6. Deputy Colm Brophy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the ongoing development of the national sports campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7517/18]
Vol. 965 No. 6
6. Deputy Colm Brophy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the ongoing development of the national sports campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7517/18]
Could the Minister outline the ongoing developments on the national sports campus, allowing for the Government's excellent record in investing in sport, particularly with the recent sports capital grant?
I thank Deputy Brophy for injecting an element of calm into the proceedings. Deputy Ryan has gone, so I will leave him alone.
The Government, through Sport Ireland, is committed to the ongoing development of the national sports campus. Sport Ireland is currently reviewing the master plan for the campus development, in consultation with the sporting bodies. The original master plan was drafted in 2004 and there has been substantial progress since then.
The review will be completed later this year and will be aligned with wider Government capital planning. It may also identify other possible projects which would add further value to the existing facilities, subject to available resources.
Work commenced in July 2017 on the development of Phase 2 of the National Indoor Arena and is due for completion in mid-2019. Phase 2 will see the construction of full-sized and half-sized covered synthetic pitches, primarily for soccer and rugby but capable of accommodating all field-sports, together with changing facilities, strength and conditioning facilities, offices and meeting rooms. This covered facility will provide our elite athletes and competitors in the relevant codes with year-round, always open, training facilities regardless of weather conditions, in preparation for competitive fixtures and international tournaments.
As part of the wider partnership strategy for the development of dedicated field-sport training facilities by individual national governing bodies of sport, Sport Ireland approved plans for the phased development of a high performance, all-weather cricket training facility by Cricket Ireland. The facility will comprise both synthetic and turf bowling nets with a turf outfield area. Work on the facility commenced in December 2017 with a scheduled completion date for the first phase of May 2018.
Work on new office accommodation for Sport Ireland and another national governing bodies at the National Sports Campus has commenced with completion expected in mid-2018. In addition, Sport Ireland is examining the feasibility of providing further office accommodation for national governing bodies which have expressed interest in relocating to the campus.
The Government has committed €16 million to develop a national velodrome and badminton centre at the campus in 2020 and 2021. The proposed facility will comprise a 250 metre cycling track, 12 to 16 badminton courts in the in-track area, spectator seating and ancillary facilities including office space. As the first indoor velodrome on the island, this arena will be a hugely valuable resource for our athletes and should also help to increase participation levels in both cycling and badminton.
I thank the Minister for his reply. My apologies to Deputy Brophy. He has the floor again.
That is okay. Things are much more civilised on this question. I thank the Minister for the information in that reply. There is no question but it is a tremendous campus. The investment which has recently gone into it will be transformative. What the Minister outlined will pay great dividends for us, especially at Olympic level in the sports which will be facilitated. I thank the Minister for outlining those developments.
I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to raise this. It is a pleasure to do so.
Controversial and difficult decisions often have to be made in this Department but the sports campus is a living vision. I also thank Deputy Griffin who put enormous work into this project, more than myself. It is something we are very proud of. I will list some of the projects that have been developed there. During 2017, 1.095 million visits were made to the Sport Ireland national aquatic centre, cementing its position among the top pay-in visitor attractions in the State. It is the second successive year where it has broken the 1 million visitor mark and we are very hopeful that it will continue. Work on the Football Association of Ireland HQ was completed in 2007, having completed refurbishment of the former State laboratories to provide a permanent headquarters to the FAI. Sport Ireland institute was completed in 2009 on the refurbishment of the former central meat control laboratory to provide a permanent base for the institute; and in 2013, work was completed on the refurbishment of the former marine institute for Irish Sport HQ to provide on-campus accommodation for 20 national Government bodies. There is a lot more in addition to that.
I thank Deputy Brophy for his co-operation and also the Minister. Question No. 7 is grouped with Questions Nos. 18, 22 and 83. This means we have 18 minutes.
7. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the re-evaluation process of the applications for sport capital funding that were unsuccessful in 2017; and the timeframes involved. [7506/18]
18. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his position regarding appeals and decisions with respect to the 2017 sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7529/18]
22. Deputy Maria Bailey asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when the results on appeals with respect to the 2017 sports capital programme will issue. [7724/18]
83. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the position regarding appeals and decisions with respect to the 2017 sports capital programme. [7538/18]
At the outset, I apologise for my interruption earlier. It is no slight on the Acting Chairman.
That is okay. The Deputy is usually very good.
I know, but I was very frustrated. I am sorry about that.
I thank the Minister for the very encouraging words. Extra funding was put into the sports capital programme last year which was very welcome. Unfortunately, several groups and clubs around the country have been unsuccessful for one reason or another. I thank the Minister for introducing a system this year whereby there is an appeal process. Will the Minister say what stage this process is at and will there be extra funding for 2018?
I propose to Questions Nos. 7, 18, 22 and 83 together.
I commend Deputies Deering, Neville, and Heydon for their interest in the sports capital programme, SPC, not only regarding the appeals process but throughout the process. I have had constant engagement with them. They are clearly very interested in the programme. I am glad to say we have an appeals process for the first time. The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I want it to be as flexible and accommodating as possible for those whose applications were found to be invalid following the allocation of the programme's funding.
In November and December last, we were very glad to be able to announce €60 million in funding to a record 1,800 clubs and organisations nationwide. A record number of applications was also received at 2,320. Unfortunately, around 20% of applications were invalid in 2017. However, that was substantially less than the rate of invalid applications in 2014 and 2015, which was around one third, and in 2012 when it was 48%. This was achieved following various attempts to reduce the rate of invalidation, including a streamlining of the online application process to make it simpler for applicants, and several workshops were held throughout the country prior to the scheme opening to advise applicants on the process and give them the optimum opportunity to make a valid application. We also tried to improve the validation process and the confirmation process for recipients.
Unfortunately, 20% of applications were still invalid. For the first time, we have opened an appeals process, notwithstanding there being the lowest rate of invalidation since the sports capital programme began in 1998. We have opened an appeals process to applicants who feel they were wrongly invalidated by the Department. By the closing date, 20 December 2017, we had received 148 appeals from the local programme. The deadline for the regional programme was 19 January 2018 and we are currently assessing those appeals. We hope we can announce the outcomes of those appeals in the next couple of weeks. The officials in the Department in Killarney and those here in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have been working hard on this and are doing their best to bring the results as quickly as possible to those who have made appeals.
The Minister and I wish to be as flexible and accommodating as possible to applicants to the sports capital programme whose applications have been found to be invalid. We know that the vast majority of applicants are volunteers in their local communities who are trying to do the best they can for them in providing vital facilities for participation in sport by people of all ages, backgrounds, genders and ability levels. We very much value their work and are trying to assist them and serve them as much as we can, which is why we have introduced this appeals system. The reality is that it is unlikely that we can give everyone a successful outcome, but we are continually monitoring the situation to see how we can best address the issue.
We are also looking to the future. We hope to open up a new scheme in the not-too-distant future too in order to assist those who were unsuccessful here.
To clarify, in the regional application process, the top two thirds of all valid applicants received funding but for the local scheme, every valid applicant received funding, which was also a first. It is something the Minister, Deputy Ross, and myself were very keen to achieve. It was a very positive outcome. We had €26 million for the local scheme.
We were able to increase that to €60 million in the budget and that enabled to us to fund every valid application. That was a good day's work. The impact of the sports capital programme is felt in every community. Since 1998, €967 million has been allocated under the programme along with €4 million under the regional programme, giving a total of €971 million for clubs and organisations. That has had a profound impact on the State's sporting infrastructure and the footprint is there for all to see. When I visit small rural communities, disadvantaged urban communities or large and small towns, I see that the sporting infrastructure has improved no end over the past 20 years and we want to build on that into the future because, apart from the immediate, direct impact this infrastructure has on the provision of sports in communities, it also has a huge role to play in the long-term health of the nation. We want to build on and advance that.
I thank the Minister of State for his worthwhile reply. I am a former chairman of Carlow GAA county board and the importance of the SCP cannot be underestimated. My county has received more than €2.5 million in grants since the programme was reintroduced a few years ago following its abandonment by Fianna Fáil. Was there a consistent reason for clubs being declared ineligible for funding in 2017? What criteria will be used in the re-evaluation process? The third question is the most important and I put it to both Ministers. Has a budget been set aside to fund those who will be successful on appeal?
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I acknowledge the role of both Ministers in what has been a successful round of the SCP. We are focused on the small number of clubs that were unsuccessful as opposed to the large number that were successful. However, all that information came out on the same day. We work closely with these clubs and organisations and we are aware of their hopes and ambitions. Sometimes a stroke of pen or an issue with title deeds invalidates an application and it is welcome that an appeals mechanism is being put in place, which was never available previously. It is galling for the clubs whose application has been rejected to find out on the same day as all their neighbouring clubs will get a large allocation. That puts huge pressure on local politicians and, in particular, on the volunteers in the clubs who have taken the time and effort to fill out the forms and make the application. The appeals mechanism is important and I would like detail on the criteria on which the appeals will be judged.
I echo the sentiments of my colleagues. As a soccer player and someone who played GAA, I can see that something tangible has been given to rural Ireland. The allocations do not just go to clubs in small towns and villages. Clubs in small rural parishes benefit from allocations. Small rural clubs in the area I come from are struggling to survive but they have received funding. They do not have a town or village base to draw from. The effect of the SCP is tangible and can be seen in rural Ireland. The Government is giving back as the economy generates funding.
I welcome the appeals process. It is great that feedback will be given to the applicants to show them where they may have gone wrong. What will the assessment criteria be?
I thank the Deputy for revealing his GAA past.
I am still playing soccer.
I understand the Deputy is quite the legend in the local soccer scene in Limerick. In reply to Deputy Deering's queries, the key issue regarding invalidations is title. Generally, the largest number of invalidations result from the title documents not being in order. They have to be to protect public moneys. That is why we require such stringent adherence to the title requirements. Supporting documentation such as bank statements needs to be in date and the names need to correspond with those on the application.
The appeals process will examine whether the Department was at fault in the invalidation of applications and whether there was an overinterpretation of our rules. They will be the primary reasons for adjudicating the outcomes of the appeals.
With regard to Deputy Neville's comments on the rural aspect of the SCP, the programme reaches into every community in the country, regardless of where it is, and it is one of the most pro-rural programmes administered by the State. I acknowledge the role the Minister played in the budget negotiations because, without the additional €30 million for the local programme, a cut-off point would have been necessary and we would have been unable to give funding to every valid applicant. I reiterate that this is the first time ever that every valid applicant under the SCP local scheme has received funding. That has been allocated to communities the length and breadth of the country. The programme is an important source of funding for sports organisations.
I thank the Minister of State for outlining the communication process, particularly for small rural organisations, because there was frustration when an application was invalidated in the past that there was no feedback which would allow applicants to know what way to go the next time. Every time people apply, they are educating themselves about the process. Feedback is imperative and we need to continue to have more synergy and more integrated communication between the Department and the organisations that are applying. As the Minister of State said, the people making the applications are volunteers. They do this while running their own lives, organising underage matches on a Saturday morning, raising funds, running table quizzes and so on. It is difficult and it is always the same three or four people involved in running the organisation. I welcome the appeals process.
I worked closely with a couple of clubs that lost out. In one case, it related to the title deeds. The solicitor advising the club advised that the trustees should be named in the title instead of the club. That is arbitrary. Everything else was in order. In another case, a date was left off one of the quotes for a tender. I wonder whether that is a proper ground to invalidate an application. The appeals process is, therefore, important to give clubs and the Department an opportunity to review whether there should be some flexibility. Although it is not the case anymore, during previous rounds of the programme, there was a sense that these reasons were used as a system to weed out clubs. I welcome the Minister of State's comment that it is hoped to have a future round. Will he introduce an early bird system in order that where clubs are missing something simple but vital to the application, it is flagged with them early in the process and they have the opportunity to rectify that within a month or be informed that they are out? The expectation that is generated when the process goes on for a year with clubs thinking they are included in the programme when they are not is damaging.
I thank the Minister for State for his reply. It is interesting that the two main issues relate to title and banking, but it is encouraging that there will be flexibility on them. I was dealing with an application where a technical point relating to a bank statement ruled the club out under the programme. Will the Minister of State introduce a system to educate unsuccessful clubs on how to go about this process successfully, particularly where it relates to banking or title issues? Has funding been put in place for successful appeals? If so, how much?
What is the timeframe for the appeals process? When will clubs know whether they are successful? Is a budget in place? Kinnegad GAA club applied last year. It previously received a grant, which meant its title deed was in order because the Department has a registered interest in the club. However, the application was invalidated, yet the Department's interest is clearly stipulated on the title.
We are confident that we will be able to fund the successful applicants in the appeals process from within our existing budget. I would like to reduce the number of invalid applications by ensuring we avoid the submission of as many such applications as possible. This can be done by giving people an opportunity to submit further information if their applications are found to be invalid when they are first checked. It would be fair and right to give people a chance to rectify what needs to be rectified. In many cases, one page can be the difference between invalidation and validation. The current appeals process examines whether the Department was at fault by reference to the published terms, conditions and criteria. It does not give applicants an opportunity to provide further information to validate their applications. We hope to provide the outcomes of appeals within two weeks.
I am embarking on a nationwide tour of constituencies to meet front-line volunteers in sports clubs and organisations who have previously submitted applications under the sports capital programme or intend to submit applications in the future. I want to hear their views on the programme and their feedback on what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong and what we need to build on and improve. So far, the tour has proved to be an invaluable exercise. It is an excellent way to meet volunteers and hear from them exactly what we need to be doing. I am glad to say I will be in Limerick, Carlow and Kildare the week after next. I was in Longford-Westmeath on Tuesday night and Galway the previous week. So far, the information evenings have been very well attended. We expect to hold workshops well in advance of the application date for any future programme.
The avenue that will allow further information to be provided will reduce the number of invalid applications by the maximum amount possible. There will always be some invalid applications that simply do not fit the criteria of the scheme. In cases in which not enough information or incorrect information has been provided, people should be given a second chance. That is what we intend to do in the future.
I thank the Minister of State and the Deputies for their co-operation in dealing with this group of questions.
8. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when weekend and off-peak rail services on the Kildare line will commence through the Phoenix Park tunnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7730/18]
13. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has engaged with workers' representatives in Irish Rail or Bus Éireann on the ongoing issues at those companies following recent disputes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7718/18]
23. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the industrial relations disputes in Irish Rail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7727/18]
87. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the current dispute in Irish Rail regarding driver training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7546/18]
The Ceann Comhairle has given Deputy Robert Troy permission to take Question No. 8 in the name of Deputy James Lawless on the basis that he is unavoidably absent. Also, I think Deputy Mick Barry will be able to take Question No. 13 in the name of Deputy Bríd Smith, if he so wishes. I ask Deputy Robert Troy to make the 30-second introduction. The other Members will be able to make their contributions after the Minister's reply.
Does the Minister have plans to introduce weekend and off-peak services on the Kildare line through the Phoenix Park tunnel? It is fair to say the tunnel, about which we spoke earlier, has been a positive development, although its operation is very restricted. Does the Minister intend to extend its operating times?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 13, 23 and 87 together.
The commencement of off-peak commuter services on the Kildare line through the Phoenix Park tunnel is the subject of industrial relations discussions in Irish Rail. The services are expected to commence later this year and I am determined that they will. Industrial relations are a matter for the company and its employees. Disputes about pay or conditions can only be solved by engagement. As Deputies are aware, the State can assist through the normal industrial relations machinery. The Labour Court and the Workplace Relations Commission are the appropriate forums for discussion. I have made it clear time and again that I will not intervene in areas in which it is not appropriate for a Minister to do so.
Following two days of strike action by Iarnród Éireann staff in early November 2017, the Labour Court intervened and a recommendation of a 7.5% increase over three years was accepted on 8 December. A separate Labour Court recommendation which issued in August 2017 related only to train drivers and union claims involving past productivity gains which unions allege were never remunerated. The court recommended an award of 1.15% in full and final settlement of the issue, in return for which drivers would co-operate in the mentoring and supervision of trainee drivers in their final phase of training. Unions rejected the proposed 1.15% additional award on 10 January. The NBRU and SIPTU have commenced a ballot of their members and a result is expected on 28 February. The company and the trade unions have agreed to a referral to the Labour Court for adjudication on the training and mentoring of trainee drivers. The lack of agreement has delayed the completion of the training of new drivers and forced the company to suspend the expansion of services, including services on the Kildare line, as mentioned by Deputy Robert Troy earlier.
Regarding Bus Éireann, I have been advised that progress has been made on many parts of the 2017 Labour Court recommendation, including changes to rosters to ensure maximum rostering efficiency.
The Minister has a little amnesia. In one of his earlier replies he made disparaging remarks about previous Governments. He has forgotten that he complimented Michael Fingleton on providing "a cracking set of figures" which had left "superstar" Seán FitzPatrick standing in awe.
Will the Deputy, please, deal with the issue?
In another article he wrote when he was a journalist, the Minister commended Seán FitzPatrick and said he should be Governor of the Central Bank. He continues to show his cheerleading abilities for the banks.
Will the Deputy, please, deal with the issue?
Now that he is in government, the Minister has done nothing to help the people who are suffering with tracker mortgages.
We have learned today that the Government is planning to allow the loans of 20,000 people through Permanent TSB to be sold to vulture funds.
I will suspend the sitting.
The Minister has come into the House today to lecture us about previous Governments.
He has been in a position to act as a member of the Government, but he has done nothing. The 20,000 families may be evicted.
I must say I am very surprised that the Deputy is acting in this way.
They are being thrown to the vulture funds, while the Minister is doing nothing.
I am going to ask the question.
I am going to ask the question.
No. The Deputy should sit down when I tell him.
I will do so out of respect for the Acting Chairman.
I am most surprised that the Deputy has not adhered to what the Chair has told him. The Minister has answered the specific question asked on which the Deputy is being allowed to deputise for Deputy James Lawless. I ask him to address the issue. He has wasted quite a lot of his time, but I will allow him to ask a supplementary question as long as he sticks to the matter before the House.
It is a pity you were not so forceful when the Minister was throwing disparaging remarks across to this side of the House.
The Deputy is replacing Deputy James Lawless, but he is not supposed to be lawless.
I accept that the opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel is subject to industrial relations considerations, but the Minister has failed to convene the stakeholders forum. Does he accept that if he had convened it six months ago, when he promised to do so, these issues could have been addressed, negotiated and worked through? Will he confirm that enough carriages are available to increase the number of services passing through the Phoenix Park tunnel? I know from my meetings with the former CEO of Irish Rail that no additional carriages will come on stream at Irish Rail for a minimum of 18 months. The carriages in question will be taken from rolling stock that has been put out of service. Old carriages are being reconfigured and refurbished. No new carriages have been ordered. Even if they were ordered today, it would take a minimum of four years to deliver them.
I ask the Minister to, please, stick to the issue in his response.
Before the Minister responds, Deputy Mick Barry must have a chance to come in.
I am sorry; I will let him in first.
No; my question is on pensions. It is to be taken after this question.
No; it has been grouped.
They have been grouped together.
Deputy Mick Barry can speak on the issue of pensions now
I can speak on it now.
My question relates to the CIÉ pension fund, an issue of great concern to 10,000 CIÉ workers. The pension fund is underfunded to the tune of €80 million. The board of CIÉ has not been funding the pension fund properly since 2009, despite the fact that it is legally obliged to do so. One hour ago in this House the Minister challenged Deputy Imelda Munster to refer him to where the board of CIÉ was in defiance of the law.
I apologise for interrupting the Deputy, but the Minister is addressing the subject matter of Question No. 23 in the Deputy's name, not the issue the Deputy is raising.
This question relates to the Phoenix Park tunnel.
We are taking Questions Nos. 8, 13, 23 and 87 together. Question No. 23, in the name of Deputy Mick Barry, asks the Minister to set out his views on the industrial relations disputes in Irish Rail.
I tried to make it clear to the Chair that I wanted to follow up on my question on the pensions issue.
No; it has been grouped.
I am aware of that.
These are the rules of the House.
The Deputy has tabled a question on this matter. Does he wish to make a contribution?
I do not.
I call on the Minister to reply to Deputy Troy in regard to the question from Deputy Lawless.
I am furious about this.
I will not address it except to say that Deputy Troy should be accurate in so far as I never suggested that Seán FitzPatrick should be Governor of the Central Bank. Perhaps he will withdraw his remark in that regard.
The Minister can take that up with Deputy Troy. I ask him to address the question.
Deputy Troy's remark is on the record of the House.
It is on the record of the House.
I ask the Minister to answer the question.
I will do so but, on a point of order, there is something that Deputy Troy should withdraw from the record of the House.
And that is?
I never suggested that Seán FitzPatrick should be Governor of the Central Bank and I ask Deputy Troy to withdraw that allegation.
Does Deputy Troy wish to correct the record?
I will double check my sources and revert on the matter.
Does Deputy Troy wish to correct the record?
Deputy Ross lauded Seán FitzPatrick.
I never suggested-----
In an article written by Deputy Ross he referred to Seán FitzPatrick as a "superstar".
Deputy Troy stated that he will check his-----
In the interests of being fair to the Acting Chairman------
Deputy Troy should not ask me again.
I wish to be of assistance------
Deputy Troy stated that he will check his records.
His records are incorrect but he can check them.
I call on the Minister to answer the question that was tabled.
I will be delighted to do so.
Two Deputies who are present will not be able to ask their questions because of what is going on, which is unfair. I ask the Minister to continue.
I will reply to part of what Deputy Troy said but will not reply to a contemptible allegation.
I am absolutely committed to holding the public transport stakeholder dialogue which Deputy Troy stated I failed to hold. My interest is that industrial relations should be extremely good. The Deputy is aware that during an industrial relations dispute when the unions, quite understandably, asked that I become involved and intervene, which I cannot do, I pledged to hold a public transport stakeholder dialogue on the condition that it should not take place during an industrial relations dispute because that would probably be the only subject of conversation, which is not the purpose of the dialogue. We made several attempts to establish that dialogue but, unfortunately, industrial relations disputes were ongoing. A few weeks ago, we were ready to send out invitations for the dialogue but an industrial relations dispute broke out. As soon as there is industrial peace within the relevant companies, I will send out those invitations because I am determined to progress the dialogue. The industrial relations problems in the transport companies would not necessarily be resolved but would be ameliorated by getting all parties together to discuss the future of transport. My Department is embarking on the preparation of a public transport policy statement. As part of that review, I am committed to convene and host the round-table policy discussion to which Deputy Troy referred. The objective of that event is to facilitate an open and inclusive exchange of views from interested parties on the potential challenges and competing priorities likely to arise across all aspects of public transport provision, including economic, social and environmental considerations.
The Minister stated that he made several attempts to establish the dialogue but the reality is that he attempted to do so only once, which was after the conclusion of industrial action at Bus Éireann. Had the Minister acted in a swift manner at that time and convened the multi-stakeholder forum, it would have been in operation and would have prevented industrial action. However, like most projects to which he turns his hand, he put it on the long finger.
As regards the Phoenix Park tunnel, is the Minister confident there is sufficient rolling stock to roll out that service throughout the day when the industrial action concludes? As I stated, when I met the CEO of Irish Rail before Christmas he identified that there was insufficient rolling stock to introduce new services on certain lines. Does that include the Phoenix Park tunnel?
I told the Deputy that it is my intention for that to happen as soon as possible. It is an operational matter for the NTA but it is a high priority.
9. Deputy Hildegarde Naughton asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the details of the Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way marketing campaign, with specific reference to the aim of highlighting ease of direct access from six British gateway cities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7521/18]
The Minister will appreciate that the broadening of access to and the success of the Wild Atlantic Way is of vital importance to the west of Ireland and in that regard I ask him to give details on the Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way marketing campaign.
I thank Deputy Naughton for raising this matter and I appreciate her interest in tourism in Galway. I was glad to have joined her and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, recently on a tour of her constituency of Galway West to deal with a number of tourism and sport-related matters.
I thank her for her interest in the Wonders of the Wild Atlantic Way campaign. It is a new €1.8 million initiative to highlight the ease of access to the Wild Atlantic Way from six gateway cities in the UK, namely, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and London. The six arrival airports along the western seaboard are Cork, Kerry, Shannon, Donegal, City of Derry and Ireland West Airport, Knock. I have been working on this initiative with Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland since assuming office and have made several trips to London to work with Tourism Ireland to develop the campaign. We are pleased to say that the campaign has been launched and is operational and will target 10 million Britons who will be reminded in a very vivid way of how close to them the Wild Atlantic Way is. The selected airports are all within two hours of the Wild Atlantic Way and we are using a number of high visibility outdoor advertising media such as billboards to highlight its proximity to those cities.
We are very keen to reverse the fall in visitor numbers from the UK to Ireland since the Brexit vote in June 2016 and this campaign will produce results. It will also help boost visitor numbers during off-peak times outside the traditional tourist seasons, which is a key challenge for many areas, in particular the peripheral parts of the country. There is a great focus on regionality and seasonality in the initiative and I hope it will produce tangible results for places such as the Galway West constituency and the entire western seaboard.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply and for visiting the Connemara greenway, which, he will agree, is a fantastic amenity. It is important that we continue to review these marketing campaigns to ensure we maximise the potential of our amenities along the Wild Atlantic Way.
We are partnering with Classic FM in the United Kingdom, which has a listenership of 5 million people whom Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland have identified as our key market in the UK and to whom we will intensively market the Wild Atlantic Way for a month. Although there was a decline of 5% in 2017 in visitors to Ireland from the UK , it is very heartening that there was an increase of 0.1% in the final quarter of 2017, which is a step in the right direction. We are very determined not just to recover the numbers from the UK coming here on holiday but also to build back to our natural base. The UK is far too important a tourism market for us to give up on it and we are determined to recover and build on previous visitor numbers. This initiative is a very strong part of that effort and I am confident that we can get back to our rightful place in the UK market.
I will allow Deputy Barry to ask his next question and will permit one response from the Minister.
I will then be able to respond to the Minister.
We will decide on that depending on the time remaining. I am giving Deputy Barry the opportunity to ask his question.
In order to facilitate that-----
The Acting Chairman is back-tracking.
Question No. 10 is part of a grouping that was already dealt with.
No, it was not.
The Acting Chairman already dealt with it.
I did not. The groupings are listed here. Deputy O'Keeffe is incorrect.
10. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if the CIÉ pension scheme can be converted into an unfunded scheme as exists for employees in most statutory bodies. [7725/18]
35. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the concerns recently expressed by the unions regarding the funding of the CIÉ pension fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7545/18]
I ask the Minister for a statement on the position in regard to the CIÉ pension funds.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 35 together.
I refer Deputy Barry to the answer given to Parliamentary Question No. 2, for which he was present. Issues in regard to the CIÉ pension scheme are primarily a matter for the CIÉ group, its employees and the trustees of the pension scheme.
The employees of CIÉ group companies, Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann, Iarnród Éireann, and CIÉ itself are provided pension benefits on retirement from one of two schemes – the regular wages scheme or the superannuation scheme. Both schemes are defined benefit schemes. The current CIÉ funded pension schemes are in line with other pension schemes in the private and commercial semi-State sectors which are generally funded schemes. CIÉ’s contributions to both schemes are determined on the basis of advice of the actuary and the rules of the schemes. CIÉ has advised that it has complied with its contribution requirements under SI 323/2000 and SI 205/2010.
Yes, Deputy Barry.
Will the Acting Chairman allow me one sentence?
We are over time.
It is a specific answer to the Deputy's question. I have no plans for the CIÉ funded pension schemes to be converted into unfunded pension schemes.
Question No. 10 was not grouped before now. It is up to the Minister to group questions, not me. Deputy Barry has one minute.
The issue is the €80 million underfunding of the CIÉ pension funds, which is a matter of grave concern to 10,000 workers. Earlier the Minister challenged Deputy Munster to refer him to where the CIÉ board had been in defiance of the law. I will tell him precisely where. SI 323/2000 and SI 205/2010 require the board of CIÉ to financially support and maintain the solvency of both of the pension funds in every year, something it has been in breach of for nearly ten years now. On 20 September 2017, the CIÉ superannuation scheme 1951 pension committee failed to confirm to CIÉ's employees that it had not broken the law, SI 353/1951, in its submission of funding proposals to the Pensions Authority in 2013. This is happening on the Minister's watch. The law is being broken. These workers are being taken for a ride. What is the Minister prepared to do about it?
I am not taking a response. The Deputy has made his case. I have been extremely fair towards him by allowing him in.
A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A.