Adjournment Matters

An Teanga Gaeilge

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Tá mé an-bhuíoch gur tháinig sé anseo. Táimid ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn ar gach leibhéal - ag an leibhéal áitiúil, ag leibhéal an Stáit agus ag an leibhéal Eorpach. Mar is eol dúinn, tá maolú i bhfeidhm i leith na Gaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh i láthair na huaire. Bhí sé curtha i dtoll a chéile i dtosach báire sa bhliain 2004 go dtabharfaí stádas faoi leith don Ghaeilge ag leibhéal an AE. Bhí muid ar fad an-dearfach faoi sin agus cheap muid gur céim an-láidir chun cinn a bhí ann.

Ag an am sin, mar gheall air go raibh deacrachtaí ann ó thaobh líon na n-aistritheoirí agus ateangairí, srl., a bhí ar fáil lena leithéid de sheirbhís a sholáthar, tugadh maolú faoi leith nach gcaitheadh an rud ar fad a chur i bhfeidhm. Sa bhliain 2010, de réir mar a thuigim, cuireadh an maolú i bhfeidhm é ar feadh roinnt blianta eile. Ciallaíonn sé sin go bhfuil athbhreithniú le déanamh ar an gcinneadh sin i láthair na huaire. Go bunúsach, tá deis ann, agus an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil de chuid an AE, 183 nó 184 post a chur ar fáil do dhaoine a bheadh ag obair sa Choimisiún agus sa Pharlaimint thall ansin ag déanamh ateangaireacht, ag aistriú cáipéisí agus ag déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil an leibhéal céanna seirbhíse á thabhairt don Ghaeilge is atá á thabhairt do gach teanga oifigiúil eile. Níl sé sin á chur i bhfeidhm againn de bharr an mhaolaithe seo, a d'iarr Rialtas na hÉireann.

Caithfear cinneadh a dhéanamh go luath, i ndáiríre, an bhfuilimid ag lorg an mhaolaithe sin a choimeád don chéad tréimhse eile. Tá súil agam go n-inseoidh an tAire Stáit dúinn anocht nach bhfuil sé sin amhlaidh, go bhfuil gach rud faoi réir agus go ndéanfaidh Comhairle an AE cinneadh maidir leis an mhaolú seo roimh dheireadh na bliana 2015, tar éis an athbhreithnithe fhoirmiúil. De réir mar a thuigim, caithfidh an Rialtas cur in iúl don AE go bhfuil an tír seo ag iarraidh go mbainfear an maolú seo amach ionas go dtarlóidh sé sin. Tá a fhios againn go maith go n-oibríonn an Coimisiún agus na hinstitiúidí eile go mall ó thaobh próiseas earcaíochta a eagrú agus poist a chur ar fáil, srl. Tá súil agam go bhféadfaí an 180 nó 190 post a bheadh ar fáil do lucht na Gaeilge a fhógairt, ach tá sé ag brath ar an Rialtas a leithéid a lorg. Ní foláir go mbeadh an t-iarratas sin á chur go dtí an Coimisiún. Iarraim ar an Rialtas cur in iúl don Choimisiún go luath - roimh dheireadh na bliana seo nó ag tús na bliana seo chugainn - go bhfuil sibh faoi réir.

Is minic a mbíonn muid ag caitheamh anuas ar an Rialtas deireanach, ach tuigim go ndearna siad infheistíocht mhór sa chomhthéacs seo. De réir mar a thuigim, tá infheistíocht de bhreis is €8 milliún curtha ar fáil chun cúrsaí a sholáthar dóibh siúd a bheadh ag déanamh ateangaireachta agus aistriúcháin, ionas go mbeadh an cumas sin aitheanta. De réir mar a thuigim, roimh dheireadh na bliana 2012, bhí 243 duine cáilithe sna cúrsaí seo agus aitheantas dá réir tugtha dóibh. De réir eolais atá curtha ar fáil dom, tá 157 aistritheoir creidiúnaithe don earnáil phoiblí ar phainéal Fhoras na Gaeilge, mar shampla. Beidh scrúdú eile i gcóir an lucht creidiúnaithe sin an mhí seo chugainn.

Tá deis ann sa chomhthéacs seo. Nílimid ag iarraidh aon duine ón tír seo a chur anonn go dtí an Bhruiséil nó go Strasbourg. Tá deis anseo 183 nó 184 post ardleibhéil a chur ar fáil roimh dheireadh na bliana 2016, ach gníomh dearfach a ghlacadh. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil an cheist seo curtha agam tráthnóna. De réir mar a thuigim, titeann an cúram go hoifigiúil nó go foirmeálta ar Roinn an Taoisigh an rud seo a lorg. Sílim gur iarr an Roinn Gnóthaí Eachtracha agus Trádála roimhe seo go gcuirfí an maolú i bhfeidhm. B'fhéidir go bhfuil an tAire Stáit ag féachaint ar an gceist ar son an Rialtais. Tá súil agam go bhfuil sé i gceist ag an Rialtas an maolú seo a tharraingt siar ionas go mbeimid in ann stádas iomlán a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge ag leibhéal an AE agus na poist ríthábhachtacha seo a chur ar fáil.

Is mian liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh as an ábhar seo a ardú ar an Athló tráthnóna. Fáiltím roimh an deis soiléiriú a thabhairt faoina bhfuil ar siúl ag an Rialtas faoi láthair maidir leis an cheist thábhachtach seo. Bhain an Ghaeilge aitheantas amach mar theanga oifigiúil agus oibre de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh ar an 1 Eanáir 2007. Bhí feidhm ag an gcéad mhaolú maidir le húsáid na Gaeilge in institiúidí an AE ar feadh cúig bliana, ón 1 Eanáir 2007 go 31 Nollaig 2011. Cuireadh síneadh cúig bliana eile leis sin ón 1 Eanáir 2012 go 31 Nollaig 2016. Is maolú é seo d'institiúidí an AE ón dualgas gach téacs dlíthiúil a aistriú go Gaeilge. Faoi théarmaí an mhaolaithe, ní gá ach dlíthe an AE a dhéantar faoi nós imeachta na comhchinnteoireachta a aistriú go Gaeilge. Mar thoradh ar theacht i bhfeidhm Chonradh Liospóin ar an 1 Nollaig 2009, is é nós imeachta na comhchinnteoireachta an gnáth-nós anois, seachas an eisceacht, i reachtóireacht an AE. Mar thoradh air sin, tá méadú mór tagtha ar líon na ndlíthe AE is gá a aistriú go Gaeilge.

Éilíonn an maolú féin go ndéanfaí cinneadh faoi mhí na Nollag 2015 ar a dhéanaí maidir le síneadh a chur leis an maolú ar feadh cúig bliana eile, nó gan sin a dhéanamh. Tá sé curtha in iúl ag institiúidí an AE, áfach, go mbeadh sé inmholta go mbeadh cinneadh ar fáil ón Rialtas faoi dheireadh 2014 ar a dhéanaí, chun cibé pleanáil a theastóidh do riachtanais ar bith earcaíochta a chur sa treis. Agus an spriocdháta sin curtha san áireamh, tá comhráite ar bun le roinnt míonna anuas idir oifigigh mo Roinne agus páirtithe leasmhara éagsúla, institiúidí an AE ina measc, chun moltaí sonracha a cheapadh maidir leis an gcur chuige is fearr don todhchaí. Mar ghné lárnach de mholtaí ar bith maidir leis an mhaolú a bhaint, tá an fháil a bheadh ar dhaoine a mbeadh na scileanna riachtanacha acu chun dul i mbun poist in institiúidí an AE, chomh maith le giniúint téarmaí i gcomhréir a n-úsáide in aistriú cáipéisí oifigiúla.

Sa chomhthéacs sin, mar atá ráite ag an Seanadóir, tá dhá thionscnamh maoinithe ag mo Roinn le roinnt blianta anuas: an tionscnamh InterActive Terminology for Europe agus an Tionscnamh Ardscileanna Gaeilge. Cuireann mo Roinn maoiniú ar fáil do Fiontar in Ollscoil Chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath chun téarmaí Gaeilge a aistriú do bhunachar sonraí téarmaíochta an AE, ar a dtugtar InterActive Terminology for Europe. Chuimsigh an maoiniú ó mo Roinn do Fiontar don tionscnamh seo ón bhliain 2007 go dtí an bhliain 2012 os cionn €1.85 milliún. Ina theannta sin, tá maoiniú ceadaithe do leanúint an tionscnaimh seo in 2013 agus in 2014. Tá os cionn 50,000 téarma Gaeilge curtha ar fáil ag Fiontar do InterActive Terminology for Europe, a chuimsíonn 9 milliún téarma i 23 teanga oifigiúla an AE. As an 23 teanga oifigiúla, tá an Ghaeilge anois ar an 14ú teanga is mó sa bhunachar sonraí téarmaíochta seo.

Bunaíodh an Tionscnamh Ardscileanna Gaeilge in 2006 mar fhreagra ar an riachtanas sainaitheanta go méadófaí líon na gcéimithe le scileanna i réimsí sonracha i gcomhthéacs Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003 agus an Ghaeilge ina teanga oifigiúil de chuid an AE. Tá soláthar daoine cáilithe le scileanna Gaeilge chun freastal ar riachtanais earcaíochta á bhaint amach tríd an tionscnamh seo. Faoin tionscnamh seo, cuireann mo Roinn maoiniú ar fáil do sainchúrsaí Gaeilge tríú leibhéal in Éirinn i réimsí ar nós aistriúchán, ateangaireacht, teicneolaíocht faisnéise agus dlí. Tá an ciste á riar ag an Roinn i gcomhar leis an Údarás um Ard-Oideachas. Tá os cionn €11 milliún caite ar an tionscnamh seo go dáta.

Maidir le comhthéacs fostaíochta san AE i gcoitinne, ní miste dom a rá go n-aithníonn an Rialtas an tábhacht straitéiseach do leas na hÉireann a bhaineann le fostaíocht do shaoránaigh na hÉireann i bpoist san AE, poist atá Gaeilge-lárnaithe san áireamh. I samhradh 2013, cheadaigh an Rialtas socruithe nua atá dírithe ar fáil réidh le dídhreasuithe do Ranna Stáit chun oifigigh a chur ag obair san AE mar shaineolaithe náisiúnta ar iasacht. Is aitheantas iad na socruithe nua seo ar a thábhachtaí agus atá sé go gheobhaidh oifigigh ón tír seo an deis oibriú i réimsí polasaí laistigh d'institiúidí an AE. Ó tharla go n-aistríonn daoine a bhíonn ag obair i bpoist teanga - go háirithe iad sin atá ag obair mar dhlí-theangeolaithe - go réimsí polasaí AE go minic, ní féidir béim sách mór a chur ar an tábhacht a bhaineann le líonadh na bpost seo do straitéis fhoriomlán an Rialtais maidir le láithreacht na hÉireann san AE a mhéadú.

Luaitear sa straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge go n-oibreoidh an Rialtas "chun na himthosca a chruthú ina mbeidh go leor céimithe cáilithe ar fáil le freastal ar riachtanais earcaíochta an AE le go bhféadfar deireadh a chur leis an mhaolú sin le linn ré na Straitéise seo". Is léir ón méid atá ráite agam tráthnóna go bhfuil plé leanúnach gníomhach ar siúl ag mo Roinn agus na páirtithe leasmhara ábhartha maidir le ceist an mhaolaithe. Tá moltaí sonracha maidir leis an gcur chuige is fearr don todhchaí á n-ullmhú faoi láthair. Tá sé i gceist na moltaí sin a chur faoi bhráid an chéad chruinniú eile den choiste Rialtais ar an nGaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht, a thionólfar go luath sa bhliain úr.

Tá sé soiléir ón méid a dúirt mé agus ós na figiúirí a thug an tAire Stáit go bhfuil sé bliana ullmhúcháin déanta don rud seo agus go bhfuil cúpla céad duine traenáilte sna réimsí seo. Tá tíortha cosúil le Málta, atá i bhfad níos lú ná muidne agus a bhfuil acmhainní níos lú acu, ábalta feidhm iomlán a thabhairt dá dteangacha ag leibhéal an AE. Tá an freagra a thug an tAire Stáit doiléir go leor, dar liom. Mar Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta, atá freagrach as an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge, ar mhiste leis a rá liom go neamhbhalbh go gcuirfidh sé comhairle ar an Taoiseach le haghaidh an chruinnithe a bheidh ag an gcoiste Rialtas tar éis na Nollag gur chóir deireadh a chur leis an mhaolú seo? Ba cheart brú ar aghaidh le stádas iomlán a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge ag leibhéal an AE.

Mar atá ráite agam, tuigim mar Aire Stáit an tábhacht a bhaineann leis an ngné seo. Aithníonn an Rialtas é sin freisin. Mar a dúirt mé, tá infheistiocht á cur ar fáil againn do Fiontar ionas go mbeidh daoine in ann na cáilíochtaí cuí a bhaint amach. Dúirt mé freisin go bhfuil comhráití leanúnacha ar siúl idir muid féin agus na páirtithe leasmhara. Is cinnte go n-aithním, chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé liom féin go pearsanta, agus go n-aithníonn an Rialtas an tábhacht a bhaineann leis an ábhar seo. Tá go dtí deireadh na bliana seo chugainn againn le cinneadh iomlán a dhéanamh. Tá mé cinnte agus dóchasach go mbeidh sé déanta i bhfad roimhe sin.

Adult Education

I welcome the Minister of State to take this matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. I have tabled the matter on behalf of the adult and further education committee of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, NAPD. The NAPD is concerned about the draft scheme of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013 and the associated regulations that the Minister has published with the scheme and how they will affect the further education sector in particular.

Further education provision in Ireland has developed within the post-primary sector. It started off as a relatively small sector, but today it is a major aspect of the education system. More than 50% of students now in further education are over 21 years of age. Clearly, it has become in reality, if not in statute, distinct as a sector from the post-primary education sector. However, to this day, it is still classed by the Department as part of the post-primary sector and covered by the post-primary section of the Department. This has led to a good deal of incoherence. Under some grant schemes the further education colleges and post-leaving certificate colleges have been covered. Representatives from the NAPD informed me today about how, following the initial round of grant announcements issued in the summer, the post-leaving certificate colleges were not covered. When it was brought to the Department's attention that they should be covered, they were included in the second round. This has been the case often in recent years. The schools may be covered under the summer works scheme one year but not the next, and for one set of information technology grants but not the next. The schools were covered for broadband under the information technology grants but not for networking and so on. This has led to a good deal of incoherence in terms of how the post-leaving certificate colleges are covered. The NAPD is concerned that the incoherence seems to be carrying through into the draft legislation on admission rules for schools.

We all agree that the admissions issue needs to be examined to ensure fair processes and that primary and second level schools are not cherry-picking students or disadvantaging those with special needs or Traveller children. While it makes sense that there should be no distinction made on academic achievement, interviews or any selection processes at second level, of course post-leaving certificate courses must be able to distinguish between students on the basis of prior attainment, portfolios, in the case of art courses, and interviews to judge their suitability for further education courses and so on.

Rationally, it makes no sense that these colleges would be covered by this legislation in the same respect and by the same regulations. Given the general scheme of the Bill, the NAPD is concerned that this is the case because the definitions in the Bill relating to schools and the student body could be interpreted as including students in further education colleges. Will the Minister of State clarify whether that is the intention? The wording suggests that they are included and that is why the NAPD is concerned. The association is particularly concerned about the rules in the draft regulations which make it clear that it will not be permissible for schools to interview students as part of the admissions process. Regulation 2 states that it will not be permissible for schools to conduct any assessment or test of the academic or other abilities of students. Clearly, that will not work in a further education context.

The NAPD is concerned because when the Government initially carried out a consultation process following a discussion paper two years ago, the NAPD sent in a response and set out clearly the concerns but this does not appear to have been taken on board. The NAPD believes there should be clear provisions in legislation stating that the law does not apply to further education colleges in the same way. However, that has not been done. The NAPD is seeking a clear commitment that the Minister for Education and Skills has heard these concerns and I have tabled the matter to establish whether the issue has been thought through. Perhaps the Minister of State can give a response on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.

I call on the Minister to meet the further education and adult education committee of the NAPD to discuss the issue and take on board the concerns. If it is appropriate to develop separate regulations for the further education sector, then it should be done in partnership with the NAPD.

The issues I have raised should be considered in the context of the way the sector is now positioned. It has increasingly been recognised that with the scale of the further education sector and the fact that it is now offering programmes altogether distinct from the post-primary area, from which it grew initially, it should be recognised as a distinct sector.

On the floor of the Dáil on 7 July 2011 the Minister said it was past time the colleges of further education had a separate identity. The context to bring this about is now in place with the establishment of SOLAS and the merging of the education and training boards and so on. Now is the time to recognise further education as a separate and distinct sector on a statutory footing. It is time to build up the sector and match it with our skills needs as an economy and so on. In addition to addressing the particular issues that have arisen with this draft legislation, I call on the Government to give priority to establishing the further education sector as a distinct aspect of our education system, to resource it properly and to ensure we do not end up with circumstances whereby legislation developed for post-primary schools is perhaps somewhat unthinkingly applied to a completely different sector simply because it is under the same section of the Department and has not been given a distinct focus.

I thank the Senator for raising the issue as it affords me the opportunity on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to outline the position on the draft scheme of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013 and associated draft regulations.

As the Senator will be aware, in early September the Minister published a draft general scheme for the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013, as well as draft regulations for discussion ahead of enacting the legislation. The heads of the Bill, which have been approved by the Cabinet, propose a new parent-friendly, equitable and consistent framework to regulate school admissions policy for all 4,000 primary and post-primary schools. If enacted, this framework will improve access to schools for all pupils and ensure consistency, fairness and transparency in the admission policies of all schools.

The Minister's aim is to improve the admissions process to ensure that the way schools decide on applications is structured, fair and transparent. The Minister has referred the draft general scheme and draft regulations to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection to allow a full public discussion, including input from parents and the education partners. The committee has since invited and has received written submissions from interested individuals and groups, including, as I understand it, the submission to which the Senator refers. It will now consider the submissions received and may also decide to invite more individuals or groups to a public hearing should it take the view that this would be beneficial. The Minister is looking forward to considering the outcome of the committee's considerations of these important proposals in order to proceed to the next age of legislation as soon as possible.

The draft regulatory framework applies to all recognised primary and post-primary schools and its primary focus is on the enrolment of junior infants at primary level and first year students at post-primary level. The Minister acknowledges that some adjustment will need to be made to the scheme to ensure no unintended consequences of the legislation on the arrangement for enrolment in post-primary and post-leaving certificate courses within such schools.

Issues of this kind will be addressed before the draft legislation is finalised. It should also be noted that access to post-leaving certificate courses is subject to the access, transfer and progression provisions of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act 2012.

I again thank the Senator for providing me with the opportunity to outline the position on the draft scheme of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2013 and associated draft regulations.

I strongly welcome the acknowledgement in the Minister of State's response of the need to adjust the general scheme of the Bill to ensure there are no unintended consequences for the plc courses. At least it shows there is an awareness in the Department that there are issues. I appreciate also his reassurance that those issues will be addressed before the legislation is finalised. I reiterate that the reason the issue has arisen and the reason we end up with unintended consequences in the further education sector is that they are treated as post-primary schools, despite the fact that in reality the sector has grown into something different. That reality needs to be recognised and the sector needs to be set up properly as a distinct sector on a statutory basis. I reiterate my call that the Minister convey the matter to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, that he meet the NAPD to discuss how the legislation can be improved to ensure there are not the unintended consequences that the Minister has acknowledged and to discuss the future of the further education and adult education sector and how it fits within his overall vision in terms of SOLAS and the education and training boards. He has acknowledged in the other House the need to recognise the distinct role the further education sector has to play particularly in the current economic environment and in the training context.

The Minister is engaging in wide consultation. He has already initiated the process and will continue it, if necessary. I will bring the Senator's comments to his attention.

Search and Rescue Service

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I ask the Minister to liaise with and support Galway city and county councils to ensure a base, as well as basic funding, is provided on the west side of Galway city for the Galway mountain rescue team. This, as the Minister may be aware, is a 999 emergency response service undertaken entirely by volunteers covering the Galway and Clare mountain ranges.

The Galway mountain rescue team is a voluntary organisation which provides a 112 or a 999 emergency response service referred by the Garda. The response service is to the upland and remote areas of counties Galway and Clare. The service is available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. The Galway mountain rescue team is a registered charity. The team comprises 34 active volunteers, male and female, ranging in age from 24 to 66 years, travelling from Letterfrack in north-west Connemara to the Burren in County Clare. Its members come from all walks of life from farming to engineering to teaching and are highly skilled selfless volunteers. The emergency response service it provides includes casualty care, rope rescue, search management and search and rescue operations. It works with a wide range of agencies such as the Ambulance Service, the Irish Air Corps, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, An Garda Síochána, mountain rescue teams throughout the country, the Irish Coast Guard, Civil Defence and Coillte Ireland. It is one of 12 rescue teams in the country. I have met the team. It is an amazing life-saving service, provided entirely by selfless people who are skilled volunteers. The very least they deserve is a base for their two vehicles, a jeep and a van and a place to dry their gear and recharge their batteries and some basic funding. It is very little to ask for a 999 service.

Within the past few weeks the team was instrumental in safely locating an old man who had been lost for a number of days in the Moycullen area and his family feared for his life. More recently they were involved in the high profile three day tragic rescue of the body of a climber in the Mweelrea mountain range. Their work is largely invisible and this in itself makes their situation problematic. Nobody sees the work they do and, as a result, they may not have as high a profile and benefit from funding in the same way, or even public funding as other groups. They are the brave ones who are out at night and day searching for life. This is our chance to rescue them and provide them with a suitable base for their basic gear.

A base to the west side of Galway city is highly desirable for easier and quicker access to the mountains. I have spoken to Ciarán Hayes of Galway City Council. Both the city and county council do not dispute the need and, in fact, are doing their best to try to locate a base. I am bringing this matter to the attention of the Minister to intervene to achieve a base, if possible prior to Christmas.

I met one of the volunteer leaders earlier this week, Mr. Jarlath Folan, who informed me that the team's current base was in the grounds of University College Hospital Galway, a base from which the team has to move. It is right that they move as there is total congestion. There are two parking spaces with no place for their gear to dry other than at the back of the van. Mr. Folan made the point, after they finished the three day search, that their gear was wet and sticky. They did not even have the proper facilities to recharge the batteries for the search lights. They take home the gear and wash it themselves. The gear would hang out and dry quite well if they had even a cabin. What struck me was the unsuitability of the current location for an emergency response team given the horrendous congestion and parking problems on the grounds of University College Hospital Galway. That is leading into a totally different Department because what is happening is not good from a health grounds position in terms of parking. Their need has been independently verified in 2012 when a team assessment was conducted by international experts who said that the lack of a base facility with sufficient space to store, inspect, dry and maintain rescue equipment and to properly house team vehicles is a serious impediment in providing a safe and efficient rescue service. A dedicated rescue base is a pressing requirement which impacts more across a range of sectors, including giving necessary assistance to visitors in Connemara and the national park and supporting an adequate wilderness emergency response generally.

This is not just a life saving service. It is a huge service to tourism. For that reason I am pleased the Minister has given his time to be present to listen to this Adjournment matter. He knows as well as I do how much the west relies on tourism. We have always learned that it is an industry that spreads its net value across the region. When walkers and climbers are coming to the country, we need them to know that if they get into difficulty there is a service that can respond immediately.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter.

Mountain rescue is a 24-7 voluntary emergency support service provided by 12 mountain rescue teams located in various regions throughout the county. These teams come together as a co-operative association under an organisation called Mountain Rescue Ireland, MRI, which was founded in 1965. At the local level, each team also develops its own administrative aid operational practices as well as its own training schedule to ensure its members are appropriately skilled and equipped when needed.

The Galway mountain rescue team has been in existence for almost 40 years and I acknowledge the very important service provided by volunteer organisations such the Galway team and the eleven other mountain rescue teams around the country who operate in all weathers and conditions. The role of the mountain rescue teams has diversified greatly in recent years and they are now called out to assist in a wide range of incidents and circumstances, including air crash response in remote environments and animal rescue.

From a tourism perspective, we welcome the growth in a range of leisure activities, particularly those such as hillwalking which attracts the interest of increasing numbers of both Irish people and visitors of all ages. The work undertaken by mountain rescue, cave rescue and water-based organisations, makes a tangible contribution to ensuring these visitors are safe and in supporting our bluelight services, particularly the Garda, which engages directly with mountain rescue services where there is an emergency event requiring their particular skills and local knowledge.

As a voluntary organisation and a registered charity, MRI has developed a number of links and relationships with various Departments and agencies such as Civil Defence, the Irish Red Cross and the Order of Malta and is funded by a combination of public donations and Government grants.

The Department of Justice and Equality holds primary responsibility for tasking the mountain rescue teams given that it is the Garda who call out these units in the event of an emergency.

My Department's sole function in respect of MRI and its constituent teams relates to an annual grant scheme overseen by the Irish Coast Guard service. This role was assigned to the Irish Coast Guard some years back in the interests of certain administrative efficiencies. The Irish Coast Guard service has over 900 volunteers working in 46 units in various coastal locations around the country and I avail of the opportunity to pay tribute to the effort and sacrifice of all volunteers across the various organisations in this country. Without these men and women State organisations and agencies would not be able to respond to the various emergencies and demands placed upon them daily. It is important that we recognise and acknowledge the contribution these individuals make on an unpaid basis in terms of their time and skill.

The Irish Coast Guard chairs two meetings per year with MRI and the Irish Cave Rescue Organisation which are also attended by An Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Air Corps where operational and administrative issues are raised and discussed and information is shared. In 2013 mountain rescue teams and MRI received nearly €170,000 in grant payments from my Department. The grants provide assistance primarily for current expenditure. The 2013 grant to the Galway mountain rescue team amounted to €7,407. Despite the growing pressure on public finances, I am pleased to say it has been possible to retain the grant at this level in the past few years and it is the intention to do so for 2014 also. MRI, as an all-island organisation, avails of further support in Northern Ireland.

Turning to the Senator's inquiry in relation to the Galway mountain rescue team, as I have set out, the role of my Department is confined to administering the grant aid scheme with limitations on its resources and, while I am not in a position to undertake the liaison role as suggested, the Irish Coast Guard service will in its current role as chair of the National Committee for Mountain and Cave Rescue continue to advance the principles of an ever-improving emergency response framework and operational and administrative quality enhancements in our volunteer organisations.

I thank the Minister for his response, but I am disappointed to hear what he says. I appreciate that he acknowledges the important work done and that his Department has an administrative role, but I would not have brought this matter before him today if I did not think it needed a push. The team is battling many forces which are not visible because of the nature of its work and where it is done, yet the Minister and I acknowledge the incredible service the team provides. What role does the Minister have in monitoring whether units such as the Galway mountain rescue team are catered for in such a way as to allow them do their business effectively?

The mountain rescue team engages with the Irish Coast Guard which is part of my Department. To the best of my knowledge, we do not have any particular role in monitoring MRI.

Does the Department have that role through the Irish Coast Guard?

I do not know the answer to that question for sure, but to the best of my knowledge, we do not. The Irish Coast Guard's only role is to administer this grant. I do not have a budget line or statutory responsibility for this. The budget we do have is very tight and the priority is to renovate one Irish Coast Guard station a year. Unfortunately, it is not possible to take on the capital costs of MRI in addition to this.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.25 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 November 2013.