Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Questions (26)

Martin Heydon


26. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the additional funding available for heritage measures under budget 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45568/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Culture)

The funding of heritage is a key part of budget 2020. Can the Minister outline for us the additional funding available for heritage measures that came about in the budget? How might it have an impact on various heritage projects and schemes that fall under her remit in the coming year?

Over the past year, I have listened carefully to the extensive public debate on biodiversity loss and the threats to nature. The very first national biodiversity conference, which I hosted this year, the development of the Seeds for Nature initiative, the wide-ranging public debate on the Heritage Ireland 2030 plan and the extensive engagement across government on climate action were instrumental in my securing significant additional resources for this important part of my remit for 2020. I acknowledge this is a concern of the Deputy. In this context, I have secured total funding for our built and natural heritage sector in 2020 of €62.5 million, which is up from €54 million last year. This represents an increase for 2020 of more than €8 million, or 15.5% on 2019, comprising an additional capital provision of €6.75 million, representing an increase of 44%, and additional current funding of €1.46 million.

I have also secured an additional €1 million to accelerate key nature conservation biodiversity programmes under the NPWS to include the recruitment of front-line conservation specialists. I will also enhance the farm plan programme by doubling the fund available to €1 million to support measures to protect biodiversity and assist farmers with lands designated as SACs in their role as custodians of nature.

I thank the Minister for her response. Biodiversity is key. When we talk about just transition and the challenges we face regarding climate action, we realise peatlands restoration is a key component. What role, if any, will the Department play through the NPWS? The Minister mentioned 100 jobs. I deal regularly with workers in Bord na Móna, many of whom are from my constituency. Many want to be retrained and to have new opportunities. Will there be opportunities for just transition for existing Bord na Móna workers whose jobs will not exist in the long term?

Is there a possibility for them to be directly employed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service or for the latter to give that work directly to Bord na Móna? I presume there is a tendering process for that. If the Minister could provide any information on that, it would be helpful.

The Minister spoke about biodiversity measures. I wish to raise the issue of invasive species. Are steps being taken to address very serious issues such as those relating to Japanese knotweed? What progress has been made on the built heritage investment scheme and the historic structures fund? I presume there will be a new round of funding this year as a result of the budget allocation for the Department.

I thank the Deputy. Regarding bog rehabilitation and restoration, I will be working closely with Deputy Bruton on the issue of the Bord na Móna workers. Some 100 jobs will be created. This issue has prompted the biggest increase in funding that the heritage side of my Department has had for many years, an increase of 15.5%. Some €5 million of that will come from the carbon fund and will specifically tackle peatlands and bogs in the midlands. That will be significant.

We are putting significant funding towards the issue of invasive species, on which Deputy Burton has also tabled a question. Invasive species that originate in other countries are a scourge from both a national and an international perspective. We are doing our best to tackle each and every one of these species, some with management plans and some in other ways. I can discus that later when I reply to Deputy Burton's question. I will talk about the built heritage investment scheme in my next reply.

I thank the Minister. The built heritage investment scheme and the historic structures fund have been of great benefit to organisations in Kildare, and it would be great to see that again. The Minister knows the importance of heritage, both the need to protect and maintain it for future generations and its huge tourism potential. We have received very positive news from the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, of an allocation of more than €5 million, with €67,941 allocated to the Barrow blueway project. In that context, I thank the Minister, Deputy Madigan, for the work she and the officials in Waterways Ireland have done. She very kindly gave up her time last August to come to a very well-attended public meeting of over 200 people in Monasterevin. Officials like Mr. John Boyle at Waterways Ireland deserve special mention for the huge amount of work they put into a really good application. The full amount that was applied for by Waterways Ireland and Kildare County Council has been allocated, through the rural regeneration and development fund and Project Ireland 2040, to make the 46 km dream that we in south Kildare have had a reality. The blueway will include Athy, Monasterevin, Rathangan, Roberstown and a significant part of Laois. I thank the Minister and her officials for the part they played in that regard. This is how the funding of heritage and other projects in rural Ireland through rural regeneration funding should work. It will support those communities' futures from economic and heritage perspectives.

I am delighted to hear about the blueway. It is really important to the constituency Deputy Heydon represents. Jobs will be created in the detailed design and construction stages. As the Deputy says, increased tourism will bring economic benefits to the area through direct and indirect visitor spending. That is the bottom line. Apart from the monetary benefits, there will also be benefits for new businesses and the vacant and disused properties along the waterways.

The Deputy also mentioned the built heritage investment scheme and the historic structures fund. I note that in Kildare the Sean Chill and the Grattan Vault in Celbridge, the Mill Cottage in Sallins, the graveyard and church in Johnstown and the Church of the Holy Saviour in Narraghmore all received funding this year, along with Ard na Gréine in Sallins, St. Michael's Church in Athy and Pebble Hill House in Maynooth. The Newbridge clock tower received €25,000 under the historic structures investment fund.