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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 24 Feb 2022

Vol. 1018 No. 6

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Sports Funding

Alan Dillon

Question:

6. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the plans and a likely timeline for the next round of a sports and equipment capital programme; when it is likely to open to new applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10456/22]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

9. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the number of applications that were submitted for sports capital grants in County Louth for the latest round of funding; the total number that were awarded funding; the way the funding that has been set aside for the sports capital programme appeals process will be implemented; the expected timeline for the appeals process to last; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10372/22]

James O'Connor

Question:

16. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media her plans to allocate the funding for the approved projects under the 2022 sports capital grants; if there is a timeline available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10507/22]

Alan Farrell

Question:

21. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the detail of the appeals process for the sports capital and equipment programme; the amount of funding that will be set aside for successful appeals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10334/22]

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

47. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the number of unsuccessful applications that were made for the recently announced sports capital and equipment programme; and the amount that has been set aside to cover potential successful appeals. [10150/22]

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

49. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the process involved in allocating funding from the sports capital and equipment programme grants; the recourse available for unsuccessful groups to appeal a decision made by her Department in relation to the sports capital grants; the future funding opportunities that are available to those who were unsuccessful at this time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9885/22]

James O'Connor

Question:

52. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media when her Department will make a decision on sports capital and equipment programme grants applications that have been appealed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10508/22]

Marc Ó Cathasaigh

Question:

61. Deputy Marc Ó Cathasaigh asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the status and process of assessment for sports capital and equipment programme grants that were invalid or incomplete; when sports clubs can appeal their grants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10309/22]

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

65. Deputy Kieran O'Donnell asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will provide an overview of the sports capital and equipment programme appeals process; the timelines involved for sports clubs and organisations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10333/22]

David Stanton

Question:

68. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if her Department has set aside funding for successful appeal applications to the recent sports capital and equipment programme announcement; if so, the amount of such funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10404/22]

Jennifer Carroll MacNeill

Question:

70. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the process in place for sports capital and equipment programme appeals; the length of time the applicant has to make an appeal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10152/22]

Many sporting clubs and organisations were not in a position to apply for the 2020 sports capital and equipment programme. We need some clarity around the timing of the next round of the sports capital and equipment programme to ensure clubs and organisations can start their preparation in good time.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 9, 16, 21, 47, 49, 52, 61, 65, 68 and 70 together.

The sports capital and equipment programme is the primary vehicle for the Government support for the development of sports and recreation facilities and for the purchase of non-personal sports equipment throughout the country. More than 13,000 projects have now benefited from the sports capital and equipment programme since 1998, bringing the total allocation to more than €1.1 billion. The programme for Government commits to continuing the sports capital and equipment programme and to prioritising investment in disadvantaged areas.

The 2020 round closed for applications on 1 March 2021. By that date in excess 3,000 applications had been submitted, seeking more than €200 million in funding. This is the highest number of applications ever received. The scoring system and assessment procedures were finalised and published prior to assessment work commencing. All applications were assessed in accordance with these procedures. All of the improvements that were introduced to recent rounds of the programme to make the process as user-friendly as possible were maintained for this round. These included giving applicants a second chance to submit corrected documentation. The full scoring system can be viewed on the sports capital website.

Approximately 1,000 of the submitted applications were for equipment-only projects. These applications were assessed first. Grants with a total value of €16.6 million were announced on 6 August 2021. The remaining capital applications were then assessed and 1,865 grant offers, with total value in excess of €143.8 million, were announced in the last two weeks on Friday, 11 February 2022. As with recent rounds of the programme, the total funding available to allocate for each county was based on the population and the level of demand for that county. The top scoring applications in every county received the full, valid amount applied for. The remaining applications were allocated a grant that was based on their score and the amount sought, while applications in the bottom scoring 5% of applications in any county received no more than 75% of the amount sought. Details of all applications that were submitted in the 2020 round can be viewed on gov.ie.

All valid capital applications received a grant offer. All allocations can also be viewed on a county basis on the same site. My Department will shortly be in touch with all successful applicants via the Department's online system, OSCAR, formally notifying them of their provisional grant application. These notifications will set out the next steps required to obtain formal approval of their grant. When work is complete and grantees can show proof of payment, my Department will then process any grant drawdown requests.

My Department will also be in contact with all applicants whose applications were deemed invalid. There are currently 243 such invalid capital applications. All unsuccessful applicants will have the opportunity to appeal the Department's decision. Full details of the appeals procedure will issue to these organisations very shortly. Of the record €150 million made available to capital projects, €6 million has been kept in reserve for any successful appeals lodged by unsuccessful applicants. When the appeals process is complete, a full review of the 2020 round of the sports capital and equipment programme will be undertaken. Any recommendations contained therein will be included in the terms and conditions of the next round. The precise timing of this next round of the programme will be announced once this review is completed.

We have six speakers, so I ask them to co-operate with the time limits.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. The sports capital and equipment programme funding to local communities is without doubt one of the best investments we can make in our communities. I commend the Minister of State on the recent announcement of the €150 million national pot. It has an enormous impact throughout the country. I acknowledge the Minister of State’s Department and the team in terms of how this was administered.

The full review of the 2020 round should be undertaken in a time-limited manner to ensure any of these recommendations contained will be included in the next round. We want clarity around the timing of the next round. That is very important. It is equally fair to provide some information to those standing on the sidelines, wondering when they will get the next opportunity to start working on their applications. If we could possibly get a provisional timeline rather than any details around the next one, that would useful.

I thank the Minister and the Minister of State for their generous sports capital programme. On behalf of the 58 clubs in my constituency, I would like to say “Thank you”. Of course, there are a number who, as my colleague has outlined, were either unable to apply or who were unsuccessful. It is important we outline to them at this point, which is the root of my question, what level of funding has been set aside for appeals, as has been the case in prior years. As Deputy Dillon has outlined, this process started pre-pandemic. While the Department has been incredibly generous in its ability to come up with €150 million, clearly there will be demands by various clubs and organisations throughout the country in the coming months, to which I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, in particular would like to be responsive. I hope there will be a second phase or an extra capital programme.

First, I would like to say how grateful we are for the support we have received from the Department. I thank the Minister and, in particular, the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, for visiting the constituency.

In terms of this particular grant funding, many clubs are now asking about what the plan of the Department will be. I would very much appreciate it if both the Minister and the Minister of State would be able to provide us with some detail on timelines for the funding to be allocated as well as the process that would entail.

Again, I would like to say how much of a positive development it was. It was very welcome. It is very much one of the more community-based initiatives the Government has undertaken and it has done so very successfully. I want to outline my appreciation for the €1.9 million in funding my constituency received. I am also very hopeful about the appeals process that there would be significant funding set aside for any clubs that may have made an error in their application during the appeals process.

I join the other Members in what they have said about the next phase of this process. I would also ask if we have a vision into the future so that we could front-load funding for local authorities. I believe that, in certain circumstances, there are clubs that have expertise within them, perhaps those who have greater education or that have planning experts, engineers, barristers, teachers or whoever on their sporting committees, and there those other sporting clubs that do not have that level of expertise, and this second group can fall through the gaps during funding process. Is it not better as a long-term strategy for the Government to support local authorities to have an audit of the sporting needs in any geographical area and for them to have municipal sporting facilities so that all sporting bodies can benefit from them, rather than having these competing interests within any one geographical area?

The thrust of my question was slightly different than the initial question that was posed by Deputy Dillon. However, the Minister of State captured it in his answer. It was to ask about the status and process of assessment of sports capital grant applications that were invalid or incomplete. It is important, as Deputy Ó Ríordáin outlined, that those clubs that do not have that backroom team with that level of skill can get another opportunity to make sure they have maximised their application in terms of outlining the impact they make within their communities.

Sports capital funding is so impactful within communities. In County Waterford, there was a similar announcement in respect of the active travel funding. The sums were about €24 million in both cases. Sports capital funding, however, is so much more relatable to communities and people understand it much better. It makes a tangible difference from the bottom up, so I hope people will get another bite at the cherry.

In Limerick and north County Tipperary, more than 100 clubs and organisations got sports capital funding. It is a very good measure and there has been a significant increase on previous years. In the appeals process, there will be some clubs and sporting organisations that are deemed invalid because the type of application they put forward is not covered under the scheme, and there will be others that are invalid because they have not submitted the correct documentation. There is a major distinction. Will the Minister of State expedite the process? We need some indication as to when the appeals process will get under way. It is very important. Many of the clubs will probably be able to get the documentation together and resubmit it. Will the Minister of State clarify whether €6 million has been set aside that could be claimed under this appeals process?

Will the Minister of State pass on to his team in the Department how grateful people are for how they were treated so professionally, respectfully and helpfully?

On the question regarding the appeals, as my colleagues have said there are people who have invalid applications and so on. Can those clubs and organisations that did not get their full ask appeal as well? In some instances, the categories are such that it is not possible for the clubs to tick the box and gain that set of points. Will the Minister of State re-examine that for future years?

I thank Deputy Dillon in the first instance. Communities throughout County Mayo have responded to the programme and I acknowledge his input in that regard. As in all previous rounds, a review will be undertaken. We will take the learnings from this round, and once that has concluded, we will be able to provide a specific timeline. I do not want to mislead people about whether the process will open in a particular month or on a certain date. The programme for Government is clear that we are committed to running regular rounds of the sports capital and equipment programme. We have completed one round and we will provide a timeline for the next round when the review has concluded. The priority for now remains the round before us, given the appeals process has not concluded.

I acknowledge Deputy Farrell's points and the 58 clubs in Fingal that have benefited from the programme. A total of €6 million is available for appeals by unsuccessful applicants or applicants whose applications were deemed invalid. They will have an opportunity to respond in that regard.

Deputy O'Connor referred to €1.9 million in funding for his constituency. All clubs will soon receive communication on the exact process for how they can draw down the provisional grant offer. It will set out what they will have to do to get the full grant allocations. They will be written to shortly and that will kick off the drawdown. We will, I hope, see many projects happen this year. We want to get drawdown happening quickly.

On Deputy Ó Ríordáin's point, many local authorities have benefited this time. In Dublin, many clubs have partnered with local authorities and got significant grant allocations. For example, Bohemians Football Club partnered with Dublin City University. There are many other examples throughout the country where clubs partnered with institutions to maximise the sharing of facilities and the community benefit. That municipal approach is important to strengthen sports infrastructure for our communities. We are currently conducting an exercise with Sport Ireland in which we are mapping every recreational facility in every community in the country, which will show the geographical and community deficits that exist. It will underpin future, focused investment in sport. There are areas where that level of investment does not exist or where communities have not been able to apply, and that will inform a future approach.

I acknowledge Deputy Ó Cathasaigh's points about the benefits for County Waterford and the importance of a bottom-up approach. The appeals system will be outlined shortly.

To respond to Deputy O'Donnell, applicants with invalid or unsuccessful applications will be able to appeal. A full €6 million has been set aside. The Minister and I will finalise the appeals process this week and early next week. I hope the process will be able to commence in March and there will then be a window for all clubs to make an appeal and be assessed quickly. It will not be a drawn-out process.

I will convey Deputy Stanton's feedback to the officials. When we publish the formal appeals system, it will give clubs the opportunity to see where they fall in that context. It will be-----

I apologise for interrupting but the Minister of State will have an opportunity to conclude. We have gone way over time.

I am conscious that in the current round, there remains work to be completed regarding the formal notifications appeals process and the subsequent review of the 2020 programme. I am conscious the Department is working towards drawdowns for successful applications. In fact, I was in contact with the Minister of State's office in respect of even the 2015 awardees. In 2018 and 2022, there were announcements regarding the sports capital programme, so there was a four-year cycle in between. That is a long period for sporting organisations and clubs to have to wait to access vital funding. I would prefer there to be a two-year cycle, meaning the next awardees would be announced in 2024, with the applications opening in early 2023.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. My constituency, Dublin Fingal, has very distinct identities, individual communities and farmland, predominantly, in between. With those distinct identities come distinct rivalries, which is why those communities have looked carefully at the allocation of each sports capital funding round that has occurred over the past decade or so. I circulated some figures directly to the Minister of State at the time of the last round, as he will recall, regarding sporting code analysis. That is something we should bear in mind, not least in light of the statement he made regarding the analysis the Department is carrying out, which I fundamentally welcome because it is the right thing to do.

Having said that, it is important that clubs be given the opportunity to reapply, particularly in light of what Deputy Dillon quite correctly pointed out. The cycle has been extended, primarily because of Covid. I would like to see some commitments given in respect of the next round and what it might look like.

The appeals process is a delicate matter for many clubs and the status of appeals will depend on the nature of the errors in the applications that need to be amended. Obviously, some clubs made very minor amendments, many of them relating to appendices 4 or 5, as the Minister of State will be aware. I ask that a strong degree of leniency be given to enable them to resolve those issues. One example with which the Minister of State will be familiar relates to Fermoy GAA's application, on which we are working hard. It is a major sporting club servicing a huge area and population base. I ask for the Minister of State's support in respect of an extension of a lease from the OPW on the grounds the club occupies. Similarly, Shanballymore GAA faces an appendix 5 issue. I ask directly for the Minister of State's assistance in that regard too and am hopeful a sufficient degree of finance will be provided for the appeals process.

I am greatly encouraged by the Minister of State's response. The vision the Minister of State is outlining is something that I really welcome. The possibility that we will have an audit of the sporting needs of any given community, and that the local authority will be the driver for that, is something that will be welcome. I look forward to working with the Minister of State on it.

We would not want to see a particular sporting code or sporting pursuit fall by the wayside or fall through the cracks because some other sporting pursuit possibly has more muscle or more educated people behind its applications. I hope I am using appropriate language. I take great encouragement from what the Minister of State has outlined and I look forward to working with him on it into the future.

In my initial enthusiasm, I may have misplaced the decimal point in my first contribution.

In the next round, we should consider looking at issues of sustainability in the applications. The Minister of State might say that of course I would say that, but if we manage to turn around an energy line within a club in terms of funding, if we turn that from an outgoing to an incoming, that means they will have more money to spend on their pitches, equipment and community-building facets and, of course, it will help us to meet our climate goals. It is something we should be looking at. If a club is putting in floodlights or if it currently has floodlights, we should consider how can we move that to a lower-energy light-emitting diode, LED, system. We should look at whether clubs can put solar panels on their roofs in order that the heating of water happens through the power of sunlight rather than affecting their bottom line. That would allow them to spend their money on so many other things.

It is good to hear that the appeals process is getting under way in March. It will be welcomed. I have a few quick follow-on questions regarding that process. There has been inflation in the cost of materials. Following on from Deputy Stanton's point, will the Minister of State allow clubs to appeal to get an increase in the amount they have been allocated?

Following on from that, the next round of sports capital funding could be very significant. If it is returning to an annual basis, clubs that received insufficient allocations this year could go for phase 2 next year. That is something that needs to be looked at.

I welcome the appeals process getting under way in March. Will the Minister of State allow clubs in Limerick to appeal based on the allocation they have got to date if they believe they should have got a higher allocation? It would be extremely important at that time if the Minister of State could announce when the next round of sports capital grants will take place. That would allow clubs to plan, maybe for phase 2, to ensure they get adequate funding for an overall project.

The Minister of State did not get an opportunity to answer the question I asked earlier. If clubs want an increase in what they received, is that possible through the appeals process? If a club in that category submits an appeal, can I take it that there is no danger of it having a reduction in the amount it recently received?

I join my colleague, Deputy Ó Cathasaigh, who spoke about energy, green energy, insulation and different ways of producing energy, etc., for clubs. Many clubs are really interested in that and would welcome any supports that could be provided through this and other grants.

I thank the Minister of State for the sports capital grant in Carlow, and particularly for St. Leo's College. The Minister of State gave his commitment to women in sport and they got their full grant of €300,000.

On the appeals process, I have written to the Department. There are three clubs in Carlow that had originally been requested further information and they did not get the grant. Will the Minister of State contact them or do they have to contact the Department? Communication is key here to ensure they get the grant now with the appeals process. I welcome the €6 million that is there, but I would be grateful if the Minister of State could contact the clubs and let them know about the appeals process.

There is an overall time limit for this group of questions and I am told we are out of time. The Minister of State could take one minute. I am sorry about that. There is an overall time limit and given the number of speakers, we have gone way over time on this issue.

I do not need an answer. I am okay.

I will allow the Minister of State to speak but it is by way of exception because we have gone way over time.

I will try to respond quickly. A couple of key questions have been asked.

I repeat that we will conclude the review and we will then provide clarity on when the next round will be announced.

The appeals process will be published shortly. Unsuccessful or invalid applicants will obviously be able to appeal. It will be a broader appeals system than before. The previous appeals system was based on a mistake that the Department may have made. It would be a broader appeals system compared to the previous round.

Different Deputies have mentioned specific issues. I have said that there will be opportunities for clubs to appeal. We will publish that. It is better that I publish it, but I will say that it will be a broader system than before.

On Deputy Ó Cathasaigh's point, many clubs promoted that sustainability piece in this round, for example to convert to LED lights and to make significant energy savings. If you look across the country, you will see that there have been a considerable number of successful applicants for that. I take the Deputy's point there as well.

Successful applicants will get the drawdown information quickly. Clubs that want to appeal will also be communicated with. That will be published online. They will have an opportunity shortly to have that window to appeal.

We are way over time. We have given it good time.

It will be a broader system than before.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Imelda Munster

Question:

7. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she has had discussions with Tourism Ireland regarding the extension of Fáilte Ireland marketing brands including Ireland’s Ancient East, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands and the Wild Atlantic Way to include counties in Northern Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10218/22]

Has the Minister had discussions with Tourism Ireland regarding the extension of Fáilte Ireland marketing grants, including Ireland's Ancient East, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands and the Wild Atlantic Way to include counties in the North of Ireland? Will she make a statement on the matter?

As the national tourism development authority, in line with its statutory functions as set out in section 8(1)(a) of the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003, Fáilte Ireland's role is to support the long-term sustainable growth of tourism in Ireland. Its remit does not extend to jurisdictions outside the State, such as Northern Ireland. Tourism Northern Ireland, which is a non-departmental body of the Department for the Economy in the North, is responsible for the development of tourism in Northern Ireland.

Fáilte Ireland develops, supports and promotes tourism at regional and county level within the State in line with the relevant tourism experience brands, which provide the overarching context for enterprise supports, tourism product development and related marketing. There are four regional tourism experience brands covering all counties of the Republic of Ireland - the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands and Dublin.

Tourism Ireland promotes the island of Ireland in more than 21 markets overseas as a compelling holiday destination, using the Ireland brand to position the island as strongly as possible against the more than 200 other destinations with which Ireland competes. Tourism Ireland promotes Ireland's four regional experience brands, as well as Northern Ireland's experience brand, Embrace a Giant Spirit, on a range of platforms, including online, overseas trade platforms and other publicity.

My Department and both tourism agencies will continue to foster North-South co-operation to enhance an all-island tourism offering and grow international visitor numbers to the entire island. My officials continue to liaise with their counterparts in the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland through monthly meetings and also quarterly operational meetings with both the Department for the Economy and Tourism Ireland.

On 20 January 2022, I took part in a shared island dialogue event hosted by the Department of the Taoiseach, which focused on all-island tourism. Over 160 tourism and civil society stakeholders from across the island joined the event online to discuss the success of tourism co-operation on the island of Ireland over the past 20 years and explore how best to enhance opportunities for domestic and international visitors in the years ahead. Over the course of the dialogue, a number of key themes emerged including the opportunity for greater alignment and linkages between tourism initiatives on the island and further developing on a cross-Border basis the on-island tourism that has grown in response to the pandemic travel restrictions.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

My Department will continue to work with the Department of the Taoiseach to implement our commitments to the North-South development of tourism as included in the shared island chapter of the renewed national development plan. This includes supporting Tourism Ireland in its mission to grow tourism into the island of Ireland, to promote the recovery of the sector post pandemic and to work with the Northern Ireland Executive on developing large-scale North-South tourism initiatives which will support the sustainable growth of the sector including cross-Border walking and cycling trails as well as new market opportunities.

The Minister will be as well aware as I am that Tourism Ireland is tasked with marketing Ireland, North and South. It was created under the Good Friday Agreement alongside the two existing tourism boards.

I suppose my question relates to the lack of joined-up thinking in terms of the national tourism project. For example, the Wild Atlantic Way stops at Donegal despite the fact that the coast goes on into Derry and Antrim, and Ireland's Ancient East does not include Armagh, which would have much to offer in terms of that particular brand. It seems a no-brainer that there is no connection between the two and they are not branding Ireland as an island. Given the success we have had - the past two years have been desperate but we had success in 2019 - when there are bodies set up tasked to that, they do not take advantage of promoting Ireland as an island.

It does not make sense at all not to include Antrim and Derry in the Wild Atlantic Way and the likes of Armagh in Ireland's Ancient East. That is a simple task. Has the Minister taken any steps to promote this issue in particular?

The tourism development authority is acting in line with its statutory functions under the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003. Fáilte Ireland's remit does not extend to jurisdictions outside the State. From my engagement with Tourism Ireland, I am aware that it does an amazing job in promoting the entire island. Since the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council under strand two of the Good Friday Agreement, North-South engagement and collaboration in the area of tourism has added great value to the marketing of the island. I have been there and seen the amazing work they are doing in branding the entire island, including the branding and marketing of the Causeway Coastal Route, Ireland's Ancient East, the Wild Atlantic Way, the Global Greening initiative, the development of screen tourism, including the "Game of Thrones" studio tour, which recently opened in Banbridge, the Taste of Ireland food and drink initiative and maximising the tourism benefits of major sporting events. Tourism Ireland does a fantastic job of marketing the island.

We have a lot to offer and it is nonsensical that tourism experiences stop at the Border. Recently, I met with Tourism Ireland, and I got the distinct impression that it was put on the back-burner. I ask the Minister to flag up to Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland the simple things I pointed out, those no-brainer issues, such as why the Wild Atlantic Way cannot be extended along the coast to Derry and Antrim, and why the likes of Armagh, which has so much to offer, is not included in the Ireland's Ancient East brand. Tourism Ireland agreed with me, but the question is why it is not being done. Why are we not putting as much effort as possible into promoting Ireland as an island, given the success we have had for years in bringing tourists to this country?

The three tourism agencies operate within a balanced ecosystem within the remit of the enabling legislation. Fáilte Ireland supports tourism enterprises in the Republic of Ireland, Tourism Northern Ireland supports enterprises in Northern Ireland, while Tourism Ireland provides opportunities and support for enterprises across the whole island to promote their businesses overseas. As Deputy Munster says, the structures were established following careful consideration under the Good Friday Agreement. Changes to the function and remit of the bodies would require consultation and agreement on a North-South basis. My focus currently is on ensuring that Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland do the best possible job they can within their existing remit and that we continue the close co-operation we have with our colleagues in Northern Ireland to ensure that visitors to this island can enjoy a seamless experience with a wealth of attractions, activities and hospitality on the entire island of Ireland, in particular as we emerge from the pandemic.

Broadcasting Sector

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Question:

8. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the status of the establishment of the media commission; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10439/22]

Imelda Munster

Question:

13. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will provide an update on the establishment of the media commission; the expected timelines and other relevant details; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10217/22]

We all know that the media landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, so I wish to ask the Minister today about the status of the establishment of the media commission.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 13 together.

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2022 will, when enacted, formally dissolve the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, and establish a new regulator, coimisiún na meán, which will be responsible for overseeing the regulation of broadcasting and video on-demand services and the new regulatory framework for online safety. Coimisiún na meán will also have functions relating to the promotion of an open, trusted and pluralistic media and online environment, including research, education, media literacy, the protection of children, and journalistic and creative supports. Part 3 of the Bill sets out the legal basis for the establishment of an coimisiún, including its powers and functions, the membership of an coimisiún as a multi-commissioner body led by an executive chairperson and matters relating to the staffing and superannuation of an coimisiún. It also sets out the accountability of an coimisiún to the Oireachtas and provides for the independence of an coimisiún in the exercise of its functions. Given that infringement proceedings have been launched against Ireland for the delay in the transposition of the revised audiovisual media services directive, which will be given effect in Irish law by the Bill, I am keen to see the Bill enacted by the summer recess. This would pave the way for the formal establishment of coimisiún na meán by ministerial commencement order in the second half of this year.

A key milestone in the progress of the Bill through the Houses was marked on Tuesday, when I had the opportunity to complete Second Stage of the Bill in Seanad Éireann. That debate provided an opportunity for me to set out what I believe are the most important provisions of the Bill, including the establishment of an coimisiún, and for me to listen to the perspectives of Senators from all sides of the House. Based on that debate, and the widespread recognition of the importance of the Bill, I am confident that we, as parliamentarians, can complete our consideration of the Bill by the summer. I acknowledge that this is an ambitious timeline for a Bill of this scope and scale. However, I believe this will still allow us to give extensive consideration to the Bill on Committee and Report Stages in both Houses. I know that Members of both Houses are as committed as I am to the enactment of the Bill and to the formal establishment of an coimisiún and the commencement of its operation.

Given the importance of an coimisiún, the Government has approved its establishment on an administrative basis prior to the enactment of the Bill. While an coimisiún will, as set out in the Bill, ultimately be funded through levies on regulated services, I secured €5.5 million in budget 2022 to provide start-up funds to resource the establishment process. A programme of work is now under way to secure the recruitment of key staff with the relevant skills and expertise to establish and lead an coimisiún and to lay the groundwork for the commencement of its regulatory functions. This includes managing the transition of Broadcasting Authority of Ireland staff and functions to an coimisiún, while at the same time ensuring the continuity of existing broadcasting regulation set out under the Broadcasting Act 2009.

The recruitment of the senior staff who will lead and manage coimisiún na meán is a priority. Work is currently under way between my officials and officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Public Appointments Service, PAS, to secure the recruitment of those staff, including the executive chairperson and online safety commissioner, through open, transparent, and effective public competitions. As provided for by Part 3 of the Bill, the recruitment of the commissioners and executive chairperson will be carried out by the PAS. I would expect that these critical posts would be advertised in the second quarter of 2022 at the latest. Part 16 of Bill provides for the dissolution of the BAI and the transfer of its regulatory functions, assets, rights and liability, and its staff to an coimisiún. In this context, it is important to note that the Bill specifies that BAI staff will transfer over on their existing terms and conditions. The dissolution of the BAI and the transfer of its staff will take place following the enactment of the Bill and commencement of the relevant provisions.

As we know, people rely on newspaper, TV, radio and online platforms to find out about local and national issues, to inform them about current affairs, to showcase our culture and especially to reach out to our Irish abroad and to bring the nation together at times of national celebration and reflection. I rely heavily on my own local media such as KCLR, The Nationalist and the Carlow People. I see how these traditional broadcasters and newspapers in Carlow are facing new and increased pressures. We need a media that informs, entertains and reflects us as a people and delivers value for money. How can we protect and enhance independent journalism and ensure creative artists have a platform to showcase our culture to the country and to the wider world? This is a significant issue for me. Disinformation is on the rise. Sustainable and impartial journalism has never been more important. That is why it will be important to have the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill. I welcome the commitment the Minister has given that the Bill will be enacted by the summer or the end of this year. The timescale on this is of the utmost importance.

My question was prompted by comments from the Minister on the establishment of the media commission, which indicated that the process would begin ahead of the passing of the Bill. The committee has corresponded with the Minister, as it appears that we are in a vacuum currently in terms of the commission and the Bill. We know that the staff of the BAI will be transferred, but is the Minister saying that the recruitment process has started or that it will not happen until the second quarter of this year? Are we looking at the second half of this year before the commission will be established?

Disinformation is a significant and complex issue, as Deputy Murnane O'Connor has said, and requires a distinct and targeted response. The EU is currently reviewing the code of practice on disinformation in order to strengthen it and to link it to the forthcoming Digital Services Act, which will set out the standards for platforms in dealing with the issue. The code of practice is a European Commission initiative which involves a range of online platforms, including social networks and advertising industry players, signing up to the self-regulatory standards to fight disinformation. The Commission intends that the code will evolve into a co-regulatory instrument under the Digital Services Act. In addition, the European Commission has established the European Digital Media Observatory, including a hub here in Dublin City University, which has been tasked with monitoring the implementation of the code.

In response to Deputy Munster, I do not see the vacuum. The Bill was before the House and has completed Second Stage in the Seanad. It is very much to do with the importance of establishing the commission that we have approved its establishment on an administrative basis prior to the enactment of the Bill, and I have spoken about that several times. That is why I secured the €5.5 million. My intention is that the Bill will be enacted and we will have this commission set up.

When that Bill is enacted and the BAI is formally dissolved, the new regulator, coimisiún na meán, will be established. This is important because it will be responsible for overseeing the regulation of broadcasting, video on-demand services and the new regulatory framework for online safety set out in the Bill. It is essential from both an operational and reputational standpoint that the commission has sufficient staff with experience and skills that are at an appropriate level in order to effectively carry out its regulatory functions. How will the Minister ensure that the commission has the required skills needed for such a wide remit and to cover the specific area of online safety as set out in the Bill? How will we ensure the voice of those most directly impacted by the work of the commission - the general public - will be integrated into its work?

Yesterday, we had Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, at the media committee. She was very clear about the responsibility of Ireland in terms of regulating social media effectively and having a regulator with real teeth. She stressed time and time again the need to ensure sufficient resources are available to address these issues because it is a completely new regulatory environment in terms of the tech giants, where we are starting pretty much at zero. Will the Minister expand on the funding situation? What level of funding does she expect to come from the content levy, what level of funding will come from the Government and what sort of increase does she expect in regard to staff numbers?

I want to address the previous issues that I did not get to conclude. I have provided €5.5 million to commence recruitment of staff. The aim is to pass the Bill by the summer. With regard to recruitment, officials are engaging with the PAS and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I expect to advertise for the key commissioner posts in coimisiún na meán in the second quarter of the year.

Deputy Murnane O'Connor asked about resourcing. Given the importance of an coimisiún, we approved the establishment on an administrative basis prior to the enactment of the Bill so we can move quickly with this. That is why I secured €5.5 million in the budget to provide the start-up funds to resource the establishment process. A programme of work is now under way to secure the recruitment of key staff who will have the relevant skills and expertise to establish and manage an coimisiún. This includes the recruitment of the online safety commissioner through an open, transparent and effective process managed by PAS. An coimisiún will ultimately be fully funded by the industry levy.

Question No. 9 answered with Question No. 6.

Údarás na Gaeltachta

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

10. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the status of the public consultation on the selection process for the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10442/22]

Tá an cheist seo dírithe ar bhord nua Údarás na Gaeltachta. Conas a bheidh na baill roghnaithe? Cén plean atá ann don athbhreithniú air sin? Cén leagan amach a bheidh air? An bhféadfadh an tAire Stáit soiléiriú a thabhairt air sin?

Mar is eol don Teachta, luaitear sa chlár Rialtais go ndéanfar athbhreithniú ar struchtúir fheidhmiúcháin agus rialachais Údarás na Gaeltachta agus ar an bpróiseas roghnúcháin nó toghcháin i ndáil le bord an údaráis. Mar a bhaineann sé leis an athbhreithniú ar an bpróiseas roghnúcháin nó toghcháin i ndáil le bord an údaráis, cuireadh tús le gairid le comhairliúchán poiblí mar chuid den athbhreithniú. Tá sé seo á dhéanamh sa chaoi is go mbeidh an deis chuí ag páirtithe leasmhara agus ag an bpobal trí chéile a dtuairimí faoin ábhar a roinnt i scríbhinn leis an Roinn. Is féidir aighneacht a dhéanamh faoin ábhar idir seo agus an 25 Márta tríd an gceistneoir ina leith, atá ar fáil ar gov.ie, a chomhlánú agus a sheoladh chun na Roinne idir seo agus sin. Ós rud é gur comhairliúchán poiblí é seo, foilseofar na haighneachtaí a bhfaightear ar shuíomh Idirlín na Roinne in am tráth.

Comhthreomhar leis an bpróiseas sin, leanfaidh mo Roinn ag obair mar is cuí i gcomhar leis an Oifig um Sholáthar Poiblí i dtreo sainchomhairleoireacht a aimsiú chun tabhairt faoin athbhreithniú foriomlán agus moltaí ina leith a sholáthar don Roinn maidir leis an ábhar. Is é an cuspóir trí chéile a chinntiú go mbeidh fáil ag an údarás ar an saineolas, ar na scileanna agus ar an ionchur pobail ábhartha agus cuí atá de dhíth le go mbeidh an bord in ann tacú le feidhmeannas an údaráis a cuid feidhmeanna a chomhlíonadh go héifeachtúil agus go héifeachtach ar leas na pobail Ghaeltachta a ndéanann an t-údarás freastal orthu.

Mar is eol don Teachta, faoi réir na bhforálacha ábhartha de na hAchtanna um Údarás na Gaeltachta, arna leasú faoi Acht na Gaeltachta, 2012, is ar feadh tréimhse chúig bliana a mhaireann ceapacháin ar bhord an údaráis de ghnáth. Ós rud é gur ceapadh an bord reatha i mí Eanáir 2018, tiocfaidh deireadh lena shaolré i mí Eanáir 2023. Is é seo an dara bord atá ceaptha faoi na socruithe reatha réamhluaite.

Tá sé fíorthábachtach go mbeidh deis ag an bpobal a thuairimí a chur in iúl mar gheall ar an mbord agus ar an leagan amach a bheidh ann. Gan dabht, sa tslí atá ann faoi láthair, níl an rogha ag an bpobal a ionadaithe féin a roghnú. Tá laige ansin agus tá laghdú ar an nasc idir an pobal agus na hionadaithe atá ann thar a gceann. Mar sin, tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh an deis sin ag an bpobal. An bhféadfadh an tAire Stáit soiléiriú a thabhairt ar an tréimhse a bheidh ag an mbord nua? An mbeidh gach ionadaí ar an mbord sin ar chomhchéim? An mbeidh deis ag gach ionadaí freastal ar feadh na tréimhse céanna? Faoi láthair, tá ionadaithe ann ó Chorcaigh, ón Mí agus ó Phort Láirge atá srianta. Níl ach dhá bhliain acu ar an mbord. Cuireann sé isteach ar fheidhmiú an bhoird go bhfuil daoine ag athrú an t-am ar fad agus go bhfuil tréimhse ghairid ann. An bhféadfadh an tAire Stáit soiléiriú a thabhairt air sin?

Leis an bpróiseas comhairliúcháin poiblí, beidh deis ag gach duine ar fud na tíre páirt a ghlacadh sa phróiseas. Aontaím leis an Teachta go mbeidh sé an-tábhachtach deis a thabhairt do gach duine páirt a ghlacadh ar bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta. Mar is eol don Teachta, beidh an próiseas comhairliúcháin poiblí ag tosú go luath. Tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann an t-athbhreithniú a thosú chomh luath agus is féidir. Nuair atá an próiseas seo críochnaithe, beimid in ann an struchtúr nua a chur amach agus na ceisteanna agus na céimeanna eile a shoiléiriú. Beimid in ann na ceisteanna sin a fhreagairt i ndiaidh an phróisis seo.

Mar a luaigh mé, beidh an bord reatha as feidhm in 2023. Tá an t-am sin ag druidim linn go tapa. Tá an próiseas comhairliúcháin tosaithe anois. An bhfuil tuairim ag an Aire Stáit ar cén fhad a thógfaidh an próiseas comhairliúcháin? An mbeidh an córas nua i bhfeidhm in am i gcomhair an chéad bhord eile a chur isteach in 2023? An bhfuil plean faoi leith chuige sin? Luafaidh mé arís an tslí ina bhfuil an nasc idir pobal na Gaeltachta agus an bord laghdaithe nuair nach bhfuil deis ag an bpobal a ionadaithe féin a roghnú. Dar ndóigh, ní raibh aon ionadaíocht ag roinnt acu ar feadh ceithre bliana agus is laige é sin. Pé rud a roghnófaí, tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh gach ball ar chomhchéim agus go mbeidh deis ag an bpobal a ionadaithe féin a roghnú amach anseo. Cífimid cad a éireoidh as an bpróiseas comhairliúcháin, ach an féidir soiléiriú a thabhairt ar cén uair an mbeidh an bord nua ag teacht i bhfeidhm?

Tá nasc idir an bord agus an pobal agus is é sin an fáth go bhfuilimid ag déanamh an próiseas seo anois chun deis a thabhairt do dhaoine páirt a ghlacadh sa phróiseas comhairliúcháin poiblí. Ina dhiaidh sin, beimid in ann an struchtúr nua a chur amach nuair a bheidh an t-athbhreithniú críochnaithe. Beimid in ann na céimeanna eile a fhoilsiú nuair a bheidh an t-athbhreithniú críochnaithe maidir leis an mbord eile. Táimid ag déanamh na hoibre sin anois agus nuair a bheidh an t-athbhreithniú foilsithe, beimid in ann na céimeanna eile a chur amach maidir leis an mbord nua. Tuigim, ámh, go bhfuil an bord seo críochnaithe an bhliain seo chugainn. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an t-athbhreithniú críochnaithe i rith an tsamhraidh agus beidh go leor míonna againn chun na céimeanna eile a chur i gcrích.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Joe Flaherty

Question:

11. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media the status of a shared island approach to sport; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10436/22]

Our shared island initiative aims to harness the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement, to enhance co-operation, connection and mutual understanding on the island and engage with all communities and traditions as we seek to build consensus around the shared future. Sport will play a large part in all this. Will the Minister update the House on the shared island approach to sport.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that there will be a shared island dialogue on sport this afternoon. It will be the ninth event in the shared island dialogue series that was launched by the Taoiseach in October 2020. This event is being held in the Sport Ireland national sports campus in Blanchardstown and can also be watched online from 2.30 p.m.. Current and former sports stars, sports organisations, clubs, community groups and health and well-being professionals will come together today to examine the role that sport plays in building and improving community relations. It will also explore how to enhance co-operation through sport across the island.

There is, of course, a long and vibrant tradition of collaboration in sport across the island. Many of our sporting bodies are organised on an all-island level; our international teams in sports as diverse as rugby, cricket and hockey draw on the talent of people from all parts of this island for their success and our Olympic heroes come from all backgrounds, cultures and traditions, representing the full diversity of communities and traditions on the island of Ireland.

Towards the end of last year, I launched a sports action plan which runs until the end of next year. One of its actions commits to continue to engage positively on a North-South basis to facilitate the delivery of sport and physical activity to all on the island and to enable the sharing of best practice and access to facilities. Today's dialogue provides an important opportunity to look at how we can put that into practice.

That is most welcome. As we build a shared island we need to facilitate and expand our sporting connections and, therefore, this news is very timely. Sport plays a vital role in breaking down barriers and bringing communities together. We only have to look at our experience through Covid to see how important sport was. It brings us together in a common cause and in teamwork and, most importantly, it helps fill the gaps that divide us. That is nowhere more important than in Ireland.

Can the Minister of State indicate any measures that have been implemented or are planned on the shared island approach to sport?

More than two thirds of the 70 or so NGBs have decided to run their sports on an all-island basis. They have produced some brilliant teams across so many sports. We have also seen that in our international representation in athletics and a range of other sports. It is important that we strengthen those ties and ascertain how we can share sporting facilities. The Department and Sport Ireland have a lot of engagement with Sport Northern Ireland on how we can achieve that across the board.

Sport has a key role in allowing people to leave their differences at the door and build a common connection and common purpose through sport. Building those links between people from different traditions on this island can play a key role in breaking down barriers. We are keen to strengthen that. The dialogue we will have today will play a key role too.

I commend the Minister of State on his input and role in the area so far. He has taken a real leadership role, although I saw his exploits on Twitter earlier this week and I do not think he will be any threat to Johnny Sexton or Joey Carbery soon. The role he is in probably suits him better.

More seriously, is there a budget allocation in the shared island unit for initiatives relating to sport?

The shared island unit in the Department of the Taoiseach is supporting today's event. That will allow future conversations on what cross-Border initiatives might be possible. That is across all areas of government. That structured conversation with people who have experience and who have grown up, North and South, on how we can build those bridges and break down barriers, leave their differences at the door and celebrate different traditions through sport is important. We have seen many example where sport in communities, particularly in the North, has played a key role in bringing people of all generations together where they can celebrate difference rather than having that divide. That is why it is a key area of focus in today's dialogue. Hopefully, it will fulfil future opportunities. Both Departments work closely on sharing facilities and looking at infrastructural possibilities.

We are running out of time. We have time to squeeze in one more question but it will not have the full time.

Tourism Industry

Brendan Griffin

Question:

12. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media her plans for domestic tourism for 2022; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10506/22]

What is the outlook for domestic tourism for 2022. I had tabled another question on international tourism as well but I would ask the Minister to give the House an update on the plans.

In budget 2022, the Government allocated €67.6 million in additional funding for tourism, thereby bringing the overall tourism services budget to €288 million. This funding will enable the tourism agencies to assist in the recovery of the sector. The funding allocated to the tourism agencies in 2022 includes €50 million for further business continuity support for strategic tourism businesses and a €35 million increase in the tourism marketing fund as well as €36.5 million in capital funding for tourism product development.

Fáilte Ireland recently unveiled plans to support a sustained and sustainable recovery of the tourism industry this year. The plans include a doubling of domestic marketing investment to €10 million to drive domestic demand including short breaks all year round. The implementation of four regional brand tourism strategies will be critical to driving the long-term recovery of tourism across Ireland and to capitalising on the anticipated growth in inbound tourism in 2022.

There will be further investment in the digital presence of tourism businesses, including enhancing the digital capabilities of more than 400 tourism businesses through Fáilte Ireland's Digital that Delivers programme. A digital audit of more than 800 hotels will be conducted and a suite of digital supports will be rolled out to ensure that businesses are visible, searchable and, most importantly, bookable. Fáilte Ireland will help address staffing and skills issues in the tourism and hospitality sector, including the first-ever excellent employer programme. The agency will assist businesses in their immediate recruitment efforts and help them to commit to driving long-term change and to making the industry an appealing and rewarding workplace that can attract and retain talent.

Fáilte Ireland will continue its investment in new and enhanced and best in class visitor experiences. Projects that will open between now and 2025 will be dispersed throughout the country and will help drive visitor growth with a strong focus on the outdoors. This will be complemented by a strong network of festivals and events such as the Fleadh Cheoil 2022, which I am pleased will return as an in-person physical event, taking place this summer in Mullingar. The Fleadh Cheoil is the world's largest annual celebration of Irish music, language, song and dance and it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the host town.

The Deputy has one minute. He will not get back in again.

It is very important that there should be strong marketing funding. There will be strong demand among people for going overseas. That is attractive after having had two years at home and, therefore, it is really important that we try to keep as much money in our economy as possible. It is really important that there be good interaction between the Minister and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science around addressing the skills shortages. That will be a critical challenge for the industry in the years ahead. The commitments in the programme for Government on the Wild Atlantic Way and greenways are important.

We should look at what we can do with the eastern seaboard as well. There is great potential there. Developing those experiences is very important. As a final point, it is really important to fight for the capital in 2022 for future years to keep investing in new attractions and experiences in Irish tourism.

There is much to address there. As I outlined earlier, there has been that increased funding in the form of the €35 million increase in the tourism marketing fund, as well the €36.5 million in capital funding for tourism product development. The Deputy will be aware the largest-ever investment announced last year by Fáilte Ireland in Westport, Dublin, Donegal and Cavan. That is the investment in those new visitor experiences.

From my engagement with Tourism Ireland I can tell him there is pent-up demand to visit Ireland. People are being attracted by the key attractions the Deputy mentioned such as the greenways, walkways and blueways. I am acutely aware of those commitments in the programme for Government and how they can really drive the tourism back. I am of course working closely with Fáilte Ireland to encourage people to still holiday at home and support our tourism industries.

There is engagement with the Minister, Deputy Harris, on recruitment. He is doing fantastic work there and has worked with the Irish Hotels Federation on that, as the Deputy will be aware.

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