure of 5.1% and is lower than the 2006 rate of 6.5%. The long-term trends in regard to consistent poverty indicate that the Government's poverty reduction target, set out in the national action plan for social inclusion 2007 to 2016, remains on track. In fact, the 2009 SILC results show some vulnerable groups such as older people have a consistent poverty rate of 1.1%, which is below the interim target of a 2% to 4% consistent poverty rate by 2012.
In meeting the current economic challenges, the Government is committed to prioritising those who are the most vulnerable and to protect, as far as possible, front line services in marginalised communities. The overriding objective now is to restore economic growth and maximise employment in order that the recent progress made in tackling poverty can be continued and that the goals in the national action plan for social inclusion regarding an inclusive and fair society can be achieved.
In view of the fact that 443,000 people are currently unemployed, does the Minister accept that if the survey were carried out now or early in the new year, when the budget cuts will take effect, the results would be altogether different?
The impact of this year's budget will be apparent in the near future. I would not like to anticipate what will be the outcome in this regard. However, what emerges will obviously inform the process of policy formation in the months ahead.
Will the Minister admit that the recent budget and the policies outlined in the Government's national recovery plan will do nothing to alleviate the situation and will only serve to increase the gap between high earners and those who are struggling to cope on a daily basis?
The findings currently available indicate that each of the budgets from 2008, including that introduced last week, have been very progressive. In other words, those who are in a position to pay most are being obliged to do so and those on lower incomes are being protected as far as is possible. The ESRI reports that have been published since I entered the Department indicate that all groups, particularly the elderly, have benefited significantly from social transfers. When issues relating to family income supplement, entitlement to medical cards, etc., are factored into the equation, there will be a better indication of the impact of the recent changes on particular groups.
Have the Minister or any of his Government colleagues been involved in discussions regarding the plight of voluntary organisations as Christmas approaches? Will funding be provided for these organisations in order that they might provide assistance to people who have fallen into poverty? Groups such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are pleading for funding so that they might try to attempt to deal with the crisis that exists. I was informed about one instance where the amount being paid out by a particular group rose from €5,000 to €50,000 in one week. What will the Government do to provide solace to such groups through the provision of funding as Christmas approaches, given that the Christmas bonus has been done away with? The opposite to that is that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is paying this now instead of the Government. Have there been discussions to alleviate this position?
While virtually all charities certainly will state they are under pressure, I can confirm to the House that for quite a number of years, my Department has been giving assistance to the bigger charities, some of which were named by the Deputy. Moreover, only today I approved the payment of further moneys to the same organisations that have been funded heretofore to address the issues that are arising and have arisen previously.
37 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs the affect the announcement of a 10% cut in funding will have on the services his Department can provide to communities. [46045/10]
63 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on whether the community sector cannot absorb any further cuts because they are already stretched beyond their limits as a result of the disproportionate cuts already imposed and as a result of the increasing demands on them; if he will offer a commitment that there will be no further cuts to the sector and make a statement detailing any discussions that took place on the subject of the community sector between Irish Government representatives and officials from the EU or International Monetary Fund. [46148/10]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 63 together.
Allocations to most subheads in my Department's Vote will be reduced by varying amounts in the budget, as is the case in all Departments. In the current economic circumstances, we are faced with difficult decisions. The Government has considered a number of measures in the context of the National Recovery Plan 2011-14 to provide the basis for a sustainable approach to the current financial situation. Across the Government, its approach has been to do this in as balanced a way as possible.
Within this context, my primary concern is to make every effort to ensure that the daily front line services that are being provided with funding from my Department are protected, especially those focused on the needs of the most socially deprived communities. In the prevailing financial circumstances, it is clear that objectives must be pursued with fewer resources than previously. However, I will continue to strive to achieve good outcomes and value for money, notwithstanding these constraints.
Every saving that can be made from cutting down on overheads and administration will be pursued. This is to ensure that the range of urban, rural, Gaeltacht and island communities served by my Department will retain, to the greatest extent possible, the services that have been developed in partnership with them over the years.
Additional information not provided on the floor of the House.
My Department will shortly commence a structured dialogue with the community and voluntary sector with the aim, inter alia, of ensuring that the impact of any budgetary adjustments on the services provided by the sector are minimised, as far as possible. To this end, my Department will be working with the sector to achieve greater consolidation, co-ordination and efficiencies among service providers.
As Deputies may be aware, contracts under the scheme to support national organisations in the community and voluntary sector will finish at the end of this year. In this regard, I am pleased to confirm that a new scheme has been developed and will be advertised in the coming weeks. To this end, my Department recently wrote to the organisations funded under the current arrangements to advise them that interim funding will be provided to them for a limited period, that is, to 31 March 2011 at the latest. This will allow for the submission and assessment of applications under the new scheme.
I am not aware of any discussions of the nature referred to with officials from the EU or the IMF.
I will allow supplementary questions now in order to get in two such questions.
As the Minister has stated, obviously the front line services are of greatest concern. While I am sure it is his intention, I ask the Minister to ensure there is no loss of employment or service. In circumstances in which the unknown provides problems in this regard, I ask that the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs should consider individual cases. I do not suggest this should apply to everyone because there have been cutbacks. However, there have been instances in which an unknown development has led to major problems in respect of a particular group. In such circumstances, the door should remain open in respect of considering the provision of funding to avoid the removal or reduction of, or damage to, front line services. In such circumstances, I seek the goodwill of the Minister and the Department. However, the same must be said in respect of the individual groups, namely, it is not simply a case of an open door but that this should be addressed in specific and special cases.
I will be brief although there is much that could be said on this question. Does the Minister agree that the cuts made to the community and voluntary sector during the economic crisis have been grossly disproportionate? Moreover, the culmination of the combined cuts from last year and this year is that there will be quite a high number of job losses in the sector. Does the Minister agree that the estimated value to the economy from this sector is approximately €6.5 billion and that this value represents a return to the State of more than €2 million? This means that one will get a return if one invests in this sector.
In response to Deputy Wall, I would like to think that my Department has a good relationship with his client groups, be it the approximately 480 groups in the drugs sector, the community projects, the Leader companies and so on. The officials have a record of being quite responsive to the needs of communities, including, as I always stress, the need to address emerging needs. It is the known unknowns or the unknown knowns, whichever term one might use.
In response to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, I accept there have been significant reductions in spending in this particular sector in recent years. However, I set out, with some success, in this year's budget to keep to an absolute minimum any reductions in this regard. As I have stated in replies to other questions, any savings that can be made in administration, overheads and so on must be made to protect front line services. A significant amount of resources still are devoted to the community sector and one should not underestimate the impact that such funding has on the ability of those groups to carry out their programmes.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.