Topical Issues

School Funding

I thank the Minister for taking the time to come before the House and the Ceann Comhairle for selecting the topic. I raise the need to preserve parental choice for secondary schools. As a result of the sustained reduction in funding this Government has introduced, more and more fee-paying schools are being forced to enter the free education system, which is a worrying trend. By and large, parents who send their children to fee-paying schools are not the elite or multi-millionaires the media would often have us believe, but rather, parents who choose to make sacrifices to give their children the best possible chance in life. They opt out of extra holidays, or any holiday. They work hard, pay taxes and save the State a large amount of money.

It is interesting and worrying to note that three long-established fee-paying schools entered the free education system this year, Gormanstown College in Meath, Newtown School in Waterford and the oldest school in the country, St. Patrick's Cathedral Grammar School, which happens to be in my constituency. This follows similar withdrawals by Kilkenny College and Wilson's Hospital School in Multyfarnham. A number of others have indicated that they, too, may be forced to leave the fee-paying system and join the public system. This is at huge cost to the State. The cost of educating children is not totally borne by parents but is also an obligation on the State. However, the annual cost of a pupil's education in a fee-paying school is €3,710 compared to €8,900 in a free education school.

An independent report produced in recent months shows that should the 25,600 students who are currently in fee-paying schools be forced into the free education system, it would cost the State an additional €133 million per year. There is a major cost implication for the State.

I am also concerned about the education (admission to school) Bill, which Deputy Mathews raised already on the Order of Business, but perhaps I will get a chance to raise it in a moment.

I underline what Deputy Creighton has said. The cost of a pupil in a fee-paying school is €3,710 compared with €8,900 in a free education school. On the basis that there are 25,600 students currently being educated in fee-charging schools, the transfer over to full reliance on the State would cost the citizens of Ireland a staggering €133 million per year.

Fairness in education implies two levels, the first of which is that all children get a secondary education. The second is that if parents wish to support, in addition to that fairness of education in the secondary school classroom, additional elements such as sports and extra activities, and if they are willing to pay for them from their after-taxed income, that should be allowed. It is a choice of theirs. They set aside after-tax earnings which they could spend on themselves. It is wrong to shoehorn parents away from making that valid preference. Rather than immediate consumption, they set aside consumption in order to educate more widely and develop their children, in sports or in other ways. It is not fair to put the focus on the private fee-paying schools. It is not equitable. Even the teacher-pupil ratios in those schools have been disimproving as a result of the shoehorning.

There are other areas of economic benefit that the private schools provide. They have non-State-funded teachers. They have secretarial and administrative staff who are paid. The care-taking personnel receive income, as do catering staff, cleaners, medical and sickbay staff, maintenance and groundskeepers, financial support staff, bursars, night staff in boarding schools and security staff. All of these involve extra income being generated, extra families being fed and extra staff being employed in the economy as a result of the choice by some parents to bolster the education that should be equally and fairly provided to the children of the State.

I thank Deputies Creighton and Mathews for the opportunity to address this issue and to outline for the House the position on post-primary education.

The Deputies will be aware of the challenging economic environment that forms the backdrop to all decisions relating to the public finances. While the Government has tried to protect front-line services, difficult choices had to be made to identify savings across all Departments.

Achieving savings in education is particularly difficult given the significant increases in the overall number of pupils in our schools. Teacher allocations to all second level schools are approved annually by my Department in accordance with established rules based on recognised pupil enrolment. The criteria for the allocation of posts are communicated to the management of schools annually and are available on the Department website. In accordance with these rules, each school management authority is required to organise its subject options within the limit of its approved teacher allocation.

At post-primary level and in accordance with existing arrangements, where a school management authority is unable to meet its curricular commitments within its approved allocation, my Department considers applications for additional short-term support, that is, curricular concessions.

The allocation process also includes an appeals mechanism under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules. The appeal procedures are set out in the published staffing arrangements. The appeals board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.

The deployment of teaching staff in the school, the range of subjects offered and, ultimately, the quality of teaching and learning are in the first instance a matter for the school management authorities. The Government's focus in recent years has been on operating a budgetary programme that is designed to return the Government finances to a sustainable basis. This included budget decisions which brought guidance provision within the staffing schedule allocation for post-primary schools and an adjustment to the ratio for fee-paying schools.

I acknowledge that bringing guidance within quota is challenging for schools. However, the alternative was to adjust the pupil-teacher ratio staffing allocations. The budget decision sheltered the impact for all DEIS post-primary schools by improving their standard staffing allocations.

The budgetary decision to increase the pupil-teacher ratio for fee-charging schools reflects the fact that fee-charging schools have resources, as Deputy Matthews stated, through fees charged, to employ teachers privately, an option that is not available to schools in the free education scheme.

The Government recognises the importance of ensuring that students from a Protestant background can attend a school that reflects their denominational ethos, while at the same time ensuring that funding arrangements are in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.

The Department is open to having discussions with any fee-charging school which may be considering how best to continue to provide education to its pupils. Where such discussions occur, they will be conducted on a confidential basis. Five fee-charging schools have joined the free education scheme since the school year 2010-11.

Since 2009, cumulative savings of over €25 million have been realised as a result of the changes to the staffing of fee-charging schools. That sum significantly outweighs any additional cost incurred as a result of schools entering the free scheme, and has also allowed for a much greater protection of free schools than would otherwise have been possible. On the financial argument, the savings have outweighed the costs to which the Deputies referred in relation to the schools that have come into the free scheme.

It has been the overarching policy of education in Ireland since the time of former Minister, the late Donogh O'Malley, who introduced free education in the 1960s, that free post-primary education should be available to parents while acknowledging that schools are free to choose to stay out of that scheme. The intention is that parents should have access to post-primary education that is free to their children. There were difficult decisions that had to be made in recent years and the changes that were made with regard to fee-paying schools were made in the context of a budgetary position which, I note, Deputy Creighton raised previously on the Order of Business with regard to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. We had to cut public spending to fit in with our commitments and this decision was part of that.

I thank the Minister. I appreciate that she is operating in difficult and constrained circumstances but it is a little disingenuous, perhaps not on her part but on that of her officials, to suggest that the €25 million somehow is directly connected to the cuts that have been specifically targeted at fee-paying schools, which, of course, is not the case. These cuts are across the education sector and that is somewhat misleading.

It is interesting that the Minister reflects on the fact that fee-charging schools have resources through fees charged to employ additional teachers, etc. This is the issue. They are being driven out of the fee-paying sector and into the free education scheme, which puts additional pressures on the public purse.

I fully subscribe to the vision of the late Donogh O'Malley. He was a visionary and his vision still has its imprint on Irish education. However, the essential point, which in a sense is reflected in the Constitution as well, is that every child deserves the same support from the State. Once every child is treated equally and every child is given the same degree of access and the same support by the State, which is the principle of universality, above and beyond that support by the State it is the choice of parents. Some parents choose to spend their additional disposable income on ski holidays or other options in terms of personal expenditure and some make significant sacrifices and forgo everything to send their children to a fee-paying school in order to further their children's education, and that choice is something that is now being diminished because of the choices of the Government. That is regrettable.

I look forward to when the Bill on schools admission policy comes before the House. Unfortunately, I will not have the opportunity to raise it now.

I again thank the Minister for being present and for her reply. I agree with Deputy Creighton that the Minister's officials are very selective in what they choose to present her with. If it was discovered that children in any type of school, be it voluntary or fee paying, were doing additional subjects paid for out of their parent’s post-income tax income, it would be absurd if it was decided it would be better to change the ratio of teachers to pupils in the schools where those children happened to do music, dancing or sports outside of the school. Deputy Creighton is correct that one should provide a universally fair system of support on the teaching support salaries. The point is that anything extra that parents decide through the management of the school or through their own support of the school management is additional and should not be penalised.

It was said the savings would amount to €25 million. What about all the caretaking staff, catering staff and cleaning staff that would have to be let go? Millions of euro are involved in that respect. The sum of €25 million is most selective. I blink and pinch myself because I do not believe it. Officials should not do that. It is more than misleading; it is totally disingenuous.

The schools that have come into the free scheme have made the decision themselves. There are a relatively small number of fee-paying schools. It is not the case that choice is being entirely taken away. I hope all schools would have access to sport and music for students. We want to provide equality of opportunity for all children. That is why we have delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, for example, where we favour certain schools because they cater for children with disadvantaged backgrounds. I do not agree with Deputy Mathews, as I do not think the argument is as straightforward or simple as the one put forward by him.

I visited one of the schools that have come into the free scheme recently and the number of students has considerably increased. The school is now able to cater for a larger number of parents who wish to send their children to this school because now they do not have to pay fees anymore and they can afford to send their children there when they could not afford to send them there previously.

Concern was also expressed about the admissions to school Bill. I intend to provide plenty of opportunity for discussion. I reassure Deputies I have not closed my mind on any issue.

Road Safety

Our communities have been plagued for years by the use of quad bikes and other similar all-terrain vehicles, ATVs. They are on our streets, in our parks and open spaces, and in built-up areas with foot traffic, including small children. People have been killed and injured by the misuse of these vehicles. In my area a young man was killed recently when he was thrown from one such vehicle. People are terrified out of their wits walking on paths in parks in particular.

Some of the people using the vehicles are as young as six or seven years old and they have little or no experience or even any supervision. The use of ATVs is accompanied usually by a complete disregard for safety or protective clothing. Helmets, pads or protective wear are never seen on the mostly young boys in and around estates, on parks and in green areas. The issue has been raised repeatedly at residents meetings, drugs task force meetings and joint policing committees, JPCs.

We must have rules and regulations on where such vehicles can be used, in addition to basic training requirements and licensing. We must also give the Garda clear guidelines to deal with them, how the vehicles can be seized and how repeat offenders can be stopped from using them. The proliferation of such vehicles at Christmas is a scourge for urban neighbourhoods. Parents must be more responsible and must also be held responsible. It is not my aim to criminalise anyone using such vehicles responsibly but to tackle their misuse which has a very severe anti-social element to it.

The old Dunsink landfill site in my area at any given weekend has 30 to 40 bikes and quads rallying through it all day and all night. Unfortunately, for residents living in the estates nearby, that means they cannot rest with the ceaseless noise. Plans by the local authority in Fingal to build a track that would be properly maintained and supervised at the top end of the site are welcome. Local authorities must be more proactive in providing amenities for young people. Dublin City Council has made positive moves in the provision of a local track in East Wall.

Senior gardaí and Dublin City Council officials are all aware that the use of these vehicles in public spaces and parks is a problem, but gardaí have told me that they do not have sufficient powers to seize and hold vehicles to tackle the problem. I introduced a Private Member’s Bill on the issue in March. According to the Minister, the Garda Commissioner said that legislation was not required as no problem existed, yet a number of Deputies present agreed wholeheartedly with my Bill and reiterated the issues I had raised in my contribution. We know there is a problem, as do the people living in these areas. We do not accept the dismissal from the Minister.

In conversation, gardaí have repeatedly referred to a loophole which makes seizure difficult when vehicles are being operated in local authority designated public spaces and parks. Following any seizure that has been made, the vehicle must be returned on request and it is clear that those responsible continue to cause trouble. The cost in terms of damage to the green areas, shrubbery, trees and paths as well as fencing and playing fields is another major problem in hard-pressed communities that have suffered deprivation. We must act to restore our parks and greens to places of relaxation, community, wildlife and nature. We need safe and secure parks for all, not to have to look over our shoulders while out walking wondering when the next vehicle is coming up behind us.

I am responding to this Topical Issue matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe.

I thank Deputy Ellis for raising this important issue. It is difficult to deal with the nuisance level of the problem outlined. The first concern of a Government when it comes to the use of mechanically propelled vehicles is safety. That applies to any form or use of such vehicles. I agree with what I understand to be Deputy Ellis's position, that people using mechanically propelled vehicles on green areas in public, such as in public parks, can sometimes pose a serious risk to members of the public. I do not believe anyone would disagree with him in that regard. The primary responsibility for using a mechanically propelled vehicle in a safe and socially responsible way rests with the person in charge of that vehicle. Misuse or anti-social use of such vehicles can pose a serious danger to the public. Unfortunately, there are people who use vehicles irresponsibly in public parks, just as there are people who drive irresponsibly on the roads.

The question at issue is what the law has to say about people using such vehicles on green areas in public. I am aware Deputy Ellis published a Private Members' Bill on this topic, as he outlined. I agree with him that the law should address the matter. An Garda Síochána has been contacted about the issue raised by the Deputy and has stated that it believes it has the necessary powers to deal with the cases in question under the Road Traffic Acts. Based on the definition of a “public place” and "mechanically propelled vehicle" in those Acts, the Garda is satisfied that road traffic law applies in public parks and that the powers granted to the Garda under the Road Traffic Acts may be exercised there. The powers allow the Garda to stop a mechanically propelled vehicle and demand production of a licence or learner permit, as the case may be. Let us not forget that drivers of quadricycles must be licensed.

In addition, the Garda may inspect the vehicle for compliance with vehicle standards legislation. The legislation makes it an offence to drive without reasonable consideration, to drive carelessly and to drive dangerously. The Garda is satisfied that any of these charges could be brought, where appropriate, in the circumstances to which Deputy Ellis refers.End of Take

The Garda has indicated that a prosecution could be brought in these circumstances under the Criminal Damage Act, if appropriate. The Garda has powers of seizure, detention, storage and disposal of vehicles under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994. As the Garda Síochána is satisfied that the necessary powers exist to deal with the matters raised by the Deputy, it does not appear that further action is required.

I have in my hand a simple Bill that was compiled with the help of Dublin City Council officials to address what senior gardaí, including superintendents and those on joint policing committees, JPCs, identify as a legislative problem. Like the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, the former Minister and Deputy, Mr. Phil Hogan, said that the Garda Commissioner sees no need for extra laws. Every garda on a JPC says this is wrong and must be re-examined as there is a problem with existing legislation that must be addressed. It has been repeated by the Minister of State that gardaí believe there is no problem but this is not true. The drugs task force, senior gardaí and Dublin City Council officials have raised this matter so the Minister of State should go back to the drawing board to find out where this information comes from. If the information has come directly from the Garda Commissioner, as in the past, it must be examined, although a new person now holds that position. We must find out why this information was given to the Minister of State because it is inaccurate.

I seek to reintroduce my Bill and have the issue I raise re-examined. We must look at the legislation properly because ordinary gardaí and superintendents recognise that there is a problem. They cannot all be incorrect so there is something wrong in the information supplied to the Minister of State. Can I reintroduce my Bill as it waited two years in a queue? It is an urgent issue - a matter of life and death in some cases - because people cannot rest in their local parks due to these vehicles. Gardaí cannot seize these vehicles because if they do so, they must give them back. Gardaí cannot hold on to the vehicles.

We are all trying to deal with these issues through county councils as they fall into the area of nuisance. On the issue of the consumption of alcohol in public places, county councils were able to introduce by-laws that reinforced the work of gardaí to deter such conduct. I suggest the Deputy ask Dublin City Council to introduce the by-laws necessary to underpin the work of the Garda. Nuisance can be difficult to deal with. The Deputy said people could be knocked down and killed and that is of serious concern, but I think Dublin City Council has a large role to play. I suggest the Deputy revert to the council.

The definition under the Act is the problem. The problem does not lie with local authorities.

Pension Levy

On 14 October the much anticipated budget for 2015 will be announced and rumours are rife about what will be cut. I voice the concerns of around 420,000 people who will learn next Tuesday whether their hard-earned savings will be taken from them again. I refer to those who contributed to a defined benefit pension scheme and who, since 2011, have been subject to a pension levy of 0.6%. A further 0.15% levy has been applied since last year's budget. This levy was originally to apply for four years to generate funds to create up to 100,000 jobs, among other things. The jobs are being created and the economy is improving, all of which is very welcome. The pension levy has served its purpose. Older people who were frugal and saved for their pensions were penalised and now deserve a break. The Government promised that the levy would be a temporary measure, so now is the time to show these people our appreciation for their help in steering the country from an economic and employment crisis. We must give something back. The levy was due to end this year but in the last budget it was extended and increased. If it continues indefinitely at a rate of 0.75%, the average fund will lose €36,400. If it is retained at 0.15%, workers will lose €9,500 on retirement. This cannot be allowed to happen any longer.

This morning I received another letter from a frustrated constituent in Dún Laoghaire:

I worked my whole life to build up a private pension fund just the same way I worked hard to own my own house and to contribute to private health insurance for the best part of 30 years. My wife and I are self-reliant. We save so we can spend. We don't have a penny of borrowings. I have never looked to the State for a penny and now, just as I come close to retirement age, I find €40,000 being stolen from my private property - a fund that is already diminished by the long-term underperformance of the pensions industry.

This is the reality for many who saved for private pensions. They are not the elite in this country but ordinary people who saved for old age. It seems we are punishing individuals who had the foresight to provide for old age, pay their taxes and prepare for retirement. These individuals paid their taxes through the difficult recession years of the 1980s and now they are being punished by another recession. They do not march in the streets or telephone Joe Duffy but they are still treated badly. I know the Minister of State is a man of his word. The people put their confidence in Fine Gael to be true to its word. The pension levy has met its objectives and I urge the Minister of State to abolish it next week and allow these people to enjoy their hard-earned retirement years.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter that is of concern to her and many others. I am taking this Topical Issue matter on behalf of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan.

The Minister for Finance announced in his budget 2014 speech that the 0.6% pension fund levy introduced to fund the jobs initiative in 2011 would be abolished after this year. He did, however, introduce an additional levy on pension funds at a rate of 0.15% for 2014 and 2015 to continue to help fund the jobs initiative and also to help provide for potential State liabilities that may emerge from pension funds facing difficulties.

The abolition of the 0.6% levy after this year and the application of the 0.15% levy for this year and next are reflected in the Finance (No. 2) Act 2013 which gave legal effect to these budget 2014 announcements.

The reduced VAT rate of 9% on tourism and certain other services was one of the very significant and successful measures introduced by the jobs initiative. It was due to end in 2013. In his Budget Statement the Minister announced the continuation of the reduced 9% VAT rate. He also announced that the air travel tax was being reduced to zero with effect from 1 April 2014. The 9% VAT rate has helped to create thousands of new jobs as well as protecting existing jobs. Since the budget announcement about the reduction in the air travel tax, airlines have announced the opening up of new routes, resulting in significant increases in passenger numbers with the associated increase in tourism activity and employment.

The Minister for Finance also said in his Budget Statement that the additional 0.15% levy for 2014 and 2015 would be used to help make provision for potential State liabilities which may emerge from pre-existing or future pension fund difficulties, although funds from the levy would not be specifically set aside for this purpose. The Government decided that such liabilities will be met by the Exchequer as they arise.

The value of the moneys raised from the stamp duty levy on pension fund assets has been used over the period since 2011 to fund the wide range of measures introduced in the jobs initiative to protect existing jobs and create new jobs. These include expenditure measures such as the JobBridge and the Springboard schemes. Aside from the reduction in the VAT rate from 13.5% to 9% for the tourism and hospitality sectors, other tax measures introduced as part of the initiative include halving the lower employer PRSI rate.

With regard to the impact of the jobs initiative, the most up-to-date data, the Quarterly National Household Survey for quarter two, 2014, indicates an additional 40,300 individuals are employed in the economy when compared to same period in 2011. Furthermore, an additional 23,300 individuals are employed in the tourism and hospitality sectors, which are the sectors that specifically benefit from the reduction in the VAT rate from 13.5% to 9%.

The jobs initiative also included a number of current and capital expenditure measures, including a number aimed at retraining the workforce. The JobBridge scheme, for example, has exceeded the 5,000 places originally set out in the jobs initiative programme. Due to demand for places, extra funding was provided to the scheme, with funding for a weekly average of 6,740 places in 2014. As of the end of August 2014, the total number of internships taken up under JobBridge, the national internship scheme, had passed 32,000. Indecon economic consultants undertook an evaluation of the scheme in 2012, which was published in April 2013. Its report found that 61.4% of the JobBridge survey respondents were in employment within five months of finishing their internships.

The Government is conscious of the significant contribution of taxpayers generally to the rebalancing of the public finances and to the measures introduced to support and develop the economy. There has been progress in these areas. These efforts are ongoing, including the continuation of measures in the jobs initiative designed to improve the economic environment by providing the means to encourage job creation in the areas of our economy most likely to deliver employment in the shortest timeframe possible.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I fully understand the pension levy has been put to good use. I ask the Minister State to ensure that ordinary decent people who saved for their pensions are not levied again next year. They did the right thing; they paid from the 1980s until now, when they want to enjoy their retirement. We gave a commitment with regard to a timescale. I ask that we do the right thing and I ask the Minister of State to keep this promise and give these responsible people a break in budget 2015.

I will bring the Deputy's concerns, which I know are very strong, directly to the Minister, Deputy Noonan. I cannot second guess at this stage what exactly he will include in his budget announcement on this day week, but I assure the Deputy her concerns will be brought to the attention of the Minister and his officials immediately.

Radio Broadcasting

This issue has been exercising a number of people, including myself and numerous musicians over the years. The abject failure of our national airwaves to afford a forum for our talented Irish musicians has come to public attention again by way of an excellent polemic on the subject by Johnny Duhan, a Galway-based composer, singer and musician who is originally from Limerick. His pedigree goes back to Grannies Intentions and his song "Don't Give Up Till It's Over" is acclaimed worldwide.

Mr. Duhan's well-argued and constructed thesis on the subject leads one to conclude he is on terra firma when he alludes to the French position, which is to guarantee air time for its own music. Nothing except the lack of goodwill and ambition is stopping Ireland from pursuing a similar policy. It appears that more than two decades ago the then French Government demanded and secured approval at EU level to introduce legislation which permits a quota system of at least 40% of French music to be played on French radio on the simple grounds that its culture and language were threatened by the proliferation of English-based popular music then taking root across the airwaves with no geographical boundaries.

With regard to equality of treatment for its citizens, there is no reason Ireland could not avail of a similar legislative exemption if the Irish Government had the will to pursue a similar policy. It is well argued by Mr. Duhan that we are more vulnerable than any other EU country as we are very near England, and as many of our singers generally sing in English we are more exposed and susceptible to the cultural influence of England and the US than any of our EU partners. Irish musicians and artists have a huge task to try to maintain and protect their cultural identity, as Johnny Duhan so eloquently put it in a recent article in the Sunday Independent. He asserts the fact that they manage to survive this mammoth struggle with such a low level of support from radio is a mark of the strength of their music, literary heritage and abilities.

I support unequivocally Mr. Duhan's argument that there has been too much placid acceptance by the Government and authorities of the view that Ireland would not be allowed by the EU to legislate for a similar quota system as happened in France. Who advanced the rather spurious argument to back up this inaction, that the introduction of such legislation to pursue a quota system would give us an unfair advantage over our EU musical counterparts and so discriminate against them? It is nothing but a dose of bureaucratic twaddle; anything to portray ourselves as supplicants or poodles who must always be seen as good Europeans and always obedient. Johnny Duhan undermines this argument when he states our European musical counterparts have a clear advantage over the Irish by the fact they sing primarily in their own language, because radio audiences throughout Europe still have an appetite to hear a high proportion of music in their native tongue.

Radio is very important for musical acts. It can turn little-known acts into big acts and move them out of pub backrooms and into theatres. It can truly make or break an act. Sadly, in Ireland, it is breaking them in the wrong way, by breaking their backs because by and large it ignores them completely. Irish bands of all genres do not get fair airplay. Stations such as RTE and other commercial stations should have a quota for the amount of Irish music played and they should step up to the mark. We must remember it is Raidió Teilifís Éireann. France is the only country in Europe with a specific quota for national music. In Ireland, there are voluntary commitments under the Broadcasting Association of Ireland licence whereby the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland makes certain independent stations play a certain amount of music. However, what is defined as Irish in these situations can be alarming. One Direction features an Irish man, Niall Horan, of whom Mullingar is very proud and he is a great personal friend, so it can be construed as Irish. Rihanna recorded vocals for a hit in Dublin and she became Irish. A Kylie Minogue hit, played off the radio some years ago, was classified as Irish because parts of it were recorded at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin. Crazy loopholes such as these means we need a broad quota of Irish music.

RTE is meant to be a public service broadcaster, but its main stations do little for public service when it comes to broadcasting Irish music and Irish artists. In the UK, BBC radio promotes emerging acts with gusto but in Ireland the chances are one will hear the same international hit time and time again. The best daytime radio on RTE is Ronan Collins on Radio 1 because he has a genuine love and appreciation of Irish music and plays all sorts of music. Only John Creedon later in the evening is the same. For the most part, RTE Radio 1 and RTE 2fm care little for Irish music. It is time our national broadcasters started to take this matter seriously and I ask the Minister to ensure this is taken on board.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy White, who unfortunately cannot be here. I am taking the debate for him and I will convey to him the points raised by Deputy Penrose, particularly with regard to the research done by Johnny Duhan, whom I have met and who, I know, has great passion for this area.

I will also convey the Deputy's suggestion that the French have been able to find ways of implementing certain quotas for themselves.

The Broadcasting Act 2009 provides the statutory framework for the licensing and regulation of broadcasting in Ireland. The Act established the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and sets out a range of general and specific objectives for the BAI including regulating content across all Irish broadcasting services. It is an independent statutory body and section 24 of the 2009 Act states that the authority shall be independent in the performance of its functions. The Minister, therefore, has no function in this matter.

Programming obligations are imposed on broadcasters under the Broadcasting Act 2009, which also sets out the objectives of the national public service broadcasters. In pursuit of these objectives, RTE and TG4 are charged, inter alia, with ensuring that their services reflect the varied elements which make up the culture of the people of Ireland and "have special regard for the elements which distinguish that culture and in particular the Irish language". RTE and TG4 publish detailed commitments each year setting out how they intend to meet their public service obligations and objectives as set out in the Act. The extent to which the commitments entered into by the two public service broadcasters have been met is reviewed annually by the BAI.

Regulation of radio and television services, additional to those provided by the national public service broadcasters, is a matter for the BAI. Matters relating to broadcast content on commercial radio are the subject of contractual negotiations between the BAI and commercial radio operators. In submitting their initial licensing applications to the BAI, such broadcasters put forward commitments in regard to how they will deal with a range of broadcast issues, including public service commitments and, where appropriate, more specific commitments, for instance, in regard to the playing of Irish music.

If they are successful in their licence applications, these commitments form part of the terms and conditions of the relevant broadcaster's actual licence, compliance with which is monitored by the BAI. This policy approach is seen as appropriate in that it deals with the differing requirements of commercial and public service broadcasting. For commercial broadcasters, it is seen as an effective means of leveraging public service-type commitments that take full account of the specific broadcaster's business proposal. As for public service broadcasters, the existing process provides an iterative approach that is sufficiently flexible to ensure the changing needs of society continue to be addressed.

While the Minister fully supports the promotion of Irish music in our broadcasting services, the policy approach taken to this issue must be consistent with EU and Irish regulatory structures. While I know the Deputy challenges this, it is believed that a quota system for music could not therefore be based simply on the nationality of the musicians, singers or producers, thus discriminating against works produced by nationals of other member states. Such a move was considered in the past but fell foul of EU law on this basis. I take the Deputy's point that another EU country was able to do it. I am sure the Minister, Deputy White, will give full consideration to the information the Deputy has and the research he has done. It is important to ensure any quota system does not infringe on Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which expressly prohibits discrimination based on nationality, and other provisions governing the fundamental freedoms under the treaty, such as Article 49 on freedom of establishment and Article 56 on free movement of services, in respect of nationals of other member states.

It is the Department's view that the best approach to be followed on this issue is one of direct engagement with the radio sector with a view to establishing a mutually acceptable treatment of Irish music. This is likely to produce a far more successful and sustainable position in regard to the broadcasting of Irish music than seeking the imposition of a quota.

The Deputy has made strong points and I will bring them to the attention of the Minister, Deputy White.

I am not surprised by the nature, tone and tenor of the argument which is political cowardice of the highest order. If the French can do it, why can we not do it? This is not about just playing Irish music for the sake of it, tokenism, a contractual obligation or a box-ticking exercise. Obviously listeners have to want to hear it, but if they are not hearing it at all, how can we foster a love for Irish music, in whatever genre - rock, pop, country, traditional, folk, and so forth?

If we are to introduce a quota, it must apply during the day, as there are stations which will fulfil their obligation by playing Irish acts or having specialist Irish shows late at night or very early in the morning in order to tick the boxes.

If Irish music gets multiple plays, these will sell the music and create a positive cultural environment where jobs can be created and careers sustained. More people will go to gigs by Irish acts and those acts will have the wherewithal and the means to bring their music abroad. Many Irish acts are making it abroad having been ignored by their own radio stations. Some Irish acts have to rely on YouTube to get their message out. I have spoken to Irish performers who say they are more appreciated abroad for being Irish musicians than they are at home. I think this is a joke.

We are lucky with some of the local radio stations. Joe Cooney on Midlands Radio 3 makes a special effort to have a daily country music programme and gives Irish artists an opportunity to be heard. He takes in their tapes, CDs and everything else. That is going on every week. The same is true with Frank Kilbride and Joe Finnegan on Shannonside-Northern Sound. These people know their audience and are playing what the listener wants to hear. They are in effect showing the way. Why do our national and commercial stations not follow the same?

Many cannot break through internationally until they are given a chance by Irish radio. No one cared about Glen Hansard and The Frames until he came back from the Oscars clutching a statue, and even now we do not hear as much of him as we should. Snow Patrol had to appear on American television before they were taken seriously. Irish country music is filling hotel ballrooms and even cruise ships, yet I do not hear much of it on RTE radio. It is about time we recognised that this is an important area.

A fellow county man of mine, TR Dallas, has been at the head of this, as has the former Senator, Mr. Donie Cassidy. Everyone cannot be wrong. However, we are just little poodles; we accept everything that Europeans say. That is just a blather answer and absolute twaddle. I am asking that the Attorney General look at this to see why we cannot have the same level playing pitch as is available to the French, Canadians and everyone else. Let us protect what we have, promote what we have and be proud of what we have. We have a very sellable product. We need to give a chance to young musicians, songwriters and everyone else to make a living in our country and become national stars. When they do, of course, RTE and others want to fête them and have them on their shows.

I know of one group of six lads, the Willoughby Brothers, who are brilliant musicians. When they go abroad they are fêted. They have tried to get on an RTE programme, but have a better chance of winning the lotto. Six brothers: that is what we are left with.

That is very interesting.

I will certainly convey the Deputy's views. I know he will have an opportunity to discuss this with the Minister, Deputy White. According to the information I have, the cultural criterion in the case of France is a much narrower and more identifiable criterion than would be the case with what the Deputy proposes. I know the Deputy has a considerable amount of data on the matter, particularly Johnny Duhan's research. I am sure that would be considered.

I share the Deputy's views that programmes such as Ronan Collins's definitely give an opportunity to Irish musicians. As I stated in my original contribution, it is a condition of licence for some local radio stations that they play certain types of music. That is the case with many local stations. I am sure the Deputy will make a very strong case to the Minister and I will convey it to him as well.