Gabhaim buíochas leis na comhaltaí as deis a thabhairt dom ráiteas gairid a dhéanamh anseo, nuair atá an cuntas leithghabhála don bhliain 2004 do Vóta na Roinne Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta á scrúdú. Sula dtosaím, ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt don obair phroifisiúnta atá déanta ag Oifig an Ard-Reachtaire Cuntas agus Ciste i ndáil leis an gcuntas leithghabhála seo.
Beidh a fhios ag na comhaltaí go raibh an bhliain 2004 ar an dara bhliain fheidhmiúcháin don Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta, a tharraing le chéile raon feidhmeanna a bhíá gcur i gcrích roimhe sin ag sé cinn de Ranna Rialtais. During 2004 the Department's work focused on five primary high level areas — community and local development; drugs misuse; rural development; Gaeltacht and islands; and the Irish language. The Department also promotes North-South co-operation, particularly through its support for two of the North-South Implementation Bodies, An Foras Teanga and Waterways Ireland.
On the community affairs front, the Department funded and supported a range of initiatives including the community development programme, which aims to support disadvantaged communities, in accessing mainstream training, education and employment opportunities. It is paralleled by the local development social inclusion programme. Other programmes included the schemes of grants for locally based community and voluntary organisations, the scheme for community support for older people as well as supports under the White Paper on supporting voluntary activity.
The Department, working with Pobal, formerly ADM, continues the co-ordination of the RAPID programme, which targets the 45 most disadvantaged areas in the country. During 2004 a dedicated fund of €4.5 million was established to support small-scale projects at local level in RAPID areas. This approach has proven successful and the fund has now grown to over €9 million in the current year. In addition, arising from a cross-ministerial review of local and community development structures, the Government approved the establishment of a cohesion fund to support improved service delivery at local level. In 2004 the Department provided over €3 million in supportive measures developed by local and community groups for improved service delivery. This process was co-ordinated by the city and county development boards — and Údarás na Gaeltachta, in Gaeltacht areas. Last year support from the fund focused on aligning area community partnerships and Leader companies into single overarching entities capable of delivering both local and rural development programmes. That work is continuing this year.
During 2004 the national drugs strategy focused on the four pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. The local drugs task forces continue their work at community level in implementing local area action plans, including projects on education, local treatment and rehabilitation support. That year also saw the regional drugs task forces undertaking the necessary ground work to enable them to move forward the development action plans in 2005. A second round of funding under the young people's facilities and services fund was announced in March 2004, which brought the total allocation from the fund to approximately €85 million. More than 450 facilities and services projects are being supported through this fund, in local drug task force areas, including 173 youth and outreach workers and sports development officers. In addition, a number of larger centres funded under this programme became operational in 2004. A mid-term review of the national drugs strategy got under way in 2004, the results of which were published last year. This found that the fundamental aims of the strategy were sound and progress was being achieved across the various pillars, while recommending some changes for improved impact.
The Department continued to support rural communities through a range of schemes including the area-based rural development initiative, the Leader programme and CLÁR. Other initiatives in 2004 included the launch of the rural social scheme to provide an income supplement for small farmers while harnessing their skills to the benefit of rural communities, and the establishment of Comhairle na Tuaithe, to carry forward a process of wide-scale consultation regarding the sustainable development of countryside recreation.
Maidir leis an nGaeilge, an nGaeltacht agus na hoileáin, i gcaitheamh na bliana 2004, cuireadh Oifig Choimisinéir na dTeangacha Oifigiúla ar bun agus ceapadh an chéad coimisinéir. Chomh maith le sin tionscnaíodh staidéir tábhachtach soch-theangeolaíochta sa Ghaeltacht. Thug an Roinn féin agus Údarás na Gaeltachta tionscnaimh nua chun cinn maidir le pleanáil teanga agus gníomhaíochtaí breise teanga lárnaithe sa Ghaeltacht. Lean an obair ar aghaidh ag cur leis an infrastruchtúr agus leis an bfhostaíocht sa Ghaeltacht agus rinneadh tuilleadh infheistíochta caipitiúla ar oibreacha forbartha sna hoileáin mara a bhfuil daonra orthu.
As regards legislation key developments during 2004 included a public consultation process on the reform of charity law as well as the engagement of the Law Reform Commission to assist in charity trust law. These initiatives have laid the foundation for the regulation of the Charities Regulation Bill, the general scheme for which was published recently. It also saw the publication of the Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill, which was enacted in 2005. It witnessed the commencement of the provisions of the Official Languages Act and the issuing of guidelines to public bodies as regards the preparation of schemes for Irish language service delivery.
I have touched on just some aspects of the Department's wide range of responsibilities and will be happy to expand on any of these area in more detail, should the committee so request. These various programmes and initiatives are drawn together through the underlying focus of the Department on communities. This lies at the heart of the Department's mandate and involves working not only with groups at local and community level but also with a range of Departments and statutory agencies.
I will now refer to the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding the financing of the rural social scheme. As indicated, a sum of €10 million was paid from the dormant accounts fund into a suspense account operated by the Department. The use of the suspense account mechanism was at the direction of the Department of Finance. During 2004 almost €3.4 million was paid under the scheme from the suspense account, with the balance being paid in 2005. The Comptroller and Auditor General found that, strictly speaking, the legally correct way of channelling the money would have been to pay the €10 million into the Central Fund and take a Supplementary Estimate in an appropriate amount for the subhead in question, and then account for the moneys paid out in the normal way as subhead expenditure in the appropriation account.
I wish to bring a number of points to the attention of the committee in the context of these issues. First, in the interest of transparency, and as reflected by the Comptroller and Auditor General's office, our 2004 appropriation account clearly sets out in its notes a statement that a total of €3.38 million was expended on the rural social scheme from a suspense account funded by the dormant accounts fund. Second, the full amount of the €10 million, as provided from the dormant accounts fund for the rural social scheme, was applied solely for that purpose in 2004 and 2005. Third, following the coming into effect of the Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Act in June 2005, there is now a direct and explicit legal requirement that disbursements from the fund be channelled through the Votes of relevant Departments. Fourth, as indicated by the Comptroller and Auditor General, a Supplementary Estimate was approved by Dáil Éireann in December last which brought the balance of the €10 million held in the suspense account into the Department's Vote. In summary, the process advised by the Comptroller and Auditor General is in place and being implemented within an explicit statutory framework, as provided for under the 2005 Act. I will be glad to provide any further detail in regard to these matters that the committee may require.
I acknowledge the recommendations made in the committee's recent fifth interim report arising from the hearing of 2 June 2005 in regard to the RAPID programme, community grants and management of Leader and partnership programmes. I will be happy to outline the steps the Department is taking to respond to these recommendations
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis an gcoiste as an deis a thabhairt dom chun an ráiteas seo a dhéanamh agus beidh áthas orm, ar ndóigh, aon cheist a fhreagairt ar feadh mo chumais. Go raibh maith agat.