Vote 33 - Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Revised)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the committee again on the 2016 Estimates for my Department. These Estimates were originally considered by the committee on 5 July this year and voted by the Dáil on 7 July. While the Estimates took account of the transfer of functions and resources from my Department to include new responsibilities regarding regional and rural affairs, they did not take account of the change in name of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. A further Revised Estimate is necessary to effect this name change.

No adjustment of resources or functions is required as part of this further Revised Estimate, given that any such transfers were included in the Revised Estimate voted by the Dáil on 7 July. This means the gross provision available to my Department in 2016 remains at just over €382 million. In broad terms, the breakdown of allocations remains as follows: €188 million for arts, culture and film; €44 million for the conservation and protection of Ireland's built and natural heritage; €51 million for the Irish language, the Gaeltacht and the islands; in excess of €37 million for North-South co-operation; and more than €61 million for regional development and rural affairs.

The performance, expenditure and targets of my Department during the first half of 2016 were considered by the Oireachtas joint committee on 28 September. Since then, progress continues to be made on the delivery of commitments across all programme areas. I remain committed to working with all stakeholders, including Oireachtas colleagues, in delivering on identified priorities and progressing the measures set out in A Programme for a Partnership Government. While I cannot accurately predict the full year outturn, all current funding is expected to be spent in full and no capital savings beyond those which can be carried forward by deferred surrender into 2017 are envisaged. All expenditure within my Department's Vote will continue to be carefully monitored between now and the end of the year to ensure the best use of all financial resources.

The Estimates are a little bit unreal. Major virement has taken place since we discussed the Estimates before. The Minister does not have to bring in a Revised Estimate to vire money. The €40 million allocation to the Leader programme, which the Minister protected the first time she came in, and which has not been spent, has been reallocated all over the place. Maybe the Minister could give us the vired changes so we know what we are really working on rather than these historic figures, which are not the working figures in her Department.

There has been some virement of Leader funding. We were unable to spend all the Leader funding this year, mainly because it was later in the year when the contracts were signed. It is all going well now. On this basis, I wanted to ensure we could spend as much of our allocation as possible. Therefore, there has been some virement, and €22 million has gone into the rural economic development zone, REDZ, scheme.

Will the Minister give the breakdown of how much has gone into REDZ?

The breakdown is €3 million to Waterways Ireland, €6 million to natural heritage, the National Parks and Wildlife Service-----

We are reading it at €6 million?

Yes. It was to meet the costs arising in 2016 associated with Government-agreed compensation for turf cutters affected by measures implemented to support compliance with the EU habitats directive and to provide for essential repair works on foot of the considerable damage caused by severe flooding last winter at a range of locations. There was €2.4 million for Údarás na Gaeltachta; €4.4 million to meet costs regarding the National Gallery of Ireland master development plan; €6 million for town and village regeneration, which was channelled through local authorities; €5 million is being relocated to REDZ programmes, which were announced this week; €4 million to the national rural development schemes, that is, the national countryside recreation strategy in line with it; €7.5 million went into CLÁR; €1 million went into subhead A9, which is rural broadband, post offices and economic development; and €10 million was spent on administration in the Leader fund.

So it is €22 million.

That came from the A15 head as well.

It is loaves and fishes. The Minister said €22 million was taken from Leader.

Some of it would be from subhead A15, the decade of centenaries, which went into the National Gallery.

It is like a game of "Countdown".

We have to try to plan. The Minister has given us a 2017 Estimate. One normally gets Estimates in the budget and one can compare 2016 and 2017 and see increases and decreases. This is radically altered. If we got the Revised Estimates volume in the normal form, all of these would show up for 2016, and we would be able to see whether there was a real increase in 2017 over what the Minister actually spent in 2016 as opposed to the Estimate for 2016. For example, I do not think there is €7.5 million in CLÁR for next year. This means that this year's CLÁR figure is bigger than next year's CLÁR figure, given that the Minister has just announced that €7.5 million is to be spent between now and the end of the year in CLÁR.

In the next day or two, in order that we can tease it out further, could we get a revised Revised Estimate for 2016, which I had hoped we would get today, showing these ups and downs and giving a much more accurate indication of what the likely outturn for 2016 is going to be? This is what one normally would get in a Revised Estimate volume in order that we can compare it to what has been allocated for 2017 and assess the adequacy of 2017 against it.

No underspend is anticipated. The funding that was in the Leader programme has all gone back into rural Ireland and any funding we anticipated was not going to be spent there was put into programmes such as the REDZ schemes, town and village regeneration and CLÁR. Expenditure is closely monitored and will continue to be as we head towards the end of the year. There are a number of weeks to go and spending continues.

On the programme side, I expect to spend all the current and the capital, apart from the capital carryover which is limited to €13.5 million. This is normal in any budgetary year in the management of the Vote. We will return in January to go through the outcomes for the year.

We will be able to give the Deputy further information when we appear before the committee for the 2017 Estimates.

The Minister mentioned that she announced the rural development schemes a few days ago, with a budget of €5 million. CLÁR has not been announced yet. We will reach that shortly. The amount there is €7.5 million. The Minister has probably sent out a circular to all sections in the Department from the finance officer stating that all bills for payment must be in by 12 or 15 December or there cannot be a guarantee of processing and so forth before 31 December. Today is 1 December so that is a fortnight from today, and that is being very generous because the Minister probably sent out a circular a few weeks ago stating that they all had to be in by 5 December, if I know anything about what happens in Departments. It appears awfully strange that the Department will be able to announce, get the work done, spend and validate €7.5 million worth of CLÁR money between now and then, and that it will be able to get the work done and validation, clearance and payment carried out on the rural development schemes. Otherwise, it appears the Minister is paying money on account to the county councils for work that perhaps has been approved in some cases and for other work that has not been approved, and that they have extraordinary permission from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to act as a type of bank. That practice was frowned on a number of years ago by the Comptroller and Auditor General. He wrote a report ten years ago stating that the Department cannot hand the money over to local authorities without the work being done, which is what happened in the old days. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, will recall from his time on the local authority that the authority used to get the money before the end of the year and spend it again. However, the Comptroller and Auditor General wrote a scathing report on that and said it could no longer happen, so the practice stopped. The Minister appears to be saying that it has started again. Did the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform consult with the Comptroller and Auditor General before shovelling out the money before the end of the year, allowing the local authorities to become a quasi deposit bank and letting them spend it again in their own time when the Minister has lost all control? The Minister might clarify those matters because they are very serious control issues in a Department.

All the virements have been approved by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The funding under schemes such as CLÁR, the rural development scheme, town and village renewal and the rural recreation scheme is being paid to the local authorities in 2016 by my Department in line with approved sanction and on the basis of their project proposals and funding agreements with the Department. My Department will closely monitor expenditure on both schemes to ensure it is in line with the public spending code and that the funding is spent properly and in accordance with the project proposals. I will be meeting with the local authorities and the CEs and I will impress on them the need for the money to be spent on the projects as soon as possible. There has been a broad welcome for this funding for rural Ireland and I was anxious to get it out to those areas and have it spent. Many of these projects are with local communities and I am sure they are ready to spend the money. I expect that will be the case.

I have no doubt that this and more money should be spent in rural Ireland, and I have made that point previously. However, it is also critical that we follow good procedures in the management of money. The Minister said that carrying forward €13 million was normal.

No, I said that was the maximum I could carry over.

Yes, but the Minister also said it was as per normal procedure. When I was a Minister I tried to avoid any carry over for many reasons. There are two carry forwards involved here. One is €13 million that she will carry forward with the deferred sanction, which has its downsides. It should be spent within the calendar year. The second is that the Minister is having another €20 million carried forward in local authority coffers. Let us say that is €30 million; we will not argue over €1 million here or there. At least €30 million is being carried forward. This is money allocated for spending on work that has not been done within the calendar year. Instead of looking at that in a positive light, as the Minister is doing, I see it in a negative light. I view it as €30 million that should have been spent on action in rural Ireland in 2016 being deferred, by one subterfuge or another, into next year. I repeatedly told the Minister in this committee last June that the Department was going to underspend and I asked her to sanction money then. Now, it is the end of the year and there is an underspend in the Department of €30 million. That is totally unsatisfactory.

The Deputy will appreciate that I have had to do 12 months work in seven months, because it took some time for the Department to be formed. When the functions were transferred to my Department we started to roll out the Leader programme immediately. It is something about which I am very conscious. The €13.5 million is the maximum I can carry over. If it is less, I cannot give the Deputy exact figures at present. We are still hoping that as much as possible can be spent. I have no wish to carry over money into next year, but certain things occur such as cases where the invoices do not come in and the work is not as far along as was planned. For those reasons capital sometimes is not spent and one must carry it over to the next year.

The technique here is to ensure there are enough things coming through that it does get spent.

Delays happen, unfortunately.

Yes, but the trick is to ensure there are enough. I always described it as a conveyor belt carrying little stones. Some of them might get caught up in the conveyor belt, but if there are enough stones on the conveyor belt there will be enough stones emerging at the end of it to keep the factory going. I am very critical that up to €30 million has not been spent on the ground with results in this calendar year. That is the first matter. Second, I accept the Minister's personal argument, but it appears that whoever had these accounts before she took over in June was not doing a great deal. I do not excuse the Government, because it was one of the Minister's colleagues who was sitting on the account and, effectively, they did not get the job done. It is unacceptable. We all fight in here about the Estimates, but then the money is not spent. I hate to labour the point but if €30 million had been put into rural Ireland this year it would have done much practical work for people, who will now have to wait until 2017. The other danger is that there will be an underspend again in Leader and the other programmes because the first six months will be taken up with how to spend last year's money.

Much of the funding will be spent in rural areas but a great deal of what is being carried over is in the arts area. I have been very conscious of all the money for rural Ireland being spent there. The majority of the money is in the arts area. With big capital projects there sometimes are delays. In many cases one is dealing with sensitive heritage buildings and issues can arise that were not expected. However, the end of year spending pressures are normal and expenditure is broadly in line with the Estimates.

There is €188 million for arts, culture and film. Will the Minister give a breakdown of that figure? West Cork is a great centre of arts and culture activity but its budget has been extremely low in recent years. There is some disquiet among the people who are working tirelessly there. They feel the budget should have been increased, so perhaps the Minister will give a breakdown of it.

In addition, the Minister said the Leader programme is going well. Perhaps she will explain what she means by that. What is the overall budget for Leader? Not a cent has been spent on the ground under Leader. It cannot be going well when no funds are being made available to community groups.

I was astounded to find out today that my part of west Cork will now be serviced under the Aran Islands to deliver the programme. I refer to west Cork, which has suffered from severe cuts in recent years. We lost our West Cork Development Partnership recently. How can a place as far away as the Aran Islands - no disrespect to those living on the Aran Islands - deliver to west Cork? It would be similar to someone in Skibbereen delivering a programme to the Minister's constituency that was previously delivered in her constituency. It is a huge issue for west Cork. I got an e-mail this morning telling us that the new deliverers for the west Cork Leader programme will be Avondhu Blackwater Partnership, the South and East Cork Area Development Partnership, SECAD, and Comhar na nOileán. When I went in to check into that further I found out that if I want to discuss any Leader funding issue in the future, it will have to be done through the Aran Islands. That is unacceptable. The Minister is in charge of this and I have to get answers for the people of west Cork because this is astounding, to say the least. To think that a Leader group on the border of Limerick will be delivering to the remainder of west Cork is unacceptable

I want to ask the Minister a straight question and I want a straight answer. What has the Government and its predecessor got against the people of west Cork because it has been hit repeatedly? We have lost our Garda stations. We have lost some post offices. Our banks have been closed and now our Leader programme, the only shining light we had in west Cork, is gone. I pleaded with the Minister prior to the summer recess to try to bring about a resolution to this issue but the crisis has worsened. There is no delivery. There is no idea how we will deliver. We do not know who will deliver the programme. We do not know who to speak to about projects in west Cork. If that is replicated throughout Ireland, this Leader programme is in tatters. We need answers, and I have called for those answers over the past six or seven weeks. This is my first opportunity to speak, and I have every right to speak on behalf of my constituents and the people of west Cork. It is my duty to do that, and I want to know why west Cork has been treated in this way.

As far as I am aware, there was a call recently for expressions of interest for east Galway. I wish the people of east Galway the best of luck, but what is the difference here? How many expressions of interests has the Minister received because it was to her office these calls were made? What is the difference between east Galway and west Cork? Why has west Cork been left without a Leader programme and Leader delivery in the future?

I will give the Deputy the outline on the arts programme and how the budget is made up. A total of €2.9 million goes into regional museums; €5 million for Cork events centre; €5.5 million for Culture Ireland; €9.9 million for cultural infrastructure, €14.471 million for the Irish Film Board; €39.132 million for the national cultural institutions; €43 million for the decade of centenaries and €60.1 million for the Arts Council. That is the breakdown of the figure in the 2016 Estimates.

On the issue around Leader, the contracts are signed. The local action groups, LAGs, are continuing to take expressions of interest from local groups and they are engaging with them.

In terms of Cork, funding agreements were signed in the three sub-regional areas in County Cork. There was one strategy submitted for the implementation of Leader. In each of the south Cork and north Cork sub-regional areas, both of these strategies were submitted by the local community development committee, LCDC. In west Cork, local development strategies were submitted by both West Cork Development Partnership, WCDP, and West Cork Local Community Development Committee, LCDC. The strategy submitted by west Cork LCDC was selected by the independent selection committee and the decision was upheld upon appeal. That decision was made. It was independent, and I am very concerned that the Leader programme is rolled out in west Cork.

In terms of the rural economic development zone, REDZ, allocation, the town and village allocation, the CLÁR allocation and the rural recreation allocation, Cork received €2.044 million in funding in recent months. Deputy Collins should know that Cork is certainly not forgotten. That is the position regarding the Leader funding.

Funding of €13.9 million means that it is down 70% on the last programme, so that is not delivery to the people of west Cork or to Cork county. How is a programme to be rolled out in west Cork from the Aran Islands? That is what I want to know. Something does not add up here and I need an answer. I could write the answer for the Minister. It is on the website, and I have been speaking to a lovely person at the other end of the telephone. I do not want the Minister to get me wrong. She could not have been nicer. I do not want to discredit her, but they will not deliver. We need someone who knows the lie of the land in west Cork to deliver a programme for west Cork, and we have no one to do that. That is what we are facing in west Cork from what I heard this morning having contacted them. If I had not done that and had taken the information second hand, I would not speak about it here today. The Aran Islands will be delivering now for west Cork, where west Cork delivered for west Cork previously, and rightly so. The Minister has not mentioned the east Galway situation, and I asked her about it both in the Dáil and in this committee. Why are people being treated differently? Who could come up with this decision? It is a crisis in west Cork. The Minister is forgetting the people of west Cork and they do not deserve to be forgotten. It does not matter whether one is from Monaghan or anywhere else, one should be treated equally. The programme should have been delivered in west Cork by somebody but that will not be the case, and I want to know the reason.

With regard to funding, the Leader programme this time is smaller than the previous programme because the funding for the rural development programme was much less than in the last programme. To be clear, the west Cork LCDC was selected by an independent selection committee. I have no input into that, and the decision was upheld, upon appeal, that west Cork LCDC would roll out the Leader programme. As far as Comhar na nOileán is concerned, I understand it is a member of the west Cork LCDC. It is part of that. It is a matter of getting on with it now. I cannot change that. I was not going to interfere, nor should I interfere in it. An independent selection committee made the decision that west Cork LCDC would run that programme.

I do not know if this is possible but it might be an idea that a tendering organisation or company might have to have a physical presence within the target area in which it works. They do have a physical presence within the-----

I understand the west Cork LCDC has a presence; it is based in Cork.

It is just that Comhar na nOileán seems to be-----

It is a member of that.

It is, but the programme will be delivered from the Aran Islands. That is the bottom line. I was speaking to them earlier today about parts of west Cork, some of which will come under the partnerships on the Limerick border, which also is incredible. However, I cannot argue every point. The point is that a serious injustice has been done to the people of west Cork, and we will feel the effect of that going forward. We know it already. That is in addition to many other issues I am trying to raise here. There is great upset, anger and disquiet in west Cork because the previous West Cork Development Partnership delivered a top-class programme for 20 years. No one could question it. Every Leader group that came in here in the past two months spoke about West Cork Development Partnership. I am mystified as to why it has been taken off the pitch. There is no answer coming from the Department that makes any sense to me. We are in the same situation here today.

On the delivery of Leader in the aforementioned east Galway, and I thank the Minister for her concern, as she is aware, issues have arisen with the establishment of an entity chosen to deliver Leader in east Galway. A very significant number of communities have been actively engaging with Galway Rural Development Company over the past four to five years.

They engaged for three reasons - first, in the hope it would be the chosen entity to deliver Leader in east Galway; second, that the funds would be made available; and third, that the allocation of funds would begin as quickly as possible.

The process has been problematic. The people of east Galway feel somewhat aggrieved that a significant amount of Leader funding has already been allocated to other parts of the country. A process of engagement is under way between Galway Rural Development and Comhar na nOileán. They are actively engaging with the Minister's officials. The parties concerned have come up with a solution that I believe will work. The plan may need minimal financial assistance by the Department to make it work. I would be grateful to the Minister if she can confirm whether her Department has engaged with the parties. How does she envisage the process of collaboration between Comhar na nOileán and Galway Rural Development might happen?

Both parties have explored the possibility of combining their efforts with a view to delivering a single strategy. While they are in general agreement in respect of the proposal to work together there are a number of issues around the division of the administration funding that would be provided under the programme. The Department has asked that the discussions are concluded by Friday, 16 December, so there is clarity as to whether a single strategy will be submitted. We are considering the matter and trying to find a solution. We want to set up local action groups, LAGs, and get the money into the communities. I know that the three Deputies are interested in the Galway project. I hope I have clarified the east Galway issue for the Deputy.

I understand that the West Cork Local Community Development Committee, LCDC, was based in Cork. I shall check out the query that Deputy Collins has raised and get back to him. As long as the money reaches the projects and communities that need it then that is the important thing.

I will forward proof to the Minister about the Aran Islands delivering for west Cork. The proof is on the website.

As long as the money reaches the communities and projects that is the most important thing. The funding came from Europe initially.

How the money is delivered and will be delivered in west Cork is also important. Anybody who has worked with a Leader company will appreciate the expertise and efficiencies it provides. The individuals walk through the project with applicants. That will not be the situation if one must deal with someone from the Aran Islands. I mean no disrespect to the people in the Aran Islands but applicants will not receive the same attention as previously. The LCDC is different as it is the company over the project and will be unable to work hand in hand on the projects. We will be lacking going forward. We have lost seven development officers in west Cork due to a decision made by I do not know whom. Those development officers stood by the communities and walked with the projects hand in hand going forward. I gather from this morning's meeting that the service will no longer be available. I will watch closely what happens.

A final response, Minister.

The West Cork LCDC has been selected as the company to roll out the scheme. I suggest that the Deputy raises the matter with the West Cork LCDC as well.

Applicants will not get the same service.

Has the Department considered purchasing the Pearse surrender letter using the heritage fund?

There exist a number of historically important original documents in the possession of the State written by Pádraig Pearse during the 1916 Rising and his subsequent imprisonment. Following consultation with the relevant institutions under the aegis of my Department, it is a shared view that the amount being sought for this one letter – between €1 million and €1.5 million - was not justifiable in terms of expenditure of public moneys and in the context of historical material already held.

It should be noted that the vendor can present the letter to the State as a heritage donation. Under the terms of section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and section 94 of the Finance Act 2008 they will get 80% tax relief. It is a very good incentive for people who wish to donate that type of material to our cultural institutions.

The cost of the Pearse letter will be less than the cost of the High Court case on the Moore Street battle site. The money will come from the same commemoration pot, as we discussed here a number of weeks ago. I have talked to legal experts and learned that the cost of the State's High Court challenge and appeal will cost between €2 million and €4 million. I know paying €1.5 million for a letter is expensive but at least the State would be left with something unlike the High Court challenge.

There has been no indication of the legal costs. The legal cost of the High Court case has not crystallised. The case is under appeal. The apportionment of costs is a matter for the courts. In the ordinary course of events costs of cases involving the State where costs are awarded again are charged, in the first instance, against the Vote of the Chief State Solicitor's Office who in turn recoups them from the client Department. Estimates of the cost are not to hand as again the case is under appeal. The question of contingent provision does not arise at this point.

A person would be foolish to enter into a court case without estimating court costs. None of us here, as individuals, would enter into a court case without some understanding of what we are going to expose ourselves to financially. There is an understanding within the Department of roughly how much the case will cost. I have heard that it will cost between €2 million and €4 million.

I wish to raise another matter. I have been told that an export licence could be put on an item like the letter thus reducing demand. An export licence would mean the letter could not be sold outside of certain markets and, therefore, the value would be reduced. Has the Department considered issuing an export licence?

To be clear, we did not enter into this court case. We did not take a court case. We defended a court case and we had to do so. I decided that it was in the public's interest to defend the court case.

The National Museum already has two letters written by Pearse that are historically important and the National Library has one copy. The National Museum has a surrender document that was signed by Pádraig Pearse, James Connolly and Thomas McDonagh during Easter Week 1916. The item is on loan from the Imperial War Museum. There is the 1916 Rising Orders for Enniscorthy Volunteers that was given by Commandant General P. H. Pearse in Arbour Hill on Sunday, 30th, and the original of the draft of Pádraig Pearse's order for the surrender of Republican Forces dated 29 April 1916. A number of different items of correspondence are held at the National Museum. Also, in the National Library there is a signed draft of Pádraig Pearse's of an instrument to open surrender negotiations. There are a lot of items.

I understand.

We consulted the cultural institutions but they felt that they already held a considerable amount of material from this time.

Has the Department considered an export licence?

No application for an export licence has been received.

The Department can curtail the sale of an item outside of the EU. Such a measure would reduce the value of the item because people from the United States and other jurisdictions would be unable to join the auction. A licence would make it more feasible for the State to purchase the letter.

No application for an export licence has been received.

We have talked about subsidised travel to offshore islands. I refer members to Programme C, at the bottom of the page, that has the headline "The number of people using subsidised travel services to offshore islands". It shows that in 2012 there were roughly 600,000 people but the number fell to 442,000, a figure that remained steady until 2014. Was that radical fall in one year due to a reduced service? Can a smaller number of people avail of the service?

My ministerial colleague will answer the question.

As I understand it, no tender was agreed with a company for travel to Inis Mór. There is at present no contract with Inis Mór because the tenderer at the time agreed to provide the service without subsidy all year around. Subsequently the difficulties arose because of a county council decision on fees. That is where the problem lies at the moment.

Does the problem date back to 2012?

Yes, it goes back to 2012. A decision was made after that. The people responsible put it out to tender. The company applied for the tender and was the only applicant. Subsequently, the company agreed to provide the service without a contract or subsidy.

In others words, a considerable saving accrued to the State because 50,000 people were travelling without that subsidy. Do you want pitch in, Deputy Ó Cuív?

Can the Minister of State set out the annual subsidy paid to Aran Island Ferries up to 2012 for the year-round service to the island? This is the whole issue. The subsidy tied it down.

Was any estimate made in the Department of the extra cost that would have arisen if Inis Mór had been bundled with Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr, like what happens with bus services and so on? In other words, could the company have been prevented from getting Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr unless it gave a commitment to Inis Mór? That was the original arrangement in place when there was no competition. There was no obvious competition last time either. My understanding is that in 2012 the cost per year was €40,000. However, a greater number of passengers were travelling and that is why it was so cheap. Perhaps the Minister of State can confirm whether this was the case, but I believe it would not have represented a substantial cost if one tender had been put out to provide services to the three islands, Inis Meáin, Inis Mór and Inis Oirr. The service could have required one boat for Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr and another for Inis Mór. In that way, there is no evidence that it would have been significantly more expensive than the tender received by the Department for Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr by itself. Will the Minister of State confirm that?

The last figures I saw for the tender to Inis Mór indicated the cost was €47,000, but I will confirm that. A decision was made to go with Inis Oirr and Inis Meáin alone. That contract expires at the end of 2017. There is no contract at present for Inis Mór. I have undertaken to start a process of consultation with all three islands as soon as possible in the new year. The idea is to ascertain the wishes of those involved for amalgamation of the three islands in one contract from the end of 2017 onwards and to examine the possibility of a PSO contract. Again, there may not be a sufficiently clear understanding of the difference between a PSO contract and an ordinary contract. I am keen for the islanders to be sure that they know what the difference means for all involved. We will start that process in the new year with a view to having a contract in place by the end of 2017 for the three islands together.

I welcome the reversal to having the three islands together, which I believe is the only answer. Will the Minister of State clarify the latest date for the guaranteed air service to the island in the absence of any announcement from the Department of a successful bidder? My understanding is that the Department extended the current service to the end of the year. I have a horrid feeling that the islanders are going to spend Christmas wondering whether they will have either a plane or a boat. Can the Minister of State confirm when he will announce the successful bidder for an air service to Inis Mór? Earlier, I suggested that the tender would have been to the end of January or February. The end of the year is a bad date, because from 22 December onwards people are partying or whatever and getting all the people in one place becomes more and more difficult. We have 38 days to go but we probably have only 14 or 15 working days. Will the Minister of State clarify where we are going in that regard? What was it that Oscar Wilde said about one parent and two parents? This time we have lost two, but it seems that we will lose one of the parents for a second time unless we get a shake on things. We have reason to be concerned.

My next question for the Minister of State relates to the Leader programme. A certain former Minister, who now has a prestigious job in Brussels, Mr. Hogan, made some policy decisions that many of us in this committee could not agree with. They were some of the most bizarre decisions ever. We had divided up the country in such a way that virtually everyone was happy. Now, we are in a farcical situation. I hear my colleague, Deputy Michael Collins, giving out with some justification and arguing that he wants a west Cork-based company to supply the service in west Cork. However, I should point out that one of the extraordinary arrangements arising as a result of this situation is that the Aran Islands company does not provide the service from the Aran Islands under the Leader programme. How that was done? Not only does this have an effect in terms of the delivery of the Leader programme on the islands, but it is utterly disastrous in terms of the business and employment bases in Inis Oirr. That island has by far the best population structure of any island around the cost because it had these office jobs that were attractive for young people to stay and rear families on the island. Can the Minister of State confirm, in answer to the remarks of Deputy Cannon, that the Department, either through the Leader, Gaeltacht, islands or some other heading, is willing to undo the tremendous mistake it has made in respect of Inis Oirr? Can he confirm whether the Department will provide money through some guise or another to ensure that Comhar na nOileán can maintain employment on Inis Oirr while we wait for a change of approach or a change of Government? This would ensure that from the next iteration of the Leader programme, the companies in these areas are those which get to win the contracts and get on with the job as long as they put in a good bid. The Minister of State need not tell me that this is not possible. It is perfectly possible. I simply cannot understand it. Humpty Dumpty would not get a better arrangement by having a company in the Aran Islands providing services in Cork and someone far away from the islands providing a service to the Aran Islands. It is unbelievable.

I will make the following point to console Deputy Michael Collins. He might not have known it but the Aran Islands company was providing a service in west Cork for the past ten years to the islands of west Cork. My understanding is that the company did tremendous work there and that those in the islands of west Cork had no anxiety to join the rest of west Cork in the sense of the operation being run from west Cork. Indeed, they were keen for the service to continue operating from the Aran Islands. Perhaps others will come back five years from now and say the same thing.

I hear what the Deputy has said. The Leader programme came into my Department's remit in late July of this year and many of these decisions had already been made at that stage.

Reference was made to Comhar na nOileán and representatives in east Galway. They are certainly talking at the moment. They are looking to see how they can work together. That is a good idea. My Department is supporting them in any way we can with those discussions. The Department has asked that the discussions would conclude by Friday, 16 December to determine whether they can come up with a single strategy for that area.

I can understand the concern of Deputy Michael Collins. Again, I was not aware that ten years ago Comhar na nOileán was operating some of the parts of the west Cork Leader funding programme. I will come back to Deputy Collins on that issue and provide further clarification. Again, this is the local development company. It has been charged with rolling out Leader funding. Committee members will appreciate that it was decided by an independent process. It is not for me to get involved or revoke the decision of an independent process. I cannot undermine that.

We are keeping the air service under review. This is being dealt with by the Office of Government Procurement. I understand there have been some technical issues and the officials responsible are in discussion with the Office of the Attorney General and communication is issuing back and forth between tenderers and the Attorney General's office. We are keeping an eye on this and if there is a need to extend the contract past 31 December, that certainly will be done.

Are there any costs being borne by Galway County Council in respect of the construction of the pier on Inis Mór? My understanding is that the council took out a foreshore licence to construct the pier. Then, instead of paying it down in cash, the council is paying for it on the never-never.

The county council, in turn, is trying to get the islanders to pay for the foreshore licence. This is the equivalent of asking train passengers to pay for the rail station platform. The Department initially had an arrangement that it would pay the main cost while the county councils paid a small contribution. Could the Department view this as a capital item which could be paid as a once-off? The Department has plenty of money washing around that it cannot spend. It could simply go out of the Department and over to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform would not need to know because he would have €400,000 going out and €400,000 going in.

Galway County Council got a rush of blood to its head and decided to charge the islanders for the use of the platform called a pier. This is the equivalent of asking train passengers to pay for the use of a railway platform.

We have covered these points three or four times already, Deputy.

Let me finish because it is very important. The Department is now charging the islanders for the use of the pier when it refused to allow this to be an accessible cost in the tender process.

Is there any way of getting rid of the foreshore licence by giving the money to pay it once off, so it need not be charged against the islanders?

There is a cost of €35,000 a year for a foreshore lease. I mentioned this on radio today. I am willing to be part of the negotiations, following the county council meeting, to look at this. Charges are €5 for islanders. It is predominantly the tourists and the day travellers who will be paying the 80 cent. I am willing to look at all avenues to ensure continuity of service.

That concludes our consideration of Vote 33 - Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.