Other Questions

The Deputy is not present in the House for Question No. 6.

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.

Film Industry

Terence Flanagan

Question:

7. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will provide an update on her plans to grow the Irish film industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23548/15]

This question concerns the Irish film industry and what plans and measures the Minister's Department has in place to grow it. I note that in the Action Plan for Jobs there are three relevant action points in this respect, and that action point 173 in particular talks about increasing the film industry by 1,000 new jobs this year. Will the Minister comment on this?

I thank the Deputy for raising this. Before I answer his question, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the late Bill O'Herlihy. Bill was the chairman of the Irish Film Board and I had the pleasure of working with him since my appointment as Minister. He was a true gentleman and a superb advocate for the Irish film industry. He was utterly committed to the role and had so many ideas and suggestions for the industry. We travelled together to the film festival in Cannes, where we met Pinewood Studios and discussed plans for Ireland. Bill was so looking forward to an exciting future for the Irish film industry. His presence will be greatly missed. I will personally miss him as a source of sound advice and would like to express my sympathies to his wife, Hilary, and to his daughters and all of his family.

The Government recognises the value of the audiovisual industry in its contribution to the economy and to employment and will continue to take measures to support the industry. Primary responsibility for the support and promotion of film making in Ireland, in respect of both the indigenous sector and inward productions, lies with the Irish Film Board. This includes assistance with locations for the making of films. In 2015, I approved a provision of €14.6 million for the film board, which maintained its funding at the same level as in 2014. The allocation of resources from within that provision is a matter for the film board, as the statutorily independent agency responsible for the promotion and development of the Irish film industry.

The other primary mechanism by which the Government supports the film industry is through section 481 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 - the film tax relief scheme. This scheme has undergone a number of improvements which took effect in January this year. These changes have been very well-received and were developed following consultations between my Department, the Irish Film Board, the Department of Finance and the audiovisual industry. The intention is to ensure Ireland remains competitive in attracting film projects. The film tax relief scheme has been extended to the end of 2020 and I am confident this will increase the attractiveness of Ireland as a destination for film investment and allow the audiovisual production sector to maintain existing jobs and create new ones. In this regard, Departments and public agencies are often key in assisting film companies in providing locations and other supports for film-making.

An interdepartmental group comprising officials from my Department and other relevant Departments and agencies was also established recently to examine and report on recommendations to increase foreign and domestic investment in Ireland’s film and TV sound stage studio infrastructure in the face of growing demand for audiovisual content across multiple platforms. This builds on the process commenced last year by the Irish Film Board, which sought expressions of interest in this regard. The group has been meeting regularly since its first meeting in January of this year and its work is ongoing.

I thank the Minister for her response and acknowledge the great role played by Bill O'Herlihy in improving the psyche of everyone. His contribution to the film industry was certainly second to none.

The tax reliefs available for production companies under section 481 have contributed greatly to more productions taking place here. I acknowledge the great work the Irish Film Board has been doing under its CEO, James Hickey. It is massively committed to increasing the number of films shot in Ireland, which plays a huge role in attracting foreign visitors.

I note that the film board received €16 million in 2011, €13 million in 2012 and €12 million in 2013. I do not have the figures for 2014 and 2015. Could the Minister lay those figures before the House?

I also wish to comment on increasing the number of full-time equivalent people working in the industry, which is action 173 in the Action Plan for Jobs. Could the Minister comment further on that?

The figure for the Irish Film Board in 2015 is €14.6 million.

There is great excitement about the potential of our film industry. We had a good meeting with Pinewood Studios. Ireland is seen as an attractive location for the industry. We have made it clear that we want to work with the indigenous and international industries. It is not just direct jobs that are provided, as there is a significant spin-off in terms of tourism. People see the landscape and want to visit Ireland because films have been shot here.

There is a target of 1,000 jobs in the industry. There are good opportunities for the film industry this year and the tax relief is proving positive. We are pleased with section 481. It is attractive.

I thank the Minister for her response. Regarding the Irish Film Board and its remit, I note that the board is more than 20 years old. Will the Minister consider reviewing its work to determine whether it can take on an expanded role?

I acknowledge the Minister's comments on the 1,000 jobs. She mentioned that an expert group would be established to consider increasing the amount of investment in our film industry's infrastructure. When will that group report and will the Minister lay its report before the Houses?

The group has met a number of times. An interdepartmental group comprising officials from my Department and other relevant Departments and agencies, it is to examine and report on recommendations. It has not yet produced a report on how to maximise the opportunities that the film industry can provide in Ireland, but as soon as it does, I will be happy to publish that.

The CEO of the Irish Film Board is Mr. James Hickey, who has a great knowledge of the film industry. I was impressed by his international contacts when I was in Cannes to speak at an Irish film industry event. Making contacts at an international level is beneficial, as the large number of co-productions is useful. The film "The Lobster" won the Jury Prize at Cannes. It received funding from the Irish Film Board and represents a great boost. The well known Irish actor, Mr. Colin Farrell, starred in it. Its producers, Mr. Ed Guiney and Mr. Andrew Lowe, were present. The Jury Prize was a major award to receive. Cannes presented significant opportunities. I was impressed by the contacts and level of knowledge that Mr. Hickey had and by how we punched above our weight, as we do in many fields. It was encouraging.

I thank the Minister.

Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme Relocation Options

Denis Naughten

Question:

8. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of bogs where full relocation has been completed in the past 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23541/15]

Eighteen years after the signing into law of the EU habitats directive and the restriction of turf cutting on special areas of conversation, SAC-designated bogs, a succession of Governments have failed to deliver on the relocation of turf cutters. Some 781 turf cutters have sought relocation. At the current rate of progress, it will take 276 years to complete the process. There has been an abject failure on the part of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, to deliver alternative turf banks for those who wish to continue cutting turf. Senior management within the Minister's Department should be relocated.

Relocation is a complex process. It involves investigating suitable sites for turf quality and quantity, determining the infrastructure-drainage works required, establishing the number that can be accommodated on the site and the cost and feasibility of land purchase or lease, and meeting possible planning and environmental impact assessment requirements.

Notwithstanding this complexity, progress in relocating turf cutters to non-designated bogs is being achieved in a number of cases and arrangements have been made as regards the Clara bog SAC in County Offaly, where 25 qualifying turf cutters have been accommodated on Killeranny bog, and Carrownagappul and Curraghlehanagh bogs SACs in County Galway, where 23 qualifying turf cutters have been accommodated on the Islands and Killasolan bogs. A further seven qualifying turf cutters from Carrownagappul and Curraghlehanagh bogs are being accommodated at Cloonabricka bog in County Galway where turf cutting is scheduled to commence next year. Works have been undertaken on Lemanaghan bog in County Offaly with a view to facilitating 12 qualifying turf cutters from the Moyclare bog SAC.

Progress has been made to relocate a small number of individual turf cutters to bog plots in counties Westmeath and Galway. Potential relocation sites have been identified for each of the remaining raised bog SACs where relocation may be required. When relocation sites have been assessed as suitable, my Department has been seeking expressions of interest from turf cutters with a view to them moving to those sites.

For a number of these SAC sites the relocation sites identified may not be suitable or have the capacity to cater for the number of turf cutters who may wish to relocate there. In such cases, and in the context of the finalisation of the national raised bog SAC management plan, my Department is considering the available options in terms of relocation and the provisions of the EU habitats directive. Under Article 6.3 of the directive, consent could only be given to cut turf on a raised bog SAC where it can be shown that such cutting would not have an adverse effect on the site. Under Article 6.4, consent could only be given for imperative reasons of overriding public interest.

The figures that I have supplied relate to the past 12 months. I will provide the Deputy with further figures shortly.

I thank the Minister for her response. The totals to date are similar to the figures that she has given for the past 12 months. I am sure that, like me, she has been speaking to staff on the ground. It has been clear since the outset of this process that senior management is intent on ensuring that turf cutters are removed from SAC-designated bogs without being provided alternatives. While the relocation has become a priority under this Government's term, is it not the case that the only successful relocations to date have resulted from the facilitative work of a former Deputy, Mr. Paul Connaughton Snr.-----

-----and that the Minister's Department and its senior officials have singularly failed to achieve any scale of relocation?

This Government has put in place more resources and made greater efforts to resolve the issue of protecting Ireland's SAC raised bogs than any previous government. It is a complex issue in some areas. Progress has undoubtedly been made. Some 3,091 applications have been received under the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme for SAC raised bogs. Of these, 755 applications, or less than 25%, have indicated an interest in relocating to non-designated bogs. Forty-eight applicants have been accommodated on non-designated bogs, with a further seven scheduled so far to be accommodated next year.

My Department has written to approximately 300 turf cutters seeking expressions of interest in relocating to specific non-designated bogs. Of the 755 applicants interested in relocation around 355, or 47%, have been relocated, are scheduled to relocate next year or have been provided with the possibility to relocate to a suitable specific non-designated bog.

There is absolutely no doubt but that this Government has provided more resources in this regard than any previous Government. The Department has forked out €11 million in annual payments, turf deliveries and once-off payments. The reality for the cohort of turf cutters who want to continue, however, is that the vast majority of them have yet to be relocated 18 years down the road. I accept that relocating turf cutters is a complex process, but is it not the case that until this Government took office virtually nothing was done, other than the issue in Clara, to facilitate relocation? The Department sat on its hands concerning it.

Is it not the case also that even when one has gone through this complex process, the Department digs in its heels and is not prepared to purchase the bogs required to facilitate relocation? There have been a number of examples where the Minister's Department has balked at the very last minute from purchasing specific bogs that would facilitate relocations.

If the Deputy could bring that matter to my attention privately I will certainly raise the issue of the specific bogs he is talking about, which we did not proceed to purchase. I would be interested to hear about those and I will follow that up.

I have asked my officials to treat relocation as a priority. I have to acknowledge, however, that sometimes it is very slow work. I wish to acknowledge the work of the former Deputy, Paul Connaughton, in this respect. I have been down to visit that bog and much work has been done there. Mr. Connaughton has worked closely with my Department and the success of the project can be attributed to the great work he has put into it. I have been down there to see it for myself at first hand.

We must refocus and see our bogs as a great asset. The EU considers them to be worthy of designation and we must see them as an asset in terms of biodiversity and tourism. We should consider developing more cycle-ways and walking paths. Some 9 million Germans take cycling holidays annually, so we should regard our bogs as a great asset in that context. We should develop them as a recreational amenity that will bring benefits to bogland areas.

Commemorative Events

Seán Kyne

Question:

9. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the progress of the plans for Ireland 2016; if she would report on stakeholders, including the public and local authorities, in terms of preparations and engagement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23842/15]

My question concerns the ongoing progress of the plans for Ireland 2016. I ask the Minister to report on stakeholders, including local authorities, in terms of the preparations for this important commemorative event.

Planning is well underway with all stakeholders, including members of the public and local authorities, for next year’s 2016 commemorations. A widespread public consultation process has been underway for a number of months in order to encourage and facilitate the involvement of both national and local, ground-up, initiatives in the wider Ireland 2016 commemorative programme.

The community participation strand of the programme is being led by local authorities across the country. Each local authority has appointed a steering committee and a dedicated Ireland 2016 centenary programme co-ordinator to support engagement and facilitation within local communities. The purpose is to generate awareness of the national programme and to develop and deliver a plan for a suitable programme of events and initiatives to take place at a county level, in line with the national plan for Ireland 2016.

A series of public meetings in each county has been taking place to facilitate this. I think we are at No. 77 at this stage. Meetings have also taken place with other key Departments, agencies and interested parties. My Department's Ireland 2016 project office is engaging with bodies such as the national cultural institutions, the Arts Council and the Heritage Council to ensure that a comprehensive and diverse programme for 2016 is developed.

My Department is also engaging actively with representatives of the various relatives' groups, as well as with individual relatives, to hear their views on the overall programme and to ensure that they will have a central role in a number of the key State events.

I am conscious that many of the events of 1916 took place in Dublin, but I did not want the 2016 commemorations to be Dublin-centred. That is why we are so appreciative of the engagement we are having with local authorities which have partnered with us in a positive and constructive way. I am very happy about that.

I thank the Minister for her reply and I acknowledge the progress that is being made. I also acknowledge the part played by the Minister, her Department and Mr. John Concannon in his role concerning Ireland 2016. In Galway, groundworks have commenced on Pearse's Cottage which is one of the flagship projects, and the only one outside the capital, to be included as permanent reminders of the events of the 1916 Rising. In Galway the city and county councils have a number of State and ceremonial events planned, including historical reflection, youth and imagination, an teanga beo, and cultural expression. They hope to finalise the commemorative programmes by October.

What involvement will the Minister's departmental team have concerning schools? Is her Department engaging with the Department of Education and Skills, or is it being done through local authorities? It is hugely important to get children involved in this commemoration because they will remember these events for the rest of their lives. It is wonderful to instil in them patriotism and a love of history. This is a very important decade, which includes the 1916 centenary.

I absolutely agree with the Deputy that it is so important to involve children in our commemorations. Children will be central to the 1916 commemorations and in this regard we have been working jointly with the Department of Education and Skills. I wish to acknowledge the latter Department's huge contribution to this project. That Department has a rich programme for the primary, post-primary and third-level education sectors. My Department's Ireland 2016 project office has been working closely with the Department of Education and Skills to ensure that the programme reaches every school in the country. Key events and activities taking place in schools will include a presentation of the national flag and a copy of the Proclamation by a member of the Defence Forces to every national school in the country. Our work will continue with the Thomas Meagher Foundation, which has been engaged in the provision of the national flag to secondary schools around the country.

We will ask children to write a new proclamation for a new generation in their own schools. This will reflect the values, hopes and aspirations of the 2016 generation. We are asking them to look at the Proclamation, examine it and understand it, as well as studying the signatories. A special Proclamation day will take place in all educational institutions on 15 March 2016. It is envisaged that it will include raising the national flag and be followed by a reading of the Proclamation.

Thank you, Minister. I am sorry for cutting across you but we have a time limit.

I thank the Minister for her supplementary reply. It is wonderful to see that there are concrete plans for our schools and that is very welcome. The Minister mentioned 77 meetings, but how will they feed back to the plans? Will it be done directly through local authorities or through her Department? What engagement does she foresee?

The idea behind the local authority meetings was to get as many people involved in 2016 as possible. Local authorities are the best way to reach out to the whole country. Each local authority will put together a draft plan which will be presented next month to myself and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. They will continue to work on that and their final plan will be produced later this year, possibly in October.

We are leaving it up to each local authority to decide on themselves. I believe it is better to get buy-in from the local communities. This is a from-the-ground-up initiative; it is not the case that a project team or my Department is telling people what they should be doing. We want people to come up with their own ideas on how they want to best commemorate 1916, reflect on the past 100 years as well as ambitiously look forward to the next 100 years. It is very much the case that plans will come from each county and I am looking forward to seeing them. We have given the local authorities all the details of our national plan. We are looking forward to seeing their plans in due course.

Irish Language

Terence Flanagan

Question:

10. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will provide an update on the lifting of the derogation for the Irish language to be recognised as an official language in the European Union; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23547/15]

Will the Minister provide an update on the lifting of the derogation on Irish? It is not being used as an official or working language of the European Union at present. That is a shame. There is an opportunity to create 180 jobs and it is something the Government should be actively pursuing. Will the Minister indicate who will make the decision regarding the lifting of the derogation and when that decision will be made?

I thank the Deputy for putting down the question. The Irish language was given full official and working language status in the European Union from 1 January 2007 under EU Regulation No. 920/2005. The regulation included a partial derogation to be reviewed every five years, with the first period lasting until 31 December 2011. Following a review, the partial derogation was extended for a second period, until 31 December 2016, under EU Regulation No. 1257/2010. Under the terms of the derogation in place since 2007, only legislation adopted under the ordinary legislative procedure, formerly the co-decision procedure, must be translated into Irish.

To achieve the required timelines a decision is required by Government in 2015 on the optimal approach to the derogation, following which the Council of the European Union will review its operation. A unanimous decision by Council is required before the end of 2015 on whether to extend, amend or end the derogation. The action agreed by Council will then be implemented from 1 January 2017. Officials from my Department and the Department of the Taoiseach have been actively engaging with the EU institutions and other relevant stakeholders for some time to formulate the optimal approach to the derogation. In this context the legislative and non-legislative services currently provided through Irish as well as the potential to expand these services are under consideration. Preparatory work on a draft regulation is under way in advance of the matter being brought to Government.

In logistical and reputational terms it is important to note that the approach adopted by Ireland to the derogation is seen to be a balanced and rational response that will have regard to prevailing circumstances and challenges, particularly in respect of issues such as the timely recruitment of the requisite personnel and the actual usage of Irish in the EU institutions.

This is an issue I have pursued with the predecessor of the Minister of State. I raised a Topical Issue on the matter on 28 November 2013. The then Minister of State said that the issue would be raised and a decision would be considered in early 2014. Yet, here we are all these months later and no final decision has been made. Can the Minister bring any hope to people who have undertaken studies and courses in respect of providing career opportunities for translators and those who want to work in the European institutions and do the necessary work to translate all official and working documents in the European Union into Irish? There is no point in us having Irish recognised as an official and working language if we are not implementing the decision in practice. It is all about jobs, ultimately. That is what the Government's focus is on. There is potential for up to 180 jobs. What is the bottleneck in respect of making a decision? Who will effectively make that decision?

I will take the last question first. Deputy Flanagan asked who makes the decision. This requires a unanimous decision of the Council of the European Union. As I said earlier there is active engagement between the Department of the Taoiseach and my Department. My officials are working hard and engaging with the EU institutions. There is almost a trilateral negotiation going on. Ultimately, it will be a decision by the Council. It has to be decided before the end of 2015 in order that whatever approach is being adopted can be implemented on 1 January 2017.

There are legislative and non-legislative services as well as potential services. That is happening all the time at the moment. Some 50 staff are working within different institutions in the European Union. There is potential for expanding more job opportunities. Deputy Flanagan mentioned a figure of over 180 potential jobs. That is accurate. There is major potential here. The strong message we should be sending out not only within the public domain but into our schools, including our primary schools and to the people who are going to do the junior certificate and consider languages, is that there is potential here.

There is the question of competency and credibility around having the three working languages. It is not simply a case of having Irish and English. People need three working languages and there are challenges around that. We need to be and we are actively engaging with the Department of Education and Skills around promoting the use of other or foreign languages within the European Union. That is where the potential is. I agree with that. In terms of the derogation-----

Thank you. I will let you back in again.

I very much accept the bona fides of the Minister of State in trying to pursue this issue and have it dealt with. I appeal to the Minister of State to prioritise this in the coming months and to try to push this on as much as he can to ensure that there is hope and career opportunities for Irish speakers who want to pursue and undertake this work. I call on the Minister of State to ensure a decision is made on this sooner rather than later. I understand the Taoiseach will ultimately make that call. Am I correct in saying that?

I will again take the last question first. Ultimately, it will be a unanimous decision by the Council at European level. Active engagement is under way between Department of the Taoiseach officials and my officials. That is in preparation at the moment but, ultimately, it will require a unanimous decision by the Council at European level.

Reference was made to the timeframe. The Official Languages Act dates from 2003. Following that there was a heavy investment of money into courses in 2006. I understand approximately €12 million has been invested in that time in training up people. We need to invest more. There will be decisions. There will be news on that in the not-too-distant future in respect of whether we look at further investment in the training of people in the required competencies and whether we make decisions in respect of interpretation, translation or the very skilled competency of lawyer linguistics. Many competencies are required. A further €1 million has been invested this year.

There will be further expansion and further investment. The Government sees the opportunity. It is not only an opportunity in terms of jobs. Jobs are important, but this is about following through on the 2007 official recognition of Irish as an official working language at European level. There is potential here to grow the language and to ensure that we have a mature and credible approach to the right road. The options available are to extend, amend or keep the present scenario. No decision has been made on that yet.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.