Priority Questions

National Concert Hall

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

130. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans for the National Concert Hall; her further plans to place it on a statutory footing; if the resignation of five members from its board in 2014 raised any issue of concern for her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5596/15]

The question simply seeks to ask the Minister her plans for the development of the National Concert Hall and the timescale for moving towards placing it on a statutory footing. It also seeks to explore with the Minister what has been learned from the resignation last year of a number of members of the board. Will their resignations have an impact on her as she constitutes the new board?

In February 2014, the Government approved my predecessor's proposal to place the National Concert Hall on a statutory footing. As a consequence, the Department has prepared the general scheme of a Bill, which has been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

It is intended that the Bill will provide, inter alia, for a governance framework that ensures appropriate reporting and accounting to the Minister and the Oireachtas by the National Concert Hall. It is my intention to publish the National Concert Hall Bill in the coming weeks.

As the Deputy referred to in his question, a number of changes took place on the board of the National Concert Hall in 2014. At this point, I am satisfied that the board is focused on helping the National Concert Hall make the transition from a company to a statutory body, while maintaining the highest standards of musical performance for the enjoyment of the public.

I welcome the Minister's announcement that she will be bringing forward the legislation in the coming weeks. That is a positive development. Last year, in the aftermath of the resignation of five members of the National Concert Hall board, I raised a question with the Minister's predecessor in regard to those resignations and he responded:

There were disagreements among members who focused primarily on a fund-raising initiative in America at that particular time which, I understand, could have cost the National Concert Hall €1.5 million. What was thought to be a philanthropic arrangement resulted in a commercial arrangement. That just could not be allowed to happen, and it was not allowed to happen either by myself or by the board. Members were not happy with that arrangement and as a result they stepped down because of it.

The then Minister gave a clear understanding to the House on that occasion that the five people who resigned were the same people who had been advocating this supposed philanthropic arrangement with the US, which was not the case. Will the Minister accept that the Dáil was not given accurate information on that occasion?

To refer specifically to the case the Deputy has asked about, this matter was primarily dealt with by my predecessor. The position is that, following advice from the Attorney General, the National Concert Hall was found not to have the power to embark on a proposed foundation project. The matter resulted in a dispute among board members with some of them resigning because they were opposed to the proposed project and, following the resignations, my predecessor requested the former Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills to undertake a governance review at the National Concert Hall. The review is now complete and this has been placed on the website.

The National Concert Hall Bill is at an advanced stage and I expect to publish it in the coming weeks. It will put the National Concert Hall on a statutory footing. It will provide for clear accountability to the Minister and the Oireachtas and it will address and update the governance structures.

My focus is on the future. I accept that there were problems in the past. I am satisfied that we are ready to move on. The National Concert Hall is doing very well. Its visitor numbers have been very good for the past year - they have increased. There is a big development in terms of the Kevin Barry Room and the front of the National Concert Hall will be developed as well. I am pleased to say that it will have a significant role in the hosting of the events for the 1916 commemorations. My focus is on the future of the National Concert Hall and the huge contribution it continues to make to Irish society.

I welcome what the Minister has said, but there is a significant difference in what she said and what her predecessor said. Will she accept on the record of the House that her predecessor, if he did not mislead the Dáil or give us significantly inaccurate information, certainly did not give us information that was accurate? What could have been understood from what he said on the previous occasion was that the people who resigned did so because they had been advocating this arrangement with the US when the reality was, as the current Minister has correctly said, they were the people who opposed this arrangement. They were the people who caused the then Minister to get advice on the matter from the Attorney General but some of the people who advocated that approach, which the then Minister, Deputy Deenihan, indicated could have cost the National Concert Hall €1.5 million, and which was advised against subsequently by the Attorney General, are still members of the National Concert Hall board. People with a concern about this issue would be concerned lest those people would in the future become members of the statutory board given their history on this matter.

I presume the debate to which the Deputy is referring is that of 7 May when the National Concert Hall was the matter of a Topical Issue debate. In that debate the then Minister stated:

At this stage, the reason for the disagreement has been outlined in various Sunday and weekday newspapers, so it is fairly well known. There were disagreements among members which focused primarily on a fund-raising initiative in America at that particular time which, I understand, could have cost the National Concert Hall €1.5 million. What was thought to be a philanthropic arrangement resulted in a commercial arrangement. That just could not be allowed to happen, and it was not allowed to happen either by myself or by the board. Members were not happy with that arrangement and as a result they stepped down because of it. That will not happen now.

I have the transcript of what was said.

As I said, I want to focus on the future of the National Concert Hall. I do not want to get into who said what. The idea is that the National Concert Hall will be on a statutory footing. I do not think anybody disagrees with the idea of making it a statutory body. The details will be addressed as we bring the Bill through the Oireachtas. Good consultation will take place and there has been engagement with the concert hall. It has been through pre-legislative scrutiny with the committee. The Bill is moving forward and it is my priority to bring it before the House as soon as possible.

Waterways Issues

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

131. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position on the development of the Ulster canal, in view of the fact that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North is awaiting approval from this State to proceed with works on the first phase of the project, which would restore the line of the canal as far as Castle Saunderson at a cost of approximately €2 to €2.5 million, with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North meeting 100% of the capital cost; and the reason there has been such a delay in granting the approval necessary for preliminary works to commence. [5515/15]

My question is to find out the reason for the delay in progressing approval for the works on the first stage of the restoration programme for the Lough Erne to Clones stretch of the Ulster Canal, which is to be done at no cost to this State. I ask why we are now awaiting the grant for the first phase.

At the outset, I should make it clear to the Deputy that, contrary to the suggestion in his question, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland is neither awaiting approval for, nor proposing to meet, the capital cost of the first phase of the Ulster Canal project. The facts are that in July 2007 the North-South Ministerial Council agreed to a proposal with the then Irish Government to proceed with the restoration of the Ulster Canal between Clones and Upper Lough Erne and, in that context, the Government agreed to cover the full capital costs of the project, estimated at that time to be of the order of €35 million.

Planning approval for the project has been secured from the relevant authorities in the two jurisdictions - namely, Cavan County Council, what was Clones Town Council, Monaghan County Council and the Northern Ireland planning service. An updated business case was recently completed for my Department, and options for progressing the project within the current fiscal constraints are being explored. This includes the option of enabling access from Upper Lough Erne to the International Scout Centre at Castle Saunderson near Belturbet in County Cavan at an estimated cost of some €2.5 million, including VAT as appropriate. I hope to be in a position to bring the matter forward for further consideration by the Government in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister for the clarification and correction of what was stated in my question. However, that does not deal with why we are still awaiting physical progress on a decision that was taken in 2007 - that is, the proposal to reopen the Lough Erne to Clones section of what was a 73 km canal that went from Lough Erne to Lough Neagh. The project has potential in terms of the development of tourism and leisure activities, not just in Cavan and Monaghan but also in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh, an area that has often been starved of funding and tourism. How quickly can we see progress on the section to Castle Saunderson, if it is to proceed? What about the overall proposal to deliver a restored canal to Clones?

I want to assure the Deputy that I am very familiar with this project, especially given the fact that it is in my constituency. My predecessor, Deputy Deenihan, did a lot of work on progressing this important proposal and I consider this project to be a priority for me. Planning approvals have been received for the project from the relevant authorities, as I said, in both jurisdictions. An updated business case will be completed very shortly.

I hope to bring the matter to the Cabinet in the coming weeks. I have had a number of discussions with my counterpart in Northern Ireland, Ms Carál Ní Chuilín, MLA, the Northern Ireland Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure. We both want very much to progress this project, because it is so important to the area that work on the canal be started. The first phase is to Castle Saunderson.

Genealogical Services

Catherine Murphy

Question:

132. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans, once access to the records and indexes in the Government Records Office, GRO, is made available at www.irishgenealogy.ie, to provide free access, without charge, to these records and indexes, just as records currently accessible at the site are; what the fee regime will be if not; if she will acknowledge that the introduction of a fee for access to full records would present a serious impediment to the accessible, open nature of the site; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5598/15]

I have asked questions about this before and I just wanted to expand on it. What will be the format when the records from the General Register Office, GRO, are placed on the www.irishgenealogy.ie website? Will the records be pay-per-view or will they remain as the genealogy website is now, which is free to view? Has a decision been made?

The website www.irishgenealogy.ie operates under the auspices of my Department. The national genealogy policy was approved by the Government in December 2012 and my Department has been engaged in its implementation since that time. The aim of the policy is to help bring coherence to the area, particularly for persons with no genealogical research experience. At present, no charges are levied for accessing the information available on the www.irishgenealogy.ie website and I have no plans to introduce a fee regime when the GRO records and indexes are made available.

That is a change from the current position, as there is a charge if somebody goes to the research room on Werburgh Street. If it remains the case, it is a very welcome development. That would contrast with Northern Ireland, where there are charges. I can take that as the decision on the approach. When is it likely that the records - as opposed to the indexes, which have seen problems - will be put online? Will they be put up incrementally, with births, marriages and deaths being dealt with separately? It may be possible to have an incremental approach if all the records are not available at the same time.

There was an issue with the data, as the Deputy knows, where the register entries include complete information on a life event, as one would expect to see in a copy of a birth, death or marriage certificate.

Online availability of historical register data through www.irishgenealogy.ie is provided for in section 27 of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014. The provision relating to the historical register entries, along with the bulk of the Bill, will be the subject of a commencement order by the Minister for Social Protection in 2015. Section 17 amends section 61 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 and provides for public access via the above portal to register entries in respect of births more than 100 years ago, marriages more than 75 years ago and deaths more than 50 years ago. Currently, a member of the public cannot search the register but may apply to the register general, a superintendent register, a register or an authorised officer to search the registers on his or her behalf. The provisions in the 2014 Act will allow a member of the public to search these historical registers online for the first time. I do not know if that addresses the Deputy's question.

Will the entire collection of records go online at the same time, or will it be an incremental process? I know there is some work to be done with one of the sets, but some are pretty much ready to roll at this stage. Is it intended to do this as each set becomes available? Has a decision been made?

I am not sure of the answer to that. I would expect it to be on an incremental basis, but I will revert to the Deputy on the timeframe involved.

Seirbhísí Oileán

Michael P. Kitt

Question:

133. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Michael P. Kitt den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta cad iad na polasaithe atá aici mar gheall ar chúrsaí farantóireachta agus cúrsaí taistil go dtí na hoileáin Ghaeltachta, go hairithe Inis Bó Finne; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [5597/15]

Fáiltím roimh an Aire Stáit. Bhí ceist agam cúpla mí ó shin faoi thaisteal go dtí na hOileáin Árann agus go hInis Bó Finne. Ba mhaith liom fáil amach cén chaoi a bhfuil an taisteal sin ag dul ar aghaidh agus go háirithe faoi Inis Bó Finne mar gheall ar an méid airgid a chaitear gach bliain, €20,020 gach bliain do na haerstráicí ar Inis Bó Finne agus sa Chloigeann, i gContae na Gaillimhe. Cén dul ar aghaidh atá ann ó chur mé an cheist cúpla mí ó shin?

Tá sé mar pholasaí ag mo Roinn tacú le seirbhísí iompair, atá sábháilte agus rialta, do na hoileáin a bhfuil daonra buan orthu, lena n-áirítear oileáin Ghaeltachta. Tacaíonn na seirbhísí iompair seo - idir seirbhísí farantóireachta, aeir agus lastais - le forbairt inbhuanaithe na n-oileán. Maoiníonn mo Roinn seirbhísí iompair a fhreastalaíonn ar 16 oileán, lena n-áirítear oileáin Ghaeltachta, faoi 24 chomhaontú éagsúil. Chomh maith leis sin, bíonn cúnamh áirithe ar fáil ó mo Roinn, trí na húdaráis áitiúla ábhartha, d'oibreacha chun uasghrádú a dhéanamh ar infreastruchtúr rochtana ar na hoileáin féin nó ar infreastruchtúr ar an mhórthír chun freastal ar na hoileáin.

Ní miste a rá go bhfuil mé sásta go mbeidh an soláthar céanna de €5.9m ar fáil do mo Roinn in 2015 le haghaidh seirbhísí iompair do na hoileáin. Chomh maith leis sin, beidh soláthar de €644,000 ar fáil do mo Roinn in 2015 le caitheamh ar chothabháil infreastruchtúir ar na hoileáin.

Maidir le hlnis Bó Finne i gContae na Gaillimhe, cuireann mo Roinn seirbhís iompair farantóireachta agus seirbhís lastais ar fáil faoi fhóirdheontais don oileán. Tháinig conradh nua farantóireachta do phaisinéirí, a mhairfidh cúig bliana, i bhfeidhm ar 1 Eanáir 2015. Faoin gconradh seo, cuirtear 14 seoladh fillte in aghaidh na seachtaine ar fáil don oileán. I gcás seirbhís lastais, cuirtear dhá sheoladh lastais ar fáil don oileán go seachtainiúil.

Tá an tAire Stáit ag labhairt faoi chonradh mar gheall ar aersheirbhís do na hOileáin Árann agus tá sé sin an-tábhachtach, go háirithe mar go bhfuil muintir na n-oileán ag súil anois leis an samhradh agus go mbeidh turasóirí ag teacht go dtí na hoileáin. Táim ag caint freisin faoi chúrsaí oideachais agus scoláirí ag dul ar scoil, go háirithe cúrsaí gnó ar na hoileáin agus freisin córas taistil do dhaoine atá tinn nó daoine atá orthu dul go dtí na hospidéil. An bhfuil an tAire Stáit sásta go bhfuil an conradh sin deimhnithe anois sna míonna agus na blianta atá amach romhainn chun seirbhís aeir agus farantóireachta a chur ar fáil?

Chuir an Teachta ceist faoi gach oileán, oileáin na Gaeltachta agus na hoileáin lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht, Inis Bó Finne, mar shampla. Mar atá a fhios aige, tá seirbhís fhíor-mhaith ann. Chuaigh mé go dtí Inis Arcáin, agus Oileán Thóraí i mo cheantar féin. Bhí mé lasmuigh den oileán Árainn Mhór. Tá na seirbhísí seo iontach tábhachtach agus tá sár-obair ar siúl.

D'ardaigh an Teachta an cheist faoi sheirbhísí farantóireachta ar Inis Bó Finne.

D'ardaigh an Teachta ceist maidir leis an aerstráice fosta. Cuireadh tús leis an gconradh i mí Eanáir, mar a dúirt mé ag tús na díospóireachta inniu. Tá an conradh sin i bhfeidhm ón gcéad lá de mhí Eanáir an bhliain seo. Tá mé sásta leis an gconradh sin agus leis an tseirbhís atá ar fáil faoin tseirbhís laistis fosta. Beidh cuid mhór seoladh fillte ar fáil. Beidh 14 seoladh fillte ar fáil in aghaidh na seachtaine. Tá na seirbhísí seo fíor-thábhachtach do dhaoine atá i mbun oibre. Aontaím leis an Teachta maidir leis an méid a dúirt sé faoi sheirbhísí dochtúra agus sláinte agus a leithéid. Tá an ceangal idir na hoileáin - pé an oileán lasmuigh de cheantar Gaeltachta nó laistigh atá i gceist - agus an mhórthír fíor-thábhachtach.

Tá sé an-tábhachtach go mbeadh an tseirbhís ar fáil ó thaobh cúrsaí gnó, sláinte agus oideachais de. Níor thug an tAire Stáit freagra maidir leis an gcostas a bhaineann leis an tseirbhís faoi láthair. Sin costas €120,000 gach bliain don aerstráice ar Inis Bó Finne. An bhfuil aon dóchas ag an Aire Stáit go mbeidh aersheirbhís ar fáil go dtí Inis Bó Finne? An bhfuil an tAire Stáit sásta an conradh a bhaineann le hOileáin Árann a shíniú, an tseirbhís sin a choinneáil, feabhas a chur air agus an tséirbhís sin a chur ar fáil go fad-téarmach? Tá imní ar a lán daoine nach mbeidh na seirbhísí sin ar fáil amach anseo.

Tá mé sásta le hachan seirbhís atá á cur ar fáil. Maidir le Inis Bó Finne, ní bhaineann an infheistíocht leis an aerstráice idir Clifden agus Cleggan. Tá cinneadh le déanamh agamsa. Níl an cinneadh maidir leis an aerstráice déanta. Táimse freagrach as an gcinneadh mór. Bhí comhrá agus díospóireacht ann idir na páirtithe leasmhara éagsúla maidir leis an aerstráice idir Clifden agus Inis Bó Finne, ach níl an cinneadh déanta fós. Is mise an tAire Stáit atá freagrach as an gcinneadh sin. Muna bhfuil cinneadh ar fáil, beidh mé i dteagmháil leis an Teachta. Má tá eolas breise ag an Teachta maidir leis na tograí seo, táim sásta éisteacht leis an Teachta maidir leis sin agus má tá eolas breise ar fáil ón Roinn, cuirfidh mé an t-eolas sin ar fáil don Teachta.

National Cultural Institutions

Catherine Murphy

Question:

134. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will provide details of how the recently announced extra €2 million funding for the national cultural institutions is to be distributed; the basis on which the formula for distributing the funds was agreed; if need assessments have been carried out; if so, if she will publish the findings and details of the specific needs being targeted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5600/15]

This question relates to the extra €2 million which has been allocated to the national cultural institutions and how it is broken down between the various institutions.

I was very pleased, at the conclusion of the recent Estimates processes, not only to have ensured there would be no reduction in funding for the arts and culture areas of my Department for 2015, but also to have secured an additional €2 million in funding for the national cultural institutions. All of these institutions have unavoidably taken reductions in their allocations in recent years, as the Government worked to re-balance the public finances. The institutions are to be commended on their commitment in continuing to provide excellent services to the public and to protect our national collections, notwithstanding the reduced resources available to them during this time. The additional allocation to each institution for 2015 was determined, having regard to the specific needs and issues identified by my Department as part of an ongoing consultation with the individual institutions, as well as the overall level of funding available.

Accordingly, I decided to make the following additional allocations for 2015: some €650,000 for the National Museum to assist with the cost of pay, storage, utilities and education initiatives; €600,000 for the National Library towards the cost of keeping the National Photographic Archive open, maintaining opening hours at the library generally and security; some €100,000 for the National Archives towards operational costs and commemorative projects; some €100,000 for the National Gallery towards the costs of its exhibition programme for 2015; some €100,000 for the National Concert Hall to support its development office and education and outreach programme; some €100,000 for the Irish Museum of Modern Art towards the costs of its commemorative programme; some €100,000 for the Chester Beatty Library towards its staffing and operational costs; and some €100,000 for the Crawford Art Gallery towards its staffing costs and exhibition and commemorations programmes. A contingency of €150,000 was retained and will be available to meet specific needs that may arise during the year.

Has the Minister undertaken an assessment of what is needed in the various institutions? The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has experienced greater cuts than any other Department. It has had to contend with cuts of approximately 40%. We know from the breakdown the Minister has given us that money has been provided for very basic aspects of the Department's activity. Major institutions like the National Museum and the National Library have expressed concern about their ability to keep their doors open. While it is welcome that an additional sum of money was allocated this year, it is fairly small in the context of the number of outlets we are talking about here. Some of it relates to the commemorative programme as well. It is a one-off kind of thing. Has an assessment of the protection of the national collections been done? What is the minimum that would be needed for the cultural institutions to function properly? We know that there are 70,000 uncatalogued boxes of records in the National Archives and that just 1% of the collections in the National Library are conserved to international standards. Given that the literary background in this country would be the envy of many other countries, it is absolutely essential for these collections to be protected. Has the Minister done an assessment of the minimum that should be done to reverse what has been done and put these institutions onto the kind of platform they should be on? If not, does she intend to do so?

I reiterate that I am very pleased that there were no cuts or reductions in the funding provided for arts and culture. The provision of an additional €2 million in funding for the national cultural institutions, which was welcomed by all those institutions, arrested all the cuts that unfortunately had to take place. I accept that the cuts made since 2008 averaged between 37% and 40%. It was not easy for the cultural institutions. I commend them on working within very difficult financial constraints. With regard to the method of allocating funding, I knew what the cultural institutions were asking for and I knew what the allocation was. I was keen to ensure all the institutions benefitted in some way. There were some particularly acute cases, including the National Museum and the National Library. I wanted to ensure all the cultural institutions benefitted. I want the House to be aware that all this was part of an ongoing discussion with the cultural institutions. We meet them on a regular basis and we work with them individually.

In each case, the funding was provided to address specific needs. In terms of their directors and boards, there is ongoing assessment. Not only is there contact at budget time with all of the cultural institutions regarding their plans and needs, but also throughout the year.

I welcome the extra money, but the Minister will acknowledge that it is small in the overall scheme and has come on the back of the National Museum's mention of needing to charge an entry fee or restricting the hours it is open to the public. Contrast this with the policy positions taken on, for example, attracting tourists to Ireland via a reduction in VAT. It seems that the Government would have accrued as much of a return with a lesser reduction and a greater investment in those institutions that have a high level of engagement with the public, for example, the National Library and the National Museum. Is there an overall plan to get from A to Z and bring them back up to standard within a certain number of years or will the approach taken just be from one budget to the next?

No. We are in constant discussion with the cultural institutions and there are plans. For example, I have discussed with the National Museum its plans for storage facilities and the National Gallery is undertaking considerable renovations. I visited the latter last week. The work that has been done is fantastic.

Each institution works closely with my Department. Their chairs meet us and put to me their plans, which we then work around. There is a budget for capital projects, for example, the works being undertaken at the gallery and elsewhere. I hope I have answered the Deputy's question.