Vote 33 - Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Revised)

As we have the required quorum of three Deputies, we will commence the meeting. We are in public session. I wish to advise members to turn off their mobile phones as they interfere with the sound system and will interfere with the broadcasting of the meeting. Apologies have been received from Deputy Peadar Tóibín. This meeting has been convened for the purpose of the consideration by this committee of the Revised Estimates for public services for the year ending 31 December 2017: Vote 33 - Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Is this agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs and natural resources, Deputy Seán Kyne, the Minister of State with responsibility for regional economic development, Deputy Michael Ring, and their officials, Ms Katherine Licken, Secretary General, Mr. Feargal Ó Coigligh, assistant secretary, Mr. Niall Ó Donnchú, assistant secretary, Mr. William Parnell, assistant secretary, Mr. Aodhán Mac Cormaic, stiúrthóir na Gaeilge, Mr. Conor Falvey, Ms Breda Moynihan and Mr. Joe Healy, to the meeting. I thank them for their attendance.

I propose that we begin with an opening statement from the Minister. Is this agreed? Agreed. I ask the Minister to make her opening statement.

Is mór agam an deis seo a fháil inniu chun meastúcháin mo Roinne do 2017 a phlé. I am very pleased to have this opportunity to outline the 2017 priorities for my Department. The responsibilities of my Department are very broad and diverse. They include the facilitation of the economic development of Ireland's regions and the sustainable development of vibrant and rural communities; the conservation, preservation, protection, development and presentation of Ireland's heritage and culture; and the promotion of the Irish language and support of the Gaeltacht and island communities. My Cabinet colleagues and I remain committed to working with all stakeholders to progress and deliver the measures set out in A Programme for a Partnership Government in the interests of all the people of Ireland.

I propose to address the issues arising across my Department's Vote on a programme-by-programme basis, but in the first instance would like to provide a broad outline of the overall position. A gross provision of more than €368 million is available to my Department in 2017. This represents an additional €41 million over and above the combined 2017 pre-budget ministerial gross capital and current expenditure ceilings for my Department published in the mid-year expenditure report in July of last year.

An additional €13.548 million in funding has been carried over from the 2016 capital provision for expenditure on priority projects in accordance with the provisions of public financial procedures. In broad terms, the 2017 breakdown of allocations to my Vote is as follows: over €158 million for arts, culture and film, including €65 million for the Arts Council; over €42 million for the national cultural institutions; almost €16.5 million for the Irish Film Board and a dedicated funding stream of €5 million for Creative Ireland, the Government's legacy programme for Ireland 2016; over €45.5 million for the conservation and protection of Ireland's built and natural heritage, including €11 million for the natural heritage, just over €6.2 million for the Heritage Council and €4.5 million for built heritage, including the very successful built heritage investment scheme; over €46.7 million for the Irish language, the Gaeltacht and the islands; over €38.6 million for North-South co-operation, including support for two North-South implementation bodies - Waterways Ireland and An Foras Teanga; and over €79 million for regional development and rural affairs, including €40 million for the Leader programme, over €15 million for rural development schemes and €12 million for town and village regeneration.

The gross allocation for my Department in 2017 is more than 8% higher than in 2016 when the figures are adjusted to take account of the once-off funding for last year's highly successful Ireland 2016 centenary programme. The 2017 provision allows for increases in funding across a range of arts and heritage bodies within my Department’s remit, as well as increases in funding for a number of rural schemes. The additional funding is targeted at key initiatives, including an additional €5 million for the Arts Council, an 8% increase in its annual budget; boosts in funding for all of the national cultural institutions; €2 million to allow for the opening of the newly restored historic wings at the National Gallery of Ireland and the opening of Killarney House on foot of significant capital investment by the State; an increase of €2 million for the Irish Film Board and €1 million for Culture Ireland; an additional €1 million to assist the Heritage Council with its work; dedicated funding of €5 million for the implementation of the Creative Ireland programme; a trebling of funding for town and village regeneration to €12 million; and an additional €8 million for national rural development schemes, including €5 million for the recently reopened CLÁR programme and €40 million for the delivery of the Leader rural development programme in 2017.

My colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Seán Canney and Michael Ring, and I will make brief remarks. We will commence with the arts, culture and film programme and will be happy to expand later on any matter members wish to raise. I will go through the arts, culture and film programme first.

Over €158 million is being provided in 2017 for arts, culture and film, with a further €11.548 million provided by way of a capital carryover. In 2016 funding for the Creative Ireland programme was primarily focused on the very successful Ireland 2016 centenary programme. The programme was multifaceted and included over 60 State ceremonial events, a capital programme of eight major restoration and development projects, flag-raising ceremonies, schools Proclamation day activities and a wide range of other shared community, historical and cultural events. The Ireland 2016 programme provided for engagement with Irish people at home and abroad in an unprecedented way, with record levels of engagement and participation by schools, communities, cultural institutions, organisations and individuals.

The Creative Ireland programme is the Government's legacy project for Ireland 2016 which aims to harness the goodwill, engagement and momentum created by the Ireland 2016 programme and places creativity at the centre of public policy. Creative Ireland is a high-level, high-ambition, all-of-government initiative aligned with Culture 2025, Éire Ildánach and framed within A Programme for a Partnership Government. It is a five-year initiative from 2017 to 2022 building up to the centenary of the State. The initiative aims to mainstream creativity in the life of the nation in order that, individually and collectively, we can realise our full creative potential. There are a number of ambitious targets set for Creative Ireland in its first year. Cruinniú na Cásca is among these priorities. The first Cruinniú took place on Easter Monday this year when a wide series of family friendly events took place across Dublin city centre, with events, both large and small, also taking place across the country. The event was curated by RTE on behalf of my Department and delivered in conjunction with the local authorities. Every county in Ireland hosted an event and between Dublin and the regions, over 550,000 people participated in Cruinniú. This is another great example of the power and impact of successful collaboration. It is hoped to expand and develop Cruinniú further in the coming year as part of the Creative Ireland programme.

The 2017 allocation for the arts, culture and film programme area of my Department's Vote includes boosts in funding for all of the national cultural institutions, making their combined total allocation for 2017 in excess of €42 million. In particular, the increased allocation in 2017 for the National Gallery of Ireland allows for the opening of the newly restored historic wings next month on foot of significant capital investment by the State. The gallery has continued to operate successfully, despite the closure of its historic wings but its reopening of the Vermeer exhibition is expected to draw even greater numbers of visitors. The Irish Film Board is receiving a funding increase of €2 million in 2017 and Culture Ireland an increase of €1 million. The important and valuable work of the Arts Council has also been recognised and is reflected in the 2017 current allocation of over €65 million, an increase of €5 million, or 8%, on the 2016 allocation.

A total of 56 cultural organisations will benefit from €9 million in capital investment under the arts and culture capital scheme for the period 2016 to 2018. This is the most significant investment in regional arts and cultural centres in a decade and recognises the importance of high-quality infrastructure for a vibrant arts and culture sector. This type of investment is at the core of what my Department and I are trying to achieve through Creative Ireland and the Action Plan for Rural Development, placing creativity and culture at the heart of the community and revitalising towns and villages through a range of initiatives. Of the €9 million in funding, 85% is going to projects outside Dublin. I will be happy to expand on any issue Deputies raise in respect of this programme area.

Would the Minister like the Ministers of State to speak first?

I wanted to speak about my Department's heritage programme and go through the different figures. I will bring in the Ministers of State at various stages. Will I continue?

Yes, please.

The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, and I will make some introductory remarks on the heritage programme, for which funding of over €45 million has been made available. It includes €35.7 million for current expenditure, with a further €9.8 million in capital funding. A further sum of €2 million is available by way of a capital carryover. The protection of Ireland's unique raised bogs and special areas of conservation is a key concern, as is the avoidance of major fines imposed by the European Court of Justice. This is reflected in the allocation of a further €1 million in 2017 for peatlands restoration and management. Priority also continues to be given to the turf cutter compensation schemes and investment in alternative turf cutting sites for the affected cutters. The Government has also committed in A Programme for a Partnership Government to the continuation of current processes involving all stakeholders impacted by measures put in place to meet conservation objectives and legal obligations on the State under the habitats directive.

The built heritage investment scheme which was based on the highly successful built heritage jobs leverage scheme will operate again in 2017. The scheme aims to protect the built heritage and create and protect employment across the country. Together with the structures at risk fund, it will leverage significant private investment and stimulate labour intensive projects nationwide. Funding for the Heritage Council has been increased by €1 million in 2017 to allow for the continuation of the very successful Heritage Week which will take place from 19 to August 27, as well as equally successful initiatives such as the heritage officer programme, the county heritage plans programme, the heritage in schools programme and the museums standards programme.

The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, will speak about the Estimate as it relates to national parks and nature reserves.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with the select committee the 2017 Estimates and outline this year's priorities in a number of areas which come within my Department's Vote. I will set out my responsibilities in the Department for the benefit of committee members. They include national rural development schemes, including rural recreation, the rural walks scheme, the rural development fund and the CLÁR programme, national parks and nature reserves, the development of the Atlantic economic corridor, reinforcing the role of the Western Development Commission, Dormant Account Fund measures, the Tidy Towns initiative and social enterprise.

In respect of the heritage programme, my intention as Minister of State is to continue to invest in national parks and natural reserves to ensure they will remain a vital tourist resource which underpins the economy, both nationally and regionally. The strategic partnership announced earlier this year between Fáilte Ireland and the National Parks and Wildlife Service is evidence of the Government's ongoing commitment to the preservation of the natural heritage for future generations of citizens and visitors. It is a culmination of constructive engagement between my Department and Fáilte Ireland and addresses a long-standing strategy to foster the natural heritage. It should also increase the awareness of the benefits of national parks and natural reserves and show how they can help to create and sustain jobs, as well as contributing to economic and regional development.

I also want to mention the refurbishment of Killarney House and the gardens in Killarney National Park. This project, with a total cost of €8 million, includes co-funding by Fáilte Ireland of €5.2 million. The final phase of works to the house is now substantially complete. Work on the interpretative exhibition is advancing with a view to the amenity being fully operational later this summer. The Office of Public Works, OPW, oversaw the completion of much of the work on the gardens at Killarney House and I was very pleased to be able to officiate at the official opening of the gardens last summer.

I am sure the Minister of State was.

The gardens have proved very popular with local visitors and tourists alike and it is expected that the additional tourism generated by the opening of the house and the interpretative exhibition will greatly benefit the local and regional economies and job creation.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I are happy to take any questions on what we have said. Building on the remarks of the Minister, I would like to bring the following to the attention of the committee in respect of my role in this area. The recently announced outdoor recreation infrastructure scheme will provide funding for the development of outdoor recreational infrastructure and for the necessary maintenance, enhancement and promotion of existing outdoor recreational infrastructure in rural areas throughout Ireland. The 2017 scheme will be implemented over a period of up to 15 months to allow for the effective implementation of larger strategic projects. Applications to the value of €11 million will be approved this year. The facilities and amenities funded through this scheme will create better experiences for visitors to rural areas and will also enhance the quality of life for people who live in or close to the supported areas. Recreational tourism is a significant growth area, and the natural resources available to us here in Ireland offer great potential to avail of the economic benefits this type of tourism can offer.

The funding forms part of the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development, launched at the beginning of the year, and reinforces the ongoing commitment to support rural Ireland. The CLÁR programme is very important for communities in remote parts of rural Ireland, providing funding for small-scale capital projects in rural areas that have experienced significant levels of depopulation. I was pleased to be able to reopen the scheme last year, and an allocation of €5 million is being made available for CLÁR this year.

Following on from the success of the scheme, which was launched under the programme last year, funding is again available in 2017 for safety measures near schools and other community facilities, as well as funding for play areas. A new initiative under CLÁR for 2017 is support for voluntary first response organisations, which provide an excellent service in rural areas, often under very difficult circumstances. This funding will enable them to purchase or upgrade equipment that is fit for purpose in assisting them in their life-saving activities.

A sum of €1.75 million in funding is being made available in 2017 from the dormant accounts fund to assist social enterprises which support disadvantaged and marginalised communities and play a very important role in addressing social exclusion and unemployment and providing services that are often not offered on a commercial basis.

My Department has established the Atlantic economic corridor task force which includes senior representatives from the business community, public bodies, Departments, third level institutions and the wider community. I am very pleased to chair this task force. There is great potential in the area covered by the proposed corridor and it is vital that public, private and community sectors work together to maximise this potential in terms of natural resources, tourism and infrastructure.

The Tidy Towns competition, now in its 59th year, which is organised by my Department and sponsored by SuperValu, continues to be a well-recognised and successful way of encouraging community participation and volunteerism. It helps bring neighbours with shared values and shared interests together to improve their surroundings and make our villages, towns and cities better and more attractive places in which to live, work and do business. My Department also supports the related competitions: the Best Kept competition, which is a North-South collaboration; the EU-wide Entente Florale competition; and the Communities in Bloom competition.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I will take any questions in respect of any of these issues.

If it pleases the Chair, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, will now speak about aspects of the Estimates relevant to the Gaeltacht, the Irish language and the islands.

Mar Aire Stáit ar a bhfuil freagracht as gnóthaí Gaeltachta, failtím roimh an deis labhairt leis an roghchoiste inniu. Mar a thuigfidh baill den choiste, tá réimse leathan oibre agus gníomhaíochtaí idir láimhe agam féin agus ag mo chuid oifigigh chun tacú leis an nGaeilge. Is orainn atá an fhreagracht fhoriomlán as cur i bhfeidhm na Straitéise 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030. Tá sé tábhachtach a aithint go bhfuil an obair agus an infheistíocht atá á déanamh i gcaitheamh an ama i leith an raon leathan scéimeanna, bearta, clár agus tionscnamh atá á mhaoiniú ó rannóg na Gaeltachta de chuid mo Roinne lárnach sa scéal mar a bhaineann sé le feidhmiú na straitéise 20 bliain. Tá sé i gceist go mbeidh plean gníomhaíochta don tréimhse 2017 go 2022, ina mbeidh spriocanna sonracha agus amscálaí ina leith, á chur i dtoll a chéile ag mo Roinn agus á fhoilsiú faoi lár na bliana seo.

Ó cuireadh tús leis an bpróiseas pleanála teanga trí bliana ó shin, is ar ullmhúchán pleananna a bhí an próiseas dírithe go dtí seo. Lean an obair seo ar aghaidh i gcaitheamh na bliana anuraidh. An mhí seo chaite, d'fhógair mé go raibh allúntas ar fiú €850,000 in iomlán á chur ar fáil agam chun cabhrú le feidhmiú an phróisis pleanála teanga sa bhliain reatha. Agus tús á chur le feidhmiú pleananna teanga i suas le 13 limistéar Gaeltachta faoi leith i mbliana, tógfar céim mhór chun tosaigh le feidhmiú an phróisis, agus dá réir, le feidhmiú na straitéise.

Dul chun cinn thar a bheith suntasach a bhí i bhfoilsiú an pholasaí don oideachas Gaeltachta ar an gCeathrú Rua i mí Dheireadh Fómhair seo caite. Is é seo an chéad phlean a d'eisigh an Stát ó bunaíodh é a thugann aghaidh go sonrach ar na dúshláin atá roimh an chóras oideachais sa Ghaeltacht. Beidh mo Roinn ag obair as lámh a chéile leis an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna chun ár gcion a dhéanamh sa chaoi is go mbeidh rath ar an bpolasaí seo.

Cuireann an Roinn maoiniú ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta mar an ghníomhaireacht forbartha réigiúnach don Ghaeltacht agus oibríonn sí go dlúth leis. Maidir le buiséad caipitil an údaráis do 2017, fuair mé €1 milliún breise i maoiniú caipitil aonuaire mar chuid de Mheastacháin Athbhreithnithe 2016. Tá sé coinnithe don bhliain reatha, rud a chiallaíonn gurb é €6.687 milliún an bunlíne nua caipitil i mbuiséad 2017 d'Údarás na Gaeltachta, €1 milliún níos airde ná an bunlíne i mbuiséad 2016. Ar ndóigh, bhí áthas orm gur éirigh liom maoiniú breise de €2.4 milliún a chur ar fáil do bhuiséad caipitil Údáras na Gaeltachta le linn 2016. Chuir an maoiniú breise seo ar chumas Údarás na Gaeltachta poist a choinneáil ina gcliant-chomhlachtaí sa Ghaeltacht agus tuilleadh infheistíochta a mhealladh go ceantair Ghaeltachta. Chuige sin, is í mo thuiscint go bhfuil sí mar aidhm ag an údarás 500 post nua a chruthú sa Ghaeltacht i 2017.

Tá an Foras Teanga ar ceann de na sé chomhlacht forfheidhmithe a bunaíodh faoin Acht um Chomhaontú na Breataine-na hÉireann 1999. D'éirigh liom €1 milliún sa mbreis a fháil don bhForas Teanga roimh dheireadh na bliana seo caite, suim de bhreis ar €260,000 a cuireadh ar fáil do thionscadail ar leith anuraidh agus méadú €750,000 a bhí curtha san áireamh sna Meastacháin Athbhreithnithe do 2017. I measc buaicphointí 2016 bhí iomlán an ábhair as Foclóir Nua Béarla foilsithe ar líne ag Foras na Gaeilge; lárphointe eolais don Ghaeilge ar bun ag Conradh na Gaeilge, www.peig.ie; agus suíomh tairsí nua don Ghaeilge, www.gaeilge.ie, seolta.

Tá roinnt céimeanna tógtha anseo in Éirinn agus sa Bhruiséil chun tabhairt faoi dheireadh a chur leis an maolú maidir le húsáid na Gaeilge in institiúidí an Aontas Eorpaigh i 2021. Le linn 2016, thug an Roinn faoi feachtas poilbíochta chun cuidiú leis na comórtais earcaíochta a bhí curtha ar bun anuraidh ag institiúidí an Aontais agus cuireadh thart ar €1 milliún ar fáil don earnáil tríú leibhéal chun cursaí oiliúna cuí do na poist sin a chur ar fáil. Anuraidh freisin, bhunaigh Comisiún na hEorpa agus Rialtas na hÉireann grúpa monatóireachta chun monatóireacht a dhéanamh ar chur i bhfeidhm phlean gníomhaíochta atá forbartha agus ar an dul chun cinn maidir leis an méadú incriminteach ar sheirbhísí Ghaeilge atá leagtha síos sa Rialacháin. Leis na forbairtí seo uile, táim lán-mhuiníneach go mbeidh ar ár gcumas deireadh a chur leis an maolú i 2021.

Maidir le teagasc na Gaeilge in ollscoileanna thar lear, tá ag éirí go han-mhaith leis an gclár seo agus tá méadú leanúnach tagtha ar na hiarratais faoin scéim ó bhliain go bliain. Mar léiriú ar sin, tá deontais de €1.8 milliún san iomlán ceadaithe don tréimhse 2016-2017 go 2018-2019 le os cionn 40 ollscoil agus coláistí tríú leibhéal timpeall an domhain. Cuireann an scéim seo go mór le scoláireacht na Gaeilge i measc an phobail acadúil idirnáisiúnta agus méadaítear stádas na teanga dá réir.

Tá obair leanúnach ar bun againn chun cuidiú le chur chun cinn na Gaeilge tríd an teicneolaíocht. Tá forbairtí móra déanta agus á ndéanamh ar chorpas na Gaeilge leis an bhfoclóir nua foclóir.ie agus an suíomh téarma.ie. Chomh maith leis sin, tá tacaíocht á tabhairt ag mo Roinn d'Acadamh Ríoga na hÉireann chun foclóir stairiúil na Gaeilge a chur i gcrích.

Anuas ar na forbairtí seo go léir, tá córas ríomh-aistriúcháin don Ghaeilge forbartha ag Ollscoil Chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath agus Coláiste na Tríonóide agus tá an tionscadal taighde abair.ie i gColáiste na Tríonóide ag déanamh tuilleadh forbartha ar shíntéiseoir Gaeilge, is é sin córas inar féidir téacs scríofa a aistriú go caint bheo i gcanúintí éagsúla. Chun na deiseanna teicneolaíochta seo ar fad a threisiú san am amach romhainn, tá plean digiteach don Ghaeilge á ullmhú faoi láthair le tacaíocht na Roinne agus tá súil agam go mbeidh sé réidh le seoladh gan mhoill.

Tar éis athbhreithniú cuimsitheach a dhéanamh ar Bhille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), a dréachtaíodh anuraidh, agus tréimhse comhairliúcháin leis na páirtithe leasmhara, tá ceannteidil nua Bhille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) a ndréachtú faoi láthair. Tá sé beartaithe na ceannteidil nua a chur faoi bhráid an chéad chruinniú eile de Chomhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán.

Ar ndóigh, má tá rath le bheith ar an mBille nua agus muid ag iarraidh feabhas a chur ar líon na seirbhísí a chuirtear ar fáil trí Ghaeilge, caithfear dul i ngleic le fadhb na hearcaíochta. Ar iarratas uaimse, tá plé ar bun le tamall anuas ag m'oifigigh lena gcomhghleacaithe i Ranna eile agus sna príomhfhorais poiblí, le scrúdú a dhéanamh ar a gcuid riachtanais i dtaca le daoine atá feidhmiúil go dátheangach. Tá an próiseas seo ag teacht chun críche anois agus bheinn dóchasach go mbeimis in ann teacht ar réiteach a chinnteoidh go mbeadh líon leordhóthanach de chainteoirí Gaeilge á earcú sa Státchóras. Ní réiteodh sé seo na fadhbanna thar oíche, ach caithfear breathnú air mar chuspóir fadthéarmach.

Turning to North-South co-operation, more than €38.6 million is made available to support the two North-South implementation bodies, An Foras Teanga, comprising Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency, and Waterways Ireland. These allocations are also subject to the approval of the North-South Ministerial Council. In respect of Waterways Ireland, the overall allocation for 2017 is just under €23 million, which is broadly comparable with 2016. Over 90% of the waterways remained open during the 2016 boating season. Works to repair damaged infrastructure from the winter of 2015-2016 on the Shannon navigation were completed, allowing navigation to Limerick from Parteen Weir to reopen in August 2015. The Shannon-Erne Blueway attracted 100,000 visitors in 2016 and 121 events were offered support under the Waterways Ireland 2016 sponsorship programme, attracting 138,000 visitors to the inland waterways and contributing more than €5.5 million to the local and national economies.

Moving on to regional development and rural affairs, which is the final section with which I will be dealing, responsibility for regional development and rural affairs transferred to my Department in June 2016. It is a priority programme area both for myself and the Government as is reflected in A Programme for a Partnership Government. The Taoiseach and I launched the Action Plan for Rural Development at the beginning of this year. The plan provides an overarching structure for the co-ordination and implementation of initiatives across Government for the benefit of rural Ireland. It aims to unlock the potential of rural Ireland through a framework of national and local supports which will ensure people who live in rural areas have increased opportunities for employment locally and access to public services and social networks that support a high quality of life. More than €79 million is allocated for regional development and rural affairs in my Department's Votes this year, including €40 million allocated for the Leader element of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.

There are a number of funding schemes, both well-established and new, which will provide specific supports to rural communities in the coming years. Funding for town and village regeneration has been trebled to €12 million in the 2017 Estimates. Together with the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, I recently announced details of the 2017 town and village renewal scheme, which will see up to 300 towns and villages benefiting from funding. The 2017 scheme will operate over a period of 15 months and provide funding of €20 million in total, including the €12 million available in this year's Estimates to support rural regeneration, with a specific focus on rural towns and villages with populations of less than 10,000. The town and village renewal scheme is part of a package of measures at national and local level to support the rejuvenation of towns and villages across Ireland, which also includes initiatives in areas such as heritage, tourism, arts and culture, the reuse of vacant premises, energy efficiency and business supports.

Other priorities in this programme area include working with local authorities and other stakeholders to eliminate delay factors in advance and to enable effective rural broadband delivery once a contract has been awarded under the national broadband procurement process.

I thank the Minister and the Ministers of State. We will now take questions.

I thank the Minister and Ministers of State for the comprehensive outline of the events and the money available. Getting the money is one thing, spending it is another. As I believe the Department will be aware through parliamentary questions, etc., I am very concerned that the money the Department has will not be spent. On what do I base this? At the end of last year €28 million was given to local authorities by the Minister's Department for work that was not done. It is unprecedented. I remember a time when we were not even allowed give money to local authorities for tar which they had bought but which they had not spread and for which they could give us invoices. Now the Minister is able to give €28 million, but it is of no benefit to people. There was also €13 million carried forward. This means that of the money the Department received last year, €40 million of capital did not actually have any effect anywhere on the ground. That is quite concerning.

I am told by the Minister that up to the end of February approximately €2.5 million of that €28 million had been spent. I asked the question again at the beginning of May and was given the figure for the end of February again, so I cannot provide a more accurate figure. I am told that only €2 million of the money carried forward had been spent by 6 March. Again, I am basing my comments on a question I asked on 9 May. Obviously, the Department could not give me a more up-to-date figure.

To go further, I look at the outturns every month and I am trying to get the Department to give me the expenditure reports all the time. I have made another freedom of information request for them. It is very hard for us to oversee what the Government is doing if we cannot get very simple data. One very interesting thing I noticed when I looked at the Exchequer returns was that the net capital expenditure of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs at the end of April was minus €1 million. I advise the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to write that down. I understand what happened. The appropriations-in-aid exceeded the actual expenditure.

Gross expenditure at the end of April with a third of the year gone and after very little projected expenditure pertaining to February and March, instead of being €20 million, was only €13 million. The Department has not spent last year's money; that carried forward. The county councils have not spent any percentage of the €28 million worth talking about. We are already behind in respect of this year's money. This is going to come up repeatedly in this discussion. We also know that of the €40 million allocated for the Leader scheme, up to perhaps €10 million will be spent on administration. That leaves €30 million. It does not take a genius to figure this one out but I predict that the Department will be lucky to spend €5 million of that by the end of the year with the processes that are in place. We will come back to that.

Based on information released to the media by the islands section of the Department and parliamentary replies I have received, there is no way that construction will commence on Inis Oírr pier this year. It is just not going to happen. The Minister will be lucky to spend €300,000 in fees between Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin. There is another €1.7 million. Before all the groups get money, the Department has to insist that they spend the money they have. If I know local authorities, if they are let away with not spending what they have, they will put their hands out for more, which they will not spend either. At the end of this year I see us having a huge amount of money that will not be spent. All this arguing about Estimates, how much money was received on budget day and so on will be a waste of time if we are not getting the money on the ground to be of benefit on the capital side.

I am sorry for the long preliminary remark but this is big stuff. We are not talking about a million here and a million there, we are talking about as much as €30 million. My first question is, how quickly is the Minister going to reallocate the money, because she has to go to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to do so? How quickly are we going to reallocate the money? It is no good coming back in September or October and saying that we are not spending on Leader, it is not happening. It is no good saying that we are not spending on the islands and that we now have to go to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which would sit on it for a few weeks. The Department would then have to get tenders and the Minister knows herself that will not be done.

Is a re-evaluation at this early stage realistic, because the figures we are talking about are so astronomical? Is the Minister going to sit down with her colleagues, the Ministers of State, Deputies Ring and Kyne, and say that they have money and that it is time to go back the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform early and ask it if they can put more of it into rural development on the ground, necessary rural and town and village schemes, necessary CLÁR programmes and necessary Gaeltacht and island infrastructure projects, which could be done this year? Will they do this in order that there will not be an embarrassment of riches at the end of this year while the work has not been done? That is my first big question to the Minister today. Will there be a re-think, because the Minister is sitting on a lot of cash and there is no way she can spend a lot of it because the Leader programme will not spend it this year? It might spend a bit but it will not spend significantly.

Taking it in the round and without looking at any one budget line, though I will come back to that again, is the Minister developing a strategy? We are in May. Forget August; if the Minister has not rejigged this by the end of July it will be too late. Is that debate taking place? This is my hang-up every time I ask these questions. I think they are valid questions for a Deputy to ask. Will the Minister give me some outline of her thinking, or is she still being told that she will spend all the budget on what it was given for? That is not going to happen.

I thank the Deputy. First, I fought hard, as did my two colleagues, to get an increase in the budget for rural Ireland. I was delighted to do that in the 2017 Estimates. The Deputy is correct: I also want the money spent. At this stage, it is far too early to make definitive assessments of likely outturns. The real story around capital takes place in the summer. My Department is liaising very closely with the local authorities and my officials are continuing to impress on them the need to have projects completed as soon as possible, as am I and the Ministers of State, Deputies Ring and Kyne. Under this year's recently launched town and village enhancement programme, local authorities will have to spend a certain amount of money before we will pay anything out. That puts more pressure on them to get the money spent, get the projects completed, get the work on the ground, get it up and running and get it started. They will not get the final money until the project is complete.

We are currently looking for expenditure on the rural schemes to the end of April. We are on to the local authorities and asking them what they have spent. They will also have to spend their 2016 allocation before we will fund them under the 2017 schemes. We are putting the pressure on. We are telling the authorities that the money they received last year is there and must be spent. We will look at how they are progressing with their spend before we will allow them to continue to spend. Some counties, as the Deputy knows, are very good at spending and other counties are a bit slower. This will put the pressure on because the town and village enhancement programme is a competitive scheme and the encouragement is there for those that are up to speed to get the money spent and get the work done on the ground. All of us here know how important these projects are in the local towns and villages. I will come back to the Deputy about the Leader scheme specifically. We will speak about that later.

I assure the Deputy that I am monitoring the situation very closely. I am looking at emerging pressures. If I need to move money into a different area, I want to do so as early as possible. I work very closely with my two Ministers of State. I believe the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, wishes to say something on this matter.

Maidir leis na hoiléain, tá an ceart ag an Teachta. Ní bheidh mórán airgid caite ar céibh Inis Oírr i mbliana. Táimid ag fanacht ar tairiscint ón RPS Group chun dul ar aghaidh leis an méid atá le déanamh acu. Nílim cinnte go fóill cé mhéad a bheidh i gceist. Ó thaobh an obair caipitil, níos túisce i mbliana d'iarr mo Roinn ar na comhairlí contae a bhfuil oileáin faoina chúram ar a bhfuil buan-chónaí liosta tograí go bhféadfaidís dul ar aghaidh leo i mbliana a chur le chéile. Tá liosta mór faighte againn ó Chomhairle Contae Dhún na nGall, Comhairle Contae Shligigh, Comhairle Contae Mhaigh Eo, Comhairle Contae na Gaillimhe agus Comhairle Contae Chorcaí. Tá figiúir ansin. Tá scéimeanna le dul ar aghaidh ar fiú thart ar €2.273 milliún.

Freisin, tá éileamh ó Sherkin Island Development Society, SIDS, ar chúnamh i dtreo ionad pobail a thógáil ar an oileán. Tá féidearthacht nach bheadh a lán costais ansin i 2017 ach beidh siad ar iarraidh airgid. Tá sé beartaithe go bhfuil dhá fhoirgnimh a thógáil do na feithiclí ag Aerodrome Inis Oírr agus Aerodrome Inis Meáin. Arís, ní féidir bheith cinnte ag an am seo cé mhéad costais a bheidh le sin i 2017. Tá éileamh ó Chomairle Contae Mhaigh Eo ag seasamh amach le tamall maidir le costas breise a thit uirthi maidir le forbairt chéanna Inis Toirc agus Cliara. Tá figiúr de €1.7 milliún luaite le seo. Tá siadsan ag iarraidh airgid freisin. Cinnte, tá a lán iarratais ó thaobh na n-oileáin de a bheimid in ann an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh orthu i mbliana.

To go back to the Minister, local authorities, in my experience, are great at coming up with projects, but they have no concept of time and delivery. I saw some paperwork relating to the town renewal programme that the Minister announced. Is the funding for that programme €20 million?

The local authorities have until the middle of next year to finish the work, according to the documentation. In other words, they do not have to have it done by 31 December. My understanding is that last year there was still a small provision in the Estimates for legacy expenditure under the RAPID programme, which closed down when I left the Department. That is how slow the local authorities are to spend. They promise the sun, moon and stars in terms of speed.

Once the money has been given, there is a problem. If the Minister draws back, they will tell her that they will go to the public and say the Department withdrew the money. They will never say that they did not deliver in time. Recognising realities, I always believed that the only way around that was to actually sanction way more money. Then there is a dilemma, which concerns me. If the Minister does that before the 2016 funds are spent, there is a chance the authorities will not even spend that money this year. I am really concerned, and that is before we look at the €25 million saving in the Leader programme. I was given a figure of €300,000 for projects that had been approved under the Leader programme. These are going to communities, local authorities and all sorts of combinations.

We all know how slow they are at spending. Therefore, I have to disagree from my experience with the Minister when she says that it is too early. It is not too early because this is like turning the Titanic, as it is so slow, big and cumbersome. Simple as the schemes were ten years ago, they have all gotten so convoluted and so much paper is needed. When applications are opened, 300 are received that have to be sifted down to 30. That takes the time of the Minister's staff. Everything has to be scored and so on. Everything takes time. There is so much compliance nowadays. If we are going to have all this compliance in the system, on which we all insist, the only solution is to start way earlier, because the process cannot be cut down. I do not want to labour the point, but I will be pursuing this agenda every week of every month.

I think it is a right agenda because, as the Minister said, she did a good job. I can have arguments about how good a job she did but I will give her credit for a reasonably good job in getting money. The real sin in this game, however, is to get the money and not spend it. There is a knock-on consequence for next year. If the Minister gets the money this year and does not spend it, when she returns the next year saying she needs more, she will be told that she did not spend it in 2016 or 2017 and will be asked why she needs more next year when she is not spending it. This is an Estimates meeting so it is fundamentally about the money. We have piles of figures in papers and how many people are going in this door and that but ultimately, one has to get value for money, and one does not get any value for money if it is being handed back to the guys in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform because they will just put it in some black hole. My worries are not assuaged. When I hear "it is too early", that is something I used to hear myself. I could take a piece of paper and write out all the steps that it takes from deciding to start a little scheme to getting someone with a shovel or digger or whatever it takes to work on the ground and this is growing continually. Insurances, insurance bonds, or whatever one cares to name, there is so much process now that my worry is not that it is too early but it is actually too late. I hope the Minister proves me wrong but I will be back after her in June and July - I will not give up in August, September, October, November or December - and then in January I will count it all up, just as I did this year and I will look for the underspend. This is not because I want to play games but because I think it is an awful travesty of justice when one states continually that we have no money, only to hand back a wad at the end of the year.

I will compliment the Minister on one thing before I hand over to my colleague, namely, setting up the Moore Street advisory group. It was a courageous decision and could have gone very wrong or very right. I had suggested that it might be the way forward. It is fair to say that the chair of that group did an excellent job in bringing together disparate people in a coherent plan. The group presented a report to the Minister. Last week in the Dáil, she told me she hoped to be able to move ahead with its proposals. This matter needs to move forward. I noticed again that €3.8 million was carried forward on centenary events and put into the National Gallery or something like that. Will she tell us when we will move forward again with this? I am afraid that when the bicycle stops moving the person on the bicycle falls off. Can the Minister tell me if she has been able to move forward on this in the last week?

On the funding allocated to local authorities, I have made it very clear to them that funding for this year will be contingent on progress on projects funded in 2016. I agree with the Deputy that there is no point in central government providing the funding if it does not get out to the projects. We all know the projects nationwide and especially in our own constituencies that need to get the funding and we want to see the money spent. I can assure the Deputy that I am very conscious of the pressures but I will be keeping the pressure on the local authorities. The funding is in the baseline of my Department's Vote and that will allow for the larger-scale programmes, such as the €20 million, over a longer period which is the 15-month period. The payments are being staged, as I explained earlier. I welcome the Deputies' interest in this because they should get onto their local councillors and the chief executives of the local authorities and put pressure on them to get the money spent because we will not allocate 2017 money until they spend their 2016 money. That is it. Those that spend get more, and those that do not will be left behind. It is very simple. I have explained that payments in 2017 will be contingent on their reaching a certain level of expenditure. We are involving business interests and we are involving communities more in this more recent town and village announcement. We want them to consult with communities and communities are good at driving things forward. The pressure will be on the local authorities. One only has to look at the Tidy Towns scheme and what communities do there. They drive those on. They are out until midnight or 1 a.m., getting villages ready and there is such interest there. The pressure will continue on the local authorities and I will maintain the pressure within the Department to keep going and to make sure that this money is spent. It does not come easy. Deputy Ó Cuív knows from his time as Minister that getting extra allocation for one's Department takes a bit of work. Deputy Smyth, who is also from the Cavan-Monaghan constituency, is present and I can say that I am not in the habit of giving money back. I want to see it spent.

I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for his input in the Moore Street forum. He played a big role in that, he suggested it and it has worked out very well. I thank those who were involved in it, the political representatives, the 1916 relatives, the street traders and other stakeholders and, like Deputy Ó Cuív, I want to thank the chairman, Mr. Gerry Kearney, in particular. He worked on a voluntary basis and gave up a huge amount of his time. He was very committed, was able to facilitate all the stakeholders and got everyone working together and it is important that we continue this momentum. I said that I will set up the advisory group and am pleased to say I have appointed a new chair, Dr. Tom Collins. I intend to make appointments to that group within the next week. We want to get it up and running because there is a lot of work to do there and we want to see it moved on and Moore Street to be developed in a way that reflects the important events of the 1916 Rising and the street's role in that and to be able to accommodate one another and work together to find the right solution.

I think I have covered most of the questions.

I thank the Minister and the Ministers of State for their insightful overview of expenditure. I will focus on the arts and the Creative Ireland programme, which is wonderful to see. I have attended two of the Minister's workshops which are moving around the country, both in Monaghan and Cavan, and I compliment her on them. It has been wonderful to see the engagement with local communities from all walks of life, both professional and amateur, and she has managed to encompass the visual, literary and performance elements.

As for the expenditure of the €5 million, how much has been spent so far? Have the workshops that were being held nationwide taken place in each local authority? What is that costing, including the promotion of the Creating Ireland programme? The programme has five specific pillars and the one of huge interest to me is education. There is one on community, one on cultural and creative infrastructure, one on media and one on global reputation.

Will the Minister provide a breakdown of the expenditure on these five pillars for the coming 12 months? How does she intend to divide the funding between each pillar? Are there priorities among the five pillars or will they all receive the same amount? How much will each local authority receive to implement the Creative Ireland programme? A pilot scheme of the local arts in education partnership took place in Cavan and Monaghan. I have always advocated that the idea and ethos of partnership could work very well with local authorities and the 16 education and training boards, ETBs. We have discussed the idea of funding local arts in education partnerships on numerous occasions. Does this come under Creative Ireland? If so, will there be 16 local education partnerships and how much will they receive?

I thank the Deputy for raising these issues and for her comments on the Creative Ireland plan. She was present at the two consultations in Monaghan and Cavan, which were very well attended. There is great interest in it and there was great feedback. We are going throughout the country to consult. We are listening to people's views and asking them what they think of this, how they can support us in this and how they can work with us.

There are five pillars, namely: enabling the creative potential of every child; enabling culture and creativity in every community; investing in our cultural infrastructure; Ireland as a centre of excellence in media production; and unifying our global reputation. The Deputy asked about the budgetary figures and I will give her the broad outline. A total of €5 million was allocated for the Creative Ireland programme in the budget. This will ensure the programme can deliver on its key deliverables and implement a comprehensive public awareness campaign supported by a high-impact, high-profile events programme. Local authorities have been allocated €1 million and an additional €1 million will be provided by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, which means each local authority will receive approximately €64,000. The local authorities are establishing their creative teams. There will also be a Creative Ireland plan for every county, which will tie into the overall national plan. Cruinniú na Cásca was very successful. It followed on from Road to the Rising in 2015 and Reflecting the Rising last year. We spent €1.25 million on it. Much of the funding went directly to artists in terms of performances and various activities organised on the day, and it was curated by RTE. Approximately 450,000 people came into Dublin city and 100,000 attended events in every county. The notice was a bit short this year, but I hope to work on building a national cultural day on Easter Monday in every county throughout the country.

The public engagement and events will cost €1.6 million. This involves going out and meeting people and consulting with all of the stakeholders.

Is this with regard to the workshops being held at present?

There is more to it than that. Only yesterday, I consulted the arts in education people. I attended another event on Saturday to do with enabling the creative potential of every child. I have consulted with the audiovisual sector. We have a number of high-profile events organised for later in the year. This is about putting culture and creativity at the heart of Irish society. We will have big events later, such as Electric Picnic to which I have never been, and various events throughout the country. Many events are happening and I want to-----

The Minister gets all the nice jobs.

Exactly. I want Creative Ireland to be able to have a space there, to get this engagement and to encourage more people to be involved in it.

Will the €1.6 million for public events come out of the overall €5 million for Creative Ireland?

Yes, it is all coming out of the €5 million but it has not all been fully allocated yet. The matter is under discussion. There are some other-----

Just to follow on, will the Minister go to each local authority to do the workshops?

The workshops have been completed. We have gone to every local authority and worked with them. We will help them develop their Creative Ireland plans for every county. That is broadly it. Obviously, there are administrative costs and we want to have a Creative Ireland forum towards the end of the year, where we will bring all of the stakeholders together.

In terms of being a centre of excellence in media production and unifying our global reputation, we want to develop our digital presence and showcase what we do to the world. We need to invest in our web design and, as I said, our digital presence. This is about unifying our global reputation. There are also other events. We launched the Creative Ireland plan internationally in New York where it was very well received.

I have a number of questions for the Minister. On education-----

Yes, I am coming to that.

-----we have €5 million and five pillars, and €1.6 million has been spent on public events. Education is hugely important. How much of the money will be spent on the education stream of the five pillars?

It is about the public engagement and the events. In terms of the creative potential of every child, there is Arts Council funding in this area for 2017 because it is really the Arts Council with which we are working. The Arts Council is working with education centres and the ETBs.

Have they been designated the job of implementing pillar 1 of Creative Ireland?

Yes, along with the Department of Education and Skills.

How much have they been given to do this?

We are working very closely with the Department of Education and Skills. We have signed the arts in education charter. We are elaborating further on the charter through Creative Ireland, which is enabling the creative potential of every child. We want to ensure that every child will have the opportunity to access tuition in arts by 2022. It is about arts in education. We are bringing in all the stakeholders. I met them last Saturday, which was national arts in education day and I am sure the Deputy is familiar with it. I spoke in St. Patrick's in Drumcondra. I met teachers, artists, education officers, arts officers and young people who experience arts in education at first hand.

I appreciate all of that, but I am asking how much will be spent on the education sector.

The Arts Council funding in this area for 2017 has increased from €3.1 million to €3.7 million. It is being funded through the Arts Council.

It is not coming out of the €5 million for Creative Ireland.

No, but there is all of the engagement. There is a lot of work involved in bringing these people together because they have worked individually for a long time. This is about pulling it all together.

I am only trying to get the figures straight in my head; I am not trying to trip up the Minister. There is €5 million, and €1.6 million has been spent on actual public events. What the Minister is really saying is of the €5 million there is nothing specific for the arts in education and the Minister is depending on the Arts Council and its funding stream to fund it.

Of course, I increased the Arts Council's funding by €5 million this year.

I appreciate that, but I am focusing on arts in education. None of the €5 million is specifically for arts in education, and the Minister is depending on the Arts Council and its funding streams to implement it. Am I right?

The point is that it is not all about the money; it is about bringing people together and getting them to work together and that-----

I appreciate that. I am just interested in what the focus is in terms of money for the delivery of arts in education and the arts in education charter.

The Department has always allocated funding for arts in education and supported the work of the Department of Education and Skills on that programme. Creative Ireland and Pillar 1 will deliver on this and get action started. While some work has been done, the aim is to get more people working together. The Creative Children plan, which will be launched in September, will set out how the plan will be rolled out over the next five years. We must have a plan for ensuring every child in the country has access to tuition in the format he or she wishes, whether that is music, dance, coding or something else. Funding is being delivered through the Arts Council through the Department's arm's-length approach.

The allocation of €5 million for Creative Ireland is separate from and not additional to the delivery of arts in education, which continues to be delivered by the Arts Council.

Yes, this is about bringing all of this into the Creative Ireland space. The arts in education charter is fine in that we agreed to work together. Creative Ireland and Pillar 1 will make that happen and I am pulling together the various stakeholders who are having conversations and working out a plan as to how we will make it happen.

I appreciate that and I compliment the Minister as this is probably the first time the Departments of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and Education and Skills have worked together. The Minister and I both know from our work on the ground that it is extremely important that they do so. Has a commitment been made regarding the implementation of the local arts and education partnership?

The Department is working with the education centres and the Arts Council and Department of Education and Skills are also involved.

Are the education and training boards involved?

Yes, the education and training boards were involved in the meeting. We are working very closely with the Department of Education and Skills, which will also assist in the delivery of the programme. I also want more funding to be provided for this purpose but we must first have a plan in place. The plan will be launched in September, at which point we will seek additional funding to roll it out.

A sum of €5 million has been provided for the plan, with a further €5 million allocated for its implementation.

I am speaking specifically about enabling the creative potential which is Pillar 1. We will draw up a plan to ensure that every child gets access to arts in primary and secondary school.

I appreciate that.

The €5 million allocation is for Creative Ireland, which has a number of pillars. It is also about investing in the cultural institutions and increasing community participation.

It is great that €5 million has been provided for the implementation of the plan because we need to know how it will be implemented. How much of the €5 million provided under Pillar 1 will be spent on arts in education?

The Arts Council received an increase of €5 million in its funding and has, in turn, increased its budget for arts in education from €3.1 million to €3.7 million. There are a number of different stakeholders involved in this area, all of which will use some of the funding provided to them to ensure Pillar 1 is delivered. In addition, I will make the case for increased funding to roll out the plan, which is only one pillar of Creative Ireland.

Has the €5 million been broken down into specific allocations for the five pillars?

No, not at this stage. It is about pulling it all together.

While I am not a member of this committee, I found this meeting to be an interesting experience, particularly as the Minister and Minister of State have announced so much good news in the Revised Estimate. It is great that more money is being made available for such worthy initiatives.

The town and village renewal scheme, a worthwhile Government initiative, has been provided with many millions of euro this year. Will the Minister provide an update on the scheme?

I gather extensive funding is being provided for arts centres in the regions, which I have long supported. The increase in expenditure is very welcome and I congratulate the Minister on having secured this increased commitment on behalf of her Department.

What is the reason for the 12% decrease in the allocation for capital expenditure? Has funding for capital programmes decreased? I gather funding for current expenditure has increased. What is the reason for the decrease in capital expenditure?

I will explain the decrease in capital expenditure. The lower overall capital allocation is due to the once-off nature of a number of capital projects in 2016, including the decade of centenaries programme and a pier project. These capital projects have been completed. The reductions were offset by an increase in rural capital funding of €17 million. The best comparison that can be made is with the published 2017 baseline for my Department's Vote published in 2016 by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In mid-2016, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform indicated that my Department would have a ceiling of €327 million for 2017. The figure was set on the basis that a number of capital and centenary projects were once-off projects in 2016. However, I made a case for an increased allocation to my Department and the ceiling was subsequently increased by €41 million or 12.5%.

Deputy Brophy referred to increases in funding. Funding for the Arts Council has increased by €5 million or 8% and the allocations provided for all the national cultural institutions have increased. For example, an additional €2 million was provided to allow for the opening of the refurbished Dargan and Milltown wings of the National Gallery of Ireland. I am pleased to note that, as a result of the wonderful renovations carried out at the National Gallery, the refurbished wings will open next month. Killarney House was also opened on foot of significant State investment. The allocations for the Irish Film Board and Culture Ireland have increased by €2 million and €1 million, respectively, while an extra €1 million has been provided to assist the Heritage Council. Funding of €5 million has been provided for the implementation of Culture 2025, the Creative Ireland project which has been discussed at length. The Department also trebled funding for the town and village regeneration scheme from €4 million to €12 million. In addition, it has also provided €8 million for the national rural development schemes, which includes €5 million for the CLÁR programme.

I was pleased to allocate €9 million for the arts and culture capital scheme this year. Many cultural centres have benefitted from the scheme. As Deputies will be aware, funding has not been provided for cultural centres for the past eight or nine years. I was pleased to provide investment to these institutions because many have leaking roofs and windows in need of replacement. A total of 56 projects have received funding, with seven flagship projects due to receive substantial allocations and 49 projects set to receive amounts of between €20,000 and €276,000. This new funding has been extremely well received.

Funding of €20 million has been provided this year for the town and village enhancement scheme.

The focus is on working with local businesses, local communities and local authorities and asking them to devise projects that will most benefit their towns and villages. There is no point in me saying that I know this will work in some town in Mayo, Galway or so on. I know what is happening in my county best. I am telling communities and business people - there is an economic aspect to this situation - to figure out what they want and that I am happy to support them. It is a ground-up approach under which the Department enables local communities to devise good ideas and projects that will have an impact. They know better than most what will work in their own areas.

That is the current state of play. I believe I have covered all of the questions. If not, the Deputy can revert to me.

I thank the Minister. I have a friend who works in a voluntary capacity at the gallery. From what I have heard, it is an amazing project. Traditional visitors to the gallery as well as a large number of new visitors will be attracted to visit it. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to see it.

The Minister concluded on the regeneration scheme. I was lucky enough to be a member of South Dublin County Council before my election to the Dáil. The council was innovative in pioneering a project that was similar to this one. I was involved in co-founding one of the groups in the Templeogue area. It was built on the idea of bringing local people and businesses together in a small community way - a village or other geographical area - and having them decide what worked best for them. They would then request funding to do that. There have been successful outcomes across my constituency where a number of groups have been set up. It has been positive. I do not doubt that such an outcome will be reflected in what the Minister is doing nationally. In terms of value for money, the spending of the council's money through and with these groups delivered greater bang for its buck than the more traditional way of approaching the issue.

I will take the opportunity to ask the Minister and Ministers of State a few questions. I am conscious of the time. People want to get out on the road, so we will try to be out of here as quickly as possible.

I will touch on the Leader programme and funding for various projects, which is a major issue for rural Ireland, as the witnesses would expect. This was raised in the Dáil yesterday by my colleague, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae. As politicians, we are being put under pressure to deliver locally.

I have put together a few notes on the Leader programme 2014-20, which is the current one. From 1992 to 2016, the programme was successfully delivered by community-led local development companies. In 2016, local action groups, LAGs, established within each local authority were contracted to deliver 23 Leader contracts, with the remaining three contracts delivered directly by local development companies. The 2014-20 programme, launched in July 2016, allocated €220 million to address poverty reduction, social inclusion and the economy of rural areas.

Evidence from these programmes has shown a failure to lead. This comes from the communities, not us. In their view, the move away from a development-led approach to a competitive grant fund has reduced the level of community engagement in the Leader programme. Ten months into the programme, the level of grant approvals nationally is low. In one mid-west LAG, for example, €1.4 million of grant aid was approved after ten months in the 2007-13 programme compared with just €6,600 under the current programme, or 0.5% of the earlier level. In a south-west LAG, the respective figures are €1.7 million and zero.

In the application process, the estimated minimum timeline for promoters seeking grant support from expression of interest to grant contract stage is nine months. The programme's administration is complex, with the workload trebling, thereby reducing the time that front-line staff can spend supporting communities and entrepreneurs. This is costly. The Department has contracted Pobal to audit 100% of programme expenditure. That is unprecedented. Previously, administrative checks were carried out effectively by local development companies, as evidenced by the low level of ineligible funding - 0.5% at no additional cost - in the 2007-13 programme. In reality, local development companies continue to undertake checks, passing them on to local authorities, which in turn pass them on to Pobal for triple checks, leading to significant delays and costs. The cost of the 100% audit function may end up being higher than the cost of ineligible funding under previous programmes.

This is the national picture. I have spoken about this issue often. I have seen the benefit of the Leader programme to rural communities, as have the Minister and Ministers of State, who come from rural communities. We have discussed the local issue in west Cork. It now has three Leader companies where there was one before. Where is the programme in west Cork? Last December, the Minister told me that an office would open in Clonakilty, but none has. When will the local community development committee, LCDC, Leader local development strategy be published? No one appears to have seen it or been involved in its preparation. Requests from Cork County Council to Pobal and the Department have been ignored.

When is the money going to be spent on the ground? People have projects and ideas. I meet many groups that are pulling out because this is not happening. The vibe out there is bad, especially given that this was a super programme that used to get projects off the ground. Groups claim that the funding is poor. I can only speak on behalf of west Cork, where groups are finding it more difficult to engage and are not encouraged to apply with their projects. These are serious issues, so I would appreciate it if the Minister would address some of them. I have a question for the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, as well, but he will contribute in a minute, so we can discuss it then.

I thank the Vice Chairman for his comments. Like him, I want to see the money being spent in communities.

I will give some background information. The Leader programme 2007-13 was active until 2015. Indeed, some of the projects continued into 2016. Sometimes, it takes a while to get these programmes off the ground. The rural development programme 2014-20 was not agreed by the European Commission until 26 May 2015. Following that, a minimum of six months had to be provided to allow for potential LAGs to prepare local development strategies. That brought us up to the end of 2015. The functions were transferred into my Department in June 2016 and I was anxious to get the Leader funding out to communities. In July, the majority of the agreements were signed for the delivery of the Leader programme with LAGs throughout the country.

Since then, LAGs have sought expressions of interest from the project promoters. More than 4,000 expressions of interests for funding have been received by LAGs, with a total value in excess of €183 million. LAGs are now concluding calls for proposals and working with potential applicants to develop and finalise project applications in each area. As many as 25 projects have been approved by LAGs to date and are worth approximately €548,000. A significant increase in project approvals is expected as the year progresses.

A total budget of €40 million has been provided for 2017. Total expenditure for the Leader subhead to date in 2017 is €3.339 million. Of this amount, €2.761 million has been paid in respect of administration and animation for the LAGs and preparatory support for a local development strategy for east Galway. Expenditure on LAG administration and animation costs, plus other Leader delivery costs, will be in the region of €12.5 million this year. It is difficult to estimate expenditure precisely on projects in 2017, given that the process is controlled by the LAGs, but we will keep the expenditure under review.

Most committee members will be fully aware that it is a standard pattern for EU-funded programmes such as Leader to commence slowly. However, activity increases rapidly after the first year or so.

I understand that the Leader programme in most other EU member states has only ramped up in recent months. We are not, therefore, out of kilter with other EU countries. I accept that some administrative problems have been encountered by the LAGS and the project promoters, some of whom have expressed concerns about administrative arrangements under Leader. We must be conscious that this is 63% funding for Leader, approximately €157 million of the €250 million that is being provided by the EU, and there are checks that must be put in place. There are very specific requirements that must be met for the EU funding to be drawn down and this is the same for every single member state. Under the programme, we have tried to ensure that we are satisfied that all the projects are in order before they actually commence so there are no problems further down the line.

Having said that, I am very conscious that there are issues which need to be examined and, for that reason, I will host a forum with all the LAGS and local development companies on 17 May to discuss progress and explore the issues with them. I want to hear what they have to say and, to be frank, if there are problems we are going to have to sort them out because I want to see the money spent. That is the bottom line. The money needs to get out to communities and to the various enterprise and heritage projects that badly need this type of support. I shall meet them all, listen to their concerns and hear about the issues they feel are blocking the speedy delivery of this programme. I shall sit with them, my officials will be there also, and we will try to iron out the difficulties. Ultimately, it is about getting the money spent.

I always thought that the Leader programme was democratic. It is a constant fight to try to get the money out. The situation now is that we have 15 steps, with the addition of this expression of interest. I am absolutely surprised that the Minister has not received €183 billion in expressions of interest because every community is saying they have to get something in; some will be good and some not so good. It is another layer. I do not know where this came from or whether it is an EU or a national measure. Whoever dreamt that one up deserves a medal for procrastination. The reality is that the way it worked was those who had really mature projects approached the Leader groups when they were ready. If the groups were going to apply with a project that was a pipe dream and could not happen or with one that was not yet mature or did not have the required information, the groups were sent away, told what to get and then they came back. We have become so focused on planning in this country that we are getting nothing done. I think of all the things that happened by people doing things on a wing and a prayer and I look at the Minister of State, Deputy Ring and I say "God bless Monsignor Horan". Today, instead of being considered a really good guide for Connacht, he would probably have wound up in prison because he just got on with the job. I also think of the many people involved in development when I was involved in that sort of work, including the former Senator, Pól Ó Foighil, and ask what would have been the position if we had been obliged to try to do it under the conditions being created for the new generation of developers and community people. It seems that governance has now become much more important than delivery. I am told that there are 15 to 18 steps - the final three are optional. This is 15 steps from conception to approval of a project. I am not worried about the first two years being lost as this period is always lost with the way the EU operates. I believe this EU cycle is crazy but it is there. I am, however, worried about the way we are going to get these through. A lot of Leader companies, because of the shortage of money, are making upper ceilings of €50,000. We have all these pages of targets and outputs and all the stuff that I bothered to go through. In that context, I make the prediction that in ten or 15 years if somebody were to go back and look at the previous Leader programme and examine the legacy of the €5,000 or the €10,000 grants paid here and there, they will discover them to be long gone in the wind. The projects that cost €400,000 or €500,000 with Leader grants of up to €1 million are the projects that will still be benefiting the communities substantially because it takes that kind of money, and it is getting more expensive. The planning process alone is costing a few hundred thousand euro. The Minister of State, Deputy Ring, should consider the Cong Crossroads community centre which is a fantastic facility and which received €500,000. Anything less would not have been any use.

Who dreamt up the idea of bringing Pobal into this process as another outside agency? We now have the LCDCs and Pobal in addition to the local groups, the Department and the EU. Now there are more people with a hand in the pie at every step in a process. We should face facts. The Minister is where she is and I wish her luck unravelling this. It needs to be unravelled and she inherited a great mess from the former Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. It managed to do so much destruction in five years it is unbelievable. The Minister was handed a poisoned chalice in the way the Department gave it over to her Department. All the gold is there but the Minister cannot actually get at it. I wish her luck in her efforts but she will not unravel in time for the money to be spent this year.

The Minister comes from a farming background so she must understand the issues relating to cows. When I was in the Department and when, at the beginning of the year, I would be worried about money, the Secretary General at the time would say to me "There is a cash cow here". The Minister has a cash cow. She has too much cash that she will not spend. Will she spend that money on something else? It is now May and €1 million has not been approved. Only €500,000 has been approved. We know that €12 million is going to go on regeneration and that more than €2 million will be allocated to administration, but the Minister will not spend €5 million in actual projects by the end of the year. The communities will not convene and rush out just to get to the Minister so she can make a claim on the Exchequer by the end of the year. One can forget about anything that is given out in November or December. August is out - the Minister knows that LCDCs do not meet in August. It is going to be worse now that the local authorities are involved. So the available months are June, July and September. Perhaps some things initiated in October might be completed by the end of the year, but that would be a tight call. Certainly, nothing substantial would be done. I have said enough.

I wish to raise another issue. May I go on?

Very briefly.

I wish to return to North-South issues. I may have missed the second topic when I was out of the room but will the Minister indicate if a good section of the Ulster Canal will really be dealt with?

There was a recommendation in the Moore Street campaign report to include a flagship Irish language project as part of the overall project. I was a little surprised to discover in recent days that Foras na Gaeilge has been given approval to sign a 30-year lease, with a 15-year break - in other words, it is tied in for 15 years - on a headquarters on Amiens Street. Will the Minister clarify if the lease is in the name of Foras na Gaeilge or in that of the OPW? If it is in the OPW's name, then at least it could put some other entity in there if and when this proposal on the Moore Street area comes to fruition. It is somewhat disappointing that, before the ink was dry on the contract, one of the potential anchor tenants was pulled away for the benefit of some landlord. Perhaps the Minister could address this issue.

I ask the Minister to answer two questions. On the basis of years of experience and by looking back at the pattern of spend relating to the previous programmes, what are the her officials telling her she will spend on projects relating to the Leader programme? Was the lease relating to the building on Amiens Street signed by Foras na Gaeilge and the OPW? If it was just signed by Foras na Gaeilge, then that was a monumental mistake.

I will address the question of Leader funding first. I want to be clear that in the event of any Leader savings emerging this year, I will seek, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, to ensure that the value of any savings will be retained for the benefit of rural Ireland. It would arise if all of the money is not spent, although I would still say it is early. I am meeting them next week and will listen very carefully. We must sort out the issues, iron out the problems and get this money out. The point I want to be very clear about is that if any savings emerge, I want the money involved to be spent in rural Ireland. That will be in that budget.

I do not want to be too argumentative but if anybody advising the Minister goes back and checks the pattern of spend in respect of the previous Leader programme, which was far less bureaucratic, and in respect of any of these capital grants, such as the sports capital grant, they will tell her that it is not a question of if at this stage; it is definitely going to happen. Every piece of evidence-based analysis would indicate that to a person checking the spend on capital programmes. This is worse because the Minister does not have any control over it as a result of the fact that it goes out to communities, which do the choosing.

All I can say to the Deputy is that I am monitoring it closely. I am meeting with them. There were savings last year and I made sure, with the Ministers of State, Deputies Ring and Kyne, that any of that money went into rural Ireland whether-----

It did not. There is €40 million-----

It did because money from the Leader programme was put into rural projects.

It was too late. They did not spend it. It has not even been spent.

Well it will be spent very soon. The Deputy knows the story. The Ulster Canal is a project with which the Deputy is familiar.

Will the Minister arrange with her officials to give me the management expenditure figures every month so that we can monitor whether-----

They are on the Department's website.

No, they are not. All I get is one line.

In respect of the Ulster Canal, I am glad to say that the contracts are signed for the Derrykerrib bridge. This is the stretch that will go from Belturbet to Castle Saunderson. On another part of it, funding was applied through Waterways Ireland and was successful. A total of €5 million was received to develop the blueway on the towpath along the canal from Smithborough to Middleton so that is protecting the route of the canal as well. Another application exists. They are looking at funding to see how we can move to carry out a recreation project along the route of the old canal into Clones. A forum has been set up for all the stakeholders. They were consulting this week with the different stakeholders on both sides of the Border but I must say that I was delighted to get it started. The most important thing is that it has started and will be done on an incremental basis. It is about getting the first bit and working back. I think we should be working from Clones heading back in towards Belturbet.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, will talk about the forests issue.

The current lease, which was 35 years plus two extensions, with the OPW on Merrion Square came to an end on 30 April 2017. The OPW was not prepared to enter into a long-term lease in the context of its own plans for the property. The sub-lease on the North Frederick Street premises where 15 staff from An Gúm are based will come to an end on 31 May 2017. Again, no extension to that lease is possible. Accordingly, and in accordance with section 5 of the financial memorandum, Foras na Gaeilge submitted a comprehensive business case to the two sponsoring Departments to bring the two offices together at a new headquarters on Amiens Street. Obviously, the Moore Street report does not specifically state that Foras na Gaeilge should be located there. That report is under consideration by Department officials. The lease is in the name of Foras na Gaeilge, not the OPW. As I said, it needs to vacate the existing premises. Obviously, Moore Street has some way to go before it would be available as a premises.

Hopefully, there will be many other options for Moore Street. I understand that the proposed lease for Foras na Gaeilge incorporates a lease break clause after 15 years and there is also the possibility of subletting the lease earlier subject to agreement with the landlord.

We are very conscious of the position regarding State money. The vast majority of the group relating to Moore Street is also conscious of this. One of the cost-effective ways of using some of the space we are looking to preserve involved putting in State agencies that are now in expensive rented properties. It is a win-win situation because if we have to put an agency somewhere, why not put it there? If we are going to make it specifically lárionad Gaeilge, one of the obvious anchor tenants was Foras na Gaeilge. I am glad to hear that there is some kind of lease break but I presume that if someone goes back after four or five years, and I accept it could take that long, I would love to see what the terms of the lease break are. It is a pity it is not in the name of the OPW or somebody because it could use it for some other body.

I congratulate the Government on getting the Ulster Canal project started. Will the new capital programme that is coming onstream be included in that?

Yes. It is on the proposal.

I raised many issues concerning the national side of Leader but I also raised a few local issues regarding the programme in west Cork. I did not ask that question because I am Vice Chairman - I asked it last December. The Minister promised that the offices would be open in Clonakilty but no Leader offices have opened in west Cork. Could the Minister clarify the position?

I apologise. I overlooked that question. In respect of development in west Cork, the strategy submitted by the two parties in respect of west Cork was of a very high standard but the strategy submitted by the West Cork LCDC scored highest, as the Vice Chairman is aware. The European Commission has confirmed that the West Cork Development Partnership has made two complaints to it about the selection process in Cork. The first complaint relates to a suggestion that the €1.25 million community development initiative, which Cork County Council agreed to make available to the West Cork LCDC and not the local action group, LAG, amounts to state aid. The Department does not believe that there are any state aid issues associated with this funding but has been assisting the Commission with its consideration of the complaint by providing responses to specific queries. The Commission has not provided the Department with details regarding the second complaint. I will check the issue relating to the opening of an office in Clonakilty and get back to the Vice Chairman because I do not know the answer. In the meantime, the West Cork LCDC is delivering the programme.

That concludes-----

We have not even started. We have not covered CLÁR, the Gaeltacht or the islands. I will be very quick. If the rest of the members and witnesses are all tired out, that will make it even quicker. I spent a lot of time last night going through all this. I always think that one waits nine months for a chance to go through the Estimates and the next thing, everyone says "Will you hurry up, we want to go home?" I remember the same syndrome occurring with the county plan. Councils would whinge about the county plan for five years and then when they were wrapping it up, they would sign-----

Does the Deputy have any more questions?

I do. Let us begin.

I will start with the CLÁR programme, about which I have some questions. When it was constructed initially, it was fundamentally a leverage scheme. In other words, I had about €20 million available and the idea was to leverage another €20 million to €30 million from other authorities in order that there would a drawing of money into rural areas from the main State agencies which should have been doing things there. For example, we used to provide money for health centres. We provided 50% of the money. That meant that if, for example, it was decided to construct a health centre in Banada, a health centre that might have been at the bottom of the list suddenly came to the top because it became very cheap to provide it. However, it brought double the amount of money into Banada that the Department was giving. It appears from all of the CLÁR schemes which have been rolled out so far under this regime that it is no longer a leverage scheme but a straight funding scheme. Will the Minister of State confirm this or will he go back to leveraging, whereby those who do not wish to come to the party can stay away from it and get nothing?

In some schemes we only provide a certain percentage of the funding which the local authorities match. As the Deputy knows, the local authorities always state they have no funding. He was quite correct in what he said in an earlier conversation, that when one gives them funding, they still complain that they do not have any. I listen to them complain every day on local radio about this, that and the other, yet when they have funding, they will not spend it. I have been dealing with CLÁR programme funding and if the local authorities have not spent money, they will be penalised. I will not give to local authorities that do not have a fair percentage of the money spent. I am not talking about a figure of 10% or 12%. I do not care who says it is not fair not to allocate funding to local authorities that are not dealing with the funding they have been given. I have examined the local improvement scheme, LIS. In one area the local authority wrote letters to the general public telling people that it had made an application under the CLÁR programme and that it was depending on it to come up with funding for the local improvement scheme. It wrote to people to tell them that we were producing the money. If the local authorities put forward proposals relating to the LIS or any other scheme, we will look at them. For now, however, we are targeting schemes and giving a big percentage of the money available, but we expect the local authorities to come up with some of the funding required. What I would like to do, but I cannot get agreement from the officials is go to communities and give the money to them. However, it is like the sports capital programme in that it takes too long and will not work, as the Deputy himself told me.

The Minister referred to the LIS. Did he go to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and tell them that if they were willing to put €3 million or €4 million into the LIS, he would put in the same amount? These bodies could undertake certain road projects and the Minister of State could undertake others. That is the way we worked it. We used to wait until they received the allocation from the Department for the LIS and matched it euro for euro and doubled it in CLÁR programme areas. Does the Minister of State intend to talk to agencies such as the HSE and so forth? There are other types of community infrastructure, aside from footpaths, roads and street lighting. It is usually harder to secure a refurbished health facility in a rural area with a small population. One is always told about the cost benefits. This changes the cost benefits for the HSE because it would be at half the price. The reason there is no health centre in Inishbofin is that when the matching funding was pulled years ago, the planning and so forth was not undertaken. Will the Minister of State approach a wide range of agencies? We had an arrangement with the electricity supply network and so forth.

I have no problem with speaking to some of the Departments involved. We will talk to them. I would not have a problem in talking to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or the local authorities if they were prepared to come up with some funding. We could match some of the funding if the Departments were willing to do so.

With regard to the HSE, one of the areas I have targeted under the scheme I announced in the past few weeks is where local groups work to provide local ambulances to bring people to and from hospitals or appointments each day in rural areas where the HSE will not provide that service. I am providing funding for these groups. They can make an application and draw down some funding from the Department. The HSE has agreed in the action plan to support as many rural projects as possible and stated it will work with my Department. However, the Deputy knows from working with the HSE in the past that it is not simple to get funding from it. That is the reason I wish to focus on targeted programmes. One of the schemes I included this time was a miscellaneous scheme. I wish to see what communities are seeking and if I find that ten or 12 communities are seeking the same thing, it is a measure I will consider the next time. All Departments are stating they have to work with us on the action plan and certainly provide funding for rural schemes and rural areas, but getting them to work on a particular scheme is not easy, as the Deputy is aware. That is the reason I am trying to target the money where it will be spent.

That is why the local authority is-----

I used to say I had a module of money. I made up my mind on how much I was going to put aside for certain areas such as health and then met the agency involved, saying: "If I do this, will you do that?" Inevitably, when it smelled the money, it opened the door.

To be fair to the Deputy, I never criticised him in respect of any of the schemes. If he had not set up some of them, with the Minister who preceded him, we would have a problem now. However, the problem is that when he was in office, he had a budget of €23 million for the CLÁR programme. As I have €5 million, I must target schemes-----

That is not-----

The Deputy had a substantial amount of money available to him.

That was only at the end because I had made it so successful and it had become so popular.

I have no difficulty in talking to agencies if they are prepared to come up with money.

There is also the €20 million the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, will provide later in the year.

I hope the Deputy is right about that, as I will be looking for some of it.

For the schemes which have an open bidding process, does the Minister of State give the same amount to each county, irrespective of the size of population? Will he give a county in which there are only 2,000, 5,000 or 10,000 people in a CLÁR programme area the same amount of money as a county in which there is a big population in a CLÁR programme area such as County Mayo where virtually all of the county is included in the CLÁR programme, except Westport, Castlebar and Ballina? How is he operating the scheme?

Now that the applications are in, that is something I will work out with my officials. However, the Deputy is right. It would not make sense. Part of the problem with the CLÁR programme, as I have discovered, occurs where half of a parish is included in the CLÁR programme. That does not make sense and creates a problem. Of course, the centres with a bigger population will have to receive a larger amount of money than those with a smaller population included in the CLÁR programme.

As we have found on this island, wherever one draws a line on the map one has a problem. Ultimately, there had to be lines because otherwise one would be told that Beaumont Hospital was providing services for people living in CLÁR programme areas and as such it should be receiving CLÁR programme money. We were rigid in that if one happened to be inside the line, one was included in the programme. If one was two inches outside it, one was out. However, we will park that issue.

I hate to see one half of a parish included in it and the other half outside it.

I have a question about the Western Development Commission. We live in a very funny country. One thing that is scary is that when An Coimisinéir Teanga resigned, the media were silent. The chairperson of the Western Development Commission has said he does not wish to be reappointed and outlined clearly in his letter the reason he does not wish to be. It must be great to be in government when there is media silence about such things. If that were to happen in an urban agency and affected Dublin, there would be wall-to-wall coverage. However, it does not mean that the substance of what has happened is not very serious. This is not a hangover appointment from our time in government. It involved the appointment of an ex-Fine Gael county councillor, a fine person. He was scathing about the Western Development Commission and the Government on the issue of rural development. Is it intended to give a serious role, teeth and money to the Western Development Commission to enable it to do its job or will it always be an excuse of an organisation that does not get any money from the fund and uses funds that could be recycled funds purely to engage in business development? What will happen to the commission? Will it be placed in the queue to receive unspent Leader programme funds?

Regarding the Western Development Commission, the Deputy is quite correct that the Chairman had two terms, effectively. He had part of one term and a full second term. He wrote and said he did not want to be considered for the chairmanship. I heard him speaking on "Morning Ireland" and I said, on the record of the Dáil, that when everything was outlined to him, in terms of the action plan, jobs and that the Western Development Commission was very much involved, he said that this was all news to him. I cannot be responsible for the Chairman if he was not involved in what was actually going on with the commission. The commission has a very important role to play, as do the regional and local authorities. Since the time when Fianna Fáil was in office, we have made changes and improvements to local government. The local authorities all have enterprise sections within their councils. The regional authorities have a very strong role with regard to the regions.

The Western Development Commission has a very important role to play. I have advertised the vacancies on the board and more than 80 people have applied. I hope to be in a position to fill the vacancies on the board soon. When I came into office, the chief executive of the commission had retired. I went to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and got permission to appoint a new CEO. However, I feel that there is no point in recruiting a new CEO until we have a new board in place. I want to give that board the responsibility of appointing a new CEO. As I said, we have permission from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to appoint a new CEO and I hope that the board vacancies will be filled very quickly, now that applications have been received.

Is the Minister of State saying that he believes that the criticism of rural development policy and the Government's policy on the Western Development Commission by the previous Chairman of the commission is without foundation?

What I am saying is that this Government is the first to develop an action plan for rural Ireland. We have outlined today what we have achieved in our time in government and what we have done for rural Ireland. I am very proud of what this Government has done. If certain people want to make comments I cannot stop them from doing so. All I can do is defend the Government and defend our role. We have played a very strong role in relation to rural development. The action plan is working very well. The action plan for jobs is also working very well.

The Western Development Commission has my full support. I will be working with the new CEO when he or she is appointed. I have also been working with the chief executive who is currently in place. The commission has a role to play in terms of rural development. There are lots of very good things happening in rural Ireland. However, there are some people who, at every opportunity they are given, will downgrade what is actually happening. There are lots of positive things happening. Of course, we want more money, development and jobs. It is the job of the Minister, Deputy Humphreys and myself to ensure that we provide whatever funding and infrastructure we can to make sure that the west and the north-west get the same opportunities as the east coast. That is why I set up the economic corridor - to make sure that we can compete with the east coast. That is working very well and I will be attending a further meeting next week about it. I am very proud of what this Government has done.

The legacy of Fine Gael's time in government is shown in the census figures, particularly regarding what is called urbanisation. For many years, rural areas were growing right out into the periphery but we have seen a rapid suck in since Fine Gael came to power and that is typified here today. I am beginning to wonder what rural Ireland actually means. I like to look at spatial maps and there was a very interesting one published by the CSO showing the percentage of people in every county in Ireland that live in rural houses, outside of villages and towns. All I ever hear from this Government is about plans to spend money in rural towns but there are 1.5 million people who live outside rural towns and villages. It is as if they do not exist. It is as if all of those people have no rights to anything and are for annihilation as self-sustaining communities. All of the time the narrative from Departments, including the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, concerns towns and villages. The recently announced €20 million fund, for example, is not for people who happen to live outside the village - the street village, not the baile or the traditional village. If I live outside the street village or the town, I do not exist. There is no money for me. There is nothing for me. The Department is actually a Department for the development of very large towns and to a lesser extent, small villages, despite the fact that the vast majority of people live outside of rural towns and villages. Those people do not exist, do not count and are not meant to get anything. That is a huge concern. It seems that everyone is getting sucked in to the narrative of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and its long-term project which is the forced urbanisation of Ireland. Despite the drug problems, the housing problems and the congestion in urban areas, that Department wants more and more urbanisation. I ask the Minister of State to define rural Ireland and outline the schemes funded by the Department for those who live outside the street villages and towns of rural Ireland.

That is the closing question on the Western Development Commission.

I will address that, if I may. I live out in the middle of the countryside, like Deputy Ó Cuív.

Sorry to interrupt but I must correct the Minister. I live in a village. It is called An Charraig Thiar. To those who come from the east coast, it is scattering of houses but to us, is seanbaile fearainn é.

It is a community.

We see it as a village but just because our houses and fields are more spaced out we are viewed as an isolated thing on the landscape.

I come from Aghabog. It is a good strong community. I know what the Deputy is talking about but the towns and villages are the economic drivers of rural Ireland. This-----

I ask the Minister to explain-----

Deputy, please let the Minister finish her point.

The towns and villages drive economic activity.

In the sense that people live in the countryside but they come into the towns and villages to get employment, to do their shopping and so on. The focus of the town and village enhancement scheme is on communities and economic clusters. It is about the hinterland as well. It is not just about the actual towns or villages. It is about coming up with projects - which may or may not be located in the towns or villages - that will benefit the whole community. We have the town and village enhancement programme, the rural recreation programme and the CLÁR programme. The latter is helping schools out in the middle of the countryside. We have schemes that involve projects that are located outside rural towns and villages. The focus is on the bigger picture and the focus is economic.

A lot has happened under the action plan for rural development. As the Deputy knows, there are 276 actions listed in that action plan. A lot of things have already happened in rural Ireland but some people do not want to acknowledge that. One often hears radio reports and reads in the newspapers that rural Ireland is dying but that is the wrong message to send out. Deputy Ó Cuív knows, and I know, that there is lots of enthusiasm, commitment and strength in rural communities. That is what this is about - building on those strengths and helping people to come up with ideas for projects that will improve their communities.

We must conclude our discussion on this issue now.

It is sad that we are in such a hurry on something so crucial. Statements are often made here that are superficial. The two greatest drivers of the economy in the area where I live, which Deputy Ring would know very well, are ECC Teo, which is out in the countryside, a timber mill employing 120 directly and up to 300 indirectly and McGrath Quarries, which is also in the countryside and not in the town. Who would build a quarry in a town? When I go around the real rural Ireland that I know, I find that an awful lot of the economic drivers are actually in the countryside. Were it not for the planners insisting on trying to put industries cheek by jowl with residents, there would be even more industry in the countryside.

I have no problem with industry in the countryside and I do not understand why the planners are so against it. We have destroyed the edge of every town in Ireland with horrible industrial buildings, one on top of the other. This idea that the towns are the drivers is actually the main problem in rural Ireland if we look around. When the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, has a private chat about this, he will be able to validate this. I was going one night recently to a meeting in a place called Roundfort. It used to be in the Minister of State's constituency. Roundfort is a fantastic area. There are so many beautiful houses and people living there. However, the village itself, other than the school and the church, is fairly dead. The village is the redundant part. I was thinking about this. Why did this happen? Why are so many villages closed? If I go into Ballinrobe, I see the same thing. Why are they closed? It is because the services they used to provide to the people living in those houses in the countryside are no longer the service those people want. They go to the town if they want to get clothes. That is the scenario and those are the challenges of the small town.

If there is a redundancy and a challenge in the country, it is in the urban areas, where we see all of this decay. There are very few rural towns in Ireland, even where the countryside is alive and kicking and fantastic, that are actually as alive as they were because of the change. I will give a simple example. I was in a planning office one day recently. I asked why they wanted me to live in the village. I got the usual trite answer to the effect that I could walk to the post office. I responded that I have the services of a post office, bank and my travel agent when I use the phone in my pocket, therefore I do not need to go to the village much. I do not need to go to the town. That is why there is a problem with the towns. Even where the rural community is strengthening and growing, there is a problem with the towns because the purpose that the town served 50 or 60 years ago is dead. When I came to Corr na Móna, there were three shops there. Now there is one. Before that, I think there were five. It still has the same population, but everybody is going to Galway or Castlebar to do the big shop. That is the way it has happened. I think we need a much bigger debate on rural Ireland and on the trite lines spun by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.

Why am I spending time on this when the Chairman is anxious to get to west Cork? It is because the Government is going to draw up three plans in the next month or so that are all built on this false premise. They will be called the spacial plan, the capital plan and the mitigation plan. They are against the rural part of rural Ireland, as is the Minister of State's own rural plan, which I quoted back to him in the Dáil, which talks about stopping people living in the one-off house in the countryside as something that is desirable. It is no good saying that the Department has got money for all of this when we do not seem to even know what we are trying to achieve. I hate being called a hinterland. I hate rural Ireland being called a hinterland of anywhere. It infers an inferior status.

A lot of the drive that has come into this economy through young people coming to the city who are well-educated, smart, driven and competitive has come from those much-benighted one-off houses of rural Ireland. If we look at GAA clubs around the country, there are more superb players per thousand of population in rural areas. Go to the towns and go to the rural areas. When I think of all-Ireland competitors like Ballyea, St. Thomas's and other clubs in Derry and so on, I ask how they can, with their tiny populations, take on St. Vincent's, Nemo Rangers and other big city clubs. I then realise that we have a huge resource in rural Ireland. There is a lot of drive and energy. It is not dependent on the town. It is dependent on a self-reliant community. Yet, we will not give them the crumbs off the table. I guarantee that when these trade plans come out, they will be totally focused against one of the greatest drivers of our economy, which is the real rural communities.

Thank you, Deputy.

Will there be a review of that policy?

That feeds into the national planning framework. It will speak to rural issues. There is going to be an opportunity for us all to have a debate on rural Ireland in the context of the national planning framework. It is important that we make submissions to that. I do take the Deputy's point. I was a member of Monaghan County Council and I absolutely defended the right of people to live in rural Ireland. I live in rural Ireland myself and I was allowed to build my house there. I do not want to see people from the country who want to live in the country being prohibited from doing so. However, for others, it is more attractive to live in towns or to live in villages at different stages of their lives. That is why I am developing the pilot scheme of how we look at people who wish to move back into the centre of towns and how we can incentivise them to do that. The framework consultations will specifically ask us to consider whether as a society we want to continue to see a drift into the cities. Personally, I believe there is a huge attraction to rural Ireland.

We did not get to discuss it but on the issue of broadband, when we get connectivity into every house in this country it will be a gamechanger for rural Ireland. I have no doubt about that. We are living in what I consider to be an IT revolution. The whole world of work is going to change. Where there will be good connectivity, people will more than likely be able to enjoy living in rural Ireland. They will be able to work close to home as well or maybe work in clusters in small villages that have this connectivity. One could hook into it anywhere in the world. We are working closely with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to ensure that the national planning framework includes proper recognition of rural Ireland, including areas outside of towns. We cannot continue to carpet from the east coast and Dublin outwards as they continue to sprawl. There are many more opportunities to live in other areas. We do not all have to be here. We are living in a different era and we need to prepare for that. I believe there is an absolute opportunity for rural Ireland to get its speak in there. I will be making my views known in the national planning framework.

On the issue of rural broadband, the Minister tells us there are plans. The only thing I see happening in rural Ireland, and it is happening in rural areas quicker than in the towns and villages, is that Eir seems to have its vans all over the place. It is purely commercial. It is very frustrating because when they go halfway down the road and stop, the next person telephones me to ask about connectivity. In fairness, between now and the end of next year, Eir - a totally private company with no State input - is, I understand, going to connect 300,000 houses in the most rural areas of Ireland. It seems to be able to connect the likes of Ballykinealy and west Mayo. It seems to be everywhere but unfortunately, while it is only doing half or a third of every area it is concentrating on very rural areas and not on towns and villages. It is ironic that everybody told us that we would have to go into the town or village to get broadband. In fact, for those 300,000 lucky people, they will have better broadband within the next 16 to 19 months than the people living in the city of Dublin. They will have 1 Gbps in the house. If one happens to be beside them, one will get in through the gap. This is happening in real rural Ireland. It gives the lie that one has to be in a town or a village. That is yesterday's world. The new world is one in which one can do most things wherever one is sitting, even at the top of a mountain, as long as one has 1 Gbps of power.

Maidir le ceisteanna Gaeltachta, bhí an-díomá ar na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge agus bhí an-díomá ormsa mar urlabhraí Fhianna Fáil ar chúrsaí Gaeilge, Gaeltachta agus oileánda os rud é nach raibh an méid a gealladh i gclár an Rialtais do gnóthaí Gaeilge, Gaeltachta agus oileánda ar fáil i mbliana. Cuireadh fíor-bheagán airgid ar fáil.

Bhí iarratas ar €5 mhilliún. Thug Comhchoiste na Gaeilge, Gaeltachta agus Oileán tacaíocht don éileamh an-réasúnach sin. Is ar éigean go mairfidh an Rialtas seo níos mó ná trí bliana. Mar sin, le €5 mhilliún breise in aghaidh na bliana ar feadh trí bliana mar €15 mhilliún, bhíodar ag lorg iomlán de €18 milliún. An mbeidh an tAire Stáit, Teachta Kyne, ag lorg an chuid eile den airgead ón Aire ó tharla go bhfuil fuíollach airgid aici anois le caitheamh ar an nGaeilge, an Ghaeltacht agus na hoileáin? An mbeidh an tAire Stáit ag cur iarratais isteach le haghaidh an airgead LEADER seo ar fad a bheidh ar fáil agus an t-airgead forbartha tuaithe gur cosúil nach gcaithfear i mbliana? An mbeidh sé ag déanamh iarratais ar son na Gaeltachta, na Gaeilge agus na n-oileán ar an airgead sin?

Bíonn muid ag iarraidh airgid chuile lá agus i chuile chruinniú. Beidh mé ag iarraidh breis airgid ón Aire sinsearach agus ón Roinn Caiteachais Poiblí agus Athchóirithe don bhliain 2018 agus ar aghaidh freisin.

Cad faoi 2017? Beidh fuíollach airgid ag an Aire. Tá sé sin aontaithe.

Tá a fhios agam. Táimid á phlé sin agus ag breathnú ar sin. Bhí mé sásta i rith na bliana airgead a fháil, mar shampla, do Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge. Bhí €250,000 breise ar fáil ansin. Bhíomar in ann €250,000 breise a fháil freisin mar airgead reatha do Údarás na Gaeltachta agus bhí an t-údarás in ann an chuid is mó den airgead sin a chur ar fáil do na comharchumainn Gaeltachta agus oileánda trasna na tíre. Bhí siad sásta le sin, ainneoin go bhfuil siad ag iarraidh níos mó. Tá a fhios agam é sin. Déanann siad an-obair leis an airgead agus tá siad faoi bhrú go mór maidir le costais árachais agus rudaí mar sin. Ach, bhí siad sásta go raibh ardú don chéad uair ó 2008 sa bhuiséad atá acu. Tá comharchumainn nua anois ar ais arís ar Inis Meáin agus ar Toraigh. Is nuacht maith é sin freisin. Tá pleananna acu agus tá siad ag dul ar aghaidh.

Dúirt mé freisin san óráid ag tús an chruinnithe go bhfuil breis airgid ann do Údarás na Gaeltachta mar airgead caipitil. Fuaireamar €250,000 freisin chun ardú a dhéanamh ar na deontais do mhná tí. Is é sin an chéad ardú ó 2008. Sílim go raibh siad sásta le sin freisin. Is céim thábhachtach é sin chun tacú leis an obair thábhachtach atá siad ag déanamh ar son na Gaeilge. Is ardú suntasach é do na ceantair Gaeltachta faoin tuath. Tá an-chuid de na mná tí ag dul in aois. Teastaíonn daoine nua chun áiseanna a chur ar fáil. Bhíomar in ann breis airgid a fháil chun feabhas a chur ar thithe na ndaoine nua a bheidh ag cur a dtithe ar fáil do fhoghlaimeoirí Gaeilge. Bhí mé sásta le sin freisin.

Ach is airgead an-bheag é sin. Sílim gur b'fhéidir €1 mhilliún breise a bhfuair an Roinn i mbliana le hais anuraidh. Bhí súil le i bhfad níos mó. Mar shampla, chun Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge a chur i bhfeidhm i gceart ar chor ar bith, bhí gá le i bhfad níos mó. Os rud é go bhfuil a fhios ag an Aire Stáit go mbeidh go leor airgid le spáráil ag an Aire as seo go deireadh na bliana agus go gcaithfear é a chaitheamh faoi dheifir, an mbeidh sé ag déanamh iarratais ar €4 mhilliún nó €5 mhilliún breise a fháil ón Aire le caitheamh ar an nGaeilge, an Ghaeltacht agus na hoileáin? Is cuid an-tábhachtach den Roinn é sin, ach cuid den Roinn ina raibh an tAire Stáit ag rá nach bhféadfaí an straitéis a chur i bhfeidhm ann, rud nár ghlac mé leis. Is é an leithscéal a bhí á thabhairt ná nach raibh an Roinn in ann an straitéis a chur i bhfeidhm i ngeall nach raibh dóthain airgid sa tír. Ní hamháin anois go bhfuil dóthain airgid sa tír, ach tá fuíollach airgid ag an Aire. An mbeidh an tAire Stáit ag déanamh iarratais ar airgead breise a fháil ón Aire le caitheamh sa mbliain 2017 ar na rudaí riachtanacha ar fad a theastaíonn óna rannóg?

Táimid ag plé na rudaí seo laistigh den Roinn faoi láthair. Dúirt an Teachta go raibh airgead beag faighte againn. Mar a dúirt mé, bhíomar in ann €2.4 milliún breise a fháil do Údarás na Gaeltachta in 2016 in éineacht leis an €1 mhilliún breise roimhe sin sna Meastúcháin Athbhreithnithe. Freisin, fuaireamar ardú san airgead reatha don údarás, don straitéis agus do na scéimeanna Gaeltachta freisin. Táimid á phlé laistigh den Roinn. Más rud é go mbeidh airgead ar fáil, beidh Roinn na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileán ag iarraidh cuid den airgead sin - bí cinnte faoi sin. Nílim chun geallúint a thabhairt ag an am seo seachas le rá go mbeimid ag déanamh chuile rud chun breis airgid a chur ar fáil don Roinn. Tá an t-údarás ag breathnú ar chuid de na pleananna teanga faoi láthair. Níl móran costais a bhaineann le na pleananna sin faoi láthair. Níor tháinig aon cheann de na pleananna sin os mo chomhair freisin. Tá a fhios agam go mbeidh suas le 13 chinn ceadaithe roimh dheireadh na bliana seo. Ó 2018 ar aghaidh, teastaíonn breis airgead don scéim sin chun na pleananna teanga sin a chur i bhfeidhm.

An mbeidh an tAire Stáit ag lorg breis airgid ón Aire?

Tá mé i gcónaí ag lorg breis airgid.

Bhuel déan deifir anois mar beidh sé ró-dhéanach mura ndéantar é sciobtha. Tá fuíollach airgid ar fáil. Maidir leis an gcuid den Roinn a bhaineann leis an Aire Stáit, cén t-ardú glan a tháinig ar an airgead a cuireadh ar fáil faoi na fo-mhírchinn a bhaineann le Gaeilge, an Ghaeltacht agus na hoileáin i mbliana le hais anuraidh?

Mar is eol don Teachta, bhí laghdú ar an airgead in iomlán sa bhuiseád caipitil mar gheall go bhfuaireamar €6 mhilliún i rith na bliana ón Roinn Cumarsáide, Gníomhaithe ar son na hAeráide agus Comhshaoil don togra don chéibh nua ar Inis Oírr. Ní rabhamar in ann an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh in 2016. Bhí €1.9 milliún ar fáil in 2016 chun Teach an Phiarsaigh a chríochnú. Tá an obair sin déanta agus tá an-jab déanta acu. Molaim an obair a rinne Údarás na Gaeltachta, Roinn na Gaeltachta agus an comhairle contae. Tá an áit sin ar oscailt anois ar Shlí an Atlantaigh Fhiáin. Tá daoine ag teacht ann. Sílim go mbeidh níos mó aitheantais ar an áis as seo amach. Bhí laghdú ar an mbuiséad caipitil mar gheall ar sin.

Cén laghdú a tháinig ar an airgead ar fad, idir ceart agus reatha, a cuireadh ar fáil don Ghaeilge, don Ghaeltacht agus do na hoileáin ó bhliain go bliain?

Ó €51,206,000 síos go €46,736,000.

So tá laghdú €6 mhilliún ar an airgead atá ar fáil don Ghaeilge, don Ghaeltacht agus do na hoileáin i mbliana. Tá an tAire Stáit tar éis na cúiseanna a cheapann sé atá ábharach a thabhairt, ach tá laghdú €6 mhilliún ar an airgead.

Tá laghdú ann, mar a phléigh mé ag an am, mar gheall go bhfuaireamar €6 mhilliún in 2016 ón Roinn Cumarsáide, Gníomhaithe ar son na hAeráide agus Comhshaoil. Is é sin an fáth. Gan an t-airgead sin, bheadh rudaí-----

Tá cúramaí ón Roinn Comhshaoil freisin.

Is ea, ach ní rabhamar in ann an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh. Ní fhéadfaí an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh. Ní raibh na pleananna againn. Bhí cead pleanála againn ach ní raibh rudaí réidh le dul ar aghaidh, ach bhí-----

Mar shampla, dá mbeadh an t-airgead sin ag an Aire Stáit i mbliana, d'fhéadfadh sé rud éigin a dhéanamh faoi bhóithre Ghort a' Choirce nó na bóithre eile ar fad ar fud na Gaeltachta.

Tá pleananna ann. Dúirt mé é sin mar fhreagra ar cheist an Teachta roimhe seo. Tá iarratais faighte ó chuile chomhairle contae - Dún na nGall, Maigh Eo, Ciarraí, Sligeach, Gaillimh agus Corcaigh - ó thaobh na n-oileán. Beidh muid ag dul ar aghaidh le clár maidir le bóithre agus rudaí mar sin ar na hoileáin. Freisin, más rud é go------

Agus ar an mórthír freisin?

Let the Minister of State finish.

Más rud é go mbeidh airgead ar fáil i rith na bliana, táimid ag smaoineamh ar scéim eile, b'fhéidir do bhóithre áise, sábháilteacht ar bhóithre nó rudaí mar sin. Táimid ag smaoineamh ar sin faoi láthair. Níl an t-airgead againn fós, ach táimid ag breathnú fós ar rudaí mar sin.

Ach leis an €6 mhilliún ó anuraidh, is caiteachas é sin idir Gaeltachtaí agus oileáin. Níl aon fhadhb viring a dhéanamh air, mar a thugann siad ar taobh istigh den Roinn. Dá gcoinneodh an Roinn an soláthar airgid sin a bhfuair sé agus dá mbeadh a mhacasamhail ann i mbliana, d'fhéadfadh an Roinn go leor a dhéanamh ar an mórthír agus ar na hoileáin maidir le bunstruchtúr Gaeltachta agus oileán. An bhfuil sé sin fíor?

Is é €2.644 milliún an méid airgid caipitil atá againn faoi láthair do 2017.

Sin ar oileáin?

Is ea, ar na hoileáin------

Céard atá ar an nGaeltacht?

Let the Minister of State finish.

Tá €1.422 milliún ann do scéimeanna tacaíochta sa Ghaeltacht.

Tá thart ar €3 mhilliún nó €3.4 milliún ann don Ghaeltacht.

Is ea. Bhíomar in ann é a chaitheamh-----

Dá mbeadh €4 mhilliún eile breise ar sin-----

Through the Chair.

-----bheadh an tAire Stáit in ann é a chaitheamh.

Tá a fhios ag an Teachta go bhfuil liosta mór de thograí caipitil. Táimid ag ceadú tograí chuile sheachtain agus chuile mhí i rith na bliana. Tá liosta mór ann. Tá obair ar siúl faoi láthair, mar shampla, in Ionad Cuimhneacháin na nImirceach i gCarna. Le scéimeanna eile, táimid ag fanacht le dul ar aghaidh, cosúil leis an bhFál Carrach agus áiteanna eile freisin. Más féidir breis airgid a chaitheamh ar thograí caipitil agus más rud é go mbeidh sé ar fáil, beidh muid in ann é sin a dhéanamh.

Dá mbeadh sé ag an Aire Stáit, caithfeadh sé é.

Dá mbeadh sé, is ea.

Ach faraor géar, scaoil sé uaidh é.

That concludes the select committee's consideration of the Revised Estimate for public services for the year ending 31 December 2017: Vote 33 - Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I thank the Ministers and their officials for attending today's meeting of the select committee.