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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 24 Jan 2017

Vol. 935 No. 3

Topical Issue Debate

Ticket Touting

When it comes to professionalised ticket touting in this country, it is very clear that there is a serious problem. Deputy Donnelly and I have drafted legislation in this direction but here we will outline the problem and the solution. There are three simple rules which could be imposed on Ticketmaster or other primary sellers of tickets which would prevent industrialised, professionalised ticket touting: limit the number of tickets an individual can buy; use the original debit or credit card on entry to a venue; and match the name on the ticket with a photo ID. This was not done for the recent U2 concert and is generally not done.

It appears that Ticketmaster, which owns the leading secondary selling website, Seatwave, and other primary sellers, is very comfortable with as many tickets as possible going on to Seatwave and does not restrict the primary sales of tickets in a reasonable way. The commission for each secondary sale is in the region of between 15% and 20%. The UK commissioned a substantial and comprehensive report into this as recently as last year and Belgium introduced legislation on this matter which was very effective.

I congratulate Deputy Rock on tabling the legislation and I am very happy to co-sponsor it with him. There are numerous cases of this going on, the latest being a few days ago with tickets for the U2 concert. There was reselling in bulk at the very same time that the monopoly seller, Ticketmaster, was sold out. We are not dealing with people who buy a few tickets, then decide they are not going to the concert and sell them. This is an organised industry with potentially very serious profits, bulk purchasing tickets from a monopoly seller.

In the past two days the Minister has published a consultation process. Are we looking at cartel behaviour? Are people violating anti-trust laws or consumer protection laws? Do companies like Seatwave get privileged access to Ticketmaster tickets and so forth? We are dealing not only with important consumer protection but I would like to know, and I have written to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, to find out, whether any of these companies are violating existing laws.

People in Ireland are being exploited in the worst form when it comes to ticket touting. There are people making their sole income from selling tickets to matches, concerts etc. at an outrageous cost, legally, on Ticketmaster's partner website, Seatwave. As an example, tickets for the upcoming Coldplay concert in Croke Park on 8 July 2017 went on sale on Ticketmaster for between €69 and €144. These tickets sold out in a matter of minutes but the tickets started reappearing on Ticketmaster's partner website, Seatwave, from people who purchased them from Ticketmaster and the price range on 20 January was €200 to €900 or €1,000. This is nothing short of a disgrace and the worst form of ticket touting. I have no problem with someone who cannot attend a concert because of illness or any other problem selling their tickets online at face value. When people are making their sole income from this type of business it is ridiculous and I call on the Government to take immediate action on this issue.

I thank Deputies Rock, Donnelly and Michael Healy-Rae for the work they have done and for raising this issue here. I share the concern of the Deputies and the public about the resale of tickets for major entertainment or sporting events at inflated prices. Although this concern is not new, it has been highlighted by the resale of tickets for the U2 and Coldplay concerts next July.

I met the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport, Deputy O'Donovan, in late October in response to the public concern over the issue. My Department then undertook an examination of the primary and secondary ticket markets and the measures taken, or not taken, in other countries to regulate these markets.

That examination led to the detailed consultation paper which I issued last Friday together with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan.

The consultation paper sets out a range of possible measures that might be taken to ensure fans do not have to pay exorbitant prices to attend major entertainment or sporting events. Some of these measures would be the responsibility of the parties involved in the organisation of events or in the primary and secondary ticket markets. Other measures would be the responsibility of the Government. I encourage all interested parties, including Members of this House, to respond to our consultation paper.

The possible options for future action, including legislation to regulate the resale of tickets, will be fully assessed following the consultation process. The consultation paper clarifies that such legislation could take a number of forms. It is important that any such legislation does not cause ticket resale to be driven underground and away from the established marketplaces which at least offer guarantees to ticket buyers.

The online market for tickets to major events is essentially borderless in nature. Most EU member states do not ban or regulate the resale of tickets. Irish consumers will not be better off if legislation here causes ticket resale to be diverted to countries that permit it.

I thank the Minister for her response. Given the plurality of comprehensive reports that are available, and in light of the acknowledgement from the Department when it launched its consultation on this issue last Friday that these problems are fundamentally the same from country to country, it seems that the launch of a new consultation process is perhaps not necessary. Nevertheless, I welcome the Minister's comments and her commitment to taking on board the concerns of the various players, including the industry and Deputies like Deputy Donnelly and me. We will continue to work on our Private Members' Bill because we feel this important issue is worthy of further public attention and scrutiny. I had a meeting on this matter today with an Irish company that has developed technology that has the potential to prevent ticket touting. Such technological innovations are now possible. I welcome the further pursuit of such avenues in the future. I believe they need to be matched with legislative action. That is why I am proud to continue to work with Deputy Donnelly on this matter.

I thank the Minister for her response. I think the key word she used was "inflated" because we are not talking about tickets going on sale for €70 and being resold for €85. We are talking about €70 tickets being bought en masse by companies that may or may not have privileged access to the monopoly seller and then being resold not for €80 but for €1,000.

I agree with Deputy Rock with regard to consultation. I am not entirely sure that a lengthy period of consultation is required. If we use the legislative process, we could deal with many of the submissions on Report Stage. The Minister is taking the consultation approach. What are the timelines for the consultation process? When will we be able to debate the findings on the floor of the House? What can be done by the Government in the short term? We all know that consultation processes and follow-up legislative processes can take time. I wrote to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission last week to ascertain whether any illegality is happening at present. I would like the Minister to give us her thoughts on what she and her Government colleagues can do now to send these companies a clear message in the short term that this sort of behaviour needs to stop.

I thank the Minister for her response. I would like to highlight another aspect of this issue. I thank Deputies Rock and Donnelly for their excellent work. The Minister has been joined by the Tánaiste. When the US authorities were unable to get Al Capone for murder, they got him for taxes. Are those who are involved on a professional basis or otherwise in ticket touting in Ireland paying tax on their exorbitant profits? The U2 tickets that sold out in six minutes were being sold for more than €1,000 afterwards. Will those involved pay tax on their exorbitant profits? Everybody else in the country has to pay tax. Are they paying tax? I suggest that if we cannot get them in one way, we might be able to get them in another way. I remind the House that when Al Capone could not be got for one thing, he was got for taxes. This is terribly important because it is wrong for people who want to go to a sporting event or a concert to be fleeced and robbed in this fashion. It is another form of daylight robbery.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions to this debate. I understand the reasons they and the public are anxious to see action on this issue. If legislation is to be introduced to regulate ticket resale, an established procedure must be followed. This includes the preparation of a regulatory impact analysis. In Ireland, as in other countries, public consultation is an integral part of the impact analysis process. It is relatively easy to enact legislation, but it is more difficult to ensure that legislation will be effective.

Anyone who takes the time to read the consultation paper will see that the issues around ticket resale are neither simple not straightforward, as the Deputies have mentioned. The organisation of major events, and the sale or resale of tickets to those events, involves a number of parties with different interests. The record of legislative efforts to regulate ticket resale in other countries is mixed at best. Expert reviews on this issue in a number of countries, including the UK, have concluded that legislative regulation is not warranted or is unlikely to be effective. We cannot ignore these considerations in the clamour for action. My aim is to ensure whatever action is ultimately taken will make a material contribution to ensuring fairer access to tickets for consumers.

I am aware that a number of popular solutions were proposed in the document I published. Reference has been made to the possibility of making greater use of personalised and paperless tickets. It has been suggested that event organisers and primary ticket sellers could provide a facility for ticket buyers to return tickets they are unable to use and, if those tickets are resold, to be refunded at face value. Perhaps there is a need for greater readiness on the part of ticket buyers to resell tickets at face value. Greater co-operation from the secondary marketplace would help event organisers to identify people who are reselling tickets in breach of contractual prohibitions on resale and on multiple purchases.

Airport Security

We learned yesterday that a number of arrests were made at Dublin Airport at the weekend in respect of an alleged illegal immigrant smuggling network that may have been operating in the airport for a considerable period. I commend the Garda National Immigration Bureau and other individuals in Dublin Airport who carry out work on behalf of the State on an ongoing basis in respect of our borders and in respect of immigration issues. I am conscious that a number of individuals were charged before the District Court in Dublin earlier today. I do not want to raise any issue in respect of their predicament or say anything that touches on their cases. These individuals are entitled to be presumed innocent until the contrary is established by the courts.

It is important for issues that may arise in respect of our borders, and for which the Tánaiste and the Department of Justice and Equality are responsible, to be raised in this House. If it is the case that our borders have been undermined and there has been an illegal entry of individuals or goods into our country, that is a particularly serious and grave matter. Every country must be able to defend and protect its own borders. It is imperative that this country is seen to be able to do that in this time of particular international sensitivity in respect of migration and the protection of borders. Was the Department of Justice and Equality aware before yesterday of any other examples of our borders being threatened? Was it aware of any other alleged illegal activity in our airports or ports?

If there have been any other allegations or suggestions of a breach of our immigration rules at Dublin Airport or any other airport, this House should be informed of that. I commend the authorities on the work they have done but it is very important that we are vigilant about this matter and that the Tánaiste provides assurances to the House that there are resources in place in respect of this matter.

The recent arrests at Dublin Airport pose the most serious questions about security at the facility. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste, who is present, must order a high-level review into the current security systems in use at the airport. At the very least, those systems appear to be quite porous and will cause major concern among the tens of millions of people travelling through the airport every year. We cannot underestimate just how many jobs are dependent on Dublin Airport, which is a key engine of the Irish economy. To have any doubt cast on the airport's security status is deeply worrying. It is very welcome that the Garda National Immigration Bureau has upped its surveillance with regard to people trafficking in the past year and a half but we must consider the totality of security, including at other airports and points of entry throughout the country.

We know people-smuggling is widespread throughout the world. It is an evil and lucrative trade, often involving women and young people who are forced into what is effectively sexual slavery and prostitution. Very often families and the people themselves run up enormous debts to traffickers. When I was Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, I introduced legislation to give enhanced powers to social welfare officials and officers present at airports and ports to identify people entering and leaving Ireland in a bid to clamp down on benefit tourism. That initiative was very successful and we must send out a message that Ireland is not a soft touch on security. I would like to hear the Tánaiste respond in respect of the obvious need for a high-level review of security arrangements at airports and ports.

I thank Deputies for raising this important topic. As Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, maintaining the security of our borders is always an absolute priority for me. I assure the Deputies that this matter is being taken very seriously by the Government and I thank them for providing me with the opportunity to update the House on it. Security at our airports and ports is always kept under review and rates very well by international standards but a breach of this nature is clearly unacceptable and, in this instance, is of very serious public concern.

As the Deputies will be aware and Deputy O'Callaghan noted, there is an ongoing Garda investigation targeted at illegal immigration and people-smuggling through Dublin Airport. A number of people are before the courts with regard to this matter so it would not be appropriate in those circumstances to comment in detail on the particular case. However, like Deputy O'Callaghan, I commend An Garda Síochána and the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, on their work. An Garda Síochána considers this to be a smuggling operation rather than being terrorism or human trafficking-related. The issue remains very serious and we all know the enormous challenge, at national and European level, of trafficking of persons. It matches the drug trade in many ways in terms of criminal activity.

My Department has kept in close contact with the Department of Transport and both Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority are co-operating fully with the Garda investigation. The national civil aviation security committee, chaired by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and comprising representatives from other Departments, An Garda Síochána, airports and airlines, reviews and recommends effective security measures with a view to advising Government on aviation security policy. The national civil aviation security committee is reviewing all issues relevant to aviation security at Dublin Airport, particularly any issue relating to the access arrangements at the airport. We need to know how this happened and why. Therefore, in light of the seriousness of the issue, I will work with my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to review the procedures in place so the public can have full confidence in the security of our borders.

I will put a couple of facts on the record. Immigration officers at Dublin Airport process approximately 15 million passengers per annum and approximately 3,300 were refused leave to land last year, with over 4,000 being refused across all ports of entry. Constant vigilance is required and it is by such vigilance that a case like this is uncovered and investigated. It is clear that this case has an international dimension and gardaí are co-operating with other police authorities, including Interpol and Europol, as we do all the time, with the investigation. An Garda Síochána and other independent analysts have pointed out that this is not a matter unique to Dublin Airport and that other international airports face the same risks, challenges and threats of illegal immigration. When it comes to border security, we must remain vigilant at all times. Where breaches are discovered, they must be thoroughly investigated and feed into a wider review of port security generally to identify where any improvements can be made.

To answer the Deputy's question, we are not aware of any other related matters and none have been brought to our attention. Significant resources are put into policing our borders, including increased use of technology and the area of data sharing with other jurisdictions. Since becoming Minister I have put much emphasis on the interoperability of data systems so our security can be maintained and the Government has put increased funding again this year into that issue. Last November, we took a major step forward in launching an automated connection to Interpol's lost and stolen travel documents database. In the first eight weeks of operating systematic checks against this database at Dublin Airport, over 700,000 documents were searched and a number of people were refused entry to Ireland on the basis of an alert on the system being triggered.

I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. I welcome the fact that she recognises that this is a matter of the utmost seriousness. I hope the review being conducted will be thorough and not limited to Dublin Airport. I hope it will consider all our airports and other ports. I note the Tánaiste's statement that it is the view of An Garda Síochána that the allegations regarding the airport on this occasion relate to smuggling. Irrespective of that, if we have a porous border it sends out a very negative message to the international community from Ireland. It is important we ensure our borders are adequately secure. It may just have been a smuggling operation in this case but who is to know whether in the past there may have been misuse or abuse of procedure for something more serious. I welcome the fact that the review is being conducted and a written review should be brought before a committee of the House or a committee of the Oireachtas to ensure and make it known publicly that our borders are adequately secure.

I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. With the clock ticking until the UK leaves the European Union, it is really vital that our borders are secure and any security issues at our airports or ports should be swiftly dealt with. I note with some concern that the Tánaiste stated that since last November and the connection to Interpol's lost and stolen documents database, in the first eight weeks of operating systematic checks, with 700,000 documents being searched, a number of people have been refused entry to Ireland on the basis of an alert on the system being triggered. That adds to the concerns, although it is good these people were identified. When I was Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, I changed the position by giving enhanced powers at ports and airports to people like social welfare officers to limit and restrict benefit tourism.

The Tánaiste needs to have an open mind about whether enhanced security arrangements need to be put in place.

I thank the Deputy. I am going to call the Tánaiste. The Deputy is well over her time and is eating into that of others.

On the basis of the November examination, is the Tánaiste not concerned that Irish identities have been stolen? This is what her report suggests.

It is important that we have Interpol's lost and stolen travel documents database and that it is working effectively. I am of the view that it will and should provide reassurance to people about data checking. I refer here to a variety of issues relating to alerts being on the system. It is good that we are part of the collaboration involved. The reason for some of the work I have been doing is to ensure that there is interoperability between different systems. The idea is to ensure that An Garda Síochána and our airport authorities have the most relevant and up-to-date data-checking systems that operate an international level. An Garda Síochána has further work to do, but the project is under way.

There is a particularly close operational relationship with the UK authorities in managing the security of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK. The gathering and sharing of relevant information is an important aspect of this co-operation. There are robust and constantly-evolving security information sharing arrangements in place between Ireland and the UK. For example, last year Ireland introduced new regulations to enable the UK to collect advance passenger information from Irish carriers in respect of passengers entering the UK from Ireland. In the first half of this year, we will begin to process advance passenger information on flights.

It was rather difficult to get agreement on this issue in the European Parliament. Ministers with responsibility for justice issues fought to have advance passenger information shared between countries and I supported the proposal. We will have this arrangement in place on flights from outside the EU. Preparations are also under way to implement the EU directive on passenger name records, a plan I have just referenced. These systems will provide further protection for our borders against crime, terrorism and illegal immigration threats. The information technology resources of An Garda Síochána are an important aspect of this. Last year, we started the connection to the Schengen information system, which is another important data-sharing system. This work continues.

Social and Affordable Housing Eligibility

I regret that the Minister is not present, particularly in view of the fact that this is not only an issue of national interest but also one of particular interest to him and to those in my constituency. Cork City Council recently passed a vote, proposed by Councillor Ted Tynan, seeking an increase in the income limits or the maximum eligibility threshold for social housing in the Cork city area. I would go even further. It is high time there was a far broader review of the rental limits in all local authority areas, especially large urban areas and those areas around the fringes of the major cities. The previous occasion on which limits were set was in 2011. Let us set out the context. Following everything that has happened since then, more and more young families, many of whom are known to the Minister and me, are trapped in the rental sector or in the homes of their parents and have few options given that they cannot get onto social housing lists. For those above the income limits by small or marginal amounts, the options are especially limited. Those affected are largely confined to the rental sector or family homes. For those who may have a desire to work towards a mortgage, the 10% deposit required is singularly difficult for them to put together. In large urban areas, such as Cork, a deposit could be in the amount of €20,000 or €25,000. Frankly, this Government has done nothing for this category of people. They are only marginally above the income limits. Many of them are still on low incomes.

There is a particular context to the problem in respect of Cork, namely, the boundaries relating to Cork City Council that are completely out of date. Large urban areas of Cork city are essentially in the Cork County Council bailiwick, such as parts of Togher, Douglas, Rochestown, Grange and Frankfield. There is 80 m between the Greenwood and Westside estates in Togher, but a difference of €5,000 in the income threshold applicable. A distance of 180 m separates Willow Park in Douglas and Douglas West Street in the village, but the income threshold is the same or even €6,000, depending on the size of the family. It is a particular issue and a serious anomaly for those areas.

In general, the thresholds are far too low. This reflects a failure on the part of the Government to recognise that this category of individuals exists and is growing. These people have few options and the Government is doing nothing for them. I imagine the Minister will say a change would result in an increase in the housing lists, and I appreciate that point. However, I would not criticise the Government for an increase on that basis. While those affected might not be to the front of the queue - I would not expect them to be to the front of the queue - eligibility is vital for their ability to draw down payments, such as the housing assistance payment. Currently, that payment is closed off to them. Their ability to build up time credit, which is more and more important in social housing allocation, is inhibited.

There is a serious need to do something for this category of low and middle-income families for whom mortgages are out of the question. They are under severe pressure because of the rental market. Social housing is supposed to provide security and rent stability. These people deserve the benefits to which I refer but are denied access to them. That is wrong and it needs to be reviewed.

I apologise that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government cannot be here to take this matter, which I thank the Deputy for raising.

On 1 April 2011, the social housing assessment regulations introduced a new standard procedure for assessing applicants for social housing in every housing authority. The aim of the new system is to move closer to a transparent, consistent and fairer approach to eligibility for social housing. The regulations include maximum net income limits for each housing authority in different bands according to the area, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard household means policy. Before the new scheme was put in place, there was considerable inconsistency in the various local authorities. Some authorities had income limits for social housing while others had none. The way income was assessed for limits varied widely, with different disregards and policies in various housing authorities. This meant that applicants for support who were on similar incomes could be treated differently because of where they happened to live. This approach was neither efficient nor fair. The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of income needed to provide for a household's basic need plus a comprehensive analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation throughout the country. As a result, higher limits generally apply in urban areas than in surrounding areas, such as in Cork. The limits also reflect a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced before the new scheme came into operation. The purpose was to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn and thereby promote support for sustainable communities.

Under the household means policy, which applies in all housing authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI and the universal social charge. Most payments received from the Department of Social Protection are assessable. The policy provides for a range of income disregards. Housing authorities can disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once-off in nature. Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support.

I am satisfied that the current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this aim. However, I welcome the opportunity to hear the views of the Deputy on these issues. They will be considered in the context of the ongoing review of social housing assessment procedures as part of the broader social housing reform agenda.

What caught my eye in the Minister of State's response was the following:

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. I am satisfied that the current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this.

What that says is that for families that are essentially in Cork city, in some of the most competitive and expensive markets such as Rochestown, Togher, Douglas, Grange or even Carrigaline or Ballincollig, it is acceptable or reasonable to expect that a family of two adults and three children would be responsible for organising their own accommodation and would be obliged to find a mortgage out of an income above a mere €33,750. That is for a two-adult family. The other options are to spend the rest of their lives in the rental market or be cast back on their families. That is utterly unfair and unreasonable.

I again urge the Minister to consider a review of the income limits for social housing. The limits are absolutely unreasonable. If that is not possible, the alternative models that have been talked about to some extent are way behind track, such as the cost rental model. There is a review due to come back at the end of this year. That is quite some time before there will be any real action.

I also urge the Minister to consider some flexibility in the boundaries of local authority areas. There are about 50,000 people in and around the fringes of Cork city that are essentially part of the Cork city housing market. The boundaries have not been revised since the 1960s and that is another day's problem. For those people, they are living in the second most competitive housing market in the State. Yet, they are dealing with income limits that are €5,000 to €6,000 below estates that are just up the road. It is impossible for them to secure any kind of long-term accommodation on those rental limits. Some kind of flexibility absolutely has to be considered for that southern division of Cork County Council.

I understand the Deputy's concerns and have noted many points he has raised, which I will bring back to the Minister. I am satisfied that the current income limit generally provides for a fair and equal system of identifying those households unable to provide accommodation from their own resources. These limits generally provide that a household in receipt of social welfare will not breach the threshold. I refer to the fact that the 2016 summary of social housing assessment reported that, of households on waiting lists nationally, slightly more than two thirds or 67% were entirely dependent on social welfare. I am also satisfied that these income bands and the authority area assigned to each band are based on the true access of income needed to provide for a household base, as well as on the comprehensive analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country.

However, as the Minister has indicated, the issues raised today will be examined as part of the ongoing review of the social housing assessment process that is under way, which will consider whether there are disparities across local authority housing that discriminate unfairly against certain classes of household. I know that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, would be happy to consider any general issues of which the Deputy is aware. However, the Minister is precluded from becoming involved in a specified application for housing to a local authority.

I also express my concern to Deputy Ó Laoghaire. I myself have met many young people in a predicament in which they may be a little over the threshold at which social housing is provided and find that they cannot be included on the list. On a personal basis, I will certainly raise the issue with the Minister myself. I apologise again that he cannot be here this afternoon.

Oideachas Tríú Leibhéal

Mar is eol don Aire, tá cinneadh déanta ag údarás Ollscoil na hÉireann, GaiIIimh, deireadh a chur leis an riachtanas Gaeilge a bheith ag an gcéad uachtarán eile den ollscoil. Mar is eol don Aire freisin, tá an cinneadh seo cáinte ag beagnach chuile dhream agus eagraíocht a fheidhmíonn ar son na cúise - an comhchoiste Gaeilge, Gaeltachta agus na nOileán, iar-uachtarán na hollscoile, Misneach na Gaillimhe agus Comhaltas na Mac Léinn san áireamh. Ar ndóigh, tá sé dochreidte go ndearna an t-údarás an cinneadh seo, cinneadh comhthola - pointe a thiocfaidh mé ar ais chuige - beag beann ar na dualgais atá ag an ollscoil ó thaobh na Gaeilge de, go háirithe ollscoil a mhaíonn gur champas dátheangach atá ann.

Sa bhreis ar na dualgais agus an stádas faoi leith atá aici, is ollscoil í atá lonnaithe i gcathair a bhfuil aitheantas dátheangach bainte amach aici, aitheantas mar bhaile seirbhíse Gaeilge agus cathair atá suite ar thairseach na Gaeltachta is mó sa tír. Ina theannta sin, is fiú os cionn €136 milliún in aghaidh na bliana an Ghaeilge do chathair agus Contae na Gaillimhe agus cuireann sí go mór leis an eispéireas cultúrtha a fhaigheann cuairteoirí i nGaillimh agus ar Shlí an Atlantaigh Fhiáin mar go gcloiseann siad an teanga agus go bhfeiceann siad muintir na Gaillimhe á húsáid mar chuid dá saol laethúil mar theanga bheo bhríomhar. I bhfianaise na ndualgais sin uilig, tuilleadh dualgais eile agus an stádas faoi leith atá ag an gcathair, tá sé fíor-dheacair a thuiscint cén chaoi ar éirigh leis an údarás an cinneadh seo a dhéanamh agus níos suntasaí fós gur cinneadh chomhthola a bhí ann. Ach is scéal é sin do lá eile. Ardaíonn sé seo an cheist an bhfuil an Rialtas chun cead a chinn a thabhairt do údarás na hollscoile beag beann ar na dualgais atá uirthi faoi reachtaíocht éagsúla, an t-uafás airgid poiblí a fhaigheann an ollscoil agus, níos tábhachtaí fós, ar na dualgais atá ar an Rialtas seo an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Sa chomhthéacs seo, mar is eol don Aire, tá structúir ar leith bunaithe ón mbliain 2011 ar aghaidh chun an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge a chur i bhfeidhm agus chun monatóireacht a dhéanamh ar an gcur i bhfeidhm sin. Tá ról thar a bheith tábhachtach agus lárnach ag an Taoiseach é féin mar chathaoirleach ar an gcoiste Rialtais ar an nGaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht. Tá ról faoi leith ag an gcoiste sin i monatóireacht a dhéanamh ar an dul chun cinn faoin Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge.

I mo thuairim, ní féidir glacadh leis an gcinneadh seo atá déanta ag údarás na hollscoile. Tá sé thar a bheith práinneach go dtaispeánfadh an tAire agus an Rialtas ceannaireacht ar an ábhar seo agus go gcuirfeadh siad brú ar an ollscoil agus ar an údarás athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an gcinneadh sin.

Fuair mé freagra ón Aire i mí na Nollag. Tá mé ag súil nach léifidh sé an freagra sin amach dom mar fhreagra ar an méid atá ardaithe inniu. An bhfuil an tAire sásta athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar a chinneadh féin a rinne sé roimh an Nollaig agus brú a chur ar an ollscoil athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an gcinneadh uafásach seo?

I thank Deputy Connolly for raising this issue. I do not know whether she will be happy with the answer. I will set out the position as I understand it and I believe it to be correct. Third-level institutions are autonomous bodies and they have the responsibility for making decisions of this nature on their own authority, including in particular matters relating to recruitment and selection procedures. That rests with the governing body of the institution involved. NUIG, in this instance, is exercising the authority that it has, as it is entitled to do.

I know that the vacancy is arising and that they have put in place a procedure for the appointment to the position. I understand that they had a meeting of údarás na hollscoile and decided on a consensus basis not to continue with the requirement for the post-holder to have a proficiency in the Irish language. I can appreciate that Deputy Connolly feels strongly about this but the legislative authority is very clear. Neither the Universities Act nor the University College Galway (Amendment) Act require the proficiency in the Irish language. It is a matter for the governing authority itself to make that decision.

The rationale appears to be that NUIG wants a full national and international opportunity for candidates to come forward to lead the university. That is its entitlement. It is also fair to say that the university has not in any way flinched from its commitment to the Irish language.

I took the trouble to get a briefing on NUIG's strategic plan. At the heart of that plan is a huge commitment to the Irish language and an ambition to become even more effective in using the university's infrastructure to support the growth and spread of the language, particularly in the context of introducing integrated language. This is where language is integrated into the teaching of other subjects, which I find highly attractive as a means of kindling a wider interest in the Irish language by using it in a more practical way. NUIG also has the activities of Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta, which plays a leading role nationally and in the university. It has a coherent leadership in the Irish-speaking community and is responsible for the delivery of programmes, research and other services through the medium of Irish that have been extremely effective and upon which we depend. There are Gaeltacht centres in An Cheathrú Rua, Carna and Gaoth Dobhair and NUIG has its own school, Scoil na dTeangacha, by means of which it is seeking to develop an exemplary bilingual campus. To be fair, NUIG is truly committed to its role as the fountainhead of knowledge research capability in the Irish language. It is fully committed to that but it has taken a decision - as is its entitlement - on the recruitment process relating to its president and I am not going to interfere with that decision.

Cuireann sé fíordhíomá orm é sin a chloisteáil. D'iarr mé ar an Aire gan an freagra céanna a thabhairt dom a thug sé sa litir a scríobh sé chugam roimh an Nollaig. Leag mé amach cúlra na ceiste seo don Aire agus mhínigh mé cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an Ghaeilge don tír agus, sa chomhthéacs seo, do chathair na Gaillimhe agus don Ghaeltacht. D'iarr mé air, i bhfianaise an méid sin, an raibh sé sásta "athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar a chinneadh" agus "brú a chur ar an ollscoil athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an gcinneadh" a rinne siad. Is teachtaireacht dhiúltach amach is amach í an cinneadh atá déanta ag an ollscoil, a maíonn gur ollscoil dhátheangach í. Má táthar ag caint faoi straitéis nó faoi phlean straitéise, agus ag an am céanna ag cur in iúl don domhain mór nach féidir uachtarán le Gaeilge a fháil, níl i gceist ach Tadhg an dá thaobhachas. Ar a laghad, ba cheart uachtarán a fháil a bheidh sásta an Ghaeilge a fhoglaim, cosúil liom féin agus le daoine eile sa Dáil seo. Is eiseamlár iad na daoine sa Dáil atá ag streachailt leis an nGaeilge agus í a chur chun cinn.

Ní mór dom a rá arís gur chuir an freagra a thug an tAire dom fíordhíomá orm. D'éist sé liom, ach níor thuig sé an méid a bhí le rá agam. Tá an chosúlacht ar an scéal nár thuig sé focal ó mo bhéal maidir leis an tábhacht a bhaineann leis an nGaeilge agus leis an eiseamlár atá in Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh mar ollscoil dhátheangach. Go háirithe, ní thuigeann sé an ról atá ag an Rialtas, agus ag an Taoiseach mar chathaoirleach ar choiste Gaeilge an Rialtais, monatóireacht a dhéanamh maidir leis an straitéis 20 bliain. Ní féidir a rá go bhfuil lucht na hollscoile i nGaillimh dáiríre faoin nGaeilge nuair atá teachtaireacht mar seo - nach bhfuil siad sásta an riachtanas Gaeilge a bheith ag an gcéad uachtarán eile den ollscoil a choinneáil, nó nach bhfuil siad in ann uachtarán le Gaeilge a fháil - á sheoladh amach acu. Ar a laghad, ba cheart go mbeadh an ollscoil toilteanach geallúint a fháil ón uachtarán nua go mbeidh sé nó sí sásta an Ghaeilge a fhoglaim.

The Deputy complains that I have not heard her when I say I do not agree with her. It is not that I have not heard the Deputy or have not understood her. However, there is room for legitimate difference in this area. NUIG has huge commitment to the Irish language but it has made its decision. I have not repeated what I said before. I went through many of the commitments the university has made, what is at the heart of its strategic plan and the fact that it has a very detailed execution strategy to make that plan happen, which is really ambitious and something to be welcomed.

This, however, is not to say that a university should confine its selection of its president to solely those who speak Irish. The university is one of the top 250 in the world and it wants to recruit from a much wider potential pool of talent. Who knows who will be selected? The person may well have competence in Irish but the university wants to select from a broader pool. The selected person may learn Irish, as Deputy Connolly advocates, and that would be a great thing. The Deputy is looking for me, as Minister, to issue a direction to an independent authority to reverse a decision it has made on a unanimous basis. That authority, as the governing body of the university, is best placed to decide what is in the best interests of NUIG.

The Deputy is not hearing what I am saying if she feels that I am not hearing what she is saying. I understand what Deputy Connolly is saying but the governing body has taken a different view. Its view is consistent with delivering the support structures to the Irish language that we need. Clearly, the governing body has an obligation and we will be making sure that whoever is selected as president continues to deliver on the university's obligation to the Irish language. That will be a duty of my Department and the Taoiseach will have a role to play in that. The authority has made a decision that, in selecting the president, it wants to have the widest pool of potential candidates available to it. I have no objection to its decision in this regard.