It is a great privilege to present to this committee the Estimates for 1998 for the following Votes: Vote 41, £26 million for the Arts Council; Vote 42, £147,560,000 for the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and Vote 43, £2,274,000 for the National Gallery.
Members of the committee will already have received briefing material setting out the detail of the three Votes. All reference to the various subheads within the Votes will be in the order as published in the 1998 revised Estimate for Public Services. The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, will speak on the subheads for the Gaeltacht, the Irish language and the islands.
On Vote 41, the Arts Council, I am particularly pleased to point out the total budget of £26 million provided for 1998. This is an increase of more than £5 million on the funds provided to the Council in 1997 and meets in full the commitment given in the Programme for Government, an Action Programme for the Millennium. This level of funding will enable the Arts Council to implement, by the end of 1998, the Council's arts plan one full year earlier than planned. To assess the operation of the plan I have commissioned consultants to undertake an independent review and make recommendations as to the changes in emphasis and orientation which may be considered necessary in a future plan. The review will involve seeking submissions from all interested parties on the implementation of the arts plan. The Arts Council will also undertake its own review of the plan. The committee will be aware of the appointment of the new Arts Council two days ago under the chairmanship of Brian Farrell.
Turning to Vote 42 for my Department, members will note that the administrative cost of my Department, including salaries, will be more than £18.5 million for the full year. In 1998, for the first time, the full funding of administrative and other costs for the three main national cultural institutions is published in tabular form in the Estimates.
Subhead C1 of my Department's Vote is national lottery funded and provides grant-in-aid for the main national cultural institutions. These include the National Museum, including Collins Barracks, the National Library, National Archives, National Concert Hall, the Chester Beatty Library, Irish Museum of Modern Art and the National Archives Advisory Council. I was pleased to be in a position to secure an 8 per cent increase in the subhead C1 allocation in 1998 form £5,558 million to £6,034 million. This additional funding facilitated an increase in the 1998 allocations to each of these institutions.
One of my first pleasant duties since becoming Minister was to preside at the opening, last September, of the inaugural exhibitions at the newly developed facility for the National Museum at Collins Barracks. It is deservedly a source of great pride for all concerned, the caretaker board, the director and his dedicated team and the staff of the Office of Public Works who worked tirelessly on the project, to see many years of aspirations and hopes for the museum finally come to fruition.
Expenditure in the order of £14 million has been incurred to date with the support of EU Structural Funds and the Exchequer and plans are at an advanced stage to proceed with the next stages of the development. Members will note that between the pay elements and subhead C1, a significant increase of 13 per cent, from £2.48 million in 1997 to £2.793 million in 1998, has been achieved in the case of the National Library. I am sure Members will agree that recognition of the ongoing and valuable contribution of this important institution is totally justified. With these additional resources the library will be able to develop further its existing functions through conservation, acquisitions and general service to the public.
I am sure I speak for all library users in welcoming the longer opening hours which the library has introduced in recent months. I take this opportunity of expressing our appreciation of the co-operation of the staff and management for bringing this about.
Under subhead C2 Archbishop Marsh's Library received a substantial increase in 1998, from £63,000 in 1997 to £99,000 in 1998. In addition to covering normal running costs, this increase is an attempt to establish appropriate remuneration rates for the keeper and her staff, which are long overdue in this establishment providing as it does an important conservation function for many institutional and private collections. It is noteworthy indeed that it was instrumental in the conservation of the Michael Collins-Kitty Kiernan letters which are currently on loan to the National Library.
In relation to the National Archives I was pleased to announce at Christmas the allocation of £13 million in capital expenditure for the adaptation of the premises to the rear of the existing building which will provide much needed storage and other facilities for this important institution. The women's history project is a most important area of research and I am pleased to allocate a further £60,000 in funds in 1998, to the allocation for 1997, to the Irish Association for Research in Women's History to enable it to continue to undertake a survey of historical documents relating to the history of women on the island of Ireland.
In recognition of the valuable work of the Irish Architectural Archive, I am pleased my Department is in a position to assist the archive by increasing its 1998 allocation so as to assure its continued operation.
Included in the C2 capital subhead is £200,000 from a total of £400,000 which has been committed over a three year period towards the provision of a furniture conservation and restoration unit as part of a development in the Letterfrack furniture college in Galway. This is in response to the need to foster an indigenous professional educational standard of this type and to complement the furniture design and technology qualifications granted by this innovative college.
In relation to the cultural development incentives scheme, I am happy that of the 39 projects approved for funding, 20 are under construction or completed. I expect the other 19 to commence this year and I envisage that all projects will be completed before the end of 1999.
On the broadcasting side it is estimated that 995,000 television licences will be issued in 1998 and this is expected to yield £69.65 million in gross receipts. The increase of approximately £0.6 million over gross receipts in 1997 primarily reflects the gradual increase in the number of licences issued. The amount payable to An Post in respect of its licence fee for collection work is estimated at £7.47 million. This figure is calculated on the basis of the target of 995,000 licences to be issued. RTE is paid a grant-in-aid equivalent to the total receipts less costs and it is free to use these moneys for the general purposes of broadcasting in accordance with its duties under the Broadcasting Authority Acts.
In accordance with the Government decision on the funding of Teilifís na Gaeilge, two grant-in-aid subheads are provided for in the Vote of my Department. Under one subhead a total of £10.63 million is provided for current funding and under the other subhead a total of £200,000 is provided for capital funding. Current funding is allocated primarily for staffing and programming costs whereas capital funding is allocated for equipment upgrades and the improvement of the transmission network in line with developments on the RTE 1 and Network 2 facilities.
Pending the establishment of separate legal structures for Teilifís na Gaeilge, RTE has been directed to assume responsibility for the service and grants-in-aid are payable to RTE in respect of Teilifís na Gaeilge form the Vote of my Department. RTE has established Comhairle Theilifís na Gaeilge to provide advice to RTE in respect of the operation of the service. In accordance with the commitment in An Action Programme for the Millennium, the establishment of Teilifís na Gaeilge on a statutory basis will be included in my proposals for broadcasting legislation, which I expect to submit to Government in the coming weeks.
The Irish Film Board has a crucial role in the development of the indigenous film industry. By providing loans for the development and production of Irish film projects, it plays an essential part in providing the opportunities needed by emerging Irish talent and, through schemes such as short cuts, has launched the careers of quite a number of young Irish film-makers. The board also supports more established companies in producing Irish culture films which have significant commercial prospects. In addition to providing development and production loans, the board also provides, under its capital provision, funds for film training, carried out by the national training committee for film and training, known as Screen Training Ireland.
Under the board's current expenditure provision, it pays its salary and overhead costs and membership contributions for Ireland's participation in international schemes, notably the EURIMAGES Co-Production Fund. On foot of this payment, Irish producers working with other European producers are able to access funding. Ireland benefits from this fund substantially more than the amount of the contributions. In 1998, an additional provision was made in the Estimates for current expenditure to enable the board to extend its promotion of Irish film at home and abroad and to provide information, seminars and other initiatives to this end.
To date, recoupment of development and production loans by the board amounts to some £1 million — recoupment of a further £400,000 is anticipated this year. A sum of £200,000 is being provided this year from the recoupments for the establishment of the Screen Commission of Ireland, which will have the important role of promoting Ireland abroad as a centre of excellence and location for film production. In addition, £300,000 is being provided to enable the board to offer additional development and production loans.
The screen commission meets regularly to organise its operations and it has recently advertised the position of chief executive. The screen commission's role will be to promote Ireland's many attractions as a location for incoming films and television production and to provide a "one-stop" facility for foreign and indigenous producers who wish to make films in Ireland. It will promote tax advantages and other incentives, the range of facilities, available, the body of professional crews, actors and creative personnel and the variety of locations available. It will also maintain a presence at key international market events.
The committee will be aware that last week I announced a major review of the Irish film industry. As part of this review, I have established a think-tank to formulate a strategic plan for the future of the industry for the next decade. This is a key priority in the Government's An Action Programme for the Millennium. The think-tank comprises a strategic review group drawn from professional industry sources, my Department and the Department of Finance under an independent chairperson. The group will carry out an objective evaluation of the effectiveness of the existing schemes, analyse and identify the fundamental issues facing the industry, make recommendations about future measures to support the film industry and formulate a strategic plan. The think tank will be supported in its deliberations by a panel of national and international experts. Its most immediate task will relate to the section 35 scheme, which expires next year. I will ask the think tank to furnish me with a report on this issue in September.
Members will be aware that the Heritage Council is funded through my Department's Vote under subheads P1, P2 and P3. A total of £4 million is provided for the council for 1998 which represents an increase of more than 33 per cent on the 1997 Estimates. This increase in expenditure is mainly to facilitate the council in making grants available for conservation works to heritage buildings and to provide for the acquisition by the council of its own headquarters in Kilkenny. Members will also be aware that I succeeded in obtaining additional funding of £0.5 million for the council at the end of 1997 by way of Supplementary Estimate, specifically to enable the council to address the problem of heritage buildings at risk in 1998.
In relation to subhead S for national parks and wildlife, Members will note that the 1998 figure of £24.324 million is a very significant increase on the 1997 provision. Of this total, £16.87 million comprises non-capital expenditure and the majority of this — some £13 million — relates to special areas of conservation, to which I will refer in more detail later. A sum of £3.3 million is earmarked for the ongoing maintenance and management of national parks and nature reserves, including the payment of wages, etc., for industrial staff. Our national parks maintain very high standards on relatively small annual budgets and they are a source of great pride and satisfaction to all of us. The balance of £574,000 for non-capital expenditure covers primarily the cost of surveying and designating additional special protection areas, under the EU Birds Directive, and SACs.
On the capital side, £5.5 million of the total allocation of £7.450 million is reserved for SAC capital compensation where this is the only option to preserve important privately owned habitats. A sum of £500,000 is being set aside to acquire land by mutual agreement which would be incorporated into existing or future national parks and reserves. My Department pays a fair and equitable price for such lands, but I do not have vast resources at my disposal, contrary to the hopes of some landowners. The thrust of this land acquisition will be in north west Mayo where over the last few years a substantial area of land — more than 20,000 acres — has been purchased with a view to establishing a national park in the Nephin Beg-Owenduff area. The proposed designation of this national park is under consideration and I hope to make a formal announcement on the matter in the near future.
While this country has large areas of blanket bog, we have comparatively small tracts of raised bogs. These bogs are unique in many respects and I propose to spend £160,000 on their conservation and restoration during 1998. This is the final stage of a project for the restoration of raised bogs funded under the EU Cohesion Fund.
The balance of the capital allocation, £790,000, is targeted at projects under the Tourism Operational Programme. This money will be spent mainly on Doneraile Court and Demesne and on the provision of a visitor centre for Lough Hyne. Doneraile Court in County Cork is badly in need of major restoration works. The roof requires replacement and it is hoped this work will be undertaken before the end of the year. Lough Hyne is located on the west Cork coast and it was designated as Ireland's first statutory marine reserve in 1981. Plans are at an advanced stage to establish a visitor centre in Skibbereen which will interpret this very special amenity.
In relation to the special areas of conservation, one of my major tasks as the Minister responsible for nature conservation is the implementation of the EU Habitats Directive. This directive requires member states to designate their most important natural areas as special areas of conservation, and to prevent anything that would damage their ecology.
The directive was transposed into Irish law on 26 February 1997 by the then Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins. The transposing regulations gave the Minister power to control or prohibit damaging activities within these areas. During March 1997, more than 200,000 hectares of land were publicly proposed for SAC status. Legal protection applies to these areas from the date of the proposal. Those affected can appeal against the inclusion of their land. Appeals will be considered by an SAC appeals advisory committee comprised of equal numbers from the farming and conservation sides, with the former ombudsman, Mr. Michael Mills, as the independent chairman.
Where restrictions result in a loss of income for the landowner, compensation will by payable. Farmers can obtain compensation by joining the REPS, administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food or by claiming from my Department for losses incurred. Standard REPS payments of £50 per acre will be paid up to 100 acres, and those with land in proposed NHAs, which include all SAC areas, will get an additional £30 per acre on this NHA land. Proposed NHA land of between 101 to 200 acres will qualify for £8 per acre and between 201 to 300 acres for £6 per acre.
Standard REPS payments are provided for in the Department of Agriculture and Food's Estimates provision. The top-up on standard rates for SACs, SPAs and overgrazed areas is provided for in my Department's Estimates provision and will be transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Food as required. The provision for capital compensation is £5.5 million. This will cover purchase of land in lieu of compensation and situations where a once-off payment is more appropriate than ongoing annual payments.
I have no difficulty supporting the principle of nature conservation. However, when the SAC process started there was widespread confusion among those affected and a prevalent feeling that decisions affecting landowners' rights were being taken without any meaningful input from those directly affected. I considered this to be unacceptable and on taking up office the Minister of State and I initiated a complete review of SAC arrangements. To ensure there was adequate local consultation on SAC issues, and that the appeal process effectively took account of local concerns, I decided to set up liaison committees in each area affected by SAC designation proposals. These committees will be representative of local landowners and arrangements will be made to have regular consultations with local officers of Dúchas, my Department's heritage service.
I was also aware of the clear concern in areas where turf has been traditionally used as a domestic fuel about the turf cutting restrictions resulting from SAC proposals. Bogs, in particular raised bogs, are a priority for protection under the Habitats Directive. Although I could understand the conservation arguments for an immediate cessation of turf cutting in these areas, I felt it essential that adequate time be given for compensation and other arrangements to be worked out. As this had not happened before the 1998 cutting season, I decided cutting would be allowed for another year. I intend to have the matter resolved long before the 1999 cutting season.
When this Government came into office, farmers claiming unemployment assistance, pre-retirement allowance and old age non-contributory pension could have the first £2,000 of REPS payments disregarded for means testing purposes. Following strong representations by me and the Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Ó Cuív, the 1998 Social Welfare Bill was changed to provide that in the scheme of compensation for SAC conditions, the first £2,000 would continue to be disregarded, with the balance being assessed at 50 per cent rather than on a pound for pound basis, as was previously the case. This means a farmer who receives a REPS payment of £4,000 will now be £1,000 better off.
On the inland waterways subhead the European Regional Development Fund-funded programme is progressing well and the funding will be expended by the end of 1999. The major projects this year are the extension of navigation along the river Suck to Ballinasloe, and the extension of navigation along a new canal towards Boyle, County Roscommon which will be completed in 1999. Projects are also going ahead at Moran's Bridge on the Royal Canal at Mullingar, the Tralee Ship Canal and Parkavera Lock on the Eglinton Canal in Galway.
The other main project scheduled to start this year is the improvement of navigation and the development of facilities in Limerick. This project is being financed by my Department, Limerick Corporation and Shannon Development. The works will be carried out in conjunction with phase I of the Limerick main drainage project which also requires major dredging works in the Abbey River.
Of special interest is the community barge project where four barges were provided to community groups in Killucan, Shannon Harbour, Athy and Clondalkin, to be reconstructed by local groups in conjunction with FÁS training schemes. When completed, the intention is that the barges will be used by the communities to promote interest in the canals. I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, for this initiative. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the site of the Killucan group project based in Mullingar.
Moving to the national monuments and historic properties section of Dúchas, the heritage service of my Department, the main source of funding for these activities is sourced from subhead V of my Department's Vote. For the information of the committee, the broad distinction between the concept of a national monument and an historic property is that a national monument would generally pre-date 1700 AD. The 1998 allocation under this subhead, at £25.297 million, represents a 10 per cent increase over the corresponding allocation of £22.995 million in 1997. The main element of this increase is an additional £2.3 million which is being made available this year to provide capital funding for projects under the EU Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-99.
While the allocation of £25.297 million under Subhead V of my Department's Vote is substantial by any standards, these funds are directed towards a wide range of activities, including the conservation and maintenance of a significant number of the more than 700 national monuments and historic properties in State care, the wage bill for some 520 industrial depots throughout the country, and 19 historic properties, such as the Phoenix Park, Dublin and Garnish island, Cork and the six national monuments depots located at Athenry, Dromahair, Kilkenny, Killarney, Mallow and Trim. The total amount allocated to these conservation and maintenance operations in 1998 is £9.98 million — expenditure on capital projects at various locations throughout the country.
This year, some £8.29 million will be spent on EU-funded projects under the Operational Programme for Tourism. Examples of the type of projects so funded include Portumna Castle; Barryscourt Castle, Cork; Ardfert Cathedral; Kilkenny Castle; Dún Aenghus; Knowth-Boyne Valley; the Mainguard, Clonmel; Castletown House; Ennis Friary and Roscrea Castle. The actual nature of works being carried out under the tourism operational programme tends to vary from project to project, but typically it would involve an element of essential restoration works, coupled with provision of visitor services such as interpretative materials, tea-rooms, toilets, car-parking facilities etc. Given that the end of 1999 is the timescale for EU funding, my Department is currently reviewing the progress on these projects with a view to ensuring only projects which can be completed in time will be EU funded.
In addition to the £8.29 million capital allocation for EU-funded projects, subhead V of my Vote also includes an allocation of £3.79 million for capital works which are funded in full from the Exchequer. These funds are used mainly to finance minor capital expenditure, including works at sites such as Clonmacnoise, Doe Castle, Listowel Castle, Askeaton Castle, Emo Court, Derrynane and preparations for the Phoenix Park stage of the Tour de France. Other activities funded under this allocation include the purchase of vehicles and some property acquisition.
A sum of £1.11 million under Subhead V is allocated to the archaeological survey of Ireland which, when completed, will give legal protection to some 120,000 recorded monuments and places throughout the State: the underwater sites and monuments records survey; the architectural inventory; excavations undertaken by the national monuments service and those approved by the Royal Irish Academy as well as the Environmental Action Programme.
Members will be aware of the press release which I recently issued with my colleague Deputy Dempsey, Minister for the Environment and Local Government, in which we announced a package of measures designed to protect the architectural heritage. The package includes an additional sum of £800,000 for my Department in 1999 which relates in particular to the completion of the national inventory of architecture and its central role in the new listing system.
Subhead V includes a sum of £2.126 million in 1998 in respect of miscellaneous items, involving current expenditure on activities such as the guide service at some 57 visitor sites, accident claims, purchase of certain publications, etc.
I should refer to one other source of funding, separate from that at Subhead V, which is included in my vote for the national monuments and historic properties section of my Department. Subhead U of the Vote involves an allocation of £1 million in 1998 for national lottery-funded conservation works. This very welcome source of funding from the national lottery allows me to target certain prestigious projects each year which cannot be accommodated either within the basket of EU-funded projects or those projects funded directly by the Exchequer. For 1997, the allocation of £745,000 under this subhead was directed at prestigious projects such as restoration of Kilmainham jail, restoration of the Birr Castle telescope, the provision of new propagation glasshouses at the National Botanical Gardens, the restoration of the cascade at the Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, and new visitor and safety facilities for visitor access at Charles Fort, Kinsale.
Another innovation in the Estimates for 1998 is the provision of £666,000 in subhead X for the Operational Programme for Tourism 1994-1999 which consists of an EU-funded package to market abroad cultural and tourism facilities.
In respect of Vote 43 for the National Gallery, the 1998 allocation shows an increase of 8 per cent on the 1997 figure. In connection with the Clare Street development, Dublin Corporation has granted planning approval to the gallery's proposals and I am hopeful this revised development will add significantly to the attractions of the National Gallery.
This is but a short account of some of the activities within my brief. When the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív has presented his statement I will be happy to discuss any of the issues raised and answer questions.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.