Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 6 replied to with Written Answers.

I understand Deputy Burton will take the next question on behalf of Deputy Penrose.

Wild Fires

Willie Penrose

Question:

7. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to carry out an evaluation of the damage and cost incurred as a consequence of fires that resulted from her extension of the most recent burning season in respect of gorse; her further plans to carry out an evaluation of the destruction of habitats of flora, fauna and wildlife as a consequence of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16718/19]

Is the Minister concerned about the extent and number of forest fires, particularly the disastrous fire that raged in Killarney recently? I ask this question in view of the fact that the Government made a political decision in the Heritage Act 2018 to extend the burning season. What does the Minister intend to do to stop fires of the kind seen this year which resulted in significant destruction of habitats, wildlife, flora and fauna?

I thank the Deputy for the question. First and foremost, I wish to correct the contention that I extended the recent burning season. In fact, my decision was that no extension of the season was warranted in 2019. The assumption that recent wildfires such as the one in Killarney National Park were connected to my decision not to extend the burning season is both disingenuous and misleading. The burning at the weekend was completely illegal. As the Deputy is aware, significant environmental damage is caused by illegal burning. Following a review of section 40 of the Wildlife Act which included consideration of submissions made by interested parties, proposals were announced in December 2015 to introduce legislation to allow for managed hedge cutting and burning at certain times within the existing closed period on a pilot two-year basis. The relevant legislation was included in the Heritage Bill 2016 which was enacted in July last year. Section 7(1) of the Heritage Act 2018 provides that I may make regulations to allow the burning of vegetation during such periods in the month of March and in such parts of the country as specified in the regulations. I recently made a decision not to make regulations to extend the season for the burning of vegetation into March. This decision was taken as there would have been no basis for me to do so, given the fact that the relatively dry weather during the six-month period when the burning of vegetation could have been undertaken under the law, from September to February inclusive, would not have precluded landowners from burning vegetation. Therefore, the existing provisions in the Wildlife Acts on burning remain in force. The recent burning in Killarney National Park was illegal and caused significant damage to the park. The fire underlines the fact that ground conditions are extremely dry and that an extension to allow burning in March would not only have been unwarranted but would have also been irresponsible at this time. I also take the opportunity to record my thanks to the Kerry fire service, the staff of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Killarney and all of the volunteers who came to their assistance on the Friday evening and Saturday morning of 29 and 30 of March.

Has the Minister had any consultation with local landowners in the area affected by the fire? Has her Department explained to landowners that the widely held view that the recently passed Heritage Act has made it easier to burn vegetation is not based in fact? Has the Minister communicated the fact that she is opposed to such burning and that she views it as a threat? When we were debating the Heritage Bill in this House, the Minister's predecessor was involved in the discussion and gave the impression that Fine Gael was very anxious to spread the message that it would be made easier for landowners to burn during an extended season. The Minister and Fine Gael in government have only themselves to blame for giving the impression that the burning of vegetation is much easier now than in the past. At a time when we are debating the issue of climate change, does the Minister have proposals to revisit and re-examine the aforementioned legislation in the light of the disastrous fire in Killarney National Park? Killarney is a major tourism town. Fires such as the one that happened recently constitute a threat, not just to animal life but also to human life.

As I said, it is misleading and disingenuous to try to connect the two issues. The incident in Killarney was a wild fire and illegal. It is a completely separate matter from the controlled burning of vegetation, as provided for under the Heritage Act. The Deputy knows this and her linking of the two issues is ridiculous. Managed burning has been proved to be good for the environment. I will leave that issue for now and focus on an important message for the public on wild fires. I encourage all members of the public, including landowners and recreational users, to act responsibly at all times. They should be mindful of their own safety and that of others, the need to protect both public and private property and the value of our national heritage, particularly in national parks, nature reserves and designated sites. As even planned or controlled burning can get out of hand very quickly, it is critically important that everyone realise the damage that can be caused to property and the threat posed to the health and welfare of family, neighbours and the wider community, as well as emergency services in responding to fires. In the event that such fires occur, I urge anyone with any information, no matter how trivial it may seem, to pass it on to An Garda Síochána or the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The Minister did not answer my question about whether she had communicated with landowners in the area. That is important, given the weather we enjoyed last summer and the changes in climate we are experiencing. I am sure the Minister saw photographs of the fire on 30 March. It was disastrous and hundreds of acres of land were burned. A solicitor based in Killarney, Mr. Pat O'Connor, who is a former member of the local council, has said such fires are now an annual occurrence which are threatening the national park. He described them as causing "wanton destruction." What has the Minister done in response to this dreadful environmental tragedy in one of our premier tourist destinations? Has she visited the site? Has she met local landowners? Has she put in place an information and support system for landowners in order that they will not engage in burning outside the burning season?

The Deputy is again trying to link the two issues together.

Of course I am.

She is an intelligent woman and knows they are totally separate issues. I have said that this wildfire in Killarney National Park is a violent crime and has severely affected the natural area and the pleasure people get from visiting the park. I asked my Department to undertake a damage assessment of the wildfire site at Torc hill and it revealed that about 155 acres were caught in the blaze. The full effects of the fire will only be ascertained over time, such is the damage it has caused. We can, at present, confirm that the fire has resulted in a loss of nesting habitat for meadow pipits, skylarks and other birds. This fire has also impacted on the small mammal communities, as well as on amphibians and lizards. It has caused significant damage to the wet heaths and blanket bogs.

We take enforcement steps all the time to deter such fires. I have asked the public, in my earlier contribution, to bear in mind what I have said. We take a serious view of any wanton, indiscriminate and illegal burning of this type.

Question No. 8 is in the name of Deputy Connolly. I understand it is grouped with Questions Nos. 12 and 23.

On a point of order, I have no idea why this question has been grouped with the other two. It does not refer to the capital of culture whatsoever, which the other two do. It is a specific question about an art collective so perhaps the Minister might clarify why it is grouped with other questions it has nothing to do with.

It is a matter for the Minister and she may explain-----

It is a matter for the Ceann Comhairle.

It is not. It is a matter for the Minister.

My understanding is that it is a matter for the Minister.

My understanding is different but I can ascertain that for the Deputies.

It is a matter for the Minister and we checked with the Minister's-----

I have no difficulty taking Deputy Connolly's question separately if she wishes.

I would appreciate that. It is separate.

I had no control over the reason this was grouped. I think it is because the question is about Galway.

I would prefer if it was taken separately.

The Minister has said she will take it separately and I, as Chair, will accept that.

Performing Arts

Catherine Connolly

Question:

8. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the engagement she has had with a theatre (details supplied) in Galway city; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16599/19]

What engagement has the Minister had with this theatre group? The group is called Theatre 57 because it started out as a group with 57 participants. That has now grown to more than 80. It is a collective of Galway-based, independent theatre artists who came together because of their exclusion in respect of culture in Galway. What engagement has the Minister had with that collective of artists on the ground?

I have had no direct engagement with Theatre 57 but I understand it is a collection of theatre artists, which has increased in number from the original 57. It was formed in May 2018 and officially launched in January 2019. I also understand the artists have come together to provide support and resources needed by the arts community in the capital of culture. I also understand, from reports, that the group sees Galway 2020 as an opportunity to build an infrastructure for the arts that will continue in the future. The group was established to address the challenges and benefits of making work as independent artists in Galway and have commented that theatre in Galway is made against the odds and that the city lacks effective resources for independent artists. It appears that this group is focused on supporting independent artists and it is hoped that it will work positively with Galway 2020.

Galway is the home of two of Ireland's most prominent and internationally renowned theatre companies in Druid Theatre Company and An Taibhdhearc. The latter is supported by my Department and operates from its theatre in Middle Street in Galway, a facility with 148 seats, projection facilities, stage blacks, a cyclorama, a lighting rig and a full sound and PA system. It has acoustics which are suitable for live music and cinematic presentations. I understand tonight sees the start of a short run of "The Father" by Florian Zeller as translated by Christopher Hampton.

Druid operates from the Mick Lally Theatre and is supported by the Arts Council. I congratulate Druid on its recent successes at The Irish Times theatre awards where its theatre festival production of "Richard III" at the Abbey Theatre won a number of awards, including best production. Druid is currently touring nationally with a production of Sonya Kelly's "Furniture". There is much good theatre work happening in Galway which I am sure the Deputy is aware of, as she is from the area.

I know the Minister gave out some of this information in answer to Question No. 4.

No information has been given on Theatre 57. I appreciate the Minister's comments about Druid and An Taibhdhearc. Indeed, d'oibrigh mé go crua chun an Taibhdhearc a choinnéal i gcroí-lár na chathrach. This is a specific question about a group of people and I am disappointed to hear the Minister has had no engagement with them and I hope that she will today confirm she will have contact with them. This is a group of performing artists who have come together about sustainable careers for artists in Galway. The group now comprises 82 members who are involved in theatre in a range of roles. They have no permanent rehearsal space, nowhere to have meetings, no office space and no guaranteed funding, despite Galway's reputation as Ireland's capital of culture. The careers they have are precarious and they believe that Galway's cultural reputation is not sustainable unless front-line artists are acknowledged and supported. They are concerned about the commodification of the arts and value being put on it for the economy, which is good, but not value on art for art's sake. That is the group I am talking about.

I thank the Deputy. As I said earlier, I have had no direct engagement with Theatre 57. I am not aware of any contact they have made seeking to meet me unless it has not been brought to my attention. The Deputy says she is disappointed but I have no awareness of the group trying to contact me in any way. I am aware of Theatre 57 but not of any intimation that its members want to meet me.

The Government is focused on increasing funding for the arts. The Taoiseach has repeatedly committed to double funding over a ten-year period and this year's Estimates contain a 13% increase in funding for my Department. There was a €6.8 million, or 10%, increase in funding for the Arts Council which is very important and should, I hope, help the group the Deputy has referred to, which could now be called Theatre 82 with its increase of members. Obtaining this funding may help those members of the group who are interested in broadening their careers. There is also €1.2 billion in capital funding for culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht under the national development plan.

I welcome the increase in funding but that does not take from the stark figures. The European average for arts funding is 1% of gross domestic product and Ireland is at 0.6%.

I appreciate the Minister might not have received a formal letter from this group but her Department would be fully aware of the group, as would the organisation Galway 2020. The facts speak for themselves. The average salary of a dancer is €10,000 and that could be somebody who is recognised internationally as the best in their field. One third of performing artists live precarious lives. One third earn less than the minimum wage of €9.55 an hour. These are established and acclaimed artists.

My time is limited. All of these figures are stark and, if anything was to come out of today, I would like it to be that the Minister will meet this group on the ground, not just about Galway 2020, but also about sustainable lives for artists. This Government relies on artists and rolls them out for photo shoots and photocalls.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question is coming but this is a different question. Does he want make a quick comment on this topic?

The questions are not grouped now.

They were grouped.

This is a separate question.

The Deputy can make a quick comment and we will get through the question.

It is welcome that Theatre 57 has organised as a collective. I hope they will be an example to other struggling artists around the country of the need to organise in such a way to ensure that, when events are happening in their area and there is State investment, there can be a legacy afterwards. I am not talking about a bad legacy where people are disenchanted with the State but a good legacy where artists are left with some hope that they can sustain themselves and not be forced to leave the city. Many artists who originally founded Theatre 57 have had to leave the city in recent years because they cannot afford to live there or sustain themselves. That, if nothing else, should be concentrated upon.

Even though they may not have asked, I encourage the Minister to seek them and other such groups throughout the country out to discuss with them how to create a sustainable culture for artists and the like in the future.

I will take the Deputies' comments into account. My door is open. My Department and I have an awareness of the particular theatre practitioners. I have outlined what the Government is doing. We must remember that, for decades, an artistic pursuit in this country and across the world has been incredibly difficult. If I had a magic wand, I would increase funding significantly, but I do not. However, I have secured a significant increase in funding this year for artists, primarily for the Arts Council which is at arm's length from my Department and makes its own decisions on the assistance it provides for artists. There is an investment programme of €460 million for the national cultural institutions. A great amount of good work is being done. I am acutely aware of the difficulties faced by everyone endeavouring to engage in any artistic pursuit, be it theatre, the wider field of drama, dance or music, and do all I can to assist in every way.

Aerfoirt Réigiúnacha

Catherine Connolly

Question:

9. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Catherine Connolly den Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta an ndearnadh Aerfort na Mine a cheannach; mura ndearnadh, cad é an staid reatha a bhaineann leis an bpróiseas ceannaigh; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [16596/19]

Is ceist shimplí í seo ar chuir mé í arís agus arís eile. Cá bhfuil muid sa phróiseas chun Aerfort na Minne a cheannach?

Fuair mo Roinn fógra i mí Meithimh na bliana seo caite go raibh beartaithe ag Galway Aviation Services limited tarraingt amach as an gconradh a bhí acu chun seirbhís aeir a chur ar fáil idir an mórthír agus na hoileáin Árann agus as an gconradh faoina gcuireann an comhlacht Aerfort Chonamara ar fáil don tseirbhís. Ar ndóigh, chruthaigh sé seo deacracht ó thaobh todhchaí na seirbhíse de agus b’éigean do mo Roinn gníomhú chun a chinntiú nach mbeadh briseadh sa tseirbhís. Tar éis próiseas tairisceana a reáchtáil, socraíodh conradh sealadach aeir suas go dtí 30 Meán Fómhair 2019 agus ag eascairt as comhráití idir mo Roinn agus an cuideachta, síníodh ceannteidil comhaontaithe idir na páirtithe faoina bhféadfaí tabhairt faoi phróiseas a thabharfadh deis do mo Roinn breathnú ar na féidearthachtaí Aerfort Chonamara a cheannach. Aontaíodh chomh maith, go gcuirfi síneadh leis an gcomhaontú faoina gcuirtear Aerfort Chonamara ar fáil don tseirbhís suas go dtí Meán Fómhair 2021. Tá an próiseas maidir le ceannach an aerfoirt ag leanúint ar aghaidh ach níl aon toradh air go fóill. Is gá a lua chomh maith go mbeidh aon socrú maidir le ceannach na saoráide le meas i ndáil le riachtanais an chóid caiteachais poiblí.

Cé go bhfuil an cheist simplí, níl an próiseas simplí. Tá an próiseas ag leanúint ar aghaidh, áfach, agus tá dul chun cinn déanta. Tháinig an dá thaobh le chéile. Bhí plé maidir le luach an tsuímh nó aerfort don Roinn agus dá úinéirí. Tá plé ar bun faoi láthair chun teacht ar phraghas agus nuair atá an praghas sin aontaithe liom agus le mo Roinn, pléifear é ag leibhéal an Rialtais. Tá an próiseas ag dul ar aghaidh. Caithfimid fanacht go dtí go mbeidh rudaí socraithe maidir leis an bpraghas.

Fuair mé an freagra ceannann céanna beagnach dhá mhí ó shin i mí Feabhra. Ag an am sin bhí tuilleadh eolais i gceist. Dúradh liom go raibh na luachálaithe fostaithe agus go raibh suirbhé innealtóireachta i gceist. Tá súil agam go bhfuil an suirbhé sin críochnaithe. Tá súil agam go bhfuil luach anois deimhnithe. An féidir é sin a rá? Dúradh liom i bhfreagra eile go mbeadh an próiseas críochnaithe roimh deireadh na míosa seo caite. Tá eagla orm go bhfuil muid ag dul ar aghaidh agus ag dul ar aghaidh. Tuigim go bhfuil sé casta ach níl sé casta tuiscint go bhfuil sé de cheart ag muintir na n-oileán seirbhís aeir a bheith aici má táimid i ndáiríre faoi saol inmharthanach a thabhairt di ar na hOileáin Árann. Tá sin simplí. Tá sé simplí a rá liom cén uair a bheidh an próiseas críochnaithe.

Tá an Teachta ceart go raibh muid ag súil go mbeadh an próiseas críochnaithe roimh dheireadh Mí Márta. Sin an spriocdáta a bhí leagtha síos. Theip orainn é sin a dhéanamh ach tá an próiseas fós beo agus tá an próiseas ag dul ar aghaidh. Mar a dúirt mé, tá an Roinn ag déanamh suirbhé innealtóireachta. Tháinig siad ar luach agus tháinig úinéirí an aerfort ar luach don suíomh freisin ach tá bearna idir an dhá luach agus caithfimid teacht ar phraghas a bheadh an dhá thaobh sásta leis. Níl sin déanta go fóill ach tá na cainteanna agus an idirbheartaíocht ag dul ar aghaidh. Táimid dóchasach go mbeimid in ann teacht ar réiteach ach aontaím leis an Teachta faoin tábhacht a bhaineann leis an tseirbhís agus go gcaithfear cinnteacht a bheith ann do mhuintir na hoileáin faoi sheirbhís aeir sa todhchaí.

Caithfidh mé a rá arís ar an taifead go bhfuil mé thar a bheith sásta go bhfuil cinneadh déanta ag an Rialtas an t-aerfort a cheannach. Sin dul chun cinn agus céim dhearfach. Áfach, tá spriocama ag teastáil go géar uainn anois. Cloisim go bhfuil luach ann ach nach bhfuil aontú idir an dhá thaobh maidir leis an luach. Cad é an spriocdáta? Caithfimid deireadh a chur leis an bpróiseas agus gan dul ar aghaidh cosúil le Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla ag caint mar gheall ar roimh an tsamhraidh, tar éis an samhradh agus roimh Nollaig. Cén uair a tharlóidh sé seo?

I will use a few seconds to correct the record, as I may have been unclear in my previous question. Just 1% of GDP is spent on the arts. The average elsewhere in Europe is 6%. I am not sure whether I made that point clearly or whether I mumbled it.

Níl mé in ann spriocdáta don phróiseas a leagan síos. Tá an próiseas ag dul ar aghaidh agus caithfimid fanacht go dtí go mbeidh an idirbheartaíocht críochnaithe agus ansin beidh próiseas i ndiaidh sin ó thaobh próiseas dlí de agus tógann an próiseas am. Cé go bhfuil na feidhmeannaigh ag plé an próiseas chun Aerfort Chonamara a cheannach, tá comhairleoirí fostaithe ag mo Roinn chun cuidiú leis an bpróiseas ó thaobh an seirbhís aeir agus an próiseas tairisceana de. Tá mé sásta go mbeidh mo Roinn ábalta tairiscintí a lorg do sheirbhís aeir ach an réamhobair atá ar siúl ina leith a bheith curtha i gcrích. Táimid i mbun próiseas chun tairiscintí a lorg chun seirbhís ar thréimhse ceithre bliana ó 30 Deireadh Fomhair i mbliana. Táimid sásta go mbeimid in ann an próiseas sin a chríochnú agus go mbeidh seirbhís aeir ar fáil do mhuintir na hOileáin Árann i rith an gheimhridh.

I am going to attempt to get through Questions Nos. 10, 11 and 12 in the names of Deputies Boyd Barrett, Aindrias Moynihan and Ó Snodaigh, respectively. I ask the Deputies to forgo their 30 seconds each and let the Minister reply. They will then be able to ask their two supplementary questions. Is that okay?

There will not be time to have the Deputies' questions answered otherwise. I am accommodating them. I call on the Minister to reply to Question No. 10, after which Deputy Boyd Barrett can ask his supplementary questions.

On Deputy Connolly's point.

Has the Minister not replied to her already?

I was just correcting the record.

Then we will move on. I call on the Minister to reply to Question No. 10.

That is Deputy Boyd Barrett's question.

Yes. The Acting Chairman is suggesting the Minister just give her response, after which I will ask her supplementary questions.

This is from a time perspective.

Film Industry

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her views on whether the current method of providing public funding for the film industry is the most appropriate for delivering quality employment and training in the industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16760/19]

In June 2018 I was pleased to launch the audiovisual action plan, an industry-wide long-term plan under the Creative Ireland programme, to support the Government's ambition to enable Ireland to become a global hub for the production of film, television drama and animation. The audiovisual high level steering group was established to implement the plan. It is a whole-of-government approach, with representatives from all Departments and State agencies that have an involvement in the audiovisual industry. The group is overseeing implementation of the plan and will report regularly to me as Minister.

As the Deputy is aware, the plan deals in detail with the mechanisms used by the Government to support the Irish audiovisual industry. This support is delivered using parallel mechanisms of tax relief and direct funding. The section 481 film tax relief mirrors similar provisions in most other countries and attracts internationally mobile film projects to Ireland. It also encourages valuable co-productions, with international producers partnering with indigenous producers who benefit from the sharing of cutting-edge technology and expertise.

Screen Ireland is the national development agency for the Irish film, television and animation industry, supporting writers, directors and production companies by providing investment loans for the development, production and distribution of film, television and animation projects. In budget 2019, I was able to allocate an additional €2 million to Screen Ireland to build on its vital work, increasing its annual budget by 11% overall to €20 million.

Relief under section 481 may be claimed against a producer company’s corporation tax liabilities if certain conditions are satisfied. Under the film regulations 2019, a new skills development requirement is now linked to the section 481 tax credit and producer companies are obliged to submit a skills development plan. For projects over €2 million, this must be agreed in advance with Screen Ireland. It is also a requirement that a post-project skills development report be submitted. A special briefing with my Department and Revenue took place this morning at which this requirement was highlighted to industry stakeholders. I believe all of the measures outlined above will greatly enhance the delivery of quality employment and training in the industry.

The top news item today is that there is a major investigation into a loan of €100,000 by John Delaney to the Football Association of Ireland. It is currently being explored at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. Each year, approximately €100 million in loans and tax relief goes to the Irish film industry. Very serious issues are being raised by workers in the industry regarding wholesale blacklisting, including blacklisting of people who appeared before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht in January of last year alleging major abuses of section 481 and the rights of employees. Evidence was given to the committee by the chair of Screen Ireland, Mr. James Hickey, that there were 17,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the Irish film industry. We questioned that claim. When the Department of Finance looked into it, it found that there are 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the industry, a fraction of what the Oireachtas committee was told was the case. The same film producers in receipt of this funding are refusing to attend the film stakeholder forum recommended by the all-party Oireachtas committee. This situation is not acceptable.

My Department has not received reports of any such alleged activity. I know that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection stated that it would liaise with the Deputy on the issue. It is important to state that blacklisting is against the law and is not and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. The Deputy sometimes refers to a belief that the film industry is exceptional in some way and that normal employment law does not apply to it. However, as the Deputy is aware, that is not the case. Departmental officials are not aware of claims by employers in the audiovisual industry that there are such exemptions to employment law for that industry.

I will put it very simply for the Minister. I appreciate that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has agreed to meet me and film workers next week, as well as the engagement of the Department of Finance and Revenue. However, I wish to put certain points to the Minister. I challenge her to find one film worker with a contract of indefinite duration. The State gives €100 million a year to provide quality employment and training in the Irish film industry. In spite of that, she will not be able to find a single film worker with a contract of indefinite duration. There are not 17,000 full-time equivalents as was claimed by Screen Ireland. I do not have time to go into it in detail. One calculates a full-time equivalent by dividing the number of production hours by the number of employees based on a 39-hour week and employees receiving holiday pay and so on. No film worker works a 39-hour week or receives holiday pay or any such benefits. This needs to be investigated and the people who are getting this money need to be brought before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht and questioned on where are the jobs in the film industry.

As I stated, the film industry is not outside the remit of the law. It must be subject to the same rigours of the law as any other industry. My Department is not aware of any particular issues with workers in the industry. It is important to again stress that the new film regulations are in place and that the tax credit is now linked to quality employment and observance of all employment legislation, as well as enhanced skill development requirements. Screen Training Ireland, a division of Screen Ireland, held an inaugural screen industry education forum in November of last year, the aim of which was to bring together screen industry stakeholders, policy influencers and providers of training and education to focus on the skill development challenges and opportunities in the screen sector in Ireland.

They have refused to come in.

The matter is concluded. We move to Question No. 11. As Deputy Aindrias Moynihan is forgoing his 30 seconds, the Minister may provide her reply.

My replies are somewhat in disarray. Is the question on commemorations?

I thank the Acting Chairman for his forbearance.

Commemorative Events

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

11. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht when the next meeting of the all-party consultation group on commemorations will take place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16749/19]

As chair of the all-party consultation group on commemorations, I have held two meetings of the reconstituted group since last October. The group is one of three convened by the Government to focus on the decade of centenaries initiative and any or all related programming, the other two groups being the senior officials group on commemorations and the expert advisory group on centenary commemorations. The expert advisory group and the all-party group are consultation groups and it remains the exclusive responsibility of the Government to prepare and deliver an appropriate commemorative programme for the remainder of the decade of centenaries.

The development of this programme is currently in train and is based on a four-strand approach comprising a State ceremonial strand, an historical strand; a community strand and a creative imagination strand. Representation on the all-party group includes members of the main parties and groupings in the Oireachtas, as well as the Alliance Party and the SDLP in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Ulster Unionist Party and Democratic Unionist Party were invited to nominate members to the group but have not done so to date.

The group most recently met last Wednesday. The meeting, which I chaired, was well attended with a high degree of engagement by the members and this gave rise to a number of useful contributions that will help to inform our discussions at future meetings of the group and, ultimately, the development of the commemorative programme for the coming years. It is my intention that the all-party group will meet regularly over the remainder of the decade of centenaries initiative out to 2023.

The work of the group is supplementary to other work ongoing in regard to the commemorative programme, including the key role of local authorities in supporting engagement and facilitation in local communities and developing appropriate commemorative initiatives as part of the decade of centenaries. In that context, I recently approved a funding allocation of €10,000 for each local authority under the decade of centenaries programme.

I welcome the report of the expert advisory group which carefully considered the themes and made recommendations on legacy initiatives. It outlined a significant legacy initiative. I am trying to establish the Minister's level of ambition for such initiatives. For example, the group recommended a virtual record treasury. Are there other such projects which the Minister expects will come forward? What is her level of ambition in that regard? Will the advisory group have an input on the matter? Will there be an opportunity for public consultation across the country? There was a great deal of interest in the 2016 commemorations and there is a great deal of interest in the commemorations proposed for the remainder of the decade of centenaries.

The legacy of the decade of centenaries will be really important. If we think back to 1916 and the 2016 celebrations, the legacy of that was crucial to the success of the second half of this decade. We are all aware of the challenges and sensitivities involved over the next number of years, especially for an appropriate commemoration of the struggle for Independence, the foundation of the State, the Civil War and the partition of the island, as well as the foundation of Northern Ireland. I was very encouraged by our last meeting. We are taking into account the expert advisory group's recommendations. We are not necessarily tied to that but it is a very good guide. The local authorities, with the €10,000 that each has, will be able to do their own individual commemorations. There was one for Soloheadbeg and another is coming up in May. Various different local authorities will be able to use their own imagination and creativity.

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