Before we begin, the new speaking time clocks will be used for the first time today. They are intended to assist Deputies in keeping to the time limits set down in Standing Orders. The time indicated on the screen during Question Time will be the time allowed to the Minister for the initial reply, that is, two minutes, and the time for each supplementary question and reply, that is, one minute each. I ask Deputies to comply with the time limits as running over time reduces the time available for other Deputies.
Is that the case for all questions?
Seán Ó FearghaílQuestion:
1. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht his plans to ensure the former Houses of Parliament on College Green, Dublin 2, are continually available for arts and cultural events; if he has assessed the viability of these plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38599/13]
As I have outlined to the House on previous occasions, I have had engagement with Bank of Ireland about the possibility of making the former Houses of Parliament on College Green available for cultural usage. The building is an international landmark, a significant protected structure and has locational importance within the City of Dublin. It has a national resonance too.
As the Deputy knows, it is my view that the shared potential of the Bank of Ireland building for specific cultural uses would present a key opportunity, both nationally and in the public realm of Dublin city, to create, with sufficient vision, a central cultural, civic and tourism hub of strategic importance and scale.
As I have said, engagement with the bank on this matter is ongoing, but we cannot set aside the fact that the building remains in the ownership of the bank and is the largest and busiest of all its branches. As such, the proposal to make the building available exclusively as a cultural venue would require the relocation of these services and, therefore, would have significant financial and strategic implications for the bank. In the present fiscal climate, it would be impossible for my Department to finance the purchase cost and required development and running costs to provide for the conversion of the whole building to a cultural venue. Ireland’s rich culture and heritage remains a major driver of inward investment and tourism and I will, therefore, continue my dialogue with Bank of Ireland in the context of exploring all available options.
I thank the Minister for his response. It is good to be back and able to engage on these matters. I commend the Minister for what he has done to date in highlighting the importance of the College Green building and its historical, architectural and cultural significance. He has compared the area to Tiananmen Square. The idea that we could develop a plaza-like facility for the public and tourists at that location is highly commendable. However, the Minister appears to be backing off a little from that commitment. He is personally strong on it, but I am not convinced that the potential for achieving the objective is as strong as it appeared previously. I am particularly concerned that the CEO of Bank of Ireland, Mr. Richie Boucher, when speaking before the Oireachtas committee only last September, said, "We are not aware of any such request from Government", when he was asked by a Government backbencher about the position on the College Green building. Many very important issues must be considered regarding the Government's engagement with Mr. Boucher and Bank of Ireland, but this is an important issue, too, and we would expect him to know about it.
I have had a number of meetings with Mr. Boucher. There have been a number of engagements and written correspondence, which is available through a freedom of information request. There has been serious dialogue and discussion which will continue.
I have no difficulty in accepting the Minister's assertions, but clearly this is not a priority for Mr. Boucher. If he forgot in September that he had had engagements with the Minister, he is not tuned into the importance of this project. I suggest the Minister needs to revert to Mr. Boucher and get him to correspond with the finance committee and tell it there has been contact between the Minister and Bank of Ireland and that this is a priority for him, and inject a little enthusiasm into his efforts in this regard.
I hope I made a better or more significant impression on Mr. Boucher on those occasions, but that dialogue will continue between Bank of Ireland and my Department, and between me and Mr. Boucher into the future.
Údarás na Gaeltachta
Aengus Ó SnodaighQuestion:
2. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas maidir leis an gcóras ceapacháin a bhí ann do bhord nua Údarás na Gaeltachta, agus conas a chinntigh an tAire go gceapfaí baill a mbeadh taithí agus saineolas cuí acu chuig an mbord; an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas maidir le tuairiscí sna nuachtáin go raibh gearrliosta ann de dhaoine oiriúnacha don Bhord a dhréachtaigh an Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta agus maidir leis an gcúis nár ghlac an tAire le hainm ar bith ina measc, agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas maidir leis an tábhacht atá leis an eolas iomlán faoin gCóras Ceapacháin a chur os comhair an phobail, i bhfiainaise tuairiscí á rá nár tugadh na cáipéisí seo ar láimh do Nuacht RTÉ/TG4 nuair a iarradh taifid a bhain leis an gcóras ceapacháin faoin Acht um Shaoráil Faisnéise i Nollaig 2012. [38598/13]
I bhfógra poiblí a rinne an tSeirbhís um Cheapacháin Phoiblí ar son mo Roinne i mí Iúil 2012, lorgaíodh léirithe spéise ó dhaoine a raibh suim acu i gceapachán chuig bord Údarás na Gaeltachta ach na cáilíochtaí cuí agus an taithí cuí a bheith acu. Tugadh le fios san fhógra go bhféadfaí daoine a cheapadh taobh amuigh den phróiseas sin. Fuarthas 68 ráiteas spéise de bharr an fhógra, chomh maith le dhá cheann eile a tháinig chuig mo Roinnse ó fhoinsí eile. Anuas air sin, chuir oifigigh mo Roinne liosta i dtoll a chéile de 34 duine a d’fhéadfadh a bheith cáilithe le ceapadh chuig bord an údaráis. Tar éis dom na cúinsí uile a mheas, roghnaigh mé triúr comhalta do bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta nach raibh tar éis iarratas a dhéanamh trí léiriú spéise chuig an tSeirbhís um Cheapacháin Phoiblí nó nach raibh ar an liosta a d’ullmhaigh oifigigh mo Roinne.
Tuairiscíodh ar "Nuacht TG4" ar 28 Meitheamh 2013 go raibh an liosta a d'ullmhaigh oifigigh de chuid mo Roinne i measc thaifid bhreise a aimsíodh le linn phróiseas achomhairc a rinneadh faoi na hAchtanna um Shaoráil Faisnéise 1997 agus 2003. Is tuairisc mhíchruinn a bhí sa tuairisc áirithe sin. Bhí sé curtha in iúl do "Nuacht TG4" ar 7 Eanáir 2013, sa chéad fhreagra ó mo Roinn ar iarratas faoi na hAchtanna um Shaoráil Faisnéise, go raibh liosta curtha le chéile ag foireann mo Roinne de dhaoine a d’fhéadfadh a bheith cáilithe le ceapadh ar bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta. Rinneadh an t-eolas sin a athdheimhniú arís i bhfreagra mo Roinne ar achomharc "Nuacht TG4" ar 6 Feabhra 2013. Ba é an cinneadh a rinne oifigigh mo Roinne i dtaca leis an iarratas agus an achomharc ó "Nuacht TG4" - i gcomhréir le forálacha na nAchtanna um Shaoráil Faisnéise - gan an liosta seo a scaoileadh mar gheall ar an eolas pearsanta a bhí ann. Tuigtear dom go bhfuil i gceist ag an gCoimisinéir Faisnéise cinneadh críochnúil a fhoilsiú ar an ábhar seo ar ball.
Is trua liom an freagra atá tugtha ag an Aire Stáit. Measaim gur léir ón fhadhb atá tagtha chun cinn anois go raibh an ceart againn nuair a chuir muid i gcoinne an phróisis seo. Nuair a bhí Bille na Gaeltachta á phlé againn anseo, dúirt muid nár cheart fáil réidh le toghcháin Údarás na Gaeltachta, ach achtaíodh an Bille sin. Is ait an rud é go raibh ar an Aire Stáit dul lasmuigh den dá liosta - an liosta dóibh siúd a léirigh spéis i bheith mar bhaill den údarás agus an liosta a chuir an Roinn le chéile. Glacaim leis gur fhoilsigh na hoifigigh liosta de 34 duine a bheadh ar fáil, tar éis dóibh treabhadh tríd na n-ainmneacha éagsúla. Níor roghnaigh an tAire Stáit aon duine ar bith ón liosta de 34 duine a bhí ainmnithe ag oifigigh a Roinn féin. Os rud é gur roghnaigh sé triúr nach raibh ar cheachtar liosta, tá an cumadh ar an scéal go bhfuil an seanchleachtas ag tarlú arís. Dúradh linn nach dtarlódh arís an cronyism a bhain thar na blianta leis an Rialtas deireanach agus Rialtaisí roimhe sin. Ba chóir go mbeadh an córas seo go huile is go hiomlán trédhearcach. Nuair a shocraigh an tAire ar dhaoine a roghnú nach raibh spéis ar bith acu san ábhar seo, cén sórt scéal nó teachtaireacht a sheol sé chucu siúd a bhí ar an dá liosta tar éis dóibh ballraíocht a lorg?
Ní gá a rá nach n-aontaím leis an Teachta ar chor ar bith. Sílim go raibh an córas ceapacháin a bhí againn trédhearcach, soiléir agus os cionn boird. Mar a luadh san Acht, cheap na comhairleoirí contae os na ceantair Ghaeltachta cúigear ball agus cheap mé an seachtar ball eile, ina measc ceathrar dóibh siúd a léirigh suim agus spéis sna folúntais seo nuair a fógraíodh iad go poiblí. Sílim gur céim ar aghaidh mhór a bhí ann. Léiríodh go bhféadfaí daoine a cheapadh lasmuigh den phróiseas sin. Is é sin an fáth go raibh sé de cheart agam triúr a cheapadh mar a rinne mé. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta go bhfuil bord thar a bheith éifeachtach ag Údarás na Gaeltachta anois. Tá an bord ag gníomhú faoi chathaoirleach úr a chuir mé isteach. Tá lúcháir orm a rá go bhfuil bean mar chathaoirleach ar an údarás don chéad uair. Tá na cáillíochtaí aici. Tá an bord ag feidhmiú go héifeachtach. Tá mé an-sásta leis an gcóras úr.
Níor dúirt mé nár roghnaíodh éinne. D'iarr mé ar an Aire Stáit mar gheall ar an teachtaireacht atá á thabhairt aige don 61 duine eile a rinne iarratais ar bhallraíocht. An bhfuil sé ag rá nach bhfuil siad maith go leor? Roghnaigh sé triúr nach raibh sé de spéis acu a gcuid iarratais féin a dhéanamh. Ní raibh an páirtí as ar tháinig siad glic a dhóthain chun a nainmneacha a chur chun cinn. Measaim gur masla atá ann dóibh siúd a bhí ar an liosta poiblí, nó fiú dóibh siúd a rinne an Roinn ainmniúcháin orthu, nach raibh sé de mhisneach ag an Aire Stáit iad a roghnú agus na cáillíochtaí cuí acu.
Mar atá ráite ag an Teachta, léirigh 68 duine suim spéis a bheith ina mbaill de Údarás na Gaeltachta. Mar a dúirt mé, níl mé ag caitheamh anuas ar éinne acu sin. Ní raibh sé de cheart agam ach seachtar a chur isteach. Sílim go rinne mé an rogha cheart. Is cuma caidé an rogha a dhéanfainn - dá gcuirfinn isteach seachtar ón liosta, bheadh 61 fágtha ar leataobh. Bhí mé ag feidhmiú taobh istigh d'fhórálacha an Achta. D'fhoilsigh muid fógra poiblí ag iarraidh ar dhaoine cur isteach ar na folúntais seo. Is dócha go bhfuil daoine ar bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta anois nach mbeadh air go coíche faoin seanchóras. Tá mé thar a bheith sásta leis an rogha atá déanta. Chomh fada agus a fheicim le bliain anuas, tá baill an bhoird úr ag gníomhú go héifeachtach agus go foirfe ar mhaithe leis an nGaeltacht agus leis an nGaeilge chun na freagrachtaí úra atá orthu faoi Acht na Gaeltachta 2012 a chur i gcrích.
Special Areas of Conservation Designation
Luke 'Ming' FlanaganQuestion:
3. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will provide the detailed scientific reasons for designating each of the 53 raised bog complexes under the birds and habitats directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38688/13]
Under the EU habitats directive, each member state is required to designate special areas of conservation, SACs, for the protection of specified endangered habitats and species. Between 1997 and 2002 Ireland nominated 53 sites for designation as SACs for the protection of active raised bog, degraded raised bog still capable of natural regeneration and bog woodland. Each of these habitats is listed in Annex I of the directive.
The choice of sites for selection as SACs arose from an extensive survey of these habitats and the application of the scientific criteria specified in Annex III of the directive. The criteria used included the degree of representativeness of the natural habitat type on the site; the area of the site covered by the natural habitat type compared to the total area covered by that natural habitat type within the national territory; the degree of conservation of the structure and function of the natural habitat type concerned and the restoration possibilities; and the global assessment of the value of the site for conservation of the natural habitat type concerned.
The scientific rationale behind the nomination for designation of each site is contained in the Natura 2000 standard data form, which can be viewed on the Department’s website at www.npws.ie. These forms also list the scientific assessments and reports that informed the selection of each site.
Considerable efforts were made by the Department, as it was configured at that time, to inform those who might be affected by the designation of Ireland’s network of SACs, including our raised bog sites. The process was the subject of an information campaign which involved the issuing of letters to approximately 230,000 rural households, advising people in general terms of the forthcoming designation programme and where they could obtain further information about the proposed designations. Subsequently, the Department issued approximately 4,900 letters and site-specific information packs to individuals identified as being potentially affected by the proposed designation of the raised bog SACs. The proposed designations were widely advertised in local media at the time. Approximately 610 individuals from within these sites availed of their right to object to the inclusion of their land within these SACs and these appeals were dealt with through the mechanisms established for that purpose, including recourse to the independent designated areas appeals advisory board.
I thank the Minister. Some people say it is hard to get an answer to questions in here, but I just received answers to a load of questions I did not even ask so we cannot accuse the Minister of this. With regard to the science, which is what I asked about, it now appears the National Parks and Wildlife Service is trying to establish more scientific facts, or perhaps establish them for the first time, on five particular bogs, one of which happens to be the bog on which I cut turf. I cut it this year and have it at home in the shed. We in the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association understand that people who cut turf on these five bogs have been written to with regard to examining the possibility of flooding the bogs, which is ever so slightly putting the cart before the horse. It is like a man who decides to put on potatoes for his dinner before going out but forgets to put on the gas, and an hour later when he discovers the potatoes are still raw he decides to put on the gravy anyway and eat them.
That would not be very smart, and the reason it would not be very smart is it is done in the wrong order. The Minister has not got agreement from people on these bogs and he is now talking about going in and flooding them. It is the equivalent of what the Chinese Government did when it did not get people out of a certain valley and did not get agreement - it subsequently flooded them out of it. Is that the sort of Government we have now?
I have been asked a lot of supplementary questions here in the Dáil but this is certainly the most complicated type of question I have been asked. To reply to the Deputy, what is happening at this time is exactly what he sought here in his Private Members' motion way back in March of last year.
Was that the criminalisation of turf cutters?
We appointed the consultants, RPS, who are now going out consulting with people. Nothing will happen on any of these bogs without full consultation with the local population. All we are asking here is that, when RPS go out to talk to the bog owners and, obviously, to the contractors also, there would be full engagement with them.
Flooding may not be the appropriate term. It is, I suppose, regeneration and renewal of these bogs, or another word that has been used is the "wetting" of the bogs. Basically, it is just closing down drains. However, no work will be carried out without full consultation and full contact being made with the local people. I have given that commitment in the past and I appeal to Deputy Flanagan, as PRO for the TCCA, to engage with these consultants as they go out there.
The problem is that once we engage with such consultants, they say "We have consulted with you", regardless of what we say to them. To go back, the Minister has not solved the initial problem and to be moving on to a later stage does not make any sense. The Minister may tell the European Commission that a certain number of the bogs are solved but we know that is factually incorrect.
I do not know who is misleading who here, but Clara bog is held high as some sort of example of how we can find a solution. The reality is that everyone in Clara bog was not satisfied, and the fact the Minister is now talking about flooding or re-wetting - call it what he wants - of Clara bog means even more people are now up in arms about it. It is obvious that the situation in bogs like Clara is not resolved or is the Minister suggesting the situation in bogs such as Clara is resolved? If that is the case, someone is not telling us the truth. The people on the ground are telling us the situation is not resolved. If it is not resolved, the Minister certainly cannot move on to the next stage of flooding people's lands and potentially causing very dangerous consequences down the line, with no indemnity for the bog owners who signed up to this.
There is no question of flooding people's land. People should not be scared about this. I do not want anyone going out and scaremongering that there is going to be flooding of lands. The commitment we have given is that there will be regeneration and restoration of bogs and this will be done in full consultation with the local community - the people who own plots on the bogs or have turbary rights on the bogs, and also the contractors, who obviously have a special interest in this whole area. There will be full consultation. That is the commitment I gave in the House last year on the Deputy's motion and I am honouring every part of that commitment. We appointed the consultants, we are carrying out the national plan, we are seeking ways to ensure bog restoration-----
We are bringing people to court.
Because they broke the law. I would like to acknowledge the large number of people - the vast majority of turf cutters - who have taken the compensation and who have complied with the law. I point out that the number of infringements this year is about half what it was last year. People are co-operating and they are complying with the law. I thank them on behalf of the people of Ireland because, otherwise, we would definitely have been hit with a fine of about €9 million plus €25,000 a day, with the accompanying reputational damage for this country.
Foras na Gaeilge
Michael P. KittQuestion:
4. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Michael P. Kitt den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta cén líon daoine atá fostaithe ag Foras na Gaeilge faoi láthair, cé mhéad post in earnáil dheonach na Gaeilge atá maoinithe ag Foras na Gaeilge faoin gcóras bunmhaoinithe reatha, agus cé mhéad post a bheidh le maoiniú faoin múnla maoinithe nua atá beartaithe a theacht i bhfeidhm an 1 Iúil 2014; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [38600/13]
Faoi láthair, tá 57 duine fostaithe go buan ag Foras na Gaeilge mar aon le cúigear eile atá fostaithe ar chonradh. Ón eolas atá curtha ar fáil ag Foras na Gaeilge do mo Roinn, tuigtear dom go bhfuil timpeall 80 duine fostaithe faoi láthair sna heagraíochtaí a fhaigheann bunmhaoiniú ó Fhoras na Gaeilge. Tá 19 eagraíocht ar fad i gceist, lena n-áirítear 12 eagraíocht atá ag feidhmiú go príomha sa dlínse seo agus seacht n-eagraíocht atá ag feidhmiú go príomha ó thuaidh.
Ag an chruinniú in Ard Mhacha ar an 10 Iúil 2013, rinne an Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh-Theas na socruithe nua maoinithe a fhaomhadh le héifeacht ó 1 Iúil 2014 in ionad múnla reatha bunmhaoinithe Fhoras na Gaeilge. Cuimsíonn na socruithe nua maoinithe na príomhghnéíthe seo a leanas: déanfaidh sé eagras ceannais, a bheidh ag feidhmiú ar bhonn uile-oileáin, tosaíochtaí straitéiseacha ar leith a sheachadadh; bunóidh Foras na Gaeilge fóram comhpháirtíochta uile-oileáin chun cur chuige comhoibríoch ag an sé eagras ceannais a chinntiú; bunóídh Foras na Gaeilge fóram forbartha teanga uile-oileáin atá ionadaíoch de shainleasa teanga áitiúla atá maoinithe ag Foras na Gaeilge ag leibhéal an phobail; beidh scéim raidió pobail le forbairt chun maoiniú a chur ar fáil do raidió pobail trí Ghaeilge sa dá dhlínse; agus cuirfear maoiniú ar fáil don áisaonad sa todhchaí, mar is cuí, i gcomhthéacs fheidhm reachtúil Fhoras na Gaeilge i ndáil le tacú le hoideachas trí mheán na Gaeilge agus le múineadh na Gaeilge.
D'aontaigh an Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh-Theas fosta go gcuirfí síneadh leis na socruithe bunmhaoinithe reatha go dtí 30 Meitheamh 2014 nuair a thiocfaidh na socruithe nua maoinithe i bhfeidhm. Cé nach féidir a thuar go cruinn ag an phointe seo cé mhéad post a bheidh ann faoin mhúnla maoinithe nua, ba chóir go n-eascróidh féidearthachtaí maidir le deiseanna nua fostaíochta as na socruithe nua nuair a bheidh na heagrais cheannais ag díriú ar na tosaíochtaí straitéiseacha agus ag dul i bhfeidhm ar an bpobal ar bhonn níos forleithne sa dá dhlínse.
Maidir le Foras na Gaeilge, dúirt an tAire go bhfuil 19 eagraíocht i gceist faoi láthair agus dhá stáisiúin raidió, Raidió na Life agus Raidió Fáilte, Béal Feirste. Níl na figiúirí cruinn ag an Aire, ach an mbeidh níos mó nó níos lú daoine fostaithe ag Foras na Gaeilge nuair a bheidh an córas nua ar bun? An féidir leis an Aire aon eolas a thabhairt dúinn faoin fhostaíocht sin.
Mar atá luaite agam, ag an phointe seo tá 57 duine fostaithe go buan ag Foras na Gaeilge agus tá cúigear eile ar chonradh. Sin 62 san iomlán. Tá Foras na Gaeilge anois i dteagmháil leis na heagraíochtaí seo, 19 ar fad, agus nuair a bheidh na socruithe go léir déanta, beidh muid ag súil go mbeidh sé eagraíocht ceannais ann ar fad. Ag an phointe seo, tá sé an-deacair a rá cé mhéad duine a bheidh fostaithe nuiar a bheidh na socruithe go léir déanta. Beidh Foras na Gaeilge i dteagmháil leis na heagraíochtaí agus b'fhéidir go mbeidh comhoibriú idir cuid de na heagraíochtaí agus go bhfuil daoine sna heagraíochtaí a bheidh ag obair leis an eagras ceannais. Ag an phointe seo, ní féidir a rá cé mhéad duine a bheidh ag obair agus an mbeidh breis nó níos lú poist ann.
Tuigim ón bhfreagra sin nach mbeidh breis post ann in aon chor, ach fanfaimid go mbeidh níos mó eolais ag an Aire. An féidir leis an Aire a rá an bhfuil sé ag caint anois faoi phoist lán-aimseartha nó poist pháirt-aimseartha? Ní bheidh ach sé eagraíocht i gceist sa chóras nua a bheidh againn i mí Iúil 2014. Cén sórt poist a bheidh i gceist?
Maidir leis na heagraíochtaí úra, tugann muid eagraíochtaí ceannais orthu. Tá daoine sna heagraíochtaí deonacha i láthair na huaire agus is dóigh go mbeidh cuid acu sin sna heagraíochtaí ceannais agus b'fhéidir freisin go mbeidh daoine úra ag teacht isteach. Tá an próiseas sin go léir faoi cheannas agus mar fhreagracht ar Fhoras na Gaeilge. Tá mé cinnte go n-aontóidh an Teachta gur céim ar aghaidh í seo, ón chéad uair a socraíodh go ndéanfaí an comhtháthú seo i 2008. Bhí cainteanna agus cur agus cúiteamh ag dul ar aghaidh ó 2008 agus sílim gur céim ar aghaidh mhór í gur aontaigh mé féin agus an tAire ó Thuaidh, Carál Ní Chuilín, agus an tAire Deenihan, go rachfadh muid ar aghaidh leis an chomhtháthú seo. Tá an fhreagracht anois ar an fhoras, na bun phrionsabail nó na bun chuspóirí a chur i gcrích. Caithfidh muid fanacht go bhfeicfidh muid cad a thiocfaidh amach as sin idir seo agus mí an Mheithimh 2014.
5. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in view of County Limerick's designation as City of Culture for 2014, the supports, whether in terms of personnel, resources, finance or otherwise, his Department intends to give to local arts and tourism bodies and the local authority in order to ensure that the City of Culture year is successful; and his Department's plans to promote Limerick domestically and internationally for 2014. [38687/13]
Limerick’s designation as City of Culture for 2014 will deliver a programme of cultural events and engagement in arts and culture by the citizens of Limerick and beyond. In bringing artists, arts organisations, local authorities and civic groups in the city and county together in a calendar of events that will showcase all that the city has to offer, the initiative will generate a legacy locally and nationally. There are several excellent cultural venues in Limerick city which will have a central role to play in the 2014 programme of events. Any allocation by my Department to Limerick City of Culture 2014, in common with all other organisations and projects seeking funding, will depend on the outcome of the ongoing Estimates process for 2014 and it would be premature of me to go any further at this juncture.
Limerick city is undergoing a process of profound change and 2014 will be an important year for the city, as it will be the year in which a new single local authority will be established. The Limerick reorganisation implementation group, LRIG, is preparing for this change and the designation of Limerick as City of Culture will help to shape, brand and promote a new Limerick city.
Limerick’s preparations are well under way, with former European Parliament President, Mr. Pat Cox, leading the initiative, joined by two other internationally renowned freemen of Limerick. They are Riverdance composer, Mr. Bill Whelan, and rugby international Mr. Paul O’Connell. Further details are available on limerickcityofculture.ie.
The aim of the national city of culture initiative is to deliver a programme of cultural events and engagement in a city for one calendar year and to build a longer term positive impact. An EU study in 2004 found that the designation of European capital of culture served as a catalyst for the cultural development and transformation of the chosen city and it is aimed to replicate these benefits on the national stage through this initiative.
The announcement that Limerick was to be the City of Culture was a huge boost to Limerick. It is an opportunity for the city to showcase its cultural, artistic and sporting heritage and to showcase Limerick as a tourist destination at home and abroad. However, the issue of funding could put the project in jeopardy, if the project is not supported by central Government inasmuch as possible. There is no indication from the Government on the funding to be allocated. The Minister has mentioned that he cannot pre-empt the budget, but without confirmation of funding, how can the arts community and the local authority make concrete plans? Does the Minister agree that it is nearly impossible to plan for such an important and significant event in three months? People in Limerick are very annoyed. The city of Derry knew what funding it would have two and a half years before the start of the event. I wonder if the Minister can try to pre-empt the decision on the amount of funding to be allocated.
I announced the designation in 2012 and requested that a cultural programme be drawn up. I requested that it be inclusive and include the local community as much as possible, especially in places like Moyross, South Hill and Galvone and other parts of Limerick. I also requested that it include all arts organisations in Limerick, the university, Mary Immaculate College and Limerick Institute of Technology and other educational institutions. The process has happened and there is now an exciting programme in place.
No funds are available to the European City of Culture from Europe; it is the brand that counts. This is giving Limerick an ideal opportunity to brand itself in a positive way. There is a very rich historic culture in Limerick dating back a thousand years or more, and this gives them an opportunity to display all that is good about Limerick.
In the context of funding, I am a pragmatist. I realise that it is impossible to put together a real international programme without funding, and an announcement will be made about funding when we complete our deliberations in the Estimates. Funding without commitment from the local community will not have the effect I want. I have pointed this out clearly to the people of Limerick on several occasions when I was asked about funding. This is about buy-in, about pride, about commitment and about people getting involved. If they lose this chance then it will be a real lost opportunity for Limerick.
This is an international city of culture designation, and funding is very important to its success. I believe the Minister is asking those in Limerick to do it on the cheap. Can he guarantee the direct assistance of his Department and officials in ensuring that the city of culture is a success and that it attracts internationally well-known cultural figures, exhibitions and acts, and ensuring that all the experience of Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland is used to promote the events and Limerick as a destination?
I have asked all the national cultural institutions to get involved and to provide and support programmes, and that alone would create a considerable amount of activity. As regards my support, the people of Limerick are very much aware of that. This was my idea, I suppose, and I must ensure it works. If that includes making a commitment for finance then that is what will happen, but I cannot yet give a definite amount because we must wait for the deliberations on the Estimates.
I go back to what I stated originally. This is about more than money; it is about pride. It is about buy-in. Limerick must seize this opportunity to brand itself in a positive way, capitalising on its rich culture, of which I am very much aware because I live so close to Limerick - just down the road along the Shannon Estuary in Listowel. There is much more to this than the amount of money or the budget they will get, and the people of Limerick realise that as well. I ask everyone to be positive about this and support it. Certainly, to date I have heard of no annoyance down there because of funding.