Budget 2020

Questions (1)

Niamh Smyth


1. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her budget priorities for budget 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38133/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Culture)

I will begin by wishing everybody involved in Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture the best of luck. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, was in Eyre Square last night for the launch. It was wonderful to see RTÉ coverage of the thousands of people who turned out for the launch of what will be a very exciting year ahead for the European capital of culture. I wish Patricia Philbin, CEO, and all her team the very best of luck with all that. We look forward to perhaps having them in Leinster House to give us a briefing in the near future.

Will the Minister outline her budget priorities for her Department in budget 2020 and make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for her good wishes for Galway 2020. Last night's launch was a great success. I am sure it is a taste of things to come.

The overall spending allocations for my Department for 2020 will be announced as part of budget Estimates 2020, which is due to be published on Tuesday, 8 October. As budgetary negotiations are ongoing I am not in a position to comment in detail on my Department's 2020 budget allocation. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, has recently announced that the budget will be based on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit. Against that background, my Department will, within the resources available in 2020, continue to place emphasis on core functions and services, including measures to maintain the momentum created across the arts and culture sphere by initiatives funded by, or through, my Department, consistent with the Taoiseach's commitment to double the funding to the sector by 2025. This allows my Department to build on the increased funding received in the 2019 budget, which was 10% in respect of the Arts Council, 11% in respect of Screen Ireland, 19% in respect of Creative Ireland and more than €2 million in additional funding secured for our national cultural institutions which welcome more than 3.5 million visitors annually. We will also continue to conserve and manage our heritage as a support to economic renewal and sustainable employment, in compliance with legal obligations, and to conserve and restore biodiversity and ecosystems in Ireland to focus on the environment. Measures will also further advance the statutory demand-led language planning process and ensure continued access to our islands.

My Department will continue to promote North-South co-operation, particularly in the context of An Foras Teanga and Waterways Ireland. We will also continue to focus on Project Ireland 2040, which gave explicit recognition to the importance of our culture, language and heritage for our sustainable development over the next decade and beyond. This recognition is underpinned by the commitment from Government to invest almost €1.2 billion in our culture, language and heritage over the ten-year implementation of the national development plan. Project Ireland 2040 provides for an investment of €460 million in the national cultural institutions, €265 million for a culture and creativity investment programme, €285 million in our natural and built heritage and €178 million to support and protect the Irish language, Gaeltacht communities and communities on our offshore islands.

With Brexit coming down the tracks, I appreciate that it is incumbent on all of us to be prudent but artists are a huge asset to us nationally and should be treasured. We should put our money where our mouths are and invest in artists. Budget 2018 was a dismal budget for the arts sector but budget 2019 represented a significant improvement on that. There was, however, one major issue, which was the disconnect between the increase in funding for capital expenditure, which was a 39% increase, and the increase in current expenditure, which was a mere 6%. At the time, I raised the point that the Government policy on arts and culture was focused on capital projects with little investment for the artists and their work. Will the Minister assure the House that budget 2020 will at least put the artist at the centre of its budget demands?

Has the Minister sought to develop any policy, funding or employment framework that would help to improve artists' pay and conditions, including access to and support of benefits? There is little point in having our galleries and stages without the artists or actors to exhibit or perform. In January the Theatre Forum review of artists' pay and conditions was published. While not surprising, the findings were nonetheless depressing. I believe that the opportunity and time has come to ensure our artists at least have an opportunity to have a sustainable income.

The Deputy referred to a 6% increase in current expenditure but it was actually 7%, from €248.659 million to €265.159 million. The Deputy also mentioned a 39% increase in capital expenditure but it was actually a 36% increase. It went from €54.3 million to €73.8 million. There was a significant increase there. The gross Vote allocation for 2019 was just under €339 million, which is an increase of 12% on the 2018 Estimate. Of this allocation, €73.8 million was capital funds and €265.1 million was current expenditure.

On the artists, it is fair to say that there was a significant difference between 2018 and 2019, which the Deputy acknowledged in her question. We increased funding to the Arts Council by 10%, from €68 million to €75 million. The Arts Council is ultimately tasked with looking after the artists on the ground. We have also had many other significant projects this year such as the Per Cent for Art scheme and the extension of the package for social welfare. The Government is committed to helping the artists. I will do everything I can to secure as much as I can for the artists in this budget.

The review carried out by Theatre Forum found that 30% of performing artists earn less than the national minimum wage of €9.55 per hour that applied in 2018 due, in part, to the fact that 83% of performing artists are paid a flat fee regardless of the hours they work. While it has been the accepted that that is the nature of their work, it is unacceptable that we would expect artists who operate in one of the most important industries for which we laud ourselves in terms of how it can be used to promote Ireland globally to work for €9.55 per hour, which is less than the current minimum wage.

Budget 2019 provided an increase in funding to the Arts Council of €7 million more than the amount provided in budget 2018. The current level of funding, at €75 million, still lags significantly behind the 2008 level of €82 million. For the Government to fund the arts at the European norm, it would have to allocate in the region of five times that amount. This same adjustment would have to be made to all public arts schemes to ensure that the support reached European norms. This is what we should be aiming for.

The article by Olivia Kelly in today's edition of The Irish Times, which suggests that people are to be banned from selling their work on Merrion Square next summer, is distressing for artists. These individuals are trying to make a living, the exact topic we are discussing now, and they have been selling their work on Merrion Square for the past 35 years. According to Ms Elizabeth Prendergast, artist and secretary of Merrion Square Artists Association, this decision will be catastrophic for artists who, as I have already noted, are trying to earn a living.

With respect to the Deputy, Fianna Fáil is no position to lecture the Government on funding for the arts or artists' pay and conditions.

I have read into the record the level of funding that was available in 2008.

Between 2001 and 2008, Fianna Fáil cut funding for the arts from €206 million to €139 million, a significant reduction of €67 million or 33%. Taking budget 2019 into account, there has been a 37% increase in arts funding since 2011. Unlike the unsustainable spending of Fianna Fáil when in government, including in respect of the arts, current funding is sustainable and is based on the sound management of public finances by Fine Gael-led Governments since 2012.

On the Deputy's comments regarding artists, as I mentioned earlier and as she acknowledged in her initial remarks, the Arts Council received a significant increase in funding last year. I will do my best in my negotiations with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to secure a further increase this year, bearing in mind the parameters and difficulties of Brexit.

I also mentioned earlier that there had been a significant increase in funding for Screen Ireland. The Deputy mentioned Galway 2020. We provided €6 million in funding for it. We have also provided funding for the national cultural institutions and Creative Ireland. The Government and I will continue to do everything possible to support arts and culture.

Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla

Questions (2)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


2. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta cad é an mhoill anois ar fhoilsiú Bhille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) atá geallta aici féin agus ag Airí eile a raibh an Ghaeilge agus an Ghaeltacht mar chúram acu le blianta beaga anuas, agus cathain go cinnte a fheicfear é foilsithe. [37926/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Culture)

Ar nós an Teachta dheireanaigh, tréaslaím leis na healaíontóirí agus le foireann Ghaillimh 2020 as an tús ar chuir siad leis an gclár mór atá acu. Go n-éirí leo sa bhliain atá rompu. An fáth gur chuir mé an cheist seo faoi bhráid an Aire Stáit ná go bhfuil moill leanúnach ar fhoilsiú Bhille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) in ainneoin gealltanais Airí difriúla. Caithfidh cinnteacht a bheith ann ionas gur féidir linn díriú isteach air agus go mbeidh sé achtaithe sula i bhfad.

Tuigeann an Teachta an cúlra maidir leis an athbhreithniú ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003. Foilsíodh torthaí an athbhreithnithe i mí Aibreán 2014. Dréachtaíodh Bille leasaithe ag an am ach, de bharr míshástachta le cuid de na leasuithe a bhí molta, níor foilsíodh é riamh. Agus mé ceaptha mar Aire Stáit, d’iarr mé athbhreithniú eile ar an mBille agus chuaigh oifigigh mo Roinne i mbun comhairliúcháin leis na Ranna Stáit ábhartha, grúpaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta, An Coimisinéir Teanga agus páirtithe leasmhara eile le cinntiú go mbeadh an Bille is fearr, is éifeachtaí, agus is láidre gur féidir a bheith againn le tabhairt os comhair an Oireachtais.

I mí an Mheithimh 2017, foilsíodh ceannteidil an Bhille nua agus, i mí na Bealtaine 2018, d’fhoilsigh Comhchoiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán a thuarascáil ar an scéim ghinearálta. Is iarracht é an Bille mar sin, trí na ceannteidil éagsúla, timpeallacht a chruthú ina mbeidh ról níos lárnaí ag an teanga in obair an Stáit, go mbeidh an teanga níos feiceálaí agus go mbeidh fáil i bhfad níos leithne ar sheirbhísí trí Ghaeilge. Ní hamháin sin, ach go mbeidh tuiscint i bhfad níos fearr ag an saoránach ar na seirbhísí atá ar fáil dó nó di, agus ar chaighdeán na seirbhíse ar cheart a bheith ag súil leis.

Is é bun-aidhm an Bhille nua ná cinntiú go leanfaidh an tAcht teanga de bheith ina thacaíocht éifeachtach do gach duine ar mhian leis nó léi seirbhísí d’ardchaighdeán i nGaeilge a fháil ón Stát. Is iad príomhaidhmeanna an Bhille seo deireadh a chur le córas na scéimeanna teanga agus caighdeáin teanga a thabhairt isteach agus foráil nua a thabhairt isteach le hollsprioc go mbeidh 20% d'earcaithe nua chuig an tseirbhís phoiblí inniúil sa Ghaeilge. Is ábhar casta í seo ach tá dul chun cinn suntasach déanta le déanaí san obair dhréachtaithe. Tá an Bille san áireamh ar chlár reachtaíochta an Rialtais le foilsiú le linn an téarma seo agus tá súil agam casadh leis na Teachtaí ón bhFreasúra chun an dul chun cinn a phlé gan mhoill. Sílim go bhfuil an cruinniú sin eagraithe don tseachtain seo chugainn.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. Aontaím leis agus leo siúd a bhí ag obair ar an mBille seo sa chúlra ó 2004, agus fiú roimhe sin ón uair a dúradh ar dtús báire nach raibh an chéad Acht, Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003, foirfe agus go raibh sé lochtach. Ó shin i leith tá daoine ag tnúth leis an mBille nua seo. Is é sin an fáth a rinneadh obair leanúnach agus an fáth gur luigh daoine isteach ar an gcomhairliúchán agus go bhfuil siad ar bís an reachtaíocht nua a fheiceáil os ár gcomhair agus é a chíoradh. Ní cáineadh é seo ach bhí dabht ar dhaoine go raibh sé ag teacht toisc gur chuala siad gealltanais roimhe. Tá sé go maith scéal an Aire Stáit a chloisteáil anois agus an Bille a fheiceáil ar an gclár reachtaíochta i mbliana. Chonaic muid agus chuala muid rudaí mar sin roimhe sin so tá súil agam go mbeidh sé os ár gcomhair chun go mbeidh muid in ann luigh isteach air roimh an Nollaig. Cathain a bheidh an Bille rite mar Acht?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Tá an ceart aige. Tá an tAcht atá ann ró-lag. Rinne muid obair ar dhréacht de Bhille nua in 2016. Níor fhoilsigh muid é ag an am mar bhí a fhios againn nach mbeadh daoine sásta leis. Tá an-obair déanta ó shin ag an gcomhchoiste, ag na grúpaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta trasna na tíre, agus ag feidhmeannaigh na Roinne maidir leis an mBille nua. Táim cinnte go mbeidh Bille níos láidre agus níos éifeachtaí againn dá réir. Mar a dúirt mé, tá dul chun cinn suntasach déanta ar an mBille. Bhí cruinniú an-mhaith ag oifigigh shinsearacha mo Roinne leis an dréachtóir an tseachtain seo caite. Beidh cruinniú eile acu an tseachtain seo chugainn chun dul tríd an mBille. Táimid ag súil go bhfoilseofar é san fhómhar agus go mbeidh sé os comhair na Dála roimh an Nollaig. Beimid ag déanamh obair air sin agus tá gach seans ann go mbeimid in ann é a chur tríd an Dáil agus tríd an Oireachtas roimh an Nollaig.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit as sin. Táim ag tnúth leis. Ní chuirfidh mise ná mo chomhghleacaithe aon mhoill air. Is é an rud atá uainn anois ná go mbeidh sé rite agus go mbainfear tairbhe as an obair ar fad atá déanta. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an tAire Stáit oscailte do leasuithe eile ar Chéim an Choiste nó na Tuarascála má réitíonn siad leis an méid atá ráite ag an Aire Stáit agus oifigigh na Roinne go dtí seo, dá n-aithneodh muid fadhbanna leis an reachtaíocht nua. Is maith an rud go bhfuil muid ag bogadh ar aghaidh sa treo seo ach tá súil agam go mbeidh fuadar faoi ionas go mbainfear tairbhe as an obair ar fad atá déanta go dtí seo.

Táim oscailte do chomhoibriú maidir leis an mBille. Is ceart go mbeimid ag obair le chéile trasna na tíre ar son na Gaeilge. Táim oscailte le bheith ag obair le haon duine maidir leis an mBille seo.

Beidh ról lárnach ag an gcomhchoiste agus ag an bhFreasúra. Is é sin an fáth go mbeidh mé sásta casadh le lucht an Fhreasúra an tseachtain seo chugainn, nuair a bheidh rudaí ar nós an dul chun cinn ar an ábhar seo á phlé againn. Má tá fadhbanna ag na Teachtaí ar bhinsí an Fhreasúra nuair atá an Bille foilsithe, beidh mé sásta breathnú ar na ceisteanna sin agus iad a phlé sa Roinn. Is féidir linn iarracht a dhéanamh bheith cinnte go bhfuilimid in ann na smaointe agus na tuairimí atá ag chuile dhuine a chur san áireamh.

Bóithre Gaeltachta

Questions (3)

Pat the Cope Gallagher


3. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher den Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta an bhfuil sí chun cuairt a thabhairt ar an cheantar Gaeltachta i nDún na nGall, áit a ndearna tuilte damáiste le gairid, na hoileáin san áireamh; an dtabharfaidh sí dearbhú go mbeidh maoiniú ar fáil don obair chóirithe leis an damáiste a chóiriú agus, i gcomhar le Comhairle Contae Dhún na nGall, go gcuirfidh sí plean le chéile leis an damáiste a rinneadh a chóiriú; an bhfuil sí eolach go ndearnadh a leithéid cheana nuair a rinne tuilte scrios in 2009 i nGaeltacht Dhún na nGall; an dtabharfaidh sí scála ama le go bhféadfaí an maoiniú atá riachtanach a cheadú le cois buiséad táscach don obair chóirithe a bheidh maoinithe ag a Roinn; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [37727/19]

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Oral answers (19 contributions) (Question to Culture)

Tá mé ag iarraidh a fháil amach ón Aire nó ón Aire Stáit cé chomh luath is a bheidh sí nó sé ag tabhairt cuairte ar Ghaeltacht Dhún na nGall. Taobh amuigh den chruinniú Rialtais i nGleann Cholm Cille, ní raibh an tAire nó an tAire Stáit i nGaeltacht Dhún na nGall ón uair a ceapadh iad. An bhfuil tuairisc á lorg ag an Aire Stáit, nó b'fhéidir faighte aige, maidir leis an damáiste atá déanta ar bhóithre oileáin Dhún na nGall, ina measc Árainn Mhór, Toraigh, Inis Bó Finne, Gabhla agus Oileán Uaighe? An raibh sé i dteagmháil leis an Aire, an Teachta Ring, maidir le hairgead a fháil fá choinne na bóithre seo a chóiriú?

Tá an scéim faoina mbíodh cúnamh airgid á chur ar fáil ag an Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta do na húdaráis áitiúla ábhartha - den chuid is mó chun athchóiriú a dhéanamh ar bhóithre áirithe Gaeltachta - ar fionraí le tamall de bhlianta anois. Mar atá tugtha le fios sa fhreagra ar Cheist Uimh. 24 inniu, is i gcomhthéacs fhorfheidhmiú na Straitéise 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030 a ndéanfaí aon chinneadh maidir le hathnuachan na scéime sin, rud nach bhfuil beartaithe a dhéanamh ag an bpointe seo. Ach an oiread leis an gcuid eile den tír, is faoi na húdaráis áitiúla ábhartha a bhaineann an fhreagracht maidir le cothabháil bhóithre na Gaeltachta. Iarrann mo Roinn iarratais i leith oibreacha poiblí ar oileáin áitrithe ar bhonn bliantúil ó na húdaráis áitiúla ábhartha i leith oibreacha a bhféadfaí a dhéanamh laistigh den bhliain i gceist. Is féidir liom a dheimhniú go bhfuil Comhairle Contae Dhún na nGall san áireamh agus go bhfuil an t-iarratas a fuarthas uathu á scrúdú ag oifigigh mo Roinne faoi láthair i gcomhthéacs an tsoláthair airgid atá ar fáil le caitheamh ar thograí oileánda i mbliana agus i gcomhthéacs na n-éileamh éagsúil ar an soláthar sin. Tá infheistíocht leanúnach á dhéanamh ag an Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta i dtograí caipitil ar na hoileáin. Ó tháinig an Rialtas seo i bhfeidhm, tá €9.15 milliún caite ag an Roinn ar thograí éagsúla faoin chlár caipitil na n-oileán. Léiríonn an figiúr sin go bhfuil mo Roinn tiomanta d'fhorbairt na n-oileán agus do phobal bríomhar inbhuanaithe a choinneáil ag maireachtáil ar na hoileáin. Tá mé ag éisteacht le pobail na n-oileán i gcónaí agus tá mé gníomhach ar a son. Tá ceithre mhórthogra ag mo Roinn luaite i dTionscadail Éireann 2040 agus tá péire acu bainteach leis na hoileáin i nDún na nGall: forbairt na cé ag Machaire Rabhartaigh, atá ag freastal ar Thoraigh; agus bád nua saincheaptha do Thoraigh.

Caithfidh mé a rá nach bhfuil an tAire tar éis freagra a thabhairt ar an gceist a chuir mé air. Cén uair a bheidh an tAire Stáit, nó an Aire sinsearach, ag tabhairt cuairte ar Dhún na nGall? Ní raibh an tAire Stáit sa chontae ón uair ar ceapadh é mar Aire Stáit don dara huair. Nuair a ceapadh Airí thar na blianta, bhí siad sásta cuairt a thabhairt ar na Gaeltachtaí, ach níl sé sin déanta ag an Aire Stáit. Níl sé tar éis freagra a thabhairt dom i dtaca leis seo. Iarraim air gan a rá liom go raibh sé i nGleann Cholm Cille. Bhí air bheith ansin ós rud é go raibh cruinniú Rialtais ar siúl ann. Tá sé ráite ag an Aire Stáit go bhfuil iarratas faighte aige ó Chomhairle Chontae Dhún na nGall maidir leis na bóithre ar na hoileáin. Tá sé ag smaoineamh anois ar airgead a chur ar fáil, cé go bhfuilimid beagnach ag deireadh mhí Mheán Fómhair agus ag dul isteach sa gheimhreadh. Ní mór dom a rá go mbíonn fáilte againn roimh airgead am ar bith. Caithfear cinnteacht a fháil i dtaobh na ráflaí atá ag dul thart nach bhfuil an tAire Stáit sásta airgead a chur ar fáil i gcomhair na mbóithre seo ós rud é go bhfuil sé ag iarraidh airgead a choinneáil le haghaidh togra i nGaillimh. Sheol mé ríomhphost chuig an Aire Stáit cúpla seachtain ó shin chun ceist áirithe a chur agus is mian liom an cheist sin a chur arís. An raibh an tAire Stáit i dteagmháil leis an Aire, an Teachta Ring, atá cúraimí na n-oileán agus na Gaeltachta air, chun airgead a fháil fá choinne an damáiste atá déanta do na bóithre i nDún na nGall?

Is é seo mo dara thréimhse mar Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta. Bhí mé ar oileán Árainn Mhór nuair a bhí mé i mo Theachta Dála agus comhairleoirí áitiúla i láthair. Bhí mé i nGaeltacht Ghleann Cholm Cille freisin. Tá mé sásta breathnú ar chasadh le grúpaí ag aon am. Má tharlaíonn go bhfuil rudaí ag dul ar aghaidh sa Ghaeltacht, beidh mé sásta dul ann freisin. An chuid is mó den am, nuair a bhíonn rudaí oifigiúla ag dul ar aghaidh sa Ghaeltacht, tá mé sásta nuair a fhreastalaíonn an tAire, an Teachta McHugh, seachas mé féin, ar na cruinnithe sin. Bíonn muid ag obair le chéile. Táimid ag breathnú ar na bóithre. Mar a dúirt mé Dé Máirt nuair a bhí cúrsaí oileánda á bplé againn sa Dáil, cheadaigh an Roinn Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta deontas de thart ar €350,000 d'oileáin Dhún na nGall sa bhliain 2018. Níor ceadaíodh ach €40,000 d'oileáin na Gaillimhe sa bhliain chéanna. Caithfimid bheith féaráilte faoi leithdháileadh an airgid. Tá an ceart ag an Teachta go bhfuil mé ag breathnú ar thogra mór i nGaillimh chun Aerfort na Mine a cheannach. Táimid ag breathnú ar an gcaoi is fearr inar féidir linn an aerstráice sin a cheannach. Táimid ag breathnú ar an airgead. Tá mé ag obair leis an Aire, an Teachta Madigan, ar an togra sin.

Má tá an tAire Stáit ag iarraidh an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh ar thogra mór i nGaillimh, beidh Gaeltacht Dhún na nGall, Gaeltacht Chorcaí agus Gaeltacht na Rinne, srl., thíos leis. Tá an t-airgead ann fá choinne na nGaeltachtaí éagsúla. Ba cheart go mbeadh an t-airgead sin curtha ar fáil i lár na bliana seachas ag an am seo den bhliain. Ní dóigh liom go bhfuil sé féaráilte bheith ag rá go bhfuair áiteanna áirithe €40,000. Is ceist í sin don Aire Stáit. An bhfuil sé ag rá sa Dáil inniu nach bhfuil dualgas ar bith air ó thaobh Dhún na nGall de, agus é ceaptha mar Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta, ós rud é go bhfuil na dualgais sin go léir ar an Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna? Ní luíonn sé sin le ciall ar chor ar bith. Iarraim arís air a shoiléiriú an raibh sé i dteagmháil lena chomhghleacaí, an tAire Forbartha Tuaithe agus Pobail, ón uair a scríobh mé chuige chun cuidiú linn sa chomhthéacs seo. Mura bhfuil sé in ann cabhair a thabhairt dúinn na bóithre Gaeltachta a chóiriú, mar Aire Stáit na Gaeltachta caithfidh sé brú a chur ar an Aire, an Teachta Ring, ionas gur féidir linn an sprioc seo a chomhlíonadh. Mar is eol don Aire Stáit, tá cuireadh faighte aige teacht go dtí Dún na nGall agus casadh le go leor grúpaí, ina measc Ionad Óige Ghaoth Dobhair. Tá súil agam go mbeidh sé sásta teacht go dtí Gaeltacht Dhún na nGall roimh dheireadh na bliana. Mura bhfuil sé ábalta teacht, ní cheart dó bheith ag caint faoin uair dheireanach a bhí sé ann. Nuair a chuaigh an tAire Stáit agus an tAire, an Teachta McHugh, go dtí Árainn Mhór, dúirt siad go mbeidís sásta airgead a chur ar fáil le haghaidh cé chuig an teach solais agus cúpla punt a sholáthar chun na poill a líonadh. Ní dhearnadh faic ina thaobh sin.

Mar atá ráite agam, cheadaigh muid €350,000 d'oileáin Dhún na nGall an bhliain seo caite agus ní raibh ach €40,000 ceadaithe d'oileáin na Gaillimhe. Sílim go raibh €200,000 ceadaithe do na hoileáin i gContae Chorcaí. Táimid an-fhéaráilte trasna na tíre ó thaobh oibrithe ar na hoileáin. Tá mé sásta casadh le grúpaí ó Dhún na nGall, ach níl ról lárnach agam i dtaobh na bóithre. Níl freagracht agam i dtaobh bóithre na Gaeltachta. Níl airgead ar fáil i mo Roinn do na bóithre Gaeltachta ón uair a dhúnadh an scéim a bhíodh ann go dtí 2009 nó 2010. Chas mé leis na hAirí, na Teachtaí McHugh, Ring agus Donohoe, roimh chruinniú an Rialtais coicís nó trí seachtaine ó shin leis an ábhar seo a phlé. Phléigh muid é. Tá i bhfad níos mó airgid ag an Roinn Forbartha Tuaithe agus Pobail agus an Roinn Iompair, Turasóireachta agus Spóirt le haghaidh na mbóithre trasna na tíre. Tá mé sásta comhoibriú leis na Ranna sin agus leis an Teachta Gallagher maidir leis na fadhbanna atá ag dul i bhfeidhm ar na bóithre i nGaoth Dobhair nó aon áit eile.

An bhfuil an tAire Stáit sásta dul i dteagmháil leis an Aire, an Teachta Ring, agus brú a chur air airgead a sholáthar le haghaidh na mbóithre seo, a scriosadh le déanaí?

Tá mé sásta é sin a dhéanamh. Phléigh mé an t-ábhar seo leis anuraidh.

Níl mé ag caint faoi anuraidh.

Tá mé sásta-----

An bhfuil an tAire Stáit sásta é a dhéanamh anois, tar éis an scriosta atá déanta?

Tá mé sásta é a dhéanamh arís. Bhí mé i dteagmháil leis trí seachtaine ó shin.

An raibh an tAire Stáit i dteagmháil leis tar éis na dtuilte?

Tharla na tuilte coicís ó shin.

Bhí mé i dteagmháil leis na hAirí, na Teachtaí Ring, McHugh agus Donohoe, roimh chruinniú an Rialtais.

Níl an tAire Stáit ag tabhairt freagra ar mo cheist.

Bhí cruinniú beag againn.

Tá an tAire Stáit ag éalú as.

Hedge Cutting Season

Questions (4)

Mattie McGrath


4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the status of the introduction of extensions to managed hedgerow and vegetation cutting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37291/19]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Culture)

Go raibh maith agat. Ar an gcéad dul síos, I echo what Deputy Niamh Smyth said about an Gaillimh aréir. I congratulate craobh Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann i gCathair Dún Iascaigh, the Cahir branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and Mícheál and Mary Harty on hosting a wonderful traditional music festival i gCathair Dún Iascaigh last weekend. It is through festivals like this that our culture, music, song and dance are nurtured. It is very important that we support those and I compliment Mícheál and Mary Harty on their tremendous work on an ongoing basis.

There is palpable anger and frustration in rural communities at the way the Minister just drove a coach and four through the regulations that were debated here for more than a year, passed by this House and the Seanad and signed into law by the President. This July, the Minister decided to scrap those rules, which allow for hedge cutting in the interest of health and safety and things like that, instead of initiating legislation which was passed here in 2018.

First I wish to acknowledge the Deputy's comments on the recent traditional music festival. I also give my thanks to Mary and Mícheál Harty.

As the Deputy knows, the provisions under section 7 of the Heritage Act 2018 allow for the making of regulations relating to burning and cutting hedgerows. Section 7(1) of the Heritage Act 2018 provides that, as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I may make regulations to allow the burning of vegetation during certain periods in the month of March and in such parts of the country as specified in the Regulations.

I made a decision last February not to make regulations to extend the season for the burning of vegetation into March 2019.  This decision was taken as there would have been no basis for me to do so given the fact that the relatively dry weather during the six-month period when the burning of vegetation could have been undertaken under the law, that is, September to February, inclusive, would not have precluded landowners from burning vegetation.  The existing provisions on burning in the Wildlife Acts therefore remained in force for March 2019.

Regarding hedgerows, subsection 7(2) of the Heritage Act 2018 includes the power to make regulations to allow the cutting of roadside hedges during the month of August subject to conditions. In July I announced that I would not be proceeding with the making of such regulations this year. My decision recognised the increasing threats to biodiversity nationally and globally and follows a number of Government initiatives to protect and nurture Ireland's flora and fauna.

There was extensive public debate and engagement by my Department and myself on this matter including during the national biodiversity conference in Dublin earlier this year, which I hosted together with the Irish forum on natural capital.  Arising from this conference, the Seeds for Nature initiative, which comprised a range of initiatives for nature and biodiversity, was launched.  In addition, there was a wide public consultation on the Heritage Ireland 2030 plan, debates in the Dáil on biodiversity loss and the extensive engagement across Government on climate action, including on the part of my Department.  The report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action made a number of references to the importance of hedgerows.

Notwithstanding my decision not to make regulations to allow hedge cutting in August, I should point out that it is possible in accordance with the provisions of the Heritage Act 2018 and the Roads Act 1993 to cut roadside hedges in circumstances where road safety issues arise.

I said in July that there would be significant anger and frustration within rural communities when the Department confirmed, in response to a parliamentary question I submitted, that proposed regulations permitting the commencement of certain provisions of the Heritage Act 2018 were to be scrapped. The reply confirmed that plans to allow for hedgerow cutting during the month of August have now been abandoned in support of moves to protect nature and biodiversity. This is anti-democratic. It is a dangerous and ill-conceived concession from the Minister and the Government, which is proving yet again to be totally clueless about the reality of living in rural Ireland. Farmers and contractors are excellent custodians of the hedgerow and of nature. We are not out there slaughtering the ditches. We are acting in the interests of the health and safety of people trying to walk, to cycle or to enter or exit fields. Bushes grow out into the middle of the road. Tourists stop at road signs to try to clear them. I refer to signs indicating very interesting places on our heritage trails. It is farcical. We debated this matter for nearly two years, meeting all groups and stakeholders, and passed a Bill which the President then signed into law. Thereafter, the Minister acted at the behest of a small number of groups. Those groups do good work as well, but we need balance here. What is the point of having this Chamber and the Oireachtas to which we are elected if they are going to be undermined by conferences and groups campaigning on various issues? We all know about climate change, but farmers and rural people are very caring of biodiversity and of hedgerow flora and fauna. This is ridiculous regulation. It is fine in Dublin city where there are roads with signs, but in the country some bóithríns have been closed. One cannot walk up the middle of them because of the briars that hang down. These farcical regulations mean we are not allowed to cut them back in the interests of health and safety. The health and safety of the birds and bees is more important than the safety of human beings. That is where I draw a line. I will not accept what is happening.

The Deputy is trying to create a very false and misleading narrative of rural Ireland versus urban Ireland.

The Minister should come and see it.

I refute it in the strongest possible terms. This is not remotely anti-democratic. There were very good reasons that I did not extend the regulations this year. Hedgerows provide a very important wildlife habitat. As already stated, they provide food, shelter, corridors of movement and nesting and hibernation sites for many of our native fauna. I also refer to the national biodiversity conference, the Seeds for Nature initiative and the very stark pronouncement on the status quo made by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which published its assessment on the state of the world's biodiversity and ecosystems in March this year.

The Association of Farm and Forestry Contractors in Ireland gave its take on my recent announcement on hedge cutting. In a short statement, it indicated that it was very pleased that I had retained the regulations to allow for roadside hedges to be cut for reasons of road safety. As I have pointed out, things like overgrown hedges and fallen trees can sometimes narrow carriageways and force traffic into an oncoming flow. Hedges can be cut for that reason. If briars and overhanging branches are forcing pedestrians and cyclists from the road margins, the hedges can be cut. Overgrown hedges blocking or impeding egress from farm holdings and fields can be cut. Hedges concealing entrances or signage installed for road safety or direction can be cut. Hedges concealing culverts or sharp bends can be cut.

The reality is that they are not being cut. Contractors and farmers are afraid to cut them because they will be photographed with mobile phones and reported. It is nonsense. There are signs covered everywhere I go in my county. I refer to signs which indicate the way to particular places, speed limits and that there are dangerous bends ahead. Access to and egress from fields forces the implements on the fronts of tractors out into the middle of the road. It is highly dangerous. It just shows that the Minister is out of touch and does not understand the reality of rural Ireland. I invite her to visit any part of Tipperary. I will show her countless signs, including those indicating national monuments, which are covered up. It is farcical. The county council is strapped for cash and uses a great excuse - it is not allowed to cut them. Health and safety or road safety can go to hell. That is the reality on the ground. The hedges are not being cut. They were always cut by county councils, but that is not being done now. There are accidents and people get scratched and scraped. We encourage cyclists, but people could not cycle on these roads without some kind of protective gear. One would need a helmet to go up and down some roads. That is the reality. The Minister should know. She visits Tipperary the odd time. She has some relatives there. It is no different to any other county. This is patent nonsense. It is literally usurping the power of this House to make legislation, which it did. What is the point of debating here and consulting all the stakeholders? We were at it for a year and a half and the Minister just decided to draw a red line through it and forget about it. In my view, that is a subversion of democracy any day of the week.

I am not remotely out of touch with the rural situation. As the Deputy knows, my mother is from Clonmel, which is located in his constituency, and my father is from Mayo. I know a great deal about rural issues. This Government is hugely supportive of rural Ireland in terms of job creation, broadband and infrastructure-----

What broadband?

-----the rural regeneration and development fund, investment in national parks and reserves and, specifically, hedge cutting. Among the findings in the report I mentioned earlier is that the decline in the numbers of bees, butterflies and other insects has largely resulted from the effects of monoculture and the drive to ever higher levels of productivity, characterised by loss or neglect of hedgerows, farmland edges and scrub.

It has also led to the deliberate removal of habitats, such as hedgerows and wetlands, and there has been some criticism of agricultural policy which does not support diverse hedgerows. If I had been in a position to extend the regulations, I would have done so. For all the reasons I have outlined, however, I was not in a position to do so and I stand by that decision. It would not have been the right thing to do in these circumstances.