Priority Questions

National Heritage Plan

Niamh Smyth


1. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht when she expects to publish an updated national heritage plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20106/16]

It is good to see the Minister in the House. We have had quite a few outings this week. Please God we are coming near the end of it. When does the Minister expect to publish an updated national heritage plan, and will she make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for tabling this question. As outlined in A Programme for a Partnership Government, it is the intention to develop and publish an updated national heritage plan. I am currently considering how best to approach its development in the context of ongoing policy priorities across the heritage sector, both built and natural.

The National Heritage Plan 2002-2007 was the first integrated plan that sought to conserve and protect all aspects of our national heritage. Over the course of more recent years, my Department’s responsibilities for the protection and promotion of our built and natural heritage have been met by a range of policy developments that sought to respond to the challenges arising in different sectoral areas within my heritage remit.

Clearly, the scope for funding for the management of our built and natural heritage was constrained significantly by the major reduction in the public finances. Nonetheless, the competing priorities regarding the preservation and enhancement of the national heritage continue to be kept under ongoing review, having regard to the resources available to my Department.

As the Deputy will be aware, the heritage sector is composed of many different sub-sectors with differing needs. Given the breadth of the sectors involved and the ongoing resource constraints, initial consideration will focus on how best to develop the strategy with a view to availing of the opportunities and dealing with the challenges in the context prevailing. In this regard, work has been initiated by my Department regarding the scope and terms of reference for the process. A formal engagement with the Heritage Council will also commence shortly.

When does the Minister hope to have a full board in place again? Fourteen out of the 15 positions on the board are vacant and if we are to have a national heritage plan, we must ensure there is strong strategic leadership in the sector.

We all know that the arts sector believes it has been neglected and undervalued. That feeling is shared on the heritage side also. The Minister will be aware of the strong case made by the Heritage Council which claimed that for every euro spent by the council, the Irish tourism industry generates €4.40 through an increase in tourism revenues. More than 75% of the Heritage Council's annual budget is allocated to creating and supporting employment in the heritage sector. Will the Minister pledge today that the national heritage plan will be accompanied by a multi-annual funding commitment, and will she commit to regular increases in funding for the council?

I was not in a position to make Heritage Council board appointments for a number of months this year due to the general election and the period that followed before a Government was formed. I have appointed boards to the National Concert Hall and to the National Museum of Ireland in recent weeks, and I will be appointing the new board to the Heritage Council very shortly.

Board appointments are only made after applicants have been vetted and short-listed by the Public Appointments Service. Some concern was expressed regarding four vacancies on the board that had not been filled for three and a half years, but it was agreed with the Heritage Council that 11 members would be appointed and I have put a Bill before the Oireachtas that is consistent with that view. That is the reason four vacancies were not filled, and the Heritage Council was consulted as part of that process.

I draw to the Minister's attention some challenges facing our national cultural institutions which it would be critical to address in the new heritage plan. I understand a significant portion of the National Library of Ireland lacks modern fire protection for its collections. Will the plan address that critical issue of protection?

The National Museum of Ireland is seriously understaffed, yet the collections continue to expand as it has legal responsibility for all retrieved and acquired archaeological material. Does the Minister agree it is only natural that the staffing levels should rise accordingly? Are there any plans for the full implementation of the convention on architectural heritage?

Three pictures from the Alfred Beit collection are due to be auctioned at Christie's later today. Will the Minister ensure the new heritage plan addresses issues such as that?

With regard to the National Library of Ireland, earlier in the year I was delighted to announce a €10 million project in the National Library, which is a magnificent building but needs a good deal of upgrading. Those plans are under way and funding has been provided to the library.

Regarding the National Museum of Ireland, we work very closely with the museum and I was pleased that I was able to get a small increase in funding. It is what it is. As the economy continues to improve, I want to see further investment in our cultural institutions.

There is a major investment currently in the National Gallery of Ireland. We have the new Dargan and Milltown wings, which have been restored. A good deal of money has been invested in that and we are hopeful it will be open at the end of this year. We were also able to announce investment of €8 million to upgrade the facilities in the National Archives and increase its storage space.

Question No. 2 is in the name of Deputy Peadar Tóibín. Is Deputy Cullinane taking this question?

Western Development Commission

Peadar Tóibín


2. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to outline her plans to replicate the Western Development Commission, WDC, model in the other regions; and when the capital fund assigned to the WDC for its strategic regional development office will be accessible to the organisation. [20159/16]

The question relates to the Western Development Commission, which is seen as a successful model that is working. We have problems in other regions in the State with very high levels of unemployment. The Minister might be aware that unemployment in the south east is at 12.5%, which is double that of our capital city, Dublin, and much higher than the national average of less than 8%. Does the Minister have plans to replicate in other regions a model that seems to be working well in one part of the country?

The Western Development Commission was established in 1997 as a response to the severe population decline of the west and it was put on a statutory basis in 1999 under the Western Development Commission Act 1998. The aim of the Western Development Commission is to promote, foster and encourage economic and social development in the western region, which covers counties Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare.

The Western Development Commission continues its work in respect of five strategic goals, namely, to contribute to balanced regional development by ensuring that the western region maximises its full potential for economic and social development; to promote the benefits of living, working and doing business in the west; to support the sustainable economic and social development of the rural economy; to provide risk capital to small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and social enterprises; and to operate the Western Development Commission as a competent and effective organisation. My Department currently has no plans to roll out a replica Western Development Commission model in other regions.

With regard to the capital fund allocated to the Western Development Commission to support regional economic development in the west, it recently submitted proposals, which I am currently considering, on how the additional capital funding might be best utilised to advance economic development in the region. I have arranged to meet the Western Development Commission in the next week to discuss its proposals in detail.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. He set out the commission's statutory role, which I accept.

The Minister of State sets out the rationale for putting in place the commission, which is to contribute to balanced regional development to ensure we have social and economic development in the west region, to provide risk capital and also capital investment. I do not dispute that all of these measures are necessary in the west region but the current unemployment levels in the south-east region are five percentage points ahead of the west. I had this conversation with the Taoiseach recently and I have put a Topical Issues question to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the matter. It is simply not good enough that unemployment levels are 12.5% in one part of the State when the national level is 8%. It shows that there are very real structural problems in the economy.

A jobs forum which was established for the south-east region by the previous Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is not on a statutory footing. Will the Minister of State with responsibility for regional economic development give a commitment that he will look at this model and replicate it for the south-east?

Even though he said he needed just two minutes, I cannot let the Deputy away with it.

Deputy Cullinane is quite correct in the question he has raised and it is a very valid point. In fairness to the last Government, the jobs forum was one of the very good things it did. The forum was effective and up to recently some 135,000 extra jobs were created in the State. There are black spots that remain to be examined at Government level. There are other agencies that also need to start looking at these jobs black spots. This was one reason for setting up the Western Development Commission. We are trying to achieve balanced regional development, to get people to come in to the west, the south and the north regions.

The Deputy was correct when he said that while there is major employment in Dublin the regions do not have the same chances. This is why the Western Development Commission was set up. While it is not my Department, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation did a good job with regard to the jobs forum. A Cabinet sub-committee was formed which met on a regular basis and it certainly got the jobs. However, we now want to see balanced development happening in the regions. We do not want all the jobs to go to one particular area. We want to see them in the south, east, west and north regions.

I have heard all the spiel about jobs. I recognise that jobs have been created and I accept that unemployment levels are down but every time issues are raised which need addressing, I do not need the Government rehashing what it has done and boasting about its credentials on providing jobs. I am asking the Minister of State a very simple question.

The situation we have is not just a black spot. There are black spots and then there is an entire region. An entire region of the State - which is 500,000 people - has an unemployment level of 12.5%. Within that region - in Waterford city, for example - unemployment is at an even higher level which illustrates the structural problems in the region that can only be addressed if there is a statutory body similar to the one in the west region. Will the Minister of State commit to doing for the south-east region what has been done for the west region regarding a development commission?

At the moment, in my own Department, this is a new area being set up. Of course we will look at ways of creating jobs in every part of the regions. However, to be honest, there are a lot of agencies out there now including State agencies such as IDA Ireland and the local employment offices. This is not really within my portfolio, it is more the jobs arena, but there are many State agencies that cover this, even in the west region. I am looking at the numbers of agencies to see if some could be amalgamated. Sometimes if there are too many agencies it can result in nobody doing what they should be doing or there can be duplication of effort. I am looking to review the number of State agencies.

I am glad Deputy Cullinane acknowledged the many jobs that have been created but I would like to see more jobs in the regions. It is my job, as Minister of State, to ensure that the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation does this. I will be meeting with the Minister in the coming weeks and I will be putting pressure on every Department to look at valid regional development and spreading jobs out to the regions.

Seirbhísí Aeir Fóirdheonaithe

Éamon Ó Cuív


3. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta céard iad na socruithe atá déanta lena chinntiú go mbeidh aersheirbhís chuig Oileáin Árann as seo go ceann cúig bliana agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [20107/16]

Tá a fhios agam théis domsa an cheist seo a chur síos gur phléigh muid an cheist seo ag cruinniú a d'eagraigh an t-Aire Stáit sna Forbacha. B'fhéidir go bhféadfadh sé a rá liomsa agus leis an Teach an bhfuil aon dul chun cinn déanta idir an dá linn agus cá seasaimid i láthair na huaire maidir leis an seirbhís aeir go hOileáin Árann.

Phléigh muid an cheist seo Dé Luain, mar a dúirt an Teachta. Tá a lán den eolas seo aige cheana ach léifidh mé an píosa deireanach den fhreagra. Sa phróiseas tairisceana atá ar siúl ag mo Roinn faoi láthair, tá tairiscintí á lorg do sheirbhís aeir d’Oileáin Árann don tréimhse 1 Deireadh Fómhair 2016 go dtí 30 Meán Fómhair 2020. Is é Aerfort na Mine amháin atá luaite mar phointe imeachta ar an mórthír san iarratas ar thairiscintí atá eisithe. Tá mo Roinn, i láthair na huaire, ag iarraidh teacht ar chomhaontú le bainistíocht na saoráidí sin a chuimseoidh rochtain ar na saoráidí mar aon leis an leibhéal táillí a bheidh iníoctha. Ní mór, mar a luaigh mé leis an Teachta i m'fhreagra ar Cheist Uimh. 29 uaidh ar 1 Meitheamh 2016, na rialacha maidir le tras-fhóirdheonú agus Státchabhair a shásamh sa phróiseas seo uile.

Tá spriocdháta de 15 Iúil 2016 leagtha síos chun tairiscintí bheith faighte don tseirbhís aeir. Ar ndóigh, murar féidir teacht ar chomhaontú le húinéir Aerfort na Mine roimh an spriocdháta sin, ní bheidh ar chumas mo Roinne-se dul ar aghaidh leis an próiseas tairisceana.

Táimid fós ag plé na ceiste seo le húinéir Aerfort na Mine. Tá a fhios ag an Teachta go bhfuil mo Roinn ag déanamh chuile rud a theastaíonn. Tá siad ag plé na ceiste seo leis an úinéir le trí mhí go leith anuas agus táimid dóchasach go mbeidh sí socraithe ach níl sí socraithe fós. Is é 15 Iúil an spriocdháta agus beidh an conradh mar atá ag críochnú ag deireadh Mheán Fómhair. Níl mé in ann a rá go mbeidh an cheist socraithe ach táimid ag obair uirthi agus táimid dóchasach go mbeidh sí.

B'fhéidir go bhféadfadh an tAire Stáit a chur ar thaifead na Dála go bhfuil an ceart agam gurb é an staid ina bhfuil muid ná go bhfuil tairiscint déanta ag an Roinn chuig comhlacht bhainistíochta an aerfoirt, nár ghlacadh leis sin agus go bhfuil comhairle ag an Roinn nach féidir léi dul níos faide ó thaobh tairiscint níos fearr a dhéanamh agus dáiríre go gcaithfidh lucht bainistíochta an aerfoirt cinneadh a dhéanamh an bhfuil siad sásta glacadh leis an tairiscint nó ab é nach bhfuil siad sásta an t-aerfort a chur ar fáil. Ón méid atá an tAire Stáit ag rá, creidim - agus b'fhéidir go bhféadfadh sé é seo a dheimhniú - go bhfuil an t-am ag éirí an-ghearr agus go bhfuil gá le socrú anois agus nach féidir leis seo leanacht ar aghaidh.

Tá an ceart ag an Teachta go bhfuil síneadh curtha leis an spriocdháta faoi dhó cheana. Níl a fhios agam an mbeimid in ann síneadh eile a chur leis. Táimid ag fáil comhairle ó Oifig an Ard-Aighne. Tá sise ag coinneáil súil air seo. Tá sé fíorchasta, mar atá a fhios ag an Teachta, ach táimid ag plé na ceiste le húinéir Aerfort na Mine. Níl aon chinneadh déanta fós.

Níl ach an t-aerfort sin ar fáil. Ní raibh muintir Árann sásta leis an aerfort ar an gCarn Mór agus ní raibh sé ar fáil ar feadh thréimhse an chonartha ar aon nós. Sin an fáth go ndeachaigh muid ar aghaidh le hAerfort na Mine agus táimid ag plé na ceiste seo ar le trí mhí go leith anuas chun teacht ar socrú le húinéir an aerfoirt ach níor éirigh linn fós.

Táimid ag déanamh chuile rud agus táimid ag plé na ceiste. Níl cinneadh déanta againn ach coinneoimid orainn go dtí an spriocdháta. Is é an rud is tábhachtach ná go mbeidh seirbhís aeir ann do mhuintir Árann sa gheimhridh i ndiaidh 30 Meán Fómhair.

Tuigim go bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag déanamh a dhícheall teacht ar réiteach na faidbhe seo. B'fhéidir go bhféadfadh sé a dheimhniú dom an bhfuil sé, mar a thuigim, ag obair de réir treoir Oifig an Ard-Aighne agus Oifig an phríomh-aturnae stáit sa mhéid gur féidir leis a dhéanamh. An bhfuil sé srianta leis sin? Nílim ag iarraidh air a rá céard go baileach iad na srianta atá air, ach a rá go bhfuil srianta agus go gcaithfidh sé glacadh lena gcomhairle.

Chomh maith leis sin, ag glacadh leis gur féidir leis an Aire Stáit teacht ar chomhréiteach le húinéirí an aerfoirt, an bhfuil sé sásta breathnú ar na pointí atá ardaithe ag Coiste Cosanta Aersheirbhís Árainn ina litir ó 4 Meitheamh, nuair a chuir siad ceist maidir le táillí agus caighdeán na seirbhíse, atá neamhspleách ón gceist seo ar fad?

Mar is eol don Aire Stáit maidir le na táillí atá molta, tá go leor daoine den tuairim agus bheadh mise den tuairim go mbeadh sé thar a bheith daor do na hoileánaigh teacht agus filleadh ar sheirbhís aeir.

Tá mé sásta breathnú ar na rudaí sin. An rud is tábhachtaí ar dtús ná go mbeidh sé socraithe go mbeidh Aerfort na Mine ar fáil. Ina dhiaidh sin, beimid in ann breathnú ar sin. Tá sé sin pléite agam le na hoifigí sa Roinn. Ag breathnú orthu, tuigim nach bhfuil muintir Árainn nó na Teachtaí eile sa Dáilcheantar sásta leis agus beimid ag breathnú ar sin. Faoi láthair, níl socrú déanta ó thaobh an aerfoirt. Mar a dúirt mé, táimid ag fáil comhairle oifigiúil. Más rud é nach bhfuilimid in ann teacht ar réiteach le húineírí an aerfoirt, casfaidh mé le feidhmeannaigh ó Oifig an Ard-Aighne sula mbeidh aon chinneadh déanta, mar caithfidh mé comhairle dlí a fháil maidir leis an gceist fíor-thábhachtach seo.

As Deputy Michael Healy-Rae is not present we will move to Question No. 5.

Question No. 4 replied to with Written Answers.

Environmental Policy

Catherine Martin


5. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht why she is proposing to de-designate 46 Natural Heritage Areas, which were designated as Natural Heritage Areas in order to satisfy the ruling of the European Court of Justice against Ireland in Case C-392/96; and the alternative steps she will take to protect these valuable conservation areas from destruction by drainage and peat extraction. [20156/16]

This question relates to the Minister's announcement last week that the drafting of legislation has been approved as a matter of priority for the de-designation of 46 raised bogs. I am appalled that this Minister of all Ministers as the one who is supposed to have a special responsibility to protect and promote our heritage would under her watch allow, permit, and actively facilitate the destruction of an irreplaceable part of our heritage, allegedly as a matter of governmental priority when the patent truth for all to see is that this decision which was set in stone in the recent programme for Government, on page 51 to be exact, would appear to be singularly motivated by a lust for power at any price even if that means sacrificing or destroying part of our country's heritage.

The Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network was published in January 2014. It sets out a series of measures to ensure that Ireland meets its obligations under the EU habitats directive to maintain or restore raised bog habitat to favourable conservation status, as well as its obligations under the EU environmental impact assessment directive relating to the regulation of turf cutting on natural heritage areas, whilst at the same time avoiding unnecessary impacts on the traditional rights of landowners and users and minimising the cost to the State of compensation payments. The review concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitat through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network. This will entail the phasing out by 1 January 2017 of turf cutting on 36 existing natural heritage areas, which will remain designated - this includes seven sites to be divided, with part to be conserved and part de-designated; the complete de-designation of 46 natural heritage areas, including the relevant areas of the seven sites to be divided, where it has been judged that their contribution to the attainment of the national conservation objective for raised bog is expected to be marginal and-or restoration would be prohibitively expensive for the conservation benefits achieved. Domestic turf cutting may continue on these sites, while larger scale or commercial turf cutting will continue to be regulated through other consent systems; and, the designation as natural heritage areas of 25 currently undesignated raised bogs, which are in public ownership or where there is reduced turf cutting pressure, so as to compensate for the loss of habitat within the sites where it is proposed that turf cutting can be allowed to continue.

In 2005 the then Government committed to designating these raised bogs as NHAs as part of the compliance with an ECJ judgment. An inevitable part of that designation was ending turf cutting on them. This Government is rowing back on that commitment and claiming that the fact that it is going to do less than it said it would is some sort of success story.

Our raised bogs are among the best examples of raised bog habitats left in Europe. In addition to their obvious biodiversity value, peatlands are very important carbon sinks. They also act like large sponges helping to protect us from flooding. After the many recent catastrophic floods does this Government not get how crucial it is to take preventative action and not the exact opposite? Worse still, when drained and harvested these bogs will go from being carbon sinks to very large carbon sources. The Minister can dress this up whatever way she wishes today but to the Green Party and to many others it is nothing more than a shameful destruction of our heritage all for the sake of a promise to support and keep this Government in power. Most unfortunate of all, there was an alternative solution for all which would have protected our heritage. Raised bogs can be traced back to the Ice Age, some 10,000 years ago and 10,000 years of heritage is now being bartered and traded for votes to keep the Minister and this Government in power. The way it is going this Government might not even see a few hundred days.

To reassure the Deputy, this process started in 2004. I am very conscious that I have to respect the environment and the European directives. This is a win for the people it impacts and it is a better outcome for the environment. We brought in consultants to examine 79 bogs. It was all done scientifically and the worth in heritage and environmental terms of the designated bogs was considered. It is considered that there is a much lower impact in terms of cutters than the newly identified bogs. Designating the newly identified bogs has a bigger impact on the environment.

Currently the area of active raised bog on the existing NHA network is 284 ha and when the new designations are brought in we will have 290 ha of active raised bog.

Are there management plans in place for those NHAs where turf cutting is due to end from 1 January 2017? If not, why is the Minister pressing ahead with de-designating 39 and partially de-designating seven in advance of arrangements being made to ensure that conservation objectives will be met on the reconfigured network of raised bog habitat recommended in the Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network in 2014? Our raised bogs and other parts of our environment are in jeopardy because successive Governments have tried to be all things to all men and made concessions they should never have made. These bogs are over 10,000 years old and are our heritage. They should never have been used as bargaining chips in Government negotiations. In simple terms, with this decision the Minister is setting fire to our past, our present and our future.

I do not agree with the Deputy on that point. I am certainly not trying to be all things to all people. I am trying to find a balance which ensures there is an appropriate network of NHAs which would better contribute to the protection of raised bog habitats and related habitats and species as required under the EU nature directives and wildlife Acts. Drafting of the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill is ongoing. The general scheme of the Bill has been submitted to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht and the legislation is an important step forward in terms of securing a long-term resolution for turf cutters. It will implement the recommendations of the Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network which was approved by Government in 2014. The review concluded that Ireland could more effectively conserve threatened raised bog habitats through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network. There will be better outcomes for the environment here in changing these designations.

The next question is the name of Deputy Martin Heydon but I understand that Deputy Neville will speak on it.