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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 3 Dec 2013

Vol. 823 No. 2

Priority Questions

North-South Implementation Bodies

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


1. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reason the Ulster-Scots Agency spent more than €480,000 of public funds over 12 months without proper authority in 2010; the reason there is a delay of two years in the publication of the agency’s annual report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51571/13]

The question is posed in the context of our strong support for the work of the Ulster-Scots Agency, but we are conscious of the fact that the agency has not published-----

I have not yet answered the question.

The Deputy has 30 seconds to introduce the question under new Standing Orders.

Is that something new?

I did not realise that. When did this come in?

Under Standing Orders that the Government parties imposed upon us some weeks ago.

The question is posed in the context of our support for the Ulster-Scots Agency, but we are conscious of the fact that we have not seen the publication of the annual accounts since 2010 and of the report that over €400,000 of public money has been spent by the agency, which has joint funding from North and South of the Border, apparently without proper approval.

For the benefit of the Minister of State, under new Standing Orders the person proposing the question has 30 seconds to introduce the question and the Minister of State has two minutes for the initial reply, after which there is one minute each for the questioner and the Minister of State.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the explanation. The Ulster-Scots Agency is an agency of the North-South Language Body, An Foras Teanga, with responsibility for promoting the Ulster-Scots language and culture within Northern Ireland and throughout the island of Ireland. As a result of legislative requirements, the annual report and accounts of the Ulster-Scots Agency form part of the annual consolidated report and accounts of An Foras Teanga. In regard to the 2010 accounts, the certificate of the Comptrollers and Auditors General indicates that the agency incurred expenditure totalling £372,523, or €432,124, in connection with which the procedures employed did not comply with those laid down in the language body's financial memorandum.

The Comptrollers and Auditors General have noted the actions taken by the agency to improve its financial controls surrounding grants in general, which include additional staff training, revision of internal processes, revision of claim forms and enhanced requirements for documentation in support of claims for payment. I understand that the matters referred to in the 2010 accounts relate to legacy issues which have since been addressed by the agency.

In regard to the publication of annual reports and accounts, it is worth noting that the production of consolidated accounts is particularly complex in this case, arising from the unique organisational structure of An Foras Teanga as a North-South body comprising two distinct agencies, and from the particular legislative requirement that the annual report and accounts of the agencies be published as a single consolidated document. It is also important to note that the delays that have arisen in recent years in publishing the annual reports and accounts of An Foras Teanga may be seen, in many ways, to have their origin in issues that arose with regard to the 2000 and 2001 accounts, which were not published until 2005. In accordance with a direction from the North-South Ministerial Council, a high level of priority has been given to tackling the backlog in recent years, as a result of which 11 annual reports and accounts have been published since 2005 for An Foras Teanga. It is envisaged that the annual report and accounts for 2011 will be certified by the Comptrollers and Auditors General and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly in the very near future. Finally, I should point out that the Ulster-Scots Agency is up-to-date with the submission of its own individual draft annual reports and accounts up to and including 2012.

I welcome the Minister of State's response, to some extent. This is really unfortunate in the context of the valuable work that the organisation does, and we all wish it well as it faces fairly major challenges. The public, both North and South of the Border, want to be absolutely certain that every cent of public money being devoted to causes such as these is being properly expended, with proper approvals in place. The difficulty is that it appears the agency spent £126,000 on rent and service charges for its Great Victoria Street offices in Belfast city centre without getting formal business approval. In addition, the audit revealed that £176,000 was paid in 2009 and 2010 for the production and distribution of the agency's newspaper, The Ulster-Scot, again without the proper procedures being in place. The Minister of State told us the publication of the annual accounts was a complex issue, but we have not seen accounts since 2010. It is time, irrespective of the complexity of the issue, for the accounts to be published and dealt with in a normal and transparent manner, as is expected of these bodies.

As I stated, there are legacy issues, and the 2000 annual report was not published until 2005. I am sure the Deputy agrees that major progress has been made, and the 2011 report will be published in the very near future. It was discussed at a meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council the week before last. I am glad the Deputy recognises the excellent work engaged in by the Ulster-Scots Agency, which is a significant part of our cultural history in Northern Ireland and the Border counties, including my own constituency. I have had the pleasure and privilege of attending a number of functions organised by the agency in recent weeks and as recently as last Saturday night.

There have been legacy issues. Ms Carál Ní Chuilín MLA, our opposite number in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, and I have given top priority to ensuring the accounts are brought up to date. Major progress has been made. The Deputy identified areas where procurement was not as it should have been in the past, including the office space and the newspaper. These matters have been addressed.

The draft report for 2012 has already been prepared by the Ulster-Scots Agency but we cannot have the 12th before the 11th.

The Minister of State said legacy problems exist which date back to 2001 and 2005. In 2013 we should not be talking about legacy issues from that period. If there were problems then they should have been solved by now. I am not trying to score political points because there are no political points to be scored in this situation. It is simply a requirement that the business would be transacted in a professional manner.

Could the Minister of State outline the engagement he has personally had with his Northern counterpart on the matter? Could he assure the public that the legacy issues to which he referred have been resolved and that in future the documents will be published in a smooth and effective manner on an annual basis?

I reiterate that major progress has been made. There were legacy issues but we are not dealing anymore with 2001 or 2005, we are dealing with 2011. The report will be published in the near future, certainly before the next round of ceisteanna in the House on this matter. We now have the utmost confidence in the approach taken to these matters. I do not deny there were problems in the past but I am satisfied that there is now adherence to acceptable and normal procedures.

Commemorative Events

Sandra McLellan


2. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht his views on the current status of plans to commemorate the centenary of 1916; if key historical projects such as Teach an Phiarsaigh, the Moore Street Monument, and Kilmainham Courthouse, will be ready in time for that centenary; and the way he intends to support the arts sector in commemorating the centenary. [51470/13]

I wish to ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the current status of plans to commemorate the 1916 centenary and whether he could give us an update on whether key historical projects such as Teach an Phiarsaigh, the Moore Street Monument and Kilmainham Courthouse will be ready in time for the centenary. The monuments must be renovated and developed prior to 2016. Could the Minister also outline the way he intends to support the arts sector in commemorating the centenary?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. It is my objective in relation to the 1916 centenary programme to bring forward a programme of commemorative events and projects that is comprehensive, authentic and inclusive. Having regard to the time remaining for preparations, my priority attention has been oriented towards the preparation of a number of capital projects that I believe would provide a significant and enduring acknowledgement of the Rising and the birth of the Irish Republic. Plans relating to key historical locations, including those mentioned by the Deputy, are under consideration. A capital allocation of €6 million for 2014 was announced in the recent budget to fund a number of commemoration projects including the GPO inner courtyard interpretative facility, the Military Archives, Teach an Phiarsaigh, and other projects.

Work has commenced on the Kilmainham Courthouse project, while I understand that the preparation of the military service pensions archive has progressed to enable the inaugural online launch of material to proceed at an early date, hopefully in January. Further announcements will be made on a continuing basis over the coming months on the several other capital projects relating to the Easter Rising.

The Deputy will also know that on 16 July last I made a determination in relation to a consent application and related environmental impact statement on the Moore Street National Monument which provides for the creation of a 1916 commemorative centre involving the full repair and conservation of the four buildings. The consent is conditional on a revised project design being submitted to me for approval within nine months of that decision date.

Other initiatives to excite interest and encourage participation are being carried forward. The online reporting of contemporary news continues with Century Ireland and attracts a wide audience. That was recently recognised with an award. Special arrangements such as the issue of commemorative postage stamps are being planned. The Department of Education and Skills recently announced a competition, organised in association with its counterpart in Northern Ireland, to encourage research and the study of history at primary and secondary level. Exhibitions, lectures and presentations are being prepared by the national cultural institutions, academic centres and by community groups throughout Ireland. The Abbey Theatre is currently staging a new production of James Plunkett's "The Risen People". The commemoration of the 1913 Lock-out was marked by a spirit of sincere co-operation between groups, not only ICTU and the national cultural institutions, but also local authorities, artists and communities.

It is my intention that commemorative arrangements for the centenary of the Easter Rising will build on this model.

I thank the Minister for his answer. I note that work has commenced on many projects, but I stress again the need to ensure the sites in question will be ready. The arts have a substantial role to play in the commemorative events. I note the great success of the selection of Strumpet City by Dublin City Public Libraries through the Dublin: One City, One Book project. This drew great attention to the Lock-out commemoration. Has the Minister had many engagements with the Arts Council and will any additional funding be provided to this end?

I have had engagements with all the national cultural institutions and the Arts Council. I am really very encouraged by their approach to and enthusiasm for the decade of commemoration, especially the focus on 1916. The centenary of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic will be a most important anniversary. I anticipate that the special arrangements for the location will be of interest internationally also.

As always, I welcome the views of the Members, including those of Deputy McLellan. The Deputy has engaged very positively since she assumed her position. The anniversaries of Home Rule and the Dublin Lock-out and the ceremony to mark the foundation of the volunteers were all very respectfully carried out. I am very happy that we have made a very promising start in the spirit of inclusiveness, tolerance and mutual respect.

The Minister mentioned Moore Street in his reply. The decision of 16 July was very welcome. Time is moving on and I stress again the importance of engaging with all the stakeholders and using whatever ministerial powers exist to ensure the historic site will be developed prior to the centenary of the 1916 Rising.

Have there been further developments regarding Moore Street? Has the Minister been notified by Chartered Land and has it submitted any further plans to date?

The major development, which I read recently in the newspaper, is that NAMA has committed a huge sum of money for the restoration of the monument. I was not directly notified of that by NAMA but it was in the national newspapers. I am waiting for another proposal from the developer about its intentions regarding the national monument. That is my responsibility, as I have pointed out so many times in the House. I have responsibility just for the national monument. We rejected the previous proposal concerning part of the site. I am awaiting a proposal by the developer as to what it now intends to do, having had that rejection. When I receive that proposal from the developer, I will make a determination. I hope the proposal will be submitted as soon as possible.

The remainder of the site, which is often referred to in the House, is a matter for Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála. It is their responsibility, whereas mine is for the national monument. I certainly welcome the report in the newspaper that a large sum of money has been committed. I await the proposal of the developer as regards the remainder of the site, apart from the houses.

National Archives

Catherine Murphy


3. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reason 70,000 boxes of archives held by the National Archives are at present uncatalogued and in need of archival and preservation processing; if this backlog means that the National Archives is not being facilitated with the necessary resources to allow it to fulfil its statutory obligation to preserve State records; his plans to assign more staff and resources to the National Archives to help process this backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51626/13]

I tabled this question because I received a response to a parliamentary question on the extent of uncatalogued records in the National Archives. There are 70,000 boxes, which is more than I believed were in the archives. Obviously the National Archives has a statutory function, but that function can be properly put into effect only if there are sufficient resources to catalogue and preserve records properly. Essentially, I seek to know whether resources will be allocated to deal with the extraordinary backlog of uncatalogued records, which I am sure comprise quite a treasure trove.

As the Deputy is aware, the National Archives is responsible by law for the acquisition of records of permanent value from Departments of State, the courts and 61 named bodies. The National Archives can also acquire archives from other sources, such as businesses, hospitals, charities and voluntary bodies, where it is considered that the archives are of outstanding quality and value. This can, on occasion, entail the rescue of archives that are in danger of destruction.

I understand that the National Archives has a historic backlog of approximately 70,000 boxes of archives which need archival and preservation processing to varying degrees. These documents are held in safe and secure conditions but, in light of the pressure on resources, progress on the historic backlog is likely to be slow. As each archival collection will require different levels of work, it is not possible to estimate accurately the funding implications arising. I would like to make it clear that the National Archives statutory annual intake of official records does not generate any backlog in cataloguing work and is catalogued within existing resources each year.

The historic backlog largely comprises records of national significance rescued by the National Archives in order to secure their preservation, where there is no legal requirement on the agency that created them to implement an archival preservation programme; and records acquired by the former Public Record Office of Ireland and State Paper Office of Ireland from Government Departments and offices prior to the enactment of the National Archives Act 1986, in order to secure the preservation of these records in the absence of a legally mandated institution to perform this preservation work.

Cataloguing is one of the core professional duties of archivists in the National Archives, requiring specialist knowledge and in-depth understanding of the content and historical and administrative context of the archives. Unfortunately, due to the moratorium on recruitment, it has not been possible to increase the number of archivists in recent years. Consequently, while the annual intake is catalogued and managed within current staffing resources, the backlog of 70,000 boxes cannot be dealt with at present, other than on an incremental basis as resources permit. I would like, in that context, to acknowledge here in the House the high level of work and commitment by the director and her staff.

I do not doubt the high level of commitment of the very limited number of staff at the National Archives. The National Archives appears to be the poor relation in terms of allocation of staff while at the same time we have archivists who are unemployed and in receipt of social welfare payments. It does not stack up that we would have such a monumental job of work to do.

Will the Minister consider seeking a relaxation of the moratorium on recruitment, given the extent of the backlog? I am concerned that there are some people with valuable records which they might want to place in a national institution so that they become publicly available - particularly in the context of the forthcoming centenary celebrations - but they are getting the wrong signals from us because the National Archives is not capable of dealing with the large volume of historical records already in its possession. This may mean that records are not put into public ownership which should rightfully be publicly owned.

Records of historical significance are being prioritised and that will continue to be the case. On the question of the moratorium, we recently appointed archivists to the National Archives, not to deal with the backlog but to work on other projects. The National Archives succeeded recently in securing some philanthropic donations which will also help. There is also a problem with space, unfortunately. When we had the resources in this country to provide adequate space it was not provided. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, and I visited the National Archives recently and the OPW is now drawing up a proposal for additional accommodation which I hope to bring to Government soon. I know there is strong support among my Government colleagues for the National Archives. Indeed, the Taoiseach has a particular interest in the National Archives and visited there recently. Within the current constraints, I am very confident that we can make progress.

It is welcome that there will be some proposal regarding the accommodation of the boxes. There is also the prospect of using the Internet to display records and a catalogue of the boxes’ materials. However, a catalogue will have to be fully compiled first. The destruction of the Public Record Office of Ireland in 1922 was a terrible act of vandalism and a significant loss. This has led to the fragmentation of the public records sets. While not questioning the National Archives accommodation, one must ask about the quality of the locations where some public records are kept. Are we committing the same destruction in a different way? Do we have any respect for the written heritage of this country when we cannot even catalogue our public records in a timely way so they can be fully used for research?

The records contained in the 70,000 boxes in question are kept in a secure place and will be available to the public in the not-too-distant future. Since 2008, the National Archives has experienced a 41.64% reduction in its operational budget. If the Deputy checks the Estimates from the past three years, she will see how I have done my best to arrest that decline in funding. Last year and this year, the budgetary reduction was minimal. I have tried my best, within the constraints of the overall reductions to my departmental budget, to minimise the reduction in funding for the National Archives.

There has never been more interest in archival material, principally because it is the decade of commemorations. Some really interesting projects are under way both inside and outside the National Archives. Any archives of historical importance will be made available during the decade of centenaries.

Air Strips

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


4. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the current status of the airstrips at Inishbofin and Cleggan in Connemara; the way his Department plans to ensure that the airstrips are successful in their operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51572/13]

This question focuses on the interconnectivity between Cleggan and Inishbofin Island, Connemara, County Galway. Up to €8.6 million in public funding was allocated to the provision of two runways at the two sites. The intention of providing an air service between the two sites was that economic activity on Inishbofin, with 160 inhabitants, would be enhanced through tourism. It appears now the runways are not in use, other than for emergencies by the Air Corps. What does the future hold in respect of these airstrips?

My Department does not intend to engage in any further development at the airstrips on Inishbofin and at Cleggan in County Galway. A decision has been made to dispose of the airstrips. This decision was made in view of the economic downturn, the ongoing cost of maintaining the airstrips and the unlikelihood that my Department will, at any time in the near future, have the resources to subsidise a regular air service between the island and the mainland. My Department is assessing the disposal options available to it and a decision in this regard will be announced in due course.

I am disappointed and horrified by the Minister’s response. My understanding was that the Minister appointed a firm of consultants to carry out a detailed design and costing in order to prepare tender documents for the construction phase of the terminals at Cluain Leacht, Cleggan, and at Inishbofin. Planning permission was granted for these two terminal buildings. Funding required at this point to complete the project is approximately €500,000. I stand to be corrected by the Minister if he has more up-to-date information on that.

Is the Minister saying the population of Inishbofin will not be served by this air interconnector, that the economic development of the area is being abandoned and that the Government is powerless to do anything about this?

My priorities are to maintain the existing level of access services currently available to the island, and I conveyed that to the Irish Islands Federation when I met its representatives shortly after being appointed to office. I am glad to say that so far, we have succeeded in doing that for passenger service access, cargo access, air service access or transport to the mainland to people who want to visit Galway and other areas.

As the Deputy has pointed out, the air strips at Cleggan and Inishbofin were developed at a cost of €8.6 million at a time when we thought we had unlimited economic resources in this country, although later we found out that we did not. My entire budget for maintaining the services for the islands is €6 million. I think we did very well, in spite of the cutbacks brought in across the board in every other Department, to maintain that €6 million last year, this year and next year to keep providing the services that are already there. Unfortunately, at this stage, due to the economic downturn and the cutbacks, we cannot afford to develop and maintain further air services. That is the economic reality of the position in which we find ourselves.

It is also a reality that the Minister of State commissioned consultants to design the next phase of the development and that the €8.6 million of public money which has been invested appears to be abandoned by him and his Department. I plead with him not to do that. I ask him to give us some indication of what his Department intends to do to ensure that the money already spent is not rendered useless, and to ensure that the airstrips are maintained so that when the economy improves, these strips can be used by the public, as well as for the development of Inishbofin. We are all committed to seeing the islands along our western coast developed, and this is an essential part of the infrastructure that is necessary and has been deemed necessary to see the proper development of Inishbofin.

We have just initiated a process on whether to sell or lease or whatever. No decision has been made yet. We are in touch with the island community as well. I was there during the summer and I took the very efficient ferry from Cleggan out to Inishbofin and back, and had a very pleasant day on the island. What we want is in the best interest of the islanders. Perhaps an interest may be expressed locally in operating that service. We are wide open to suggestions. The Department is providing services to 24 inhabited islands, and in an ideal world I would like to have an airstrip in every island of the country, but that is not possible. We have airstrips in Inishmore, Inisheer, Inishmaan, Inishbofin, Cleggan, Spiddal and Galway itself. There is quite a number of airstrips in the area. We are maintaining the existing services and we are not just in a position to incur the extra costs, but in anything that is done, we will certainly consider the needs of the islanders. The process is only beginning.

Irish Language

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan


5. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will consider Irish text only day; if he or his Department officials have examined this idea in the past; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51695/13]

The purpose of my question is to encourage the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht to do something innovative to save the Irish language. I know he is doing many things, but much of these would appear pretty similar to what has been done in the past. We know that if we keep doing something that has failed over and over again, it is time to start looking at a new way of doing it.

What I am proposing is that we make use of technology. Unfortunately, I have limited use of the Irish language, but I make an effort to text a couple of my friends in Irish. It is a good way to employ the language, whatever one's ability. Will the Minister consider promoting a national text-in-Irish day?

My Department has overarching responsibility for co-ordinating the implementation of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030. The strategy promotes a holistic, integrated approach to the language, which is consistent with international best practice. It is an ambitious and challenging strategy covering nine areas of action, including education, the Gaeltacht, the family, public services, the media and legislation. The implementation of the strategy is being progressed in collaboration with key stakeholders, including agencies directly funded by my Department.

In that context, Foras na Gaeilge has a key role in regard to the provision of resources and supports for the Irish language on an all-island basis. The strategy notes that Foras na Gaeilge will continue to deliver on its statutory responsibilities in respect of the language, which include funding projects and grant-aiding bodies and groups to support Irish, as appropriate. A comprehensive list of apps available through Irish may be found at, for which funding was provided by Foras na Gaeilge. The website is a directory which provides information on computer facilities that are generally available in Irish. These facilities encourage the daily use of Irish, especially among young people. Another useful site which provides assistance and advice on various aspects of using Irish in modern technology is

I commend the Deputy on his innovative suggestion of introducing an Irish language texting day. While my Department has no direct function in such a matter, it is an initiative that might be pursued by one or more of the various voluntary Irish language organisations. I will be happy to bring the Deputy's suggestion to the attention of Foras na Gaeilge.

I thank the Minister of State for his positive response. The thinking behind my proposal is that one can go into complexities in a text message, even though it is short, that one might be embarrassed - the word náire comes to mind - to attempt in the spoken word. There is the option with texting of checking a dictionary, which is not available in spoken conversation. Texting gives the opportunity to consider and develop one's reply. I intend to write to the various mobile service providers to ask whether they will accommodate this initiative. If they are amenable, I hope the Department will do its best to promote it. It is essential that we save the language, and any new initiative in that regard is worth pursuing.

The Deputy has put forward a creative and imaginative idea and, as I said, I certainly will convey it to the relevant authorities, including Foras na Gaeilge and perhaps some of the voluntary language organisations. I agree that social media represent a vital and influential element of social intercourse. This is particularly so for young people, who are the people we want to target for the future of the language. Cuirim fáilte roimh an mholadh seo. I recall that one of the Deputy's first contributions was during Question Time, when I was answering questions, when he recalled his own school days. A dhroimeann donn dílis, a shíoda na mbó, cá ngabhann tú san oíche is cá mbíonn tú sa ló? I will be happy to pass on his proposal.

The time for Priority Questions has expired. The remaining questions will be taken in ordinary time.