Other Questions

National Parks and Wildlife Service

Bríd Smith

Question:

25. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if a formal request has been made to An Garda Síochána to investigate the loss of weapons and ammunition in the National Parks and Wildlife Service; and if she will ensure that any report on this issue will be made available to the public. [11716/17]

Has a request been made to An Garda Síochána or any outside body with regard to weapons and ammunition held by the National Parks and Wildlife Service? Will the Minister of State ensure any report emanating from such an investigation will be made available to the public?

The Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is not aware of the loss of any high-calibre weapons or ammunition from armouries. As part of its annual asset verification process, my Department undertakes reviews of sensitive assets, including firearms. These are routine and standard asset reconciliation, verification and management exercises. An annual report is being prepared for the Department's management board on foot of the verification exercise conducted in 2016. No loss of weapons or ammunition was identified in that process. The 2017 audit of such firearms, which commenced recently, is being combined with an additional review of the Department’s management procedures in respect of firearms and ammunition. The purpose of this review is to ensure the Department's management procedures and policies with regard to controls on firearms and ammunition remain robust. To date, no issues of asset reconciliation have come to my attention.

The Deputy will appreciate that given the particular security considerations attached to firearms, the Department does not generally publish any details concerning the number of firearms held or their location. If the Department becomes aware of the loss of a firearm, it will of course notify the Garda Síochána.

My question did not drop out of the sky. Members of staff in the National Parks and Wildlife Service have concerns with regard to the arms and ammunition held by the service. The Minister of State has told the House that an audit was carried out in 2016 and the 2017 audit has just commenced. Is this a regular occurrence? Are arms and munitions audited annually? Is the Minister of State satisfied that the 2016 audit has delivered the required level of detail to ensure the Department complies with the Firearms Acts? There is real concern among staff members in the National Parks and Wildlife Service that some arms and munitions are unaccounted for. The Minister of State is telling me that the audit is done and that he is happy with it, but it is not available to the public. Would it be made available to me or anybody else who might submit a freedom of information request in respect of it? I would like to hear the Minister of State reiterate that he is happy with the 2016 audit. When is it likely that the results of the 2017 audit, which has commenced, will be available?

My understanding is that a report is compiled every year. The 2016 audit has already been carried out. I am waiting for that report to come to the management board. All Ministers will get a copy of that. I am sure information will be made available. The Deputy will understand that some information is sensitive. Information relating to the location of arms and ammunition cannot be thrown around. For security reasons, we are not allowed to provide such information. I have been told by officials in my Department that no issues in respect of missing ammunition or equipment arose in 2016. I cannot tell the Deputy more. I am being honest when I say that. In addition to the 2017 review, there will be an examination of procedures to make sure they are carried out in accordance with regulations. I assure the Deputy that I have been assured by my Department that nothing warranting an investigation was found in 2016. The 2017 audit is now taking place. There are further security checks this year because we want to make sure nobody is put in danger. We cannot say what ammunition we have or where that ammunition is located. We cannot say what rifles or guns are held for use by our rangers.

I accept the Minister of State's comment to the effect that he has been informed by his Department that the audit for 2016 is in good condition. However, he has not seen that audit.

When will he see the 2016 and 2017 audits? The Minister responsible needs to look at those audits. There are concerns about the systemic underfunding of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This is a reflection of other issues like the underfunding of the protection of corncrakes and curlews and the mismanagement of moneys going to farmers in the wrong places for the protection of the right birds. I do not have time to go into the detail of the anomalies in how proportionately conservation grants are divvied out to farmers. There are problems with the checks that are done to see how those grants are used. For example, there needs to be an assessment of whether farmers are doing the works that are required to protect species like the corncrake and the curlew and of whether there is enough oversight on the whole project. That some of this work has been outsourced to Birdwatch Ireland, an organisation for which I have great respect, is an indication of the systemic underfunding and understaffing of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. This could have an impact on the oversight of munitions and arms.

The Deputy tabled a simple question about ammunition and guns. I assure her that my officials are telling me that nothing needs to be reported to anybody and that the report which has been done will be before the management board meeting soon. The Deputy also asked about staffing. As she knows, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I have been in the process of employing new rangers since we were appointed to this Department. New rangers are needed. I understand that a massive number of applications have been submitted in response to an advertisement looking for eight new rangers. I hope these jobs will be filled very quickly. The Deputy is quite correct when she suggests that the National Parks and Wildlife Service has a big workload. It has a lot of work to do. It needs more staff. Outgoing staff were not replaced when the economy was not going well. I assure the Deputy that these new staff will be employed and that the positions of those who retire will be filled as well.

Banking Sector

Joan Burton

Question:

26. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress of the investigation into the establishment of a public banking system here by her Department; the likely timeframe for the investigation; the stakeholders involved; the way in which interested parties can make submissions to the investigation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11608/17]

How is the examination of the establishment of a public banking system in this country going? Today has been a very bad day for rural Ireland. We have heard reports indicating that up to 80 post offices are to close. In recent days, we heard the bad news that up to 30 branches of Ulster Bank are to close. Many of those branches are in the Republic of Ireland, most likely along the Border. The creation of another banking structure to allow people in small towns and villages to have a banking service should be of the utmost importance to any Government that claims to have a regional policy. What is happening in this regard? Progress seems to be incredibly slow.

The programme for Government envisages that An Post, the Irish League of Credit Unions and other interested stakeholders will be asked to investigate and propose a new model of community banking, such as the Kiwibank model in New Zealand, which could be delivered through the post office network.

The programme for Government also includes a commitment to investigate the German Sparkassen model for the development of local public banks that operate within well-defined regions.

The role of my Department in this regard is to work with other Departments and stakeholders to examine the feasibility of these and potentially other models of community banking.

My Department is actively working with the Department of Finance to make progress with the commitment in the programme for Government.

Both Departments are following an agreed work programme on this matter. A public consultation was launched on 2 March to seek views on the community banking model. Interested parties are invited to submit their views to my Department by 29 March.

Submissions may be made via my Department's website or by post. Further details are available on the website.

A number of key stakeholders have also been contacted directly and have been invited to meet representatives from the two Departments. Senior officials from both Departments recently met representatives of the German Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation and Irish Rural Link to discuss the viability of the Sparkassen model of local community banking in an Irish context. All views received on this matter will be carefully considered and I anticipate that work on the examination of community banking models will be completed by the middle of the year.

I thank the Minister of State for confirming there has been engagement with both the Sparkassen bank and, perhaps, the German Government, which has been promoting this idea. In my experience as a Minister for over five years, the greatest impediment to this was the Department of Finance, so I am interested to hear the Minister of State say the same Department is now being co-operative. In my time as Minister for Social Protection, I fought very hard and quite successfully to prevent the closure of post offices in the teeth of a very difficult financial position that we inherited. I also set up a small micro-credit scheme operated by credit unions, which has been very successful in helping to keep people from the hands of moneylenders. I also established through the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality, a special help service for people in trouble with their mortgages and banks when it came to debt. All of that was accomplished without any very positive co-operation over a very long period from the Department of Finance. It was actually the contrary.

What is the timeline for this development? We are all aware the life of this Government may be short. One of the reasons rural Ireland is in some difficulty in the meantime is that its financial institutions are disappearing, particularly from smaller towns and villages. Without financial institutions, it is very difficult to have local small and medium enterprises develop. Where will they get credit?

I hope the Deputy and her colleagues on the committee will make a report that can be examined by the Department of Finance and my Department. It is envisaged the report I mentioned will be ready and submitted to the Government some time in the middle of the year. I hope we get plenty of interest. As I said, we have contacted many outside groups seeking for them to make submissions. We have had discussions with Irish Rural Link and the German banking company. I hope many people will make submissions to the Government in order that it can consider them and respond to the issue. It is a part of the programme for Government and I hope it will be honoured.

The Deputy mentioned she was a spokesperson for many years on finance issues and she was a Minister in the previous Government. She knows how the Government works and if people want something to happen, it will happen. I hope this will happen and the Deputy is quite correct. I hope the credit unions will make a very strong submission. They are already a proven entity and are there to support rural communities. They have a role in this as well.

The major problem is that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has made an oligopoly in the State by creating two banks, which he refers to as pillar banks, with 80% of the market. When there are two large beasts with such dominance within a market, they can pretty well determine the functioning of the market by themselves. They can determine location, price and level of service within a market, which is exactly what they are doing. They are withdrawing from less profitable bases because they know they can retain customers as they have no other options. One would imagine a free market political party like Fine Gael would be happy to see extra competitors within the market. We in Sinn Féin have been ranting about this for years and four or five years ago I launched a document on public banking and sent it to the Minister of Finance. It is jaw-droppingly difficult to watch the death of rural Ireland while at the same time credit unions are not allowed to use the €10 billion they have on deposit for the good of the rural economy.

I often think those who do not live in rural Ireland have a kind of funny attitude about doing business there. There are very substantial businesses in rural Ireland, particularly in the west, as the Minister of State knows. The problem for entrepreneurs is not the physical location of a bank but rather getting finance, especially equity finance from venture funds into businesses. The idea that €50,000, €100,000 or the limits of the friendly credit union can really sustain a business does not match my experience of running a business in the west. It was not that big when I was there. What will the Minister of State do through the Western Development Commission investment fund to ensure these people have adequate funding to give money to businesses in the west?

Comments were made about competition between banks and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, creating two banks. He did not create those banks and the banks created the biggest problem we have had since the foundation of the State. Let us not forget about that. The banks brought this country to its knees and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, is the Minister for Finance who saved this country from I do not know what.

This Government has given a commitment and what we need is competition in the market. We need to ensure we make the right decision and whoever is put into the market should survive and be able to provide necessary capital and funding for small businesses throughout the country. We need a bit of competition. Deputy Ó Cuív is correct in saying this is not about banks or post offices but rather people's ability to get money. The Western Development Commission has a substantial fund and at the end of the year I gave it further money because it has a job to do. It does that very well and we must support small businesses. We need to be able to give people capital when they want it.

There is ongoing consultation and I hope all political parties, the public, banks, building societies and those who want to get involved with banking will make a submission. That will give us the opportunity to consider what we can do about banking in this country.

Cistiúchán Roinne

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

27. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gnóthaí Réigiúnacha, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta cén dul chun cinn atá déanta aici maidir le clár caipitil na Roinne don Ghaeltacht agus do na hoileáin a chur i bhfeidhm; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [11358/17]

Is léir ag an am seo cheana féin nach gcaithfidh an tAire Stáit an méid atá leagtha amach do ché Inis Oírr ar an gcé sin i mbliana. Cad iad na pleananna malartacha atá ag an Aire Stáit leis an airgead sin a chaitheamh? Má chaith sé €300,000 ar Inis Oírr, sin an méid a chaith sé. Céard atá sé le dul a dhéanamh agus cén uair a bhfuil sé le dul a fhógairt? Beidh sé ró-dheireanach é a dhéanamh sa dara leath den bhliain.

Ag tagairt do na hoileáin ar dtús, is féidir liom a dheimhniú don Teachta go bhfuil iarrtha ag mo Roinn ar údaráis áitiúla ábhartha moltaí maidir le tograí caipitil a bhféadfaí a chur i gcrích in 2017 a chur faoi bhráid an Aire d’fhonn iad bheith comh-mhaoinithe ag mo Roinn. Ach moltaí na n-údarás áitiúla a bheith faighte, déanfar iad a mheas i gcomhthéacs an tsoláthair airgid atá ar fáil dom agus na n-éileamh ar an soláthar sin.

Anuas air sin, tá iarrtha agam ar Chomhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe dul ar aghaidh i mbliana leis an obair phleanála don fhorbairt ar ché Inis Oírr i gContae na Gaillimhe. Faoin socrú idir an comhairle contae agus an Roinn, cuirfear tús in athuair leis an obair chomhairleoireachta i ndáil leis an tionscadal a phleanáil. Tá iarrtha agam chomh maith ar oifigigh mo Roinne dul i dteagmháil leis an gcomhairle contae maidir leis an réamh-obair a bheidh i gceist chun an fhorbairt ar chéim 3 de ché an Chalaidh Mhóir in Inis Meáin a thabhairt chun cinn i mbliana.

Maidir le clár caipitil don Ghaeltacht, cuireann mo Roinn cúnamh ar fáil a bhfuil sé mar chuspóir aige an Ghaeilge a threisiú mar theanga phobail agus teaghlaigh sa Ghaeltacht i gcomhréir le cuspóirí na Roinne agus na Straitéise 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge.  Is féidir cúnamh a chur ar fáil le cabhrú leis na costais a bhaineann le háiseanna pobail agus teanga a athchóiriú nó a fhorbairt agus le trealamh áirithe a sholáthar. Is coistí agus eagrais phobalbhunaithe a fheidhmíonn trí Ghaeilge sa Ghaeltacht a aithnítear go hiondúil faoin gclár. Tá buiséad de €1.422 milliún ar fáil do na tograí seo in 2017.

Ar ndóigh, tá clár caipitil ag Údarás na Gaeltachta chomh maith le haghaidh fostaíocht sa Ghaeltacht a chaomhnú agus a fhorbairt. Fuarthas €1 milliún breise i maoiniú caipitil aonuaire don údarás mar chuid de Mheastacháin Athbhreithnithe 2016 agus bhí áthas orm gur coinníodh an leibhéal maoinithe seo do 2017. Dar ndóigh, bhí mé an-sásta gur éirigh liom allúntas breise de €2.4 milliún a fháil do bhuiséad caipitil an údaráis anuraidh chomh maith. Táim sásta go gcuideoidh an cistiú breise seo leis an údarás poist a choinneáil ina chliantchuideachtaí sa Ghaeltacht agus tuilleadh infheistíochta a mhealladh go ceantair Ghaeltachta.  Tuigim go bhfuil sé mar sprioc ag an údarás 500 post úr a chruthú sa Ghaeltacht in 2017.

Maidir leis an údarás, de bharr nach gcaithfear an t-airgead Leader, beidh an tAire Stáit in ann teacht ar chiste mór ansin freisin ag deireadh na bliana agus beidh sé in ann breathnú amach don údarás. Idir an dá linn, an bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag rá go bhfuil sé tar éis iarraidh ar na comhairlí contae pleananna gur fiú €1.5 milliún iad i mbliana a chur chuige maidir le tograí oileánda taobh amuigh den dhá ché. Fáiltím roimh an rud atá ráite faoin dhá ché. Ag glacadh leis go gcaithfidh an tAire Stáit €500,000 ar chéanna Inis Meáin agus Inis Oírr - tá €100,000 cheana féin ag Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe d'Inis Meáin - ó thaobh pleanáil de i mbliana, an €1.5 milliún atá i gceist aige a chaitheamh ar thograí beaga oileánda i mbliana? An mbeidh scéim na mbóithre áise ar ais i mbliana? An mbeidh scéim na mbóithre portaigh agus scéim na gcéibheanna beaga ar ais i mbliana freisin? Tá farasbharr airgid ag an Aire Stáit agus tá farasbharr ollmhór airgid ag an Aire Stáit taobh leis agus ag an Aire féin de bharr nach gcaithfidh Leader an t-airgead atá ann i mbliana?

Tá mé ag coinneáil súil ar an mbuiséad agus beidh sé caite i mbliana. Déanfaimid cinnte é sin a dhéanamh. Tá iarratas curtha amach do na comhairlí áitiúil ag iarraidh cláir do na hoileáin. Beimid sásta an chuid is mó den airgead a íoc agus a chaitheamh ar na hoileáin. Chaith muid €600,000 an bhliain seo caite. Tá muid ag fanacht do na tograí go léir ó na hoileáin agus beidh muid ag breathnú ansin ar na figiúirí. Ó thaobh scéim na mbóithre áise agus scéim na gcéibheanna beaga, níl aon pleananna ann ag an am seo chun breathnú orthu. Ag an am céanna, i gcomhthéacs an méid airgid atá le caitheamh agus atá caite i rith na mbliana, déanfaimid athbhreithniú ar an gcinneadh sin. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil a lán bóithre ann atá go dona agus nach bhfuil faoi chumhacht an chomhairle contae, ach ag an am seo tá muid ag breathnú ar na hoileáin amháin.

Ar chuir an tAire Stáit treoir airgid leis an iarratas chuig na comhairlí contae ó thaobh na n-oileán de. Ar ndúirt sé leo, "Tá an méid seo airgid ann; cuir moltaí chugam" nó an ndúirt sé moltaí amháin a chur chuige. Céard faoi na bóithre pobail agus na bóithre portaigh? Tá fadhb ollmhór ag daoine dul isteach sna portaigh. Tá a fhios ag an Aire Stáit faoi bhóthair portaigh Sheana na bhFáthach ach tá go leor coda eile. An mbeidh an tAire Stáit sásta breathnú ar chomhmhaoiniú a dhéanamh ar bhóthair Dhoire Fhatharta i mbliana má bhíonn airgead fágtha ag an Aire sinsearach leath bealach tríd an bhliain agus má bhíonn sí sásta é a chur ar fáil don Aire Stáit? Beidh airgead fágtha aici. An mbeidh an tAire Stáit ag breathnú ar na bóithre straitéiseacha? Má thuig mé ceart é, dúirt sé go mbeidh sé sásta breathnú níos deireanaí sa mbliain ar na céibheanna, ach beidh sé cineál deireanach, agus ar na bóithre áise. Cuireadh faitíos orm go mbeidh sé ró-dheireanach sa mbliain. Seo í an fhadhb. An dtuigeann an tAire Stáit an fhadhb? Céard atá sé le dul a dhéanamh le déanamh cinnte go ndéanfar na cinntí sách luath i mbliana leis an airgead a chaitheamh? Mar is eol don Aire Stáit agus don té atá in aice leis, tar éis deireadh na bliana níor caitheadh oiread is pingin den €28 milliún a thug siad do na comhairlí contae roimh dheireadh na bliana.

Tá a fhios agam nuair a bhí an Teachta ina Aire go bhfuair Comhairle Chontae na Gaillimhe airgead deireanach sa bhliain freisin agus bhí sé deacair é a chaitheamh.

Sin ceann de na fadhbanna.

Tá mé cinnte go mbeidh an t-airgead caite. Nuair atá na freagraí faighte ar ais againn ó na comhairlí áitiúla ó thaobh na n-oileán, beidh níos mó eolais agam ansin chun cinneadh a dhéanamh agus chun a bheith cinnte go mbeidh an t-airgead caite. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil a lán rudaí sa Ghaeltacht nach mbaineann leis na hoileáin ar a bheadh muid in ann é a chaitheamh. Déanaim geallúint don Teachta go mbeidh sé caite. Tá sé sin cinnte.

Rural Development Programme Funding

Martin Heydon

Question:

28. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when she expects to launch the town and village renewal scheme 2017; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11547/17]

On the launch of the town and village renewal scheme for 2017, the 2016 scheme was very successful and a great way to re-energise our rural towns and villages. Many of the villages in Kildare South are keen to get their applications in for the new scheme. It was great to have the Minister in south Kildare yesterday, when she visited a number of the areas where funding went last year. Does the Minister envisage any change to the eligibility criteria for the 2017 scheme and what areas of development will the 2017 scheme focus on?

The action plan for rural development, which was launched on 23 January, contains a number of measures which have the objective of rejuvenating Ireland’s rural towns and villages to make them more attractive places in which to live and work, and to increase their tourism potential. As part of the 2017 budget, I have secured funding of €12 million for an enhanced town and village renewal scheme this year. I intend to launch the first phase of this scheme in the coming weeks, with a focus on improving the economic development of our towns and villages.

To ensure the maximum impact of the scheme, I am exploring how best we can align this scheme with other initiatives across Government which can also support the rejuvenation of rural towns and villages. The town and village renewal scheme will be funded by my Department and administered by the local authorities. Full details of the scheme will be made available when the scheme is launched. I also intend to launch a second phase of the scheme later this year. This will be a pilot project to encourage residential occupancy in rural towns and villages. The pilot will be launched in the second half of the year, when details of the scheme have been finalised in consultation with relevant Departments.

I very much welcome the fact that there will be an enhanced scheme. In her response the Minister outlined some of the focus on the areas. Last year, €380,000 came to County Kildare to Athy, Kildare town, Ballymore Eustace, Timolin, Ballitore and Prosperous. The €95,000 towards the upgrade of the town square in Athy is crucial as is the €95,000 towards a framework plan for Kildare town. However, in the smaller villages such as Ballitore, which the Minister visited yesterday, the Tanyard project is a key example of a village that will benefit greatly from the investment. Another example is Ballymore Eustace, with €45,000 towards the landscape enhancement, €20,000 towards a feature entrance to Timolin and €100,000 for the plan in Prosperous. When will applications for 2017 have to be in for the rural communities that have seen the projects I have outlined and which are enviously planning their own projects for the year ahead?

I will launch the scheme shortly. I was delighted to visit Ballitore yesterday with the Deputy and see first hand where my Department's money is being spent and the major positive impact it has on rural communities. The Tanyard consists of three historic masonry tannery buildings. My Department was able to award €100,000 to the project under the rural economic development zone, REDZ, scheme. As the Deputy said, the aim of the project is to refurbish the Tanyard to make it a focal point for the village of Ballitore. As the Deputy has shown, many shops in the village have closed over decades.

This is an opportunity. A vibrant community has come together, worked with the local authorities and put in an application saying it will make the difference in their community. I am delighted we have been able to support it. It is due to the prudent management of the economy by the Fine Gael led Government since 2011 which, coupled with the sacrifices made by the Irish people, has led to our economic recovery. Were it not for the economic recovery, we would not be in the happy position in which we are able to start to invest in our towns and villages.

I thank the Minister. I agree, that is where it is at.

Hopefully the Ministers in control of the purse strings will allow the Minister greater latitude in the finances we have to spend on this scheme in the year ahead. I would be a great advocate for where the money has already gone to, as outlined, such as to villages like Ballitore that have been allocated €125,000. Similarly we have communities in towns and villages like Castledermot, Rathangan and Kilcullen looking at the potential ways they can address the rejuvenation of their own towns and villages with the assistance of this scheme. If the focus remains on economic development linked in with the vibrant heart of a rural community, is there any specific advice the Minister would have for those communities as they look to put together their key projects?

I will launch a new round of the town and village renewal scheme shortly and the criteria are currently being finalised. The emphasis again will be very much on supporting innovative projects that support economic regeneration and can make a real and lasting difference to our local towns and villages. It will also be about communities coming forward. I have not yet seen a good project that did not get funding. It may not all come from one place; people can get funding from different sources and a good project will always get funding. I have seen that many times over the years. My advice to people is to look at what is best suited to their community and what is going to work in their town. Nobody knows this better than the local people. They should do this in conjunction with their local authority to work together. It is about working together that makes the difference and about working collaboratively.

CLÁR Programme

Peter Burke

Question:

29. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when the 2017 CLÁR programme will open for applications; her views on the benefits this scheme can bring to rural communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11418/17]

On 6 October 2016, The Minister of State, Deputy Ring announced the opening of the CLÁR programme. It had been closed for business since 2009. We are all aware that he also presided over the sports capital programme. He re-opened it in 2012, as that programme also then was closed for business. Rural areas have had a huge benefit from this funding and CLÁR has been especially beneficial to depopulated areas that needed small infrastructure projects such as school or road safety issues. Perhaps the Minister of State could outline the scheme for the coming year.

CLÁR is a targeted investment programme which provides funding for small scale infrastructural projects in rural areas which have suffered the greatest levels of population decline. I have secured an allocation of €5 million for CLÁR for 2017 and my objective is to maximise the impact of the funding that is available for the benefit of communities in CLÁR areas. I will announce details shortly of the measures to be funded under the programme this year.

In 2016, the CLÁR programme provided funding to over 650 projects for the development of local infrastructure such as safety lights at rural schools, better road markings and pedestrian crossings close to community facilities, the provision of play areas and multi-use games facilities, as well as support for access roads to public amenities. Details of the individual projects approved under each measure of the 2016 CLÁR programme are available on my Department's website.

While often modest in nature, these interventions can and do play a significant role in improving the lives of the people who live in CLÁR areas. They not only make the areas physically better places in which to live and work, they also help to facilitate better community engagement and social networking.

I welcome the additional €5 million for 2017. The critical aspect of this funding is that it makes rural Ireland an attractive place to live. It provides key infrastructure into areas where there has been a deficit. In my constituency, County Westmeath received an allocation of €214,000 last year while County Longford received €237,000 for key infrastructure projects. I must compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, on the way the funding was distributed in a fair and balanced manner. During his term of presiding over sports capital grants, there were never any issues around transparency or the way money was allocated. It is great to see small towns and villages benefiting from this funding. Under A Programme for a Partnership Government we need to emphasise the importance of rural Ireland and areas that have been neglected due to the very harsh recession. People have given up so much and sacrificed so much - as the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has said - and this programme breathes life back into those areas and ensures we are now delivering from our strong economy to improve our society and to bring compassion back into these areas. It is very important.

I am aware that the Fianna Fáil-led Government in 2006 established criteria for this scheme and unfortunately no part of Kildare was designated under CLÁR then. If there was to be a review of the process then perhaps the Minister of State might consider that while there is a perception of affluence in County Kildare, there are pockets and areas where we struggle and have challenges. It is very important. CLÁR is the kind of scheme that could target specific cases and projects in those areas. I ask that the Department would give consideration to a review of the areas that are designated for CLÁR and that places such as Kildare that do not have a designated area could then become eligible should the right project fit and come forward.

I thank Deputy Burke for his comments on the sports capital funding. He is quite correct that we gave a commitment to Government that we would run two programmes but we actually ran three programmes, in very difficult times. I am very proud of the fact that there was nobody giving out about distribution of funds because we did it pro rata and everybody got their fair share of the national cake. It was the first time it had ever been done and I do not believe it can, or should, be changed on this occasion. The sports capital should be distributed pro rata, as I did it, and everybody gets their fair share. There may be problems within the counties themselves, but at least every county gets its fair share of the national cake.

The Deputy is correct that the CLÁR programme was opened in 2006 by Fianna Fáil and it was closed by the same Government. I was glad to be able to open it again last year.

It was a long time to open it.

I am sorry about that but it was the truth. I was glad to be able to open the programme again, like the sports capital grants.

With regard to the modest funds, I got great satisfaction from the number of schools throughout the State that actually wrote to the Department afterwards. The funding was small - €700 or €800 - for road marking, playgrounds and simple things in and around schools for school safety. I will leave that measure in place again for this year.

I thank Deputy Heydon for his comments on Kildare. He is correct that the county is not in the CLÁR programme and I need to review that. I will ask my departmental officials about it. I do not want to find that areas might be taken out from the programme. I want to see more areas being brought in. Maybe we should change the scope of the CLÁR programme to bring in more people. I know the Acting Chair, Deputy Durkan, would not object to Kildare being brought in to the CLÁR programme.

We have had a huge amount of schemes such as the sports capital programme, the town and village renewal scheme, the REDZ programme and the rural recreation scheme that have been targeted at rural Ireland. This is very welcome and we need to continue with this progress to ensure that we are delivering for these areas. It is amazing to go through small villages such as Multyfarnham, Moate, Ballinalee and Granard that have received huge funding that provides key infrastructure into these areas. It is also noteworthy that when funding is provided, communities can add funding to it from their own local authority to undertake real, large-scale projects in their areas. One can see safety measures such as pedestrian crossings outside schools and key measures that provide huge infrastructure for areas. I welcome the efforts being made by the team in the Department and I hope we can continue with this progress to ensure we have good news for rural communities.

I thank Deputy Burke for his comments and he is quite correct, and I also compliment the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. When the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, and I went into the Department this year we fought very hard to get extra funding and I must compliment the Minister. It took a number of weeks to get our funding in place but we have now opened a lot of schemes that had not been open for many years. The Deputy is right about the small investment in rural areas. People forget that for every euro we put into any community it means that somebody has a job and is employed. The funding creates employment as well as providing a modest community centre and so on. Where the funding is put in place it creates a lot of jobs, for which I am glad. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, again because we went in and we negotiated but the difference was that she brought the team with her, and the team fought with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. We did not win every little battle but we got a fair bit of funding this year. On the CLÁR programme for which I have €5 million, I am hoping - and I am depending on the Minister - that I will be spending more than €5 million.

National Heritage Plan

Niamh Smyth

Question:

30. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs her plans on publishing a national heritage plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11606/17]

The Government promised a national heritage plan in A Programme for a Partnership Government. The Minister has promised to publish a national heritage plan on numerous occasions in this House. When does the Minister plan to publish a plan and will she make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The national heritage plan 2002-07 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. A Programme for a Partnership Government envisages the development and publication of 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. I intend to deploy a framework similar to the one used successfully in the context of Culture 2025 and my officials are working on developing that approach.

Work has been initiated by my Department regarding the scope and terms of reference for the process. As the Deputy will be aware, the heritage sector is composed of many different sub-sectors with differing needs. It is intended that a formal engagement with key stakeholders and implementation partners will play a central role in the development of such a policy, given the many strands of our national heritage.

In the context of the foregoing, my Department is drafting Ireland’s third national biodiversity action plan 2017-21. The plan is being developed in co-operation with an interdepartmental biodiversity working group and the Biodiversity Forum, which represents various interested sectors of society. I invited the views of the public on the draft plan on 21 December 2016 and the consultation window closed on 9 February 2017. Some 90 submissions were received and these will be published on the Department’s website, with a summary of the views provided and with comment on the main strands of the submissions made.

A national heritage plan is badly needed by the heritage sector, particularly given the cuts it has suffered since 2011. The Heritage Council funding was cut by almost 90% between 2011 and 2015 and funding cuts to the National Monuments Service have badly hurt that organisation and its ability to conduct its work. While Fianna Fáil welcomes the recent funding that has been announced, funding alone cannot save Ireland's struggling heritage sector. If we want to see our heritage sector thrive, we need to plan for how best to support it. A national heritage plan should listen to the needs and policy goals of the organisations active in the heritage sector and find a meaningful way to address those needs. It should also contain detailed proposals as to the levels and mechanisms through which funding should be provided to heritage projects and centres throughout the country. Doing so will require co-ordination and co-operation between multiple Departments and a vision for the future. The basic purpose of the plan should be to set out clear priorities in the heritage sector for the coming years and make a commitment to achieve these. Will the Minister elaborate further on her vision for co-ordinating that plan?

A lot of good work is ongoing in the heritage division within my Department. At the end of January, I, along with the CEO of the Heritage Council, Michael Starrett, launched the 2017 funding schemes which fund the conservation and protection of heritage buildings. Of course, there were cuts to the Heritage Council but I am glad I have been able to increase funding and then increase it again this year. The Heritage Council does a tremendous amount of good work in terms of working with communities and engaging with their heritage through community projects, and heritage week is extremely successful. A number of heritage projects have been funded throughout the country and these create employment in the conservation and construction industries while at the same time helping to regenerate urban and rural areas.

To give some examples with which the Deputy will be familiar, the restored gate lodge in Castleblayney received €30,000 under the structures at risk fund. This has been completed and the gate lodge has been wonderfully restored and is now in full use. Cavan and Belturbet parish churches and the parochial house in Cootehill are important local projects which have received funding under the built heritage investment scheme. I agree with the Deputy there is a need to take a collaborative approach to developing the heritage plan.

As the Minister knows, the heritage sector makes a huge contribution to Irish life. The Heritage Council has published reports suggesting that for every €1 spent on local heritage projects, tourism is boosted by €4.40. The Golden Mile projects and the heritage offices in many local authority areas are very good at stretching very small funds that make a massive impact in small communities. The heritage sector provides 25,000 full-time jobs, giving a major boost to the Irish economy, and it supports some 40,000 jobs indirectly. It represents 2% of Ireland's employment and these jobs comprise a variety of roles, including those related to maintenance, construction, administration and tourism in our local authorities. Many of these jobs are in rural areas, which are also covered by the Minister's Department, and support the economically disadvantaged.

The bottom line is that I feel very strongly that a coherent plan must be put in place for the heritage sector, which, like our arts offices, can stretch very little funding to make a massive difference in local communities. However, it needs a plan that has vision and that co-ordinates the many other departments within our local authorities.

As I said, it is intended that a formal engagement with key stakeholders and implementation partners will play a central role in the development of such a policy, given the many strands of our national heritage, both natural and built. We will be working with them very closely and we welcome submissions and ideas from the House, the Oireachtas joint committee and all the different stakeholders.

I agree with the Deputy that heritage is wonderful for local communities. I see great opportunities between the Action Plan for Rural Development and improving the heritage offering in our local communities. Of course, the Deputy is familiar with Bailieborough courthouse. My Department was able to provide €100,000 for the renovation of the courthouse and the old Bridewell jail. There are great opportunities to marry heritage and rural development, and that is the type of innovative project this funding will support. The project is putting Bailieborough courthouse into great use for the future and there are great plans there.

Arts Funding

Peter Burke

Question:

31. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when she expects to launch stream 3 of the arts and culture capital scheme for smaller-scale projects following the recent announcement of the successful applications under streams 1 and 2 of the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11357/17]

After the success of streams 1 and 2 of the arts and culture capital scheme, I would be grateful if the Minister would outline when she intends to open stream 3 of this funding. It is very important to look at the smaller areas that we can fund under arts and culture, especially in rural areas.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. I recently announced details of grants of more than €9 million in capital funding for arts and culture centres throughout the country. This capital scheme is the most significant investment in arts and cultural centres in a decade and will target investment at a range of different facilities, including arts centres, theatres, galleries and museums, as well as artists’ studios and creative spaces. I will be opening a further stream of funding under this scheme in the coming weeks and this will provide smaller capital grants of up to €20,000 to not-for-profit organisations with a defined arts and cultural remit. While the amounts involved are relatively modest, the grants will in themselves make a huge difference to individual organisations and will be of particular benefit to local cultural centres throughout rural Ireland. I will make an announcement once the scheme is open to applications.

This kind of investment is at the centre of what I am trying to achieve through Creative Ireland and the Action Plan for Rural Development. The fourth pillar of the action plan is Fostering Culture and Creativity in Rural Communities. The key objectives of this pillar are: to increase access to the arts and enhance cultural facilities in rural communities; to develop and enhance further culture and creativity in rural Ireland through the establishment of culture teams and creativity hubs as part of the Creative Ireland programme; and to promote the Irish language as a key resource in Gaeltacht and other rural communities. In addition, a dedicated budget of €1 million has been allocated to the local authorities towards the implementation of initiatives under pillar 2 of the Creative Ireland programme, Enabling Creativity in Every Community.

The Minister may remember when, on her visit to Moate with Councillor John Dolan last year, she stopped at a number of locations including Dún na Sí, met the Moate performing and visual arts group and Moate Action Group and saw the great work that was done in the town in recent years. The town has been benefiting from funding from this Government. During the Minister's visit to Moate performing and visual arts group, she saw the huge facilities that need to be upgraded at the relevant location. There are a number of students and staff who are doing their very best to bring culture into the lives of younger people and back into the area and put on many performances. The club was established in 1998 and prior to that was an offshoot of another group established in 1981. The Minister will remember the performance the students gave on a very cold afternoon. She could see at first hand the passion they had in giving that performance. We need to bring culture into areas like that. Areas like that will benefit from this measure. It is good to see that schemes like this can benefit and apply under one of these measures.

I was delighted to visit Moate last year. There is an excellent local action group in place down there that is doing powerful work in the town. I have used Moate as an example of how communities can come together within a town because what they are doing in Moate is wonderful. I was delighted to be able to support them with funding under the town and village renewal scheme. As the Deputy said, I met the Moate performing and visual arts club and the local dance troupe - full of young performers. They put on a wonderful show. As the Deputy said, it was a very cold day. It is a great community facility and they take great pride in it. They had all of their pictures and awards displayed from down through the years. There was a vast array of costumes as well.

That is the sort of community-based facility in rural Ireland that I want to see supported as part of the small scale grant scheme that I will be announcing shortly. The third stream applications will be much less onerous than the applications for the first and second streams in order to make it easier for the local community groups to apply. I would certainly encourage them to get the forms filled out and get them in as soon as the scheme opens. Those are the types of facilities that I want to see supported. That type of vibrant community-based facility is at the heart of the community. One sees young children learning how to dance and families coming together and meeting. It is wonderful. We want to support that kind of vibrant community right across the country.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.