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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 28 Jun 2017

Vol. 252 No. 10

Commencement Matters

Nursing Homes Support Scheme Administration

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to the House.

I welcome the Minister of State and congratulate him again. I wish him every success in his new role as Minister of State. I must deal with two people from west Cork this morning and I am sure it will make my job that much easier.

You should be so lucky.

The matter I wish to raise is the fair deal scheme and its current structure whereby someone admitted to a nursing home who is a landowner would have that land taken into account in calculating the assessment of payment towards nursing home charges. I know of two cases. One is a very sad case as a person who owned land died and the land passed back to the mother; she is now in a nursing home. She transferred the land approximately one year before she went into the nursing home but the process takes into account any land transferred within five years. The person who inherited the land has paid the full whack of inheritance tax but was not entitled to agricultural relief. That person is also now paying the full whack for nursing home charges.

In the second case, the father died and the mother got 50% of the farm while the sons got the other 50%. She developed an illness where she had to be admitted to a nursing home. They are paying €2,500 per month in nursing home charges. There is no way the land is even earning that kind of money but they are required to pay that €2,500 per month. It is in this context I raise the matter.

I have an email from the Department of Health on this issue dated 28 June 2016, believe it or not. I understood there would be some reform in the matter. I know there was a proposal from the Irish Farmers Association to apply the same rules that concern agricultural relief - in other words, there would be a devaluing of land by 90% and taking into account full value of the dwelling house. I am not sure what progress has been made and it is in that context I have raised this morning's matter.

I thank the Senator for his continued interest, assistance and guidance. I look forward to working closely with him on the matter, one of many in the health area in which he has a particular expertise and interest. As I come to terms with getting on top of my brief, I look forward to working with the Senator more closely.

The nursing homes support scheme, NHSS, provides financial support towards the cost of long-term residential care services in nursing homes and ensures that long-term nursing home care is accessible to everyone assessed as needing it. Participants contribute to the cost of their care according to their means, while the State pays the balance of the cost. The scheme aims to ensure that long-term nursing home care is accessible and affordable for everyone and that people are cared for in the most appropriate settings.

Under the scheme, an applicant will contribute up to 80% of their assessable income and a maximum of 7.5% of the value of any assets per annum. The State will then pay the balance of the cost of care. It is Government policy, as the Senator is aware, to encourage orderly succession arrangements for farms, and this is also endorsed by farming organisations. The Revenue Commissioners have a number of schemes in place designed to protect the value of a transferred family farm, such as tax relief schemes relating to capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax and stamp duty. In most cases, early succession arrangements in families should ensure that farm assets are transferred well in advance of five years before nursing home care is required, meaning that a levy on the farm asset is avoided entirely.

It is important to note that an applicant’s principal private residence will only be included in the financial assessment for the first three years of their time in care. This is known as the three-year cap. The scheme ensures that nobody will pay more than the actual cost of care and contains a number of important safeguards. For example, where an applicant’s assets include land and property held in the State, the contribution based on such assets may be deferred and collected from the estate. This is the optional loan element of the scheme. It is important to note that the scheme already contains provisions for the treatment of income generating assets such as farms. In an acknowledgment that unexpected health events can occur that prevent early succession arrangements, a farm or relevant business can also qualify for the three-year cap. This applies where the person has suffered a sudden illness or disability that causes them to need long-term nursing home care; the person or partner was actively engaged in the daily management of the farm until the time of the sudden illness or disability; and a family successor certifies that he or she will continue the management of the farm.

When the scheme commenced in 2009, a commitment was made that the scheme would be reviewed. The report of the review was published in July 2015. Arising out of that review, a number of key issues have been identified for more detailed consideration across Departments and agencies, including the treatment of business and farm assets for the purposes of the financial assessment element of the scheme. In a further acknowledgement of the importance of this issue, we have committed in the Programme for a Partnership Government to reviewing the scheme to remove any discrimination against small business and family farms. An interdepartmental and agency working group has been established to progress many of the recommendations contained in the review of the scheme, including the examination of the treatment of family farm and business assets. This examination is ongoing and at an advanced stage.

It is important to remember the NHSS is largely underpinned by primary legislation and any changes to the scheme will require legislative implementation. A commitment has been made to prioritise and fast-track the examination of the treatment of family farms and business and the Department of Health will bring forward changes to the legislation to deal with the uncertainty that is being felt by many farming and business families in line with A Programme for a Partnership Government commitments.

The Minister of State touched on the point that in the case of sudden illness, the person comes in under the fair deal scheme. The case I was referring to is a case of Parkinson's disease, which, as he will be aware, is a gradual illness. In that case, the person is now being penalised. The person who is in the nursing home obviously cannot predetermine what illness he or she gets. The person is now being penalised because of having a particular type of illness because it was regarded in the assessment as a gradual illness rather than a sudden illness.

My second issue with the current position is that even if one does not give the agricultural relief that is available under the inheritance tax, it is for an indefinite duration that the payments are being made to the nursing homes. There is no three-year cut-off point whereas there is for everyone else. It is 7.5% of the assets, but for a maximum of three years. With farmers and businesses, there is no three-year rule. It is a severe penalty. It is in that context that the issue needs review.

In the other case to which I referred, where the person died with no will made, the property came back to the mother who was then admitted to a nursing home. The person who gets the farm is caught by inheritance tax and by the nursing home charges as well. It seems an extremely heavy penalty to have to pay.

I thank Senator Colm Burke. The Senator clearly has a commanding grasp of this issue and I look forward to further engagement with him on it. I share the Senator's fundamental concern. There is an issue. It has been well flagged but it has not been well addressed. That is how I would sum it up. Farming families - I come from a rural constituency and am familiar with that particular challenge - and indeed families with small businesses who have worked hard and have paid their contributions along the way to the State suffer a discriminatory practice where the three-year cap is not applied to their assets but it is applied in the case of those with a principal private residences. I want to see that anomaly addressed.

As the Senator will appreciate, I am only a week in the position but I met my officials yesterday on this issue and asked them to give me a briefing on it, which they did. On the back of that, I looked for the IFA to come in and meet me which, of course, it is more than willing to do. I understand negotiations have been ongoing with the IFA. I want to conclude those negotiations soon because the issue has dragged on too long and it needs to be addressed. As the Minister of State with responsibility for this issue, I am determined to address it forthwith and I look forward to doing that as quick as I can.

Farm Relief Scheme

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle. A number of young farmers spoke to me recently about the farm relief scheme. While it is positive and farmers are members of it, at present young farmers are finding it hard to get relief workers. People are not applying for the vacancies as they arise. A young farmer, who was going to a wedding one weekend, had to bring back somebody who was much older than he was to milk the cows and carry out different work on the farm. While I realise there are qualified persons who are registered with the farm relief scheme, there is a shortage of applicants for the vacancies.

It is a big issue for farmers, especially for the future. They have to reach their 2020 targets but they are concerned that with the shortage of people, between people not applying and people not responding, there will be a problem in reaching their targets. What is the Minister of State's opinions on it? Can incentives be put in place to encourage people to get involved in farming? After all, one's first reaction is to go back to one's roots. Many people came from farming backgrounds before they went into other walks of life. Addressing this issue is crucial.

I thank Senator Maria Byrne for raising this subject which, I have to admit, is close to my heart. As somebody who is a graduate of the farm apprenticeship scheme, which, at the time, was the hard work scheme, I certainly appreciate the value of having young people trained in the area.

Human capital is one of the five themes highlighted in Food Wise 2025. It highlights the need for the attraction, retention and development of skills and talent right along the supply chain. Investment in people is crucial for the success of Food Wise 2025 and the success of the sector as a whole. I might add that I had to leave the national economic dialogue to come here to take this Commencement matter and that an afternoon break-out session will be on the agrifood sector addressing all the challenges and that one of the five themes will be human capital.

The report identifies a number of skills gaps, including lack of advanced financial and business development capabilities, foreign language skills, and capacity to absorb new technologies and processes both at producer and processing levels. The implementation of the report recommendations on skills and human capital will be crucial if the ambition for the sector in the report is to be achieved.

Highly skilled and committed people have driven this sector for decades and the agrifood sector is embedded in our culture as a nation. In a fast changing globalised economy, the premium and advantages to be achieved by applying the most up-to-date skills and techniques, attracting new enthusiastic and trained people and the ongoing development of the skills of those already involved in the sector will allow the sector fulfil Its potential.

Continuing changes to regulatory and farm compliance requirements have implications for both young farmer education and the lifelong learning requirements of adult farmers. Likewise rapid advances in the use of information technology, applied software and the use of smart applications is impacting on the farming sector and the education and up-skilling of young and adult farmers.

In November last year, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine hosted a food and drinks skills workshop. This proved a useful format for informing stakeholders from the food and beverage sector, trade unions and academics of the skills gaps facing the sector, from factory workers to top executives, and gathering practical ideas of how to address these issues. A list of recommendations were agreed at the workshop and these were presented to the expert group on skills in December. The Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Fitzgerald, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, launched the 2017 Report of Future Skills Needs in the Food and Drinks Sector in April.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine hosted a similar workshop on 6 April, looking at future skills needs and gaps at farm level. The workshop was held to highlight the skills gaps at farm level, the need to develop a career path for those working on the farm to use this to attract and retain talent for this sector and improve the overall perception of a career in farming. The workshop was divided into three themes, farm operatives, farmers and farm managers, and the next generation, with speakers from Teagasc, the farm relief services, progressive farmers, both male and female, and the land mobility service. Representatives from the various farming organisations, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Education and Skills attended the workshop also. This resulted in a number of recommendations being made. These recommendations were presented to the Minister, Deputy Creed, at the Food Wise 2025 high-level implementation committee in May and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is currently examining the next steps for these recommendations.

The recommendations are based on the three themes of the workshop.

We are all aware of the significant shortage of skilled labour on dairy farms, in particular, but also in horticulture. A solution could be a training model to provide for skills training for farm operatives as well as future farmers. Common issues identified at the workshop include better communication on career possibilities to young farmers, in particular at secondary school level; skills training needs to adapt to meet new skills gaps and new and different workforce; literacy and language support should be mainstreamed in all training; and the need for continuous professional development as part of career development.

There is no doubt that Irish farms are the bedrock on which this whole multi-billion euro sector rests. This is something we must never forget and the Minister, Deputy Creed, and I are determined to ensure, together with agencies such as Teagasc, that farming is a viable career opportunity for those who wish to pursue it. Earlier this month, Teagasc published a farm labour manual to assist farmers who are currently employing or thinking of employing a labour unit for the first time.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. More secondary schools are beginning to teach agriculture-related subjects and perhaps that is the route to follow in order that students can secure part-time employment at weekends and so on and help out on farms. It is a significant issue in the farming sector and I acknowledge the Minister of State is very much aware of it. Hopefully, it will be kept under observation.

I thank the Senator. A long time ago when I was in secondary school, an official from the old farm apprenticeship board came to the school to give us a talk. We then went to agricultural college. County committees of agriculture, which do not exist anymore, awarded scholarships and students were informed about the different career paths and opportunities. Farming is competing on many levels to attract people to embark on a career in the sector. Between 60% and 70% of leaving certificate students go on to third level but a stream of other options is available to them, including apprenticeships. At the end of the day, farming has to be seen as a lifestyle and to be family friendly. That is why the Senator's comments about the relief service are important. I worked for a relief service many years ago in New Zealand. I was sent in to do holiday cover for a weekend, ten days, two or three weeks or to cover someone who was injured. Such could provide a second income for young people who are trying to come home until their father or mother decides to pass on the farm. It could be a transitionary arrangement for some people. There are many opportunities.

School Accommodation

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I congratulate her on her new brief. Having served with her on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council many years ago, I am well aware of her passion for education. I wish her well. We enjoyed a reception in UCD last night where she more than held her own. Anyone who thinks they will have it easy with her will be surprised. Indeed, I will bear that in mind as I make my contribution.

When I was thinking about what I would say, I decided to download the speech I made seven weeks ago on this issue when the Minister for Education and Skills was present. I regret that little has changed since then and that is why I was moved to table this Commencement matter again as we reach the final week of the year in Ballinteer Educate Together national school. Classes are breaking up today, if they did not do so yesterday. The case history, with which the Minister of State will be familiar, is long. I attended the first meeting in 2010 when it was decided that an Educate Together school was needed in the greater Ballinteer-Stepaside area. We now have two schools, which are bursting at the seams and which have long waiting lists. One school set up in Stepaside has thankfully moved into excellent accommodation being built by the Department beside Belarmine estate. However, Ballinteer Educate Together national school is in limbo. Unfortunately, I regret that its situation is not being helped by the intransigence of the Department and its silence on many issues relating to parents, teachers and the wider school community. The numbers involved in this school are increasing exponentially. It is, however, a positive school.

A letter writing campaign was initiated in September. There was another in May and again a few weeks ago. The first two campaigns resulted in more than 500 letters to the Department. The responses received were minor. I appreciate the Minister's hands are tied on this in certain respects but one or two acknowledgements do not provide answers or relief. They just increase the frustration. I will give credit to the new Taoiseach. When he was contacted earlier this month, his rapid response was welcome, even though he left the detail to the Department.

Ultimately, the school is coping with two key issues. There is no end to the planning delays on the site agreed for the permanent school, which is beside St. Tiernan's, a school I know well as a former member of the board of management. Access issues need to be resolved and parents need to be reassured that the Department is 100% committed to new permanent accommodation for Ballinteer Educate Together national school on the St. Tiernan's site with good agreed access points and all the facilities a modern, progressive, growing school in a populous area requires, which marry well with the needs of the excellent secondary school.

The interim solution is to move the school, which will provide 11 classes in September, en masse to the Notre Dame campus where it will co-locate with the new Gaelscoil that is moving from Clonskeagh and the remnants of Notre Dame secondary school as it eases out of existence. That is an unfortunate event but there is nothing we could do as public representatives. There is huge concern among school management and the principal that they do not know what they are moving into in September. They had one or two welcome meetings on-site with departmental officials. I have eight pages of questions that were put to them, which have yet to be answered. When the intention is to move an entire school to a new facility in such a short time, that adds to the stress and concern and it puts work on people whose job it is not to do this.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position on the temporary and permanent accommodation for Ballinteer Educate Together national school. The school is located in temporary accommodation at St. Tiernan's community school, Balally, Dublin 14. The school currently has nine mainstream classes, which will increase to 11 mainstream classes in September 2017. As the Senator will be aware, my Department recently completed the purchase of the Notre Dame campus located on Churchtown Road, Dublin 14. The campus will be used to facilitate temporary accommodation for the Ballinteer school from September 2017, pending completion of the permanent accommodation for the school at the St. Tiernan's site. The Notre Dame campus will also facilitate the permanent accommodation for Gaelscoil na Fuinseoige.

A technical assessment was carried out by my Department in order to accommodate the schools concerned as well as the phasing out of the post-primary school on this campus. It is clear that there is sufficient accommodation on the campus for all schools. Following completion of the technical assessment, the Department of Education and Skills outlined its proposals for the accommodation of the three schools on the Notre Dame campus and for the most part this was positively received by patron representatives and the school principals. The Department is examining some issues which have been raised following this meeting and will be in touch with the schools again this week in this regard.

I know that there is a long history with this. In December 2012, as Senator Richmond is aware, outline planning permission to provide a permanent school building for Ballinteer Educate Together national school was submitted to the relevant local authority but was refused on the grounds of site access. This was appealed by my Department to An Bord Pleanála but subsequently withdrawn to facilitate submission to the local authority of an amended outline planning permission in 2013, which was also refused on similar grounds. This decision was appealed by the Department of Education and Skills to An Bord Pleanála but was refused. However, the board considered that the matter of assessing alternative means of accessing these lands would benefit from a co-ordinated approach by my Department and the planning authority in the interests of achieving a comprehensive and balanced solution to ongoing access issues on this educational campus.

As the Senator will appreciate, this is a complex planning issue and my Department has approached and met with all of the relevant parties including the council, the schools and third-party landowners with a view to finding an acceptable solution to the access issue. All aspects are being progressed in close liaison with the local authority and it is imperative that all of this work is done to the satisfaction of the council in order to ensure that a third planning application is successful. I assure the Senator that my Department is fully committed to bringing this project to a satisfactory conclusion as soon as the planning issues have been resolved.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for taking the time to respond on this matter. I am enthused. It is good to hear such firm commitment from the Department that it remains committed to the long-term location of Ballinteer Educate Together national school at St. Tiernan's. It is an excellent site and will make such a difference, not just to the lives of the pupils but also to the community at large. I would ask two things of the Department and would appreciate if the Minister of State could feed them back. First, that the many letters that were sent nearly a month ago would receive replies. I have seen the three questions asked and could answer them myself. It probably would not be the answers that the people writing would want. To let them go unanswered with one or two acknowledgements of receipt sent out every so often is not good enough in this era, when we expect a level of responsibility from the organs of government.

Second, I encourage the Minister of State to put pressure on the officials in her Department to work very closely with the principal in question. A lot of responsibility and extra pressure has been put on one individual, supported by excellent volunteers, during her holiday break to put in place an entire school in a new location in a very short period. The principal needs a lot more than occasional meetings and one or two kind words. She needs a lot of help.

I will give Senator Richmond a commitment that the letters will be replied to by Department officials. I am very understanding of the work that the principal is going to have to do during the summer. I did a number of projects myself as a school principal. I can only imagine the logistics involved in moving classrooms and all the possessions of a school. I will ask and make sure that our officials are working closely with the principal. We will also keep the pressure on to make sure that we get the planning permission for that site at St. Tiernan's school. I am aware that the Senator has raised this matter a number of times and has asked me for advice in my other role as to how it can be done. He has been on this project for a number of years.

Leader Programmes Administration

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Michael Ring. I wish him well in his new role following his promotion. It is great to see camaraderie between two Mayo people. Ar aghaidh leat, Senator Conway-Walsh.

I will share my time with my colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh.

I will stop Senator Conway-Walsh at three minutes and Senator Ó Clochartaigh will have one minute.

Thank you. I congratulate the Minister on his new position. We are happy in Mayo and in rural Ireland to have somebody at the Cabinet table. There are huge expectations of the Minister and a lot of issues to be dealt with. I wish him well in his work. It is important for us all to work together.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to address the very serious issue arising from the implementation of the 2014-20 Leader programme. He will know that all is not well in Leader-land. From 1992 to 2016, the programme was very successfully delivered by local development companies. He will also be aware that I worked for one of them myself, South-West Mayo Development Company, for many years.

The current Leader programme was launched on 31 July 2016, and was allocated €220 million to address poverty reduction, social inclusion and the economy of rural areas. A decision was made by the Minister's Government that the Leader programme would be delivered under the local authorities. This was in spite of thousands of people gathering in community halls and hotels all over the country to tell it that its decision was wrong and that it was trying to fix something that was not broken.

A number of issues are now arising as a result of this decision. First, the level of grant approvals at national level is extremely low although we are now 11 months into the programme. By way of comparison, I cite a mid-west local action group that, in previous iterations of the programme, at this stage in the process had spent €1.4 million of the grant aid. Under the current programme the same group has only spent €6,600. Another group had allocated €1.7 million by this point in the previous programme, yet in the current cycle, no grants have been finalised at this stage because of all the bureaucracy involved.

The estimated minimum timeline for the promoters seeking grant support from the expression of interest to the grant contract stage is now around nine months. This is totally unacceptable. The programme administration workload has trebled, reducing time for front-line staff to support communities and entrepreneurs to engage with the programme. The Minister's Department is contracting Pobal to audit 100% of the programme expenditure. This is unprecedented. The previous administration checks were carried out very effectively by local development companies. That is evidenced by the low level of ineligible funding in the 2007-13 programme, when it was at only 0.5% and incurred no additional cost. In reality, the local development companies continue to undertake the checks, passing them on to local authorities who, in turn, pass them on to Pobal for triplicate checks. The cost of this function may end up becoming very significant.

There are a couple of actions that the Minister can take. He can reduce the administration levels by identifying a lead Department to streamline the Leader funding to local development companies. He must utilise the available option of the simplified cost as well. It will enable Leader to focus on communities and achievements in the local development strategy. He must remove the expression of interest above all. I know there have been attempts to do so but it has not been done. It adds three months to the application time for promoters and is not working. The Minister must also remove the additional public procurement requirements, to streamline anything under €100.

Travel and subsistence must be included because, again, there is huge bureaucracy surrounding that.

The Senator has used her four minutes so Senator Ó Clochartaigh is excluded.

I have five minutes.

No. The Senator has four. Many Senators on Commencement matters take five minutes but they should not. I will give Senator Ó Clochartaigh a few seconds.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and echo Senator Rose Conway-Walsh's sentiments. We are seeing the same problems happening in County Galway. A particular issue I would like the Minister to look at is Leader on the islands, the reorganisation of the Leader companies and the fact that the islands have now been separated and not been given a specific Leader budget. This is a particular disadvantage to the islands. It did not make any sense and it needs to be looked at, so perhaps the Minister could do so. There are issues in Galway which we might raise with the Minister again, but the issues Senator Conway-Walsh raised are being felt across the country in many rural areas.

I thank the Senator for his brevity.

I thank the Cathaoirleach and the two Senators for their good wishes. I look forward to working with them. This will not be a simple job but, at the same time, I have a role and a part to play. I have a seat at Cabinet, and whatever I can do for rural Ireland I will be there to do it. The first problem I inherited when I took over this job was this issue. I will read out the official response but then I wish to make a few further comments.

The Leader programme is a key part of the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development and has the capacity to deliver significant outcomes for rural areas. Leader funding is managed and delivered by local action groups in each of the 28 Leader subregional areas around the country. The Leader programme funds projects under policy themes related to economic development, enterprise development, social inclusion and the rural environment. In total, €250 million will be invested in Leader over the period up to 2020, and one of my priorities in my new position will be to ensure that this funding is delivered to the rural communities and businesses that need it. The programme is co-financed by the European Union to the value of €157 million and is subject to EU regulatory provisions governing rural development funding. It is important, therefore, that appropriate checks and balances are in place to ensure that the funding is delivered correctly.

In light of a number of serious issues that arose in the delivery of the previous Leader programme, my Department has made some administrative changes to the programme to safeguard the public funding invested through Leader. These changes will ensure Ireland's continued sanction by the European Union to deliver the Leader programme. At the same time, the Government wants to see the Leader programme implemented as efficiently and effectively as possible, and I am aware of concerns regarding some of the administrative procedures related to the programme and the processing of applications. In this regard, on 17 May last, my predecessor hosted a forum with participants from all of the local action groups and local development companies delivering the Leader programme to explore the issues of concern to them and identify potential solutions aimed at streamlining the current administrative and application procedures. The forum, which was attended by more than 70 people, was very productive and participants identified a number of areas where they felt procedures could be streamlined and where the burden on project applicants could be reduced. As a result of the contributions made at the forum, a list of programme modifications has been developed to improve the delivery of the Leader programme and these have been communicated to all the local action groups and local development companies. In total, I am committed to implementing 31 actions - 31 changes - to improve the administrative procedures relating to the Leader programme. These actions represent a very comprehensive response to the issues raised and the solutions identified by the participants at the forum.

The two Senators are correct in that I want to see this Leader funding administered, I want to see the money spent and I want to see it streamlined. I have given a commitment now that I will monitor this from week to week. The Senators are quite correct that the funding is in place. We want to get it out to the areas that need it and to the people who have made the applications. We have made 31 changes and I am told that these companies are all happier now. I hope we will now see a big improvement in the roll-out of the number of applications that have been received, but I want to see the roll-out of money, I want to see the money spent and I want to see some of it spent before the end of the year.

That is a very strong commitment. I ask Senator Conway-Walsh to be brief. I think Mayo will win the All-Ireland after this.

I am in daily contact with Leader companies. I need to make the Minister aware that even some of the promises regarding expression of interest, Article 48 and procurement issues that were made during those meetings are being rolled back on and I ask him to look at this again. He will also be aware, looking at the whole programme, how much the funding has been cut. Even if we take Cork alone, the original programme was €49 million, it is down now to €13 million and in Mayo we lost out on €9 million. We need to look at the amounts of money each implementing partner has because they do not have sufficient money and there should be a cap on that so that at least each company gets €5 million in order to be able to do its work. I will work with the Minister in every way I possibly can on this programme. He knows what happened to us under Fianna Fáil and Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta. We were left for years with no Leader programme whatsoever. I want to see this succeed as much as the Minister does.

I do not disagree with anything the Senator says, and I am not just saying that. I will give you two figures, which are really upsetting. Sixty-three projects have been approved to date, with €1,116,000 delivered. Whatever funding we have now - we have the funding, and I cannot go back on the funding we have - I want to see it spent. Senator Conway-Walsh is quite correct. I want to see the programme rolled out and I want to simplify it as much as I can. I will be monitoring this but I have no direct control over the applications and so on. Regarding the way it is administered, I have a responsibility to Government and to Europe but, at the same time, I want to see the money spent.

Will the Minister's Department be the lead Department for Leader? Perhaps he could clarify that.

We are the lead Department and I have responsibility for the Leader programme.

I have been very flaithiúlach with the Members.

Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.35 a.m.