Other Questions

Caiteachas Ranna

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

71. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta cé mhéad airgid bhreise atá curtha ar fáil don Ghaeilge agus don Ghaeltacht ó bunaíodh an rialtas seo; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [2757/18]

Tá ceist fíorshimplí go deo agam an t-am seo. Le hais an méid airgid a cuireadh ar fáil don Ghaeltacht, don Ghaeilge agus do na hoileáin sa bhliain 2016, cé mhéad airgid bhreise atá ar fáil anois i Meastacháin na Roinne Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta don bhliain 2018 i gcomhlíonadh na ngealltanas a thug an Rialtas i gclár an Rialtais agus sa chomhaontú a rinneadh le Fianna Fáil roimh a bunaíodh an Rialtas?

Is tríd an bpróiseas Meastacháin agus cáinaisnéise a dhéantar leithdháileadh ar an soláthar airgid a chuirtear ar fáil ar bhonn bhliantúil do mo Roinn agus, go deimhin, do na Ranna Rialtais go léir.  Léiríonn na sonraí sa tábla seo a leanas an maoiniú a cuireadh ar fáil don Ghaeilge, don Ghaeltacht agus do na hoileáin ó 2016:

Bliain

 Caipiteal

Reatha

Iomlán

2016

€16,687,000

€46,867,000

€63,554,000

2017

€10,967,000

€47,852,000

€58,819,000

2018

€10,467,000

€52,128,000

€62,595,000

Tá allúntas de €62.6 milliún ina iomláine ar fáil don Ghaeilge agus don Ghaeltacht in 2018 i gcomparáid le €58.8 milliún do 2017.  Allúntas €63.6 milliún a cuireadh ar fáil do 2016.  Ní áiríonn figiúirí 2016 an €2.4 milliún breise a cuireadh ar fáil i gcaipiteal breise d’Údarás na Gaeltachta. Ní áiríonn figiúirí 2017 an €2.61 milliún breise a cuireadh ar fáil don Ghaeilge agus don Ghaeltacht ó fho-mhíreanna eile na Roinne.

Tharla laghdú ar an allúntas caipitil le haghaidh 2017 de bharr go raibh dhá mhórthogra caipitil aonuaire le maoiniú ag an Roinn in 2016.  Mar is eol don Teachta, b'iad sin togra Ché Inis Oírr agus Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh.  Cuireadh €6 mhilliún ar fáil d’oibreacha forbartha ar Ché Inis Oírr in 2016, a úsáideadh le héilimh fhadthéarmacha ó Chomhairle Chontae na Gaeillimhe i leith forbairt Ché an Chalaidh Mhóir ar Inis Meáin agus forbairt Ché Chill Rónáin a shocrú, agus suim de €2 mhilliún don fhorbairt sin in 2017. Bhí soláthar caipitil ar leith de €1.9 milliún curtha ar fáil chomh maith i Meastacháin 2016 chun Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh i Ros Muc a fhorbairt. Críochnaíodh an togra sin le linn na bliana 2016 agus ní raibh gá le soláthar a dhéanamh ina leith ó shin in 2017. Maidir le caiteachas reatha, tá ardú ar allúntas mo Roinne ó bunaíodh an Rialtas seo. Cuirfidh an t-ardú seo ar ár gcumas tuilleadh acmhainní a chur i dtreo fhorfheidhmiú na straitéise 20 bliain don Ghaeilge agus an phróisis pleanála teanga ach go háirithe.

Is dócha gur ormsa atá sé, ach bíonn sé deacair scaití an méid ata á rá ag an Aire Stáit a thuiscint. An féidir leis dhá fhigiúr a thabhairt dom? Cé mhéad a bhí i gcaipiteal agus i Meastacháin na bliana 2016? Cé mhéad atá i gcaipiteal agus i bhfigiúirí reatha na bliana 2018? Iarraim ar an Aire Stáit an dá cheist shimplí sin a fhreagairt gan aon dul timpeall air. Céard a bhí i gcaiteachas reatha caipitiúil na bliana 2016? Céard atá i gcaiteachas reatha caipitiúil na bliana 2018? Is cuma céard le haghaidh a bhí sé.

Mar a bhí mé ag rá níos luaithe, tá na sonraí agam agus tá mé sásta iad a chur ar an taifead. Sa bhliain 2016, bhí €16,687,000 ar fáil faoin gceannteideal "caipiteal" agus €46,867,000 ar fáil faoin gceannteideal "reatha", rud a chiallaigh go raibh "iomlán" de €63,554,000 i gceist sa bhliain sin. Sa bhliain 2017-----

Baineann mo cheist leis an mbliain 2018.

Tá sé sin all right. Sa bhliain 2018, tá €10,467,000 ar fáil faoin gceannteideal "caipiteal" agus €52,128,000 ar fáil faoin gceannteideal "reatha", rud a chiallaíonn go bhfuil "iomlán" de €62,595,000 i gceist i mbliana.

An bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag rá liom, seachas an ghealltanas a thug an Rialtas a chomhlíonadh, go bhfuil laghdú de thart ar €1 milliún tagtha ar an gcistíocht don Ghaeilge, don Ghaeltacht agus do na hoileáin le dhá bhliain anuas? An bhfuil an ceart agam? Is cuma cén leithscéal a thugann an tAire Stáit, nach iad sin na figiúirí?

Cé go bhfuil an ceart ag an Teachta, tá sé ag fágáil amach na tograí móra ina cheantar féin. Labhair mé níos luaithe faoi Ché an Chalaidh Mhóir ar Inis Meáin agus Cé Chill Rónáin, a bhí á shocrú ar chostas €2 mhilliún sa bhliain 2016. Bhí breis airgid ar fáil freisin fá choinne na dtograí Ché Inis Oírr agus Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh trí chomóradh 2016. Tá mé ag dúil go mór leis an mbliain seo chugainn. Tá mé dóchasach go mbeidh breis airgid sa bhuiséad. Mar is eol don Teach, tá an bhuiséad ag teacht arís. Beidh airgead breise - caipiteal agus reatha - ar fáil fá choinne na Gaeltachta amach anseo.

Creative Ireland Programme

James Browne

Question:

72. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the way in which the Creative Ireland programme will utilise the National Opera House, Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2809/18]

Will the Minister make a statement as to how the Creative Ireland programme will utilise the National Opera House in Wexford?

The Creative Ireland programme is a cross-Government initiative to mainstream culture and creativity in the life of the nation and to promote individual, community and national well-being. It aims to put creativity at the centre of public policy. While the programme is under the aegis of my Department, its implementation will primarily be through and in collaboration with existing agencies, local authorities, cultural institutions, State bodies and other cultural partners.

The National Opera House in Wexford already plays a huge role in the creative and cultural life of the nation as well as being an anchor resource in County Wexford and the south east.  Through its existing role, the opera house contributes to the aims of the Creative Ireland programme and I have no doubt that engagement will deepen over the coming years as it develops its services with the support of my Department, the Arts Council, Wexford County Council and others partners. The focus of the Creative Ireland programme in 2017 was on delivering ten major initiatives, further details of which are available on the website at www.creative.ireland.ie. The focus in 2018 will be on implementing the children's youth plan and the local authority culture and creativity strategies among other initiatives. There will be plenty of scope for the National Opera House in Wexford to play its part in that process.

I am sure the Deputy has the Creative Ireland Wexford culture and creativity plan document. The foreword states:

Wexford is a unique and creative county with a rich cultural heritage. County Wexford is known for its Opera Festival, its world renowned writers, its creative thinkers, its new generation of designers and its community of talented artists, musicians and performers.

The Opera House is mentioned further on in the main body of the text. We all know the opera festival which takes place in Wexford and I have no doubt that the opera house will be used in conjunction with the local authority also.

The National Opera House in Wexford is hugely important in our county. The real champions are those who worked for the past 66 years to build up the National Opera House as a cultural icon nationally and internationally. They had the vision to drive on and create a purpose-built opera house in Ireland and they kept that going. There has been significant public investment in the construction of the opera house with €31 million provided by Fianna Fáil-led governments. It was officially opened in 2008 by the then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. The investment is very much reflected in the outstanding architectural design of the opera house building. I am not sure if the Minister has been there, but the building is stunning. It is Ireland's only purpose-built opera house and it constitutes a legacy for generations to come. How exactly do Creative Ireland and the Minister intend to take advantage of this first-class venue's potential to attract national and international events and audiences and to promote Wexford itself?

I have not been to the opera house yet and will not pretend I have, although I have seen photographs. I like the opera and I intend to visit, I hope soon. Under my predecessor, the Department provided a grant for €250,000 for 2018. The Department also provides occasional capital grants to upgrade equipment at the opera house due to its significance. The Arts Council is, of course, the main funder of the annual opera festival which takes place there.

Creative Ireland Wexford's plan is integral to the use of the opera house into the future. There are plans to expand the opera house which the Department is open to discussing. The local authority has received €64,000 this year. That is a doubling of the funding to the local authority and, as such, it should be able to use it also. Under pillar 2, the Creative Ireland programme does not prescribe what we do with the opera house and I am sure that the local authority, which is the primary instrument of community engagement for the programme, will utilise Wexford Opera House in the best way.

It is not in my gift to issue an official invitation to the Minister but I am sure the committee in Wexford would be delighted to have her down. Her predecessor visited the opera festival in 2014. In part, I am trying shamelessly to promote Wexford and the opera house itself, but I have highlighted with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, the fact that Wexford has massive unmet potential. One of its key strengths is the opera house but we have a great deal of other potential there also. I wanted to highlight the opera house to the Minister to keep it on the agenda.

I have every intention to visit the opera house in Wexford. Other creative work is going on in the county, including Living Arts, the arts in schools programme in partnership with the Wexford Arts Centre and contemporary artists, and Film Wexford which seems to have taken off and aims to attract film companies to Wexford locations. There is also the Graves & Company project to catalogue and prepare for digitisation a large number of original documents relating to a prominent shipping company in New Ross which was linked to emigration to Savannah, Georgia, from the 1840s to the 1860s. That is a bit of history for the Deputy. There are a lot of creative programmes in place with the culture team driven by the local authority. I hope and have no doubt that they will use the opera house into the future.

Údarás na Gaeltachta Properties

Catherine Connolly

Question:

74. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the status of the empty buildings held by Údarás na Gaeltachta. [3088/18]

With the permission of the House, I will take Question No. 74, in the name of Deputy Connolly, at this point. Tógfaimid an cheist seo as ord ós rud é go bhfuil cruinniú ag an Teachta Connolly mar Chathaoirleach ar Chomhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán.

Ba mhaith liom mo leithscéal a ghabháil leis an Teachta Clare Daly ós rud é go bhfuil mé ag cur isteach uirthi. Baineann an cheist seo leis na foirgnimh de chuid Údarás na Gaeltachta atá folamh faoi láthair. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil beagáinín dul chun cinn déanta, ach tuigim go bhfuil níos mó ná 100 foirgneamh fós folamh. Cén fáth an bhfuil siad folamh? Tá cuid acu i gceantair Gaeltachta ar fud na tíre folamh ó bhí 2002 ann.

Cé gur cuireadh an cheist seo trí Bhéarla, tá mé sásta í a fhreagairt trí Ghaeilge. Tuigim, de réir na sonraí atá faighte agam ó Údarás na Gaeltachta, go bhfuil 106 ionad iomlán faoi chumhacht an údaráis folamh faoi láthair. Tá 63 de na hionaid sin fóirsteanach fá choinne na comhlachtaí agus tá siad ar fáil faoi láthair. Is féidir liom an 106 ionad folamh a bhriseadh síos thar na contaetha Gaeltachta a leanas: Dún na nGall, 46; Maigh Eo, 19; Gaillimh, 32; Ciarraí, 7; Corcaigh, 1; Port Láirge, 0; agus an Mhí, 1. Tuigim go bhfuil obair ag dul ar aghaidh san údarás, leis an infheistíocht chuí, chun na foirgnimh éagsúla a athchóiriú. Beidh siad ar fáil de réir mar a bheidh airgead breise á dháileadh tríd an mbuiséad caipitil i mbliana.

Bhí an cheist seo i mBéarla, ach bhí an dhá cheist eile i nGaeilge. Chuir mé an cheist seo síos don chéad uair i mí an Mheithimh 2017. Ag an am sin, cuireadh in iúl dom go raibh 517 foirgneamh i gceist agus go raibh 117 dóibh folamh. Nuair a chuir mé ceist eile i mí na Samhna 2017, bhí sé soiléir go raibh dul chun cinn déanta. Tá sé sin admhaithe agam. Tá 106 foirgneamh folamh faoi láthair. Cé go bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta, ní mór ná sásta atá mé go bhfuil foirgnimh ann atá folamh ag dul siar go dtí 2002. Níl mé chun iad a lua san am gearr atá agam. Tá a fhios ag an Aire Stáit, níos mó ná mé féin, go bhfuil géarchéim sna Gaeltachtaí uilig ó thaobh cúrsaí fostaíochta agus imirce. Feicim go bhfuil níos mó ná 100 foirgneamh folamh, agus 60% dóibh réidh le ligean. Tá beart práinneach ag teastáil, i mo thuairim.

Aontaím leis an Teachta agus tuigim an cheist atá curtha chun cinn aici. Nuair atá foirgnimh folamh sna ceantair éagsúla, tá sé de dhualgas orainn comhlachtaí a fháil dóibh. Tá sonraí faighte agam tríd mo oifig maidir le líon na ndaoine atá ag smaoineamh ar athlonnú go dtí na ceantair iargúlta Gaeltachta. Is í an fhadhb i mo cheantar féin agus i gceantair eile nach bhfuil mórán de na foirgnimh réidh fá choinne na comhlachtaí a bheadh ag iarraidh bogadh isteach iontu. Agus é sin ráite, tá mórán foirgnimh ar fáil. Ba mhaith liom teachtaireacht a thabhairt chuig gach éinne sa tír atá ag smaoineamh ar na foirgnimh folamh seo a úsáid. Tá sé tábhachtach a rá leo go bhfuil tacaíocht ar fáil ó oifigigh de chuid Údarás na Gaeltachta. Ag an deireadh seachtaine, bhí mé i láthair ag lainseáil an inneall dóiteáin nua i mBaile na nGallóglach i mo cheantar féin. Tháinig an t-inneall dóiteáin ón Spidéal, i gContae na Gaillimhe. Tháinig sé ón tSualainn i dtús, ach chuir comhlacht sa Spidéal trealamh breise air ar chostas €400,000. Is sampla é sin den chaighdeán thar barr atá ar fáil sna ceantair Gaeltachta. Aontaím leis an Teachta gur cheart dúinn teachtaireacht dhearfach a thabhairt dóibh siúd atá ag smaoineamh ar ghnó a lonnú sa Ghaeltacht nó ar bogadh ar ais go dtí an Ghaeltacht.

Tá 60% de na foirgnimh folamh réidh le ligean. Tá an caighdeán ann. Tá sé admhaithe sna freagraí atá luaite agam go bhfuil siad réidh le ligean. Is acmhainn iontach iad na foirgnimh seo. Ní féidir le éinne a bheith sásta. Tá foirgnimh i gCasla, i gContae na Gaillimhe, atá réidh le ligean tar éis dóibh a bheith folamh ó bhí 2008 agus 2015 ann. Tá athchóiriú ag teastáil ar fhoirgneamh ar an gCeathrú Rua atá folamh ó bhí 2005 ann. D'fhéadfainn leanacht ar aghaidh, ach ní hé sin mo phointe. Ba chóir breathnú ar na hionaid seo mar acmhainn. An bhfuil foireann breise ag teastáil? An bhfuil acmhainní ag teastáil? An bhfuil scéim cumarsáide ag teastáil chun é a chur in iúl go bhfuil na hacmhainní seo ar fáil? Tá sé tábhachtach béim a chur orthu mar acmhainn. Tá go leor acmhainní ag dul i dtreo IDA Ireland, ach tá easpa airgid i gceist i gcás Údarás na Gaeltachta. Ó tharla go bhfuil breis is 100 foirgneamh folamh, agus 60% dóibh réidh le ligean, ní mór dúinn plean práinneach a chur le chéile.

Ba mhaith liom a shoiléiriú go bhfuil níos mó ná 500 foirgneamh ar fáil sna ceantair Gaeltachta. Tá 106 dóibh, nó thart ar 20%, folamh faoi láthair. B'fhearr liom 0% a lua mar fhigiúr ná 20% ós rud e go gciallódh sé go bhfuil achan fhoirgneamh agus achan ionad thar a bheith gnóthach. Tá súil agam go bhfuil sé soiléir anois nach bhfuil ach 20% den 511 foirgneamh atá faoi chumhacht Údarás na Gaeltachta folamh. Ba mhaith liom a rá arís inniu, mar theachtaireacht acu siúd taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht atá ag smaoineamh ar iad féin a lonnú sa Ghaeltacht nó bogadh ar ais sa Ghaeltacht, go bhfuil spás ann. Is é an rud is mó ná an caighdeán agus an taithí atá ag oifigigh an údaráis. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leo. Tá na foirgnimh acu. Tá siad ag obair go dian dícheallach ar son na comhlachtaí a bheidh lonnaithe sa Ghaeltacht.

Animal Welfare

Clare Daly

Question:

73. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, officers monitoring illegal activity of digging out burrows; and if her Department will allocate further resources to counter the digging out of foxes and badgers from burrows across the country. [2998/18]

The question has been tabled against the backdrop of some very alarming evidence that has emerged online regarding the escalating and organised nature of some barbaric digging out of foxes, in particular, as well as badgers. Horrific brutality has been displayed in online imagery. In that context, how many NPWS officers are monitoring this activity and are there plans to increase that number?

I thank Deputy Daly for raising this issue. They are deplorable and illegal activities. Investigating incidents of badger baiting, fox baiting or digging out, as it is sometimes referred to, is one of a large number of actions and interventions carried out by field staff of my Department on an ongoing basis. Of my Department’s total staff, some 330 work in the area of natural heritage through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS.  In addition, my Department takes on in the region of 70 seasonal staff during the year to assist the NPWS. Front-line conservation rangers are deployed through a regional structure and assignments are determined in light of departmental business needs and priorities.  Within this staffing context, officials of my Department carry out scientific research, survey work and monitor compliance with national and European law on nature conservation across the country. They conduct patrols and site visits to enforce the various provisions of national and EU legislation, as required, and many of these officers carry out work in more than one county. They also investigate reports of breaches of legislation, including illegal snaring or digging out of badgers and foxes, as well as monitoring compliance at coursing events etc. Members of An Garda Síochána are also empowered under the Acts to investigate alleged offences and to prosecute if they see fit. Staffing levels across my Department are kept under regular review in line with emerging business needs and Government policy on public sector pay and staffing as advised by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. 

I spoke to my officials about extra resources and they have said it is something we will look at very seriously once the funding is available. Addressing these activities is important to me and I will arrange to allocate what resources I can as a priority. I will also continue to liaise with the Garda Síochána on covert actions with other agencies. We also work with the ISPCA to counteract these illegal activities.

I am aware that the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, officers work very hard. I am friendly with law enforcement officers who have an interest in animal welfare issues who have been monitoring some of this activity online. Through them, I am aware that this appalling barbarity is perpetuated in almost every county in Ireland. Foxes are being dug out and online footage is being posted of grown men forcing animals out of burrows while they watch and record dogs viciously mauling them apart in the name of sport. This gratuitous violence is then played online. The situation is now beyond critical, particularly when improvements in animal welfare are under way in the UK, which puts us in danger of becoming a haven for this type of barbarity and a destination for tourism in this illegal activity, I do not like to use the word "sport", because that is not what it is. It is seriously sick.

Will the Minister consider a joint task force featuring some members of the NPWS and of An Garda Síochána because there are criminal elements involved in this and it is too dangerous for officers of the NPWS to do the job on their own?

As I said earlier, this is a deplorable and illegal activity in the case of badgers and foxes. While badgers are protected under the wildlife Acts, foxes are not but they do come under the Animal Health and Welfare Act and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. One issue which arises in this area is that of evidence. Those doing it must be literally caught in the act. It is difficult for the Garda to gather the intelligence in this area to investigate and prosecute as it sees fit. I appreciate that the material is posted online but by that stage the event has already taken place.

It is something that I take very seriously. I am open to discussions about a joint task force. The ISPCA and the NPWS signed a memorandum of agreement in May 2006 which facilitates a closer working relationship between the two in wildlife crime and prosecutions. There are 72 front-line conservation rangers and we will increase this to 84. We are also going to try to increase the level of monitoring in this regard. It is an important issue and we must look after the welfare of the animals and clamp down on this barbaric practice.

This is a dark underworld that exists in Ireland. The concern is the people involved are becoming more emboldened by the material they are putting up and by their methods of organisation. Some of these people are incredibly dangerous. The Minister is correct in saying that there is an issue of evidence but sometimes even when the evidence is found, the people who have done so are intimidated into not standing up and giving the evidence. We need to do much more. I wonder whether the Minister might consider reverting to a point of contact in her Department to whom people who have been monitoring this activity online and have a certain expertise in the area may be able to give some information. Alternatively, is there another way that she might have members of the NPWS liaise with members of An Garda Síochána in a more organised way to consider in a definite sense the idea of a joint task force in this regard? It could begin by monitoring and following some of the stuff online, which could then be followed up by people on the ground. It is incredibly dangerous and the most worrying thing is where it is leading to and the types of people who are involved.

If the Deputy or anyone she knows is aware of specific incidents, I ask that they please be reported to either An Garda Síochána or my Department. I believe the NPWS and An Garda Síochána communicate in a type of loose task force and there is also the memorandum of understanding between the ISPCA and the NPWS. Patrols and site visits are also ongoing. I appreciate this type of activity could escalate in the future. I would like to see more prosecutions but much of the time, as they are investigated as a routine operational activity, it is difficult to bring them forward. Between 2013 and 2017, 70 prosecutions were taken for breaches of the Acts, not specifically related to baiting or digging out. The issue is something I take seriously and I take the Deputy's comments on board and appreciate her bringing them to the attention of the House.

Heritage Council Expenditure

Kevin O'Keeffe

Question:

75. Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her attention has been drawn to a proposal by the Heritage Council to reduce funding under the category of the Irish Walled Towns Network; if funding levels will be maintained and or extended; and if this funding will be accessible to all towns that are recognised by the Irish Walled Towns Network (details supplied). [2936/18]

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment on her first time taking questions.

Is the Minister aware of any proposal by the Heritage Council to reduce funding under the category of the Irish Walled Towns Network? Will she confirm that current funding levels will be maintained and extended and will she further confirm that this funding will be accessible to all towns that are recognised by the Irish Walled Towns Network, for example, Buttevant in north Cork?

I thank Deputy O'Keeffe for raising this issue. My role as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in respect of the protection and management of our architectural heritage, is set out in the provisions of relevant legislation, as are the role of local authorities and the responsibilities of owners as regards heritage assets.

The Irish Walled Towns Network was established by the Heritage Council in 2005. The network supports Irish walled towns through strategic input and funding of conservation, training and promotional programmes. It focuses on uniting and co-ordinating the strategic efforts of local authorities and communities involved in the management, conservation and enhancement of historic walled towns in Ireland, both North and South.

There are currently 29 member towns and villages throughout Ireland. The Deputy mentioned Buttevant Heritage Group in County Cork, which is a member of the network. I know the group held a conference in October 2017 to mark 700 years as a walled town.

The Heritage Council, which is funded by my Department, is independent in the performance of its functions. The allocation of its resources across the range of research, education and conservation programmes it supports annually is a matter for the Heritage Council, having regard to the principles of proper public financial management and competing priorities for limited resources. The Heritage Council is considering a suite of further supports and will continue to offer the network support in the context of this year's allocation. A final decision on funding has not been made but I am confident about it.

The Deputy is probably aware that last week, it was announced that there would be a ring-fenced allocation of €1 million in funding specifically for a historic towns initiative. It is open for applications and will complement any capital component of the Heritage Council's walled towns initiative.  

I thank the Minister for her response. The first thing she should do when she leaves the Chamber is tell the Heritage Council to update its web page. According to its list, there are only 28 member towns in the Irish Walled Towns Network.

To support the case of Buttevant, the heritage group is in its infancy. It was only formed in 2007, and the walled towns division was established in 2010. The group has been doing tremendous work, and it is ongoing. The concern is that the ongoing funding could be cut off. The heritage group is in its infancy and grew from grassroots activism. I will give a good example of why it is important that support for the group is maintained as a priority. During recent paving works on Buttevant's main street, there was a phenomenal number of archaeological finds.

Only that it was on the N20, one of the most important roads in the country, between Cork and Limerick, I would say the street would be still shut down because of the emergency. I thank the Minister for her response. I only hope that funding will be maintained on a continual basis.

In 2017, the Heritage Council gave €140,200 in current funding and €282,000 in capital funding to the walled town network. I see no reason that should not continue. However, it is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the Heritage Council. This funding was in addition to supports, including training, for community groups. Obviously, my Department is having ongoing discussions, as part of the oversight and liaison meetings, with the Heritage Council and I am confident that the Deputy will secure this important funding into the future.

There are two other schemes as well. There is the interpretation and events scheme which supports festivals and events of high educational value and the conservation fund which supports conservation and new plans in relation to walled towns. The Deputy will probably be aware of those, as well as the historic towns initiative which we announced last week. All of these will help Buttevant and the other 29 member towns and villages throughout Ireland. It is an important issue that Deputy O'Keeffe raised here today and I thank him.

Architectural Heritage

Joan Burton

Question:

76. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the funds which have been allocated to the 2018 built heritage investment scheme and structures at risk fund; her Department's priorities in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3071/18]

Will the Minister tell us how much is proposed to be allocated for 2018 and the number of projects that she anticipates will be funded under the assistance programme for architectural heritage, that is, the built heritage investment scheme and the structures at risk fund.

My role with regard to the protection and management of our architectural heritage is, as I stated earlier, set out in the provisions of relevant legislation, as are the role of local authorities and the responsibilities of owners as regards heritage assets. Financial support for the protection of architectural heritage is provided by my Department through a number of schemes. These schemes, some of which the Deputy referred to, are administered via the local authorities.

The built heritage investment scheme was developed to assist with the repair and conservation of structures that are protected under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. The scheme leverages private capital for investment in a significant number of labour-intensive, small-scale conservation projects throughout the country and supports the employment of skilled and experienced conservation professionals, craftspersons and tradespersons in the repair of the historic built environment. The funding allocated to the built heritage investment scheme in 2018 is €2 million. Applications are currently being accepted by all local authorities.

There is also the structures at risk fund. This fund encourages the regeneration and reuse of heritage properties and helps to secure the preservation of protected structures which might otherwise be lost in both private and public ownership. The funding allocated to the structures at risk fund in 2018 is €1.324 million and applications are currently being accepted for this scheme also. Both of these schemes are vital to the preservation of our built heritage and they are priorities for me in terms of resource allocation.

Details of these are available on the Department's website. There were 412 projects under the built heritage investment scheme in 2017. Both schemes are open for applications until 31 January 2018.

In the context of the Minister's comments about heritage and the restoration of building, is there any truth in the rumour? Having looked at the previous allocations, the constituencies of Ministers, particularly Ministers for art and culture, seem to have done particularly well. I am aware that in the Minister's constituency there is a public building which is currently closed and which has the fine appearance of a mid-20th century pebble-dashed substantial office or dwelling house, namely, Stepaside Garda station. Has the Minister any plans to receive positively any proposals on it? Looking at the list of her predecessors' allocations of the fund, and while I understand the fund is administered by the local authority, somehow or other there has seemed to be much synergy between the Minister of the day and his or her local authority. I can see Deputy Niamh Smyth smiling because the list in relation to the Minister's predecessor shows the quantum of funding allocated was significant. Would the Minister entertain an application from the Garda for the refurbishment of Stepaside Garda station, seeing as the Committee of Public Accounts would seem to have denied it?

The Deputy has exceeded by half a minute.

Leave poor Shane alone.

I will steal a march on the Minister of State's well-known colleague who perhaps has been more to the fore in this than the Minister of State has been.

It is not up to me to comment on the eligibility for these schemes. Under the built heritage investment scheme, all protected structures, proposed protected structures and structures that contribute to architectural conservation are eligible. There are other criteria for the structures at risk fund.

In Deputy Burton's constituency, Castleknock Castle received funding of €40,000 in total - €10,000 from the built heritage investment scheme, BHIS, and €30,000 from the structures at risk fund, mainly for works to keep the walls. There was also the stud at the Gables in Porterstown Road in Luttrellstown which received €8,000 under the structures at risk fund.

Throughout the country, there will be projects for each individual constituency. I hope that people in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown do apply, and that they do so by 31 January. A local authority can request an extension of the deadline.

At the end of the day, it is all about the quality and scale of the projects. Deputy Burton correctly stated that good heritage is important. That is why good heritage officers in the local authorities are very important in terms of driving this.

Would the Minister agree then, because she seems to be hinting as much, that the acting Garda Commissioner might well consider making an application given that the Garda would obviously prefer to see its limited capital funds devoted in the first instance to areas with bigger crime problems? In asking the Minister whether she is entertaining the idea of an application for that late mid-20th century structure to which I referred, I also would like to know to what extent apprentices are employed in the conservation work projects. As the Minister will probably be aware, the Government has a dreadful record when it comes to the employment of apprentices. The building sector can barely recruit apprentices because of the Government's failure to adapt apprenticeships to modern building and construction arrangements. Will the Minister look specifically at the issue of providing for young people, many of whom are often left without any qualifications, particularly if they have left school early without a qualification and have worked in construction? In other countries, such conservation projects are widely used to train young people.

In these schemes, the priority is job creation. As I stated, there were 412 projects in 2017 and the funding ranges from €2,500 to €15,000. The built heritage investment scheme is for applications developed to assist with the repair and conservation of structures that are protected under the Planning and Development Act. The structures at risk fund encourages regeneration and reuse of heritage properties and helps secure the preservation of protected structures which might otherwise be lost in both private and public ownership.

I understand there are four to five projects per county. Each would be taken on its own criteria as an application for it is made to the scheme. The private-public investment ratio is 50:50. In Cork County Council, for example, there were 15 different projects.

The priority is to protect buildings from a historic perspective. I am sure that the criteria are used stringently. These schemes are positive and it is good to see them being highlighted.

Question No. 77 replied to with Written Answers.

We have four minutes left. I suggest that Deputy Boyd Barrett forfeits his 30 seconds, the Minister takes Question No. 78 and I will allow the Deputy one supplementary question. In doing that, I am being generous.

Two supplementary questions. Come on.

May I make a contribution then?

We will start anyway. I call on the Minister to respond to Question No. 78.

Not much time, Peadar.

We will hear the Minister's response first.

We will hear the Minister's response. We are forfeiting the 30-second introduction.

Is this Deputy Boyd Barrett's question?

Film Industry Tax Reliefs

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

78. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her views on a report by an organisation (details supplied) which highlights flaws in the operation of the section 481 scheme and the misuse of trainees in the film industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3096/18]

I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for raising this issue. My Department is not aware of a report by the organisation to which he specifically referred in his question, and the organisation concerned has informed my Department that it has not produced such a report.

However, the Irish Film Board and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland jointly commissioned a report on the issue of training in the Irish film, television and animation industry. The study by consultants Crowe Horwath, Final Report in Respect of a Strategy for the Development of Skills for the Audiovisual Industry in Ireland, was published on the website of the Irish Film Board last August.

The report found - the Deputy mentions this in his question - that the general view of stakeholders in the industry was that section 481 was an ineffective mechanism to deliver quality training opportunities for the industry. It recommended a number of options including the replacement of the requirement with a training levy but stated that further work would be required to design a new mechanism. The Department is working with the Irish Film Board to consider options in this regard as part of the overall response to the 14 key recommendations contained in the report.

It should be noted that the section 481 tax credit system is hugely important in making Ireland an attractive location for internationally mobile film and TV drama productions and in providing significant high-level and high-quality employment in the audiovisual industry. Recent projects locating in Ireland include the BBC's "Little Women", AMC's "Into the Badlands", which returned to Ireland in April to film a third season in Ardmore Studios, "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens" and the hugely successful "Vikings" series developed and produced here for the History Channel.

However, it is very important that any requirements regarding training and the delivery of good-quality outcomes for trainees in return for generous tax credits provided by the Government are in situ. My Department will address this issue working closely with the Irish Film Board and having regard to the recommendations of the Crowe Horwath report.

I speak on behalf of hundreds of people working in the film industry who very much welcome investment from film companies coming into this country, making quality films and creating employment opportunities. However, these workers say section 481 tax breaks and the millions that are given out in loans to production companies based here are not providing, as section 481 requires such companies to do, "quality employment and training opportunities". The workers say that what is in fact happening is that the category of "trainee" is being ruthlessly abused. A person could be a trainee for 12 years, for example, and never actually get permanent employment. He or she is never qualified because there is no training structure whatsoever and the tax relief is just being abused. What is happening in the sector sounds very much like what is going on in construction. Very few people are directly or permanently employed and there is no proper training structure, just a lot of money going into these production companies without their giving the quality employment and training that film workers want and which the section 481 tax break requires is given as a condition. The workers say there is no oversight of this tax break, no governance and no enforcement and that, as a result, anyone who asks for direct PAYE employment, for example, will be blacklisted, there is bullying and the working time directive is being flagrantly abused in the industry. I ask the Minister to look seriously at this and meet representatives of the film workers, who are considering industrial action as we speak because they are so fed up with the situation in the film industry.

I remind the Deputy that he got enough time for two questions.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is right. This is a really important problem. Training in the sector has no beginning, middle or end. It has no certification whatsoever. It is a box-ticking exercise for firms to achieve their section 481 tax break. What it means is that people who are well qualified and well experienced are forced to go into the same positions over and over again. I have spoken to every sector of the film industry, and they agree there is absolutely a problem here. There is also a problem with the fact that most films and TV series are made with special purpose vehicles that exist only for the duration of work on the film so individuals are only employed momentarily in these organisations. There is a forum in a part of the Irish Film Board. The Minister should get the Irish Film Board to launch the forum to allow for all the stakeholders to work together to ensure they start to fix this. I believe there is a will in the sector to fix this. Secondly, I ask the Minister to ensure the actual workers in this sector are appointed to the Irish Film Board in order that they themselves have an opportunity to represent real issues to the Irish Film Board.

I will take a final supplementary question from Deputy Boyd Barrett and then revert to the Minister, and that is it because I-----

I thought I would hear from the Minister and respond briefly.

The Deputy takes advantage of my generosity. I call the Minister.

I thank Deputies Boyd Barrett and Tóibín. I do not disagree with what they say about the quality issues in respect of the training, which have been highlighted in this report. It seems to me that it was more of a box-ticking exercise than anything else, and I think the 14 recommendations have shown that. There is, therefore, no question but that we must do something about it. The recommendations of the economic analysis, which was commissioned by my Department and the Department of Finance and has just been finalised, and the Crowe Horwath report will provide inputs for the development of an industry-wide long-term plan for the production of film, TV, drama and animation in Ireland under Pillar 4 of the Creative Ireland programme. The issue of training, including section 481 training requirements, will be considered in the context of this proposed plan. I agree with the Deputies on this matter. It is a condition of the tax relief that the project must employ a minimum of two trainees for each €355,000 of corporation tax credit claimed, up to a maximum of eight trainees. We must ensure that those trainees are looked after and that there is quality in this regard. I will look at this in detail. I have spoken to my officials about it already. We know that production companies seeking section 481 tax relief must meet a range of conditions and have procedures in place to ensure compliance before the Revenue Commissioners issue a certification for filming of a project. However, I appreciate what both of these reports have found and I will certainly look at the matter in more detail with the economic analysis and see what I can do.

I call on Deputy Boyd Barrett to ask a short supplementary question.

I will press for urgency on this. The workers are seriously considering taking industrial action in the near future because they are so fed up with this. Having trainees is fine, but it must be a real progression. One cannot be a trainee for 12 years. One might be a trainee for a couple of years, at which point one is certified and then a qualified worker in the film industry and should be paid and employed accordingly. The issue is not just one of trainees, but also one of people being taken on as contractors, a little like bogus self-employment in the building industry, whereby one is never actually directly employed. Shelf companies are set up for the duration of the film instead of people actually having some sort of permanency and security as they develop their skills and are paid and employed with proper conditions of employment that would follow from that. I ask the Minister to look at this and to engage with all sectors of those representing the workers in this industry.

I call on the Minister to conclude briefly.

I have asked my Department to expedite the long-term plan in this regard. Looking at the summary of recommendations, out of the 14 recommendations, quite a few mention the training provided. There is a new policy framework for training and skills development for the audiovisual sector. It talks about development and continuation of much stronger links between training and education providers and the audiovisual industry. Recommendation 13 states a training fund should be established using an industry levy approach. Recommendation 14 states that Screen Training Ireland should be revamped to provide real leadership and implement lasting change regarding skills development with the audiovisual sector. We do not want to see exploitation by anyone, and I will do my best to ensure it does not happen.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.