Priority Questions

Departmental Funding

Frank Feighan

Question:

28 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will provide details of the implications of Budget 2011 for his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46336/10]

Frank Feighan

Question:

30 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on whether the impending Budget cuts to rural services will lead to isolation in rural communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46337/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 30 together.

As Deputy Feighan is aware, in the current economic circumstances we are faced with difficult decisions. The Government has considered several measures in the context of the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 to provide the basis for a sustainable approach to the current financial situation. Throughout Government, our approach has been to do this in as balanced a way as possible. Taking into account the recent Supplementary Estimate and the full year funding associated with functions transferred into and out of the Department during 2010, gross funding for my Department is reduced by a total of 13% in 2011, current funding by 6% and capital funding by 28%. Within this context, my primary concern is to make every effort to ensure that the daily front line services provided with funding from my Department are protected, especially those focused on the needs of the most socially deprived communities.

In our current financial circumstances it is clear that objectives must be pursued with less resources than previously. However, we will continue to strive to achieve good outcomes and value for money notwithstanding these constraints. Every saving that can be made from cutting back on overheads will be pursued such that the urban, rural, Gaeltacht and island communities we serve retain, to the greatest extent possible, the services that have been developed in partnership with them over the years. Different areas throughout my Department's Vote will experience different levels of adjustment next year. For example, the reduction in current funding proposed under the national drugs strategy for my Department next year will be some 1.2% and I am confident that front line services provided in this area will not be adversely affected.

In terms of rural development, the 2011 proposed allocation will provide for increased investment in the rural economy. Significantly advancing the roll out of the Leader programme will be a key priority for the Department in 2011 and this is reflected in a substantially increased allocation for the programme next year. The programme continues to play a key role in enhancing the economic potential of the rural community and in creating jobs and improving the quality of life in rural areas. Overall, Deputy Feighan should note that details as to the manner in which the funding will be allocated between various programmes will be published in due course in the Revised Estimates Volume.

While overall the Department received a 13% cut in funding in the budget, some areas have been especially targeted. Does the Minister accept there has been a 94% cut in the CLÁR programme, which provides funding for infrastructure in disadvantaged areas, and that the programme has been more or less abolished? Is it the Minister's intention to withdraw the programme entirely? The budget allocation of €500,000 does not represent a credible plan.

The Minister is responsible for Cabinet co-ordination of the drugs strategy. Will the Minister provide details of the cuts to drug funding made in all Departments? Current spending is down 7%. I realise the Minister stated this reduction is less for front line services but I am concerned that this amounts to juggling with figures. What was the allocation under the national drugs strategy last year? What will this figure be in 2011? Is the Minister concerned with the current funding cut——

There are several questions for the Minister to answer. I will call the Deputy again.

Regarding the overall spend, there is very little capital spending in our Department and, in some cases, little or nothing. For example, an allocation of €3 million was made in the capital budget under the national drugs strategy this year. As it turned out, not all of that was used and some of it was transferred to current spending towards the end of the year to meet demands in that area.

I refer to CLÁR funding. For a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that local authorities have found it difficult during the past year to propose programmes that would qualify for CLÁR, a small amount of money has been left over. Unfortunately, this will not be spent because local authorities and other community groups have been unable to access the matching funding.

Spending in the subhead related to the drugs area has been reduced on the current side by between 1.3% and 1.7%. I chose this course of action deliberately but the overall average cut or reduction has been approximately 2.7%.

Both the local and regional drugs taskforces have been advised in the past week of their allocation for the coming year. They are in discussions with the Department at the moment. I have requested that any reductions which arise are made through further savings in the area of administration, overheads and travel. The last place I wish to see further reductions is in services targeted at the front line, especially at vulnerable clients, such as those available in the drugs milieu.

Current spending this year in the drugs area is €32.79 million with €1 million allocated to capital. Although I do not have the precise figures, the comparison for last year was a reduction of approximately 2% overall in tacking the drugs problem.

The budget was designed to be vague. Many incendiary devices and booby traps will go off in the coming months. Unfortunately, ordinary citizens must pay. They do not understand what is coming down the line because the Minister has not highlighted or printed it. Does the Minister not accept that if some moneys were left over from €10 million, the 94% cut equates to €9.5 million on the CLÁR scheme and surely that is grossly in excess of what was left over?

The budget has been criticised as an especially anti-rural budget with cuts to rural transport, a hike in school transport costs, cuts to carers for the disabled and blind and cuts to CLÁR and RAPID programmes. Is the Minister concerned that this budget is effectively anti-rural and that people living in rural areas have been hit disproportionately by this budget?

There are no incendiary devices. This project has been deliberately worked out and much of it was done in consultation with the sector. Contrary to Deputy Feighan's remarks, the budget for rural communities has been, in fact, increased significantly for the coming year. The outturn for this year is €48 million and it will be €60 million for the Leader programme next year. A great deal of work can and is being done and will be done under this heading. I do not agree with the remarks. The Leader programme benefits not only mainland communities but the island communities. Comhar na nOileáin and MFG are two Leader companies that do remarkably good work in this area. I do not agree that anything approaching the level of reduction insinuated has been applied to rural communities. The reverse is the case.

National Drugs Strategy

Jack Wall

Question:

29 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs further to parliamentary questions Nos. 141, 143 and 144 of 24 Samhain 2010, his views regarding the data supplied by the Health Research Board showing the high level of drugs use here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46334/10]

As indicated in my previous reply, the data to which Deputy Wall refers is primarily drawn from the 2010 annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, with the Health Research Board being the national agency through which the Irish input is channelled.

For the reasons outlined, I emphasise the need for caution when using data to derive cross-European comparisons. Also, the Irish input on heroin is based on a study published by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs, NACD, in December 2009. As indicated at the time due to several technical factors associated with the capture or recapture methodology used the figures were regarded as an overestimate of the opiate-using population here. The NACD is currently undertaking research aimed at identifying an appropriate estimate model for use in Ireland, taking the data sources available into consideration.

I accept that heroin use remains a major problem in our country. All the indications are that, while the use of heroin is relatively stable in the Dublin region, it has become more widely dispersed throughout the country, especially in the major cities and in towns throughout Leinster. The data under reference also emphasises the welcome increase in the number of people who are in receipt of treatment to deal with their drugs problems. As I pointed out previously, new opiate substitution services have opened this year in Cork, Tralee and Wexford, and these will be followed shortly by facilities in Kilkenny, Waterford, Limerick, Dundalk and Drogheda.

Expansions of needle exchange services, detoxification facilities and rehabilitation services are also being implemented. While the Drugs Prevalence Survey 2006/07 showed an increase in cocaine use, the data is being updated at present with fieldwork for the Drugs Prevalence Survey 2010/11 being undertaken. The initial outcomes from that survey will come to hand towards the end of next year. Ireland ranks in the mid-range among the EU countries for cannabis use, while the use of ecstasy is considered to be at a low level.

I am confident that the steps being taken across the supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research pillars of the National Drugs Strategy will continue to impact significantly on problem drug use in Ireland.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I resubmitted this question because I believed the Minister's reply to my questions in November had watered down the extent of drug use. When it is claimed figures given should not be taken as absolute, it still should not take from the fact that use of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, cannabis, etc in Ireland is relatively high. We saw how in the past several days the death of one person, a sad and unfortunate individual who was prominent in radio and television, led to reams of newspaper columns on the circumstances surrounding his death. Accordingly, we must not water down the survey's results but highlight them to youngsters about the dangers of drug use.

Does the Deputy have a question?

Will the Minister ensure a positive review is made of these figures for this purpose?

I have no intention of watering down any findings on drug use. The drugs problem is serious. Even if Ireland did not feature in any league tables, as far as I am concerned, any abuse of drugs is an abuse too much.

The report, published on 10 November, states 55% of problem opiate users were in opiate treatment in 2007, the last year for which we have an estimate. In Dublin, the average waiting time for a substitution treatment programme is between two weeks and six weeks. Those living outside Dublin can wait between one month and two years. Since I was appointed, I have concentrated on improving these times in Leinster with the Health Service Executive.

It should also be noted from the report that up to 30% of those entering treatment reported injecting use, while 22% of new cases reported injecting drug use. The proportion of injector cases has decreased since 2003, however. In 2007, 74% of drug related deaths, such as overdose poisoning, were due to opiates alone or opiates in conjunction with other drugs. There was a steady rise in heroin seizures between 2004 and 2007. At its peak in 2007, there were 1,698 heroin seizures, while in 2009 it came to 1,455, a 14% reduction.

The general population survey reported 1.7% of adults used cocaine in the year prior to the survey and that the percentage was higher among young adults, 3.1%, and men, 2.3%. Ireland is ranked fifth highest in the EU for cocaine use. In 2008, of those who entered treatment, up to 17%, 761 people, reported cocaine as their primary use. What really must be examined for the future is the number of cocaine deaths which increased from ten in 2003 to 63 in 2007 while the number of seizures rose from 566 to 1,749. However, it decreased significantly in 2009.

These are the figures we want in the public domain. While the Minister has read them out here, I want to see them in every health centre, doctors' clinic, GAA grounds and other public places to highlight the dangers of drugs. Alternatives to drugs must be provided through better recreational facilities and so forth. We have some hope if we can reduce the demand for drugs; if not, we will have a battle at all times.

On several occasions in the House, I have raised the danger of cocaethylene, the chemical caused by mixing alcohol and cocaine. Unfortunately, over the past several days we saw how this has emerged again. However, the Department and other drug abuse agencies have not highlighted the danger of mixing alcohol and cocaine. It is important those who use cocaine and mix it with alcohol are aware and warned of these dangers.

I agree with Deputy Wall that this information should be provided in the public domain such as doctors' surgeries. Interestingly, when I recently launched a programme for a drugs taskforce I was informed it was all very fine having such information in doctors' surgeries but it needs to be in places where young people recreate such as GAA clubs and so on. It is all very fine for professional practitioners to have access to this information but an in-your-face approach is needed. There are examples of effective uses of such an approach across the country.

Question No. 30 answered with Questions No. 28.

School Patronage

Frank Feighan

Question:

31 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the Irish Human Rights Commission’s discussion paper on education and religion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46338/10]

The discussion paper on education and religion was published by the Irish Human Rights Commission, an independent statutory body, on 27 November last. It has sought views and comments on the issues from individuals or organisations by the end of next January. When it has had an opportunity to consider any such comments or views, it will submit a report to the Government.

In advance of consideration of that report by, in the first instance, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills and, subsequently, by the Government, the Deputy will appreciate that comment by me would not be appropriate. I encourage members of the public and organisations with an interest in these matters to make their views known to the commission.

Has the Minister of State had discussions with the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills on this matter?

No. It is appropriate the Irish Human Rights Commission feels free as an independent statutory body to conduct its work as it sees fit. It would be inappropriate for me to comment until such time as the consultation phase is over.

Is there a concern that schools may eventually have to adopt different practices than those currently in place? How will this affect schools from a practical perspective?

The Deputy will appreciate that question is more appropriate to the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, as it is more relevant to her Department's remit.

Straitéis don Ghaeilge

Dinny McGinley

Question:

32 D'fhiafraigh Deputy Dinny McGinley den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Comhionannais agus Gaeltachta an bhfuil glactha ag an Rialtas leis an Straitéis Fiche Bliain don Ghaeilge, na socruithe leis an bplean a chur i bhfeidhm, costas measta bliantúil na straitéise, an fhostaíocht bhreise a bheidh i gceist; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [46339/10]

Ghlac an Rialtas leis an straitéis 20-bliain don Ghaeilge ag a chruinniú ar 30 Samhain agus táthar ag súil go mbeidh an cháipéis foilsithe an tseachtain roimh Nollaig. Tá an straitéis bunaithe ar ráiteas an Rialtais i leith na Gaeilge 2006, nuair a dhearbhaigh an Rialtas a thacaíocht d'fhorbairt agus do chaomhnú na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta. Tá réimse leathan gníomhaíochtaí sonraithe sa straitéis i réimsí an oideachais, na Gaeltachta, an teaghlaigh agus na seirbhíse poiblí. Táthar ag súil go mbeidh dul chun cinn á dhéanamh ina leith seo ar bhonn céimnithe ó thús 2011 ar aghaidh.

Díreofar i gcéim bhunaithe na straitéise ar dhaoine a chur ar an eolas faoin straitéis, ar na príomhbhearta tosaíochta a bhunú, ar na struchtúir eagraíochtúla agus oibríochtúla a bhunú agus ar na pleananna oibríochtúla ó na gníomhaireachtaí poiblí forfheidhmiúcháin a fháil.

Tá sé beartaithe faoin straitéis go mbunófar aonad straitéise i mo Roinnse chun tús áite a thabhairt do chur i bhfeidhm na straitéise. Beidh an t-aonad straitéise freagrach as maoirseacht a dhéanamh ar an bpróiseas pleanála straitéise agus ar phleananna oibríochta ó na comhlachtaí forfheidhmithe, chomh maith lena cinntiú go ndéanfar feidhmiú tras-rannach ar thionscnaimh. Tá na céimeanna tosaigh á dtógáíl chun an tAonad sin a chur ar bun.

Chomh maith leis sin, tá obair tosaithe i mo Roinnse ar dhréacht-reachtaíocht a ullmhú chun Údarás na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta a bhunú agus chun sainmhíniú nua do cheantair Ghaeltachta a rianú.

Maidir le ceist maoinithe na Straitéise, beidh gá le cur chuige níos spriocdhírithe agus níos straitéisí i dtaobh cur chun cinn agus buanú na teanga. Cuirfidh an Straitéis creatlach níos fearr ar fáil chun é seo a dhéanamh trí na hacmhainní atá ar fáil dúinn a atreorú i dtreo na réimsí atá sonraithe faoin Straitéis. Tá soláthar de €1.5m curtha ar fáil do 2011 i gcóir na Straitéise agus creidim go mbeidh sé seo dóthanach don chéad bhliain de chur i bhfeidhm na Straitéise de bharr go mbeidh an obair dírithe go príomha ar phleanáil, ar reachtaíocht agus ar atheagrú struchtúr.

Ó thaobh na fostaíochta de, beidh gá féachaint ar na hacmhainní atá ar fáil dúinn sna cúinsí reatha agus na deiseanna atá ann chun an tairbhe is fearr agus is féidir a bhaint astu chun fostaíocht a chruthú. I gcás na Gaeltachta, leanfar le ról a bheith ag Údarás na Gaeltachta maidir le cruthú fostaíochta agus forbairt fiontraíochta sna blianta atá amach romhainn.

Aontaímid go léir go bhfuil an straitéis tábhachtach ach tá cur i bhfeidhm na straitéise níos tábhachtaí fós. Tá ceisteanna bunúsacha, tábhachtacha le freagairt ag an Aire. Má amharcann duine ar chaiteachas na Roinne don bhliain seo agus don bhliain seo chugainn agus na blianta amach romhainn, tá titim thubaisteach ann. In 2007, bhí €112 milliún ag an Roinn agus an bhliain seo chugainn, tá €40 milliún, beagnach an rud a dúirt an Bord Snip Nua, a dúirt €36 milliún. Nach n-aontaíonn an tAire liom go mbeidh sé an-deacair ar fad freagracht a ghlacadh ar straitéis na Gaeilge agus ar rudaí eile a bhaineann leis an nGaeltacht nuair atá titim chomh tubaisteach sin ar an gcaiteachas atá á chur fáil don Roinn sa bhliain seo chugainn agus na blianta ina dhiaidh sin? Níl sin dodhéanta. Tá an Rialtas ag cleasaíocht mar níl sé i gceist aige ach an straitéis a chur amach nuair nach bhfuil sé ar intinn aige í a chur i bhfeidhm.

Is fiú tabhairt san áireamh go bhfuil soláthar iomlán de €36 milliún curtha ar fáil i meastacháin na Roinne i leith fhorbairt na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta i rith 2011. Ní áiríonn an Teachta an maoiniú de €9.4 milliún atá le tabhairt do na hoileáin, a bhfuil formhór acu sa Ghaeltacht, nó an maoiniú d'Fhoras na Gaeilge, nó an maoiniú substaintiúil a chuireann an Stát ar fáil do no meáin chraoltóireachta Gaeilge ar nós TG4 agus Raidió na Gaeltachta go háirithe. I gcomhthéacs na ndeacrachtaí eacnamaíochta faoi láthair, léiríonn an infheistíocht shuntasach seo tiomantas leanúnach an Rialtais i dtaca leis na hacmhainní cuí a sholáthar chun an Ghaeilge a chothú agus a chaomhnú.

Maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta i gcoitinne, tá comhaontú ginearálta ann go bhfuil gá le cur chuige níos spriocdhírithe, mar a dúirt mé cheana, i dtaca le hinfheistíocht acmhainní sna réimsí seo.

Luaigh an tAire forbairt Gaeltachta agus oileáin ansin. Nach n-aontaíonn an tAire liom go bhfuil gearradh siar de 42% ann ar an gcaiteachas Gaeltachta agus oileáin don bhliain seo chugainn, gearradh siar uafásach níos mó ná aon Roinn eile? Nuair a amharcaimid ar Údarás na Gaeltachta, a bheidh cúraimí breise air maidir le straitéis na Gaeilge agus cúraimí fiontraíochta, tá titim sa chaiteachas ansin ó €22 milliún in 2007 go dtí €6 milliún an bhliain seo chugainn. Deir an tAire go mbeidh dualgais bhreise ar an údarás. Conas is féidir leis an údarás na dualgais bhreise sin a chomhlíonadh nuair atá titim mar sin sa chaiteachas? Níl sé indéanta agus ní chreideann éinne é. Tá an Rialtas ag cleasaíocht leis an nGaeilge, leis an teanga, leis an nGaeltachta agus leis na hoileáin.

Ba mhaith liom cur in iúl don Teach go raibh an chuid is mó den gcaiteachas a bhí ag an Roinn le blianta beaga anuas sa chuntas chaipitil a bhain le chéibheanna, leis na hoileáin agus le bóithre. Bhí caiteachas an-mhór ann agus leanfaimid ar aghaidh le cé Chill Rónáin agus beidh halla Bhaile na Finne á thógáil againn.

Tá hallaí go leor eile ann, cad faoi halla Naomh Fionáin San Fhál Carrach?

Beidh €12 milliún caiteachas caipitil ag Údarás na Gaeltachta an bhliain seo chugainn. Tá €6 milliún ann ach tá €4 milliún sa bhreis ar fáil ag an údarás as na scaranna ó Bioniche agus €2 milliún sa bhreis as a chuntais féin. Chomh maith leis sin, d'aontaigh an Teach liom go dtabharfainn tuilleadh airgid don údarás i mbliana chun billí a íoc.

Tá Údarás na Gaeltachta féin ag rá go bhfuil géarchéim ann i láthair na huaire. Ní aontaíonn an t-údarás leis an Aire ar chor ar bith.

Tá orainn anois leanúint ar aghaidh le gnáthcheisteanna eile.