Chapter 8.1 — Financing of Rural Social Scheme.

Mr. G. Kearney (Secretary General, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs) called and examined.

We are here to discuss the 2004 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts, Vote 27 — An Roinn Gnothaí Pobal, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta; chapter 8.1, financing of rural social scheme.

Ba cheart go dtuigfeadh finnéithe nach bhfuil pribhléid iomlán acu. Tarraingítear aird finnéithe air go ndéantar, le halt 10 den Acht um Choistí Thithe an Oireachtais (Inordaitheacht, Pribhléidí agus Díolúintí Finnéithe) 1997 cearta áirithe a dheonú amhail ar agus ón 2 Lúnasa 1998, do dhaoine a aithnítear le linn imeachtaí an choiste. Tá siad seo ar áireamh sna cearta sin: an ceart chun fianaise a thabhairt; an ceart chun láithriú os comhair an choiste go pearsanta nó trí ionadaí; an ceart chun aighneacht scríofa agus ó bhéal a dhéanamh; an ceart chun iarraidh ar an gcoiste ordú a thabhairt go láithreoidh finnéithe agus go dtabharfar doiciméid ar aird; agus an ceart chun finnéithe a chroscheistiú. Go hiondúil, ní fhéadfar na cearta sin a fheidhmiú ach amháin le toiliú an choiste. Daoine a n-iarrtar orthu teacht os comhair an choiste cuirtear ar eolas iad faoi na cearta sin. Aon daoine a aithnítear le linn imeachtaí agus nach mbeidh i láthair, b'fhéidir gur gá iad a chur ar eolas faoi na cearta sin agus scríbhinn den chuid iomchuí d'imeachtaí an choiste a chur ar fáil dóibh má cheapann an coiste gur cuíé ar mhaithe leis an gceartas.

D'ainneoin na forála seo sa reachtaíocht, is ceart dom a chur i gcuimhne do na comhaltaí go bhfuil cleachtas parlaiminteach ann le fada an lá, dá réir nach ceart do chomhaltaí tagairt, cáineadh ná cúiseamh a dhéanamh i leith duine lasmuigh den Teach nó i leith oifigigh trína ainm nó a hainm a lua nó ar shlí a fhágann gur féidir é nóí a aithint. Cuirtear i gcuimhne do chomhaltaí freisin nach mór don choiste, de réir fhorálacha Bhuan-Ordú 156, staonadh ó fhiosrú a dhéanamh maidir leis na fiúntais a ghabhann le haon bheartas nó beartais de chuid an Rialtais nó de chuid Aire den Rialtas nó maidir leis na fiúntais a ghabhann le cuspóirí na mbeartas sin.

A Ard-Rúnaí, ar mhiste leat do chuid oifigigh a chur in aithne don choiste?

Mr. Gerry Kearney

Liomsa tá Deirdre Carroll, runaí cúnta sinsearach; Seosamh Ó hAghmaill, rúnaí cúnta, agus Colm Treanor, oifigeach airgeadais.

Will the officials of the Department of Finance, please, introduce themselves?

Mr. John Thompson

I am from the public expenditure division.

Mr. David Denny

I am from the organisation management and training division.

Mr. Glavey is with us today from the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Mr. Purcell sends his apologies. He has another engagement. Mr. Glavey will introduce Vote 27 and chapter 8.1.

Paragraph 8.1 of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General reads:

Chapter 8.1 Financing of Rural Social Scheme

€10 million was paid from the Dormant Accounts Fund into a suspense account operated by An Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta to meet the expenses of a Rural Social Scheme announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Speech 2004. During 2004, almost €3.4 million was paid to scheme beneficiaries from the suspense account with the balance paid in 2005. A further €12 million was provided in the Vote for 2005 for on-going funding of this scheme.

Strictly speaking, the legally correct way of channelling the money to the beneficiaries would have been to pay the €10 million into the Central Fund as Exchequer Extra Receipts, take a Supplementary Estimate for Vote 27 in an appropriate amount for Subhead Q.3. and account for the moneys paid out under the scheme in the normal way as subhead expenditure in the Appropriation Account.

The Department of Finance had directed An Roinn to use the suspense account mechanism. However, following my enquiries, the Accounting Officer for the Department of Finance conceded that on reflection it would have been better to have channelled the funding through the Vote. The recently enacted Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Act 2005 provides that future disbursements from the Dormant Accounts Fund will be through moneys provided by the Oireachtas, i.e. through a Vote.

I have qualified my audit certificate on the Appropriation Account for Vote 27 accordingly.

Mr. Fergus Glavey

As far as the Vote is concerned, the Appropriation Account for An Roinn Gnothaí Pobal, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta is presented for review by the committee today. The gross provision was almost €310 million, with expected appropriations-in-aid of almost €20 million giving rise to a net provision of just under €290 million. The actual outturn was marginally under €286 million, giving rise to a surrender of €3.8 million. Expenditure is set out under four principal headings. Administration accounts for €17 million or 6% of expenditure. The figure for an Gaelige agus an Gaeltacht amounts to €86 million or 28% of expenditure. The figure for gnóthaí pobail amounts to €148 million or 48% of expenditure, while the figure for gnóthaí tuaithe amounts to €58 million or 18% of expenditure.

Subhead Q.3, rural social scheme, was the only part of the account to give rise to concern during audit. These concerns are addressed in Chapter 8.1 of the Annual Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which I will now introduce.

The chapter deals with the treatment in the Appropriation Account of transactions relating to the rural social scheme in 2004. By way of background, the Minister for Finance announced the scheme in December 2003 for inclusion in the 2004 budget. The Minister stated the objective of the scheme was to help improve rural services in a more efficient way and provide an income for small farmers. He also stated it was estimated that the net cost of the new scheme would be relatively small, given that participants would be in receipt of an existing payment from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The Minister further stated net new funding of €10 million was planned for the scheme and that the dormant accounts fund would provide the additional amount. The purpose of the scheme is to provide certain services of benefit to rural communities by harnessing the skills and talents available among low income farmers and fishermen. It also provides income support for low income farmers and fishermen in receipt of specified long-term social welfare payments.

The treatment in 2004 of both the receipt from the dormant accounts fund and the payments by the Department to beneficiaries under the scheme gave cause for concern during audit. Specifically, the Department lodged the €10 million received from the dormant accounts fund to a suspense account and paid approximately €3.4 million from this account to beneficiaries of the scheme in 2004. This was an inappropriate way of accounting for the transactions and contravened the requirements of public financial procedures. The impact of the approach chosen can be seen in the 2004 Appropriation Account as follows.

Subhead Q.3 shows a provision of €1,000 and zero expenditure on the rural social scheme. Note 2 to the Appropriation Account shows a balance of €6.6 million on the suspense account at year-end, while note 11 indicates that actual expenditure on the scheme was €3.4 million. The correct approach would have been to pay over the €10 million to the Central Fund as an Exchequer extra receipt and to have provided for the expenditure on the scheme in subhead Q.3. This could have been done by way of a Supplementary Estimate. However, it was not. When asked why, the Department indicated that the Department of Finance had directed the use of the suspense account mechanism. On reflection, the Department of Finance accepted the funding should have been channelled through the Vote. These circumstances led the Comptroller and Auditor General to qualify his opinion on the account and report the matter in the chapter being considered.

A Supplementary Estimate was passed by the Dáil in December 2005 and fully regularised the position for that year. This is reflected in the recently received Appropriation Account for 2005 which treats the dormant accounts fund receipt and the scheme payments in the correct manner. This indicates that our concerns regarding the initial lack of transparency and the inappropriate use of the suspense account mechanism have been recognised and should not give rise to similar difficulties in the future.

Mr. Kearney

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.

May we publish Mr. Kearney's statement?

Mr. Kearney

Yes.

This morning's newspapers contain an announcement relating to the extension of the CLÁR scheme. Will Mr. Kearney describe the scheme, indicate the kind of projects in which it is involved and explain who has the executive function in delivering those projects?

Mr. Kearney

The CLÁR scheme was established to address the issues of deficiency in services and lack of prioritisation of small-scale infrastructural projects in rural areas, particularly those experiencing population decline. The initial CLÁR programme was established in rural areas that had suffered population decline of the order of 50% and the particular objectives of the programme were to provide supports for services and small-scale infrastructure in those areas.

To give a flavour of the programme, I will briefly list the measures currently covered under it. A particular area of funding, with which every committee member will be familiar, is that concerning local non-national roads and the provision of co-funding with local authorities to address the repair of such roads. The programme also provides funding in respect of the provision of amber safety lights at schools and public water and sewerage schemes. It further provides supports for group water schemes, village and countryside enhancements, local authority enhancements, sports capital top-ups, health projects, wireless Internet supply, single-to-three phase electricity conversions, community-based initiatives, school outdoor play facilities enhancements and some small local piers initiatives. There is quite a spread of small scale infrastructural projects and local services and schemes.

CLÁR initiatives generally operate through co-funded arrangements with local authorities and, frequently, local bodies such as Leader groups. The delivery of these projects depends on the measures involved. For example, the small roads initiatives are operated by local authorities and are co-funded by the Department. Schemes such as village enhancements are generally undertaken with Leader groups and local interests. Small-scale health projects would probably be co-funded with the HSE. The approaches taken vary.

Does the Department have an executive function in that respect? When it is satisfied with the merits of a project, does the Department issue grant aid?

Mr. Kearney

Yes.

Do voluntary or Leader groups or local authorities carry out the work?

Mr. Kearney

Yes. I shall qualify that because the scheme has been running for approximately five years and there has been considerable development in the range of measures it funds. Arising from the Government's decision, its scope has been substantially expanded. There is a variation in the approach to the delivery of measures. The Department is not directly involved in some measures but is in others, such as, for example, school playgrounds. We look for a consistency of approach to deliver projects in a streamlined fashion but we generally seek to work with intermediaries in the delivery of the programme.

As a representative from north County Tipperary, I welcome the substantial expansion of the CLÁR scheme. We have had considerable experience with the scheme and there are minor projects that are of importance to individuals in isolated areas and places of rural depopulation. An amount of €13.5 million was allocated to the CLÁR scheme and approximately €1.5 million was underspent. Considering the types of schemes present and that this scheme has been expanded substantially, it is surprising that there was an underspend, given the aforementioned essential and beneficial projects in local communities. How did this underspend arise?

Mr. Kearney

I concur with the point made by the Deputy on the popularity of the scheme among local communities. For us, as civil servants, there has been a degree of learning involved. The community has placed a far greater value on the provision of small-scale local projects than some of the major infrastructural initiatives about which we hear.

We are dependent on local authorities, Leader groups and others for the delivery of the bulk of these initiatives. While we approve and allocate substantial funding to those bodies in a given year, the projects may not be completed or the bills received. An annual difficulty for us, particularly as we move into the third quarter of the year, is receiving bills from local authorities in respect of the disbursements made. The Department reflects its best efforts to receive all due and payable bills from the local authorities and intermediaries providing the programme. The actual expenditure allocated in a given year would at least be at the level reflected in the Vote. It is not the case that the Department is not allocating from the Vote, rather it has not received all of the bills or the work has not been completed.

I accept that the local authority in north County Tipperary would be involved in the majority of the schemes, such as road improvement, but I must check to ensure that it submits its bills. In the case of the Leader-INTERREG programmes there is an underspend of €5 million in a similar area.

Mr. Kearney

I wish to clarify the allocations for 2004. Some €11.7 million was allocated across Leader groups and the spend was €10.5 million. Some €2 million was allocated to the PEACE ll and INTERREG programmes and the spend was low.

The Leader ll programme and the national rural development programme, subheads Q.1 and Q.2, are two sides of the same coin. The Deputy is correct in identifying a shortfall of approximately €1 million in the Leader programme. The national rural development programme has performed strongly and is the equivalent of the Leader programme across rural areas. The balance increases from €10.9 million to €12.7 million. In effect, these figures relate to Leader groups under a different name. The total spend balances with their activities.

Deputy Smith's point on the PEACE and INTERREG programmes is valid. In 2004 the spend was less than that provided for. The INTERREG programme seeks to animate cross-Border projects in the context of the peace process but it has been difficult to animate spending. Because it has run into difficulty there has been a reallocation since 2004 under the PEACE programme.

Is Mr. Kearney satisfied with the co-operation he has received in putting schemes in place? Will he address the case of Waterways Ireland and the prospect of duplicating on the Ballyconnell Canal what was achieved on the Shannon-Erne waterway 15 years ago?

Mr. Kearney

There are different cultures in different jurisdictions. The accountability of civil servants to a very active political class means one must be more responsive. This lends a focus to our administrative actions that is appropriate and healthy in a democracy.The political dynamic with which other civil servants work is reflected in their approach. We have found a strong commitment across the two jurisdictions to advancing the programme within the framework.

One of the major projects under consideration involves the Ulster Canal, a project on which Waterways Ireland has undertaken considerable research as regards the viability of an incremental approach towards its reopening. Based on previous experience on the Shannon-Erne waterway, considerable benefit would accrue to the local community as a result of this major capital project, even it was undertaken on an incremental basis. As a native of Tipperary visiting a number of peace projects and initiatives in the Border counties, I witnessed the degree of disadvantage experienced in these communities and the importance of a project such as the one involving the Ulster Canal. As I understand it, the disposition of the Government is strongly in favour of the phased opening of the Ulster Canal for the benefit of communities on both sides of the Border.

We welcome such developments, which are part of how we bring communities together. The committee welcomes any initiatives that can be taken and the fact that Mr. Kearney visited the project.

Regarding systems, €500,000 is allocated for e-governance every year. However, it was not needed. Did Government policy matter? Was the Department far more advanced than everybody else?

Mr. Kearney

Our direct client base in the Department is quite narrow. Close on 80% of the Department's Dublin work is undertaken through intermediaries. The area with our most direct client interface is the Gaeltacht. During the year in question, we made a major investment in establishing a new computer system and a Gaeltacht client database. This was to create a common database for electronically processing data within the office in na Forbacha to source data on all its various schemes. Following from that, we introduced an interface between that database and our financial management system for electronic payments. It was within the context of particular emphasis on electronic projects in the office funded from elsewhere within the Vote that we will push ahead with developing our e-competence.

We wish to extend the Gaeltacht client database to local authority service providers to improve the flow of data between ourselves and other public bodies. We also wish to see a facility for the public to make online applications for Gaeltacht grants. We have many outdoor staff and we used the period since 2004 to link them through technology. We also used technology for a pilot project on online ticketing for our ferry services. That is how it stands. Given the priority to develop our Gaeltacht client database internally, we are not in position to take it further with external clients.

B'fhéidir go gcabhródh an tUas. Kearney liom. Tá bréag atá ag dul timpeall go gcaithfí gach gnó Rialtais, rialtais áitiúil agus na seirbhísí Stáit go léir, idir thuarascála agus gach rud eile, a aistriú go Gaoluinn. Ní hé sin an fhírinne in aon chor, agus tá costas thar barr ag dul leis an bhréag sin. Caithfidh an tUas. Kearney cabhrú leis an gcoiste. Cad é an fhírinne?

Mr. Kearney

Cinnte, tá an ceart ag an Teachta go bhfuil bréag ag dul thart faoi sin. Faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, níl i gceist ach cáipéisíáirithe a aistriú go Gaeilge. Is iad na cáipéisí atá i gceist ná aon cháipéis a bhaineann le moltaí maidir le polasaí poiblí, tuarascála bliantúla, cuntais bhliantúla agus ráitis straitéise. Níl i gceist ach na cáipéisí sin. Taobh amuigh de sin, níl aon rud eile i gceist. Ba mhaith liom a léiriú don choiste gur cuireadh ceist pharlaiminte síos cúpla míó shin faoi na costais aistriúcháin agus mar sin de a bhí i gceist trasna na Ranna. Léirigh an freagra nach raibh i gceist ach €342,000.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an fhreagra sin. The Comptroller and Auditor General raised an issue regarding the amount of €10 million paid from the dormant accounts fund to a suspense account. I presume it arose because of advice to do so.

Mr. Kearney

That is correct.

Does the Department of Finance normally give such advice?

Mr. Thompson

Every case is unique. In this instance, people investigated the matter in terms of the public accounting system rules for expense accounts and decided that it met the conditions under which such accounts could be used. However, the audit inquiry accepted the view of the Comptroller and Auditor General that an incorrect decision had been made. Mr. Glavey outlined the steps which were promptly taken to bring the procedures into line with the Comptroller and Auditor General's advice.

The legislation is now in place. Will other Departments also be advised against the use of expense accounts?

Mr. Thompson

As the legislation covers all disbursements from the dormant accounts, every Department in receipt of these funds will be treated the same.

The efforts to ensure adherence to accounting procedures is tightening up the rural social scheme and making it less flexible. I am anxious to see more flexibility in the administration of the scheme because it has the potential to make a great difference to individuals. Those in receipt of farm assist or unemployment assistance qualify for the scheme but those in receipt of unemployment benefit do not. However, if a person receives unemployment benefit and is in a FÁS scheme, he or she can transfer to the rural social scheme. It is logical, therefore, that there should be more flexibility so that someone on unemployment benefit but not in a FÁS scheme can be equally entitled to participate in the rural social scheme.

In respect of crèches, information technology and village enhancement, many women want to participate but widows who are not on FÁS schemes cannot qualify for the scheme, although widows on FÁS schemes can transfer to it. It may be a minor technical matter and I am not asking for a definite answer with regard to changing the scheme but seek flexibility in the administration of this and similar schemes. People in rural areas with few other opportunities want the dignity of being recognised. As the loss of a husband can have traumatic effects on widows, I ask that they be allowed to retain the widow's pension while participating in the rural social scheme. The parameters of the scheme should meet people's capacity to participate.

Mr. Kearney

I acknowledge the points made by the Deputy. The Government agreed to changes in respect of eligibility and some work remains to be done on that issue. I propose to raise the Deputy's concerns with the Minister and to reflect on them in the context of the eligibility arrangements.

Is a system in place to take account of the proficiency in Irish of people who seek promotion within the Department?

Mr. Kearney

Yes, we have such a system.

Are figures available to indicate whether it is an influential factor?

Mr. Kearney

Well over 70% of the work of the Department deals with matters taobh amuigh den Ghaeilge agus den Ghaeltacht and a similar proportion of staff transferred from six other Departments ceithre bhliain ó shin. I can provide the Deputy with information in respect of additional marks for proficiency in Irish. For jobs in Na Forbacha, Irish is essential. It would not be sufficient to award extra marks for it — proficiency is a basic eligibility requirement. We would be happy to provide those data for the Deputy.

I refer to yesterday's announcement of the extended roll-out of CLÁR over huge parts of the country. Can Mr. Kearney provide details of the further areas to be included in the CLÁR programme? A huge chunk of my county seems to be included.

Mr. Kearney

The figures point to a doubling of the population eligible for the CLÁR programme. As the press release mentioned, the parameters since 1926 have been based on a population loss of 50%, but now factor in a loss of 35%. That gives a sense of the shift in criteria for the identification of areas.

Can Mr. Kearney send the committee a list, on a county by county basis, of DEDs in the CLÁR scheme now and of those to be included in the expanded programme?

The Chairman is right to ask for such details. The announcement yesterday made it impossible to judge which areas were included. There is major confusion on the part of people who visited the website for the information.

Mr. Kearney

I acknowledge that point. This is a recent development and it would be helpful not just to this committee but the public generally to have clarity as to the areas now coming within the CLÁR programme.

Can the Secretary General give me a rough idea of the amount of spending involved? Do the figures he has given include school lights, village enhancement, roads, crèches etc? If all those things were involved it would require a huge investment.

Mr. Kearney

Yes, it is a massive investment because it does not simply almost double the resources for the programme, from €13 million to €23 million. There will also be co-funding activities on the part of local authorities and other public bodies. The potential allocations could reach €50 million. If I can, I will provide the Deputy with a breakdown of the spend in the past 12 months and its allocation among the various measures.

What role does the Secretary General envisage local authorities playing in co-funding the scheme?

Mr. Kearney

They have participated in the programme for the past five years. They will decide what priority is accorded to roads spending in CLÁR areas on the basis that matching funds will be available from the Department. Using a relatively small proportion of their roads budgets they can access significant funding from the Department that might otherwise not be available to improve secondary roads.

How much will they have to raise? I am worried there will be an increase in local taxation to co-fund the programme. Can Mr. Kearney provide clarification? Local authorities have difficulty balancing their budgets each year.

Mr. Kearney

On the first point, our indications for 2006 are that the bulk of the spend — in excess of €15 million — will be towards local road and water schemes. The spend on sports and community enhancements will be just under €3 million. Health and education spending will be €2.6 million and energy and telecommunications just under €1 million. All I can say to the Deputy is that it is not mandatory for local authorities to participate. The objective of the scheme is to create an incentive for them to address areas subject to depopulation and to access funds to support them in providing basic infrastructure. Building on the suggestion of the Chairman, I might provide for the committee a breakdown of each of the measures and co-funding arrangements which apply relevant to expenditure, if that would be helpful.

Has Mr. Kearney examined the programmes local authorities have put together to receive funding from other Departments, for example, for water and sewerage schemes, and the needs of local authorities?

Mr. Kearney

One can assume that the development of measures under the CLÁR programme followed from a process of consultation with local interests on what their particular needs were. To reflect the point raised by the Deputy regarding individual local authorities, I doubt that measures are designed to meet the needs of a single local authority. There would be a process of consultation between the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities to identify their needs and prioritise projects for funding.

Moving to the RAPID programme, another area of responsibility for Mr. Kearney, in 2004 there was a recorded underspend of €2.5 million. Will he explain how this occurred?

Mr. Kearney

That was the first year of co-funded measures under the RAPID programme. A total of €2 million was provided for the local authority housing estate enhancement scheme. Funding of €3 million was provided for the development of playgrounds, while €2.2 million in top-up funding was allocated to projects under the sports capital programme. Our allocations in the year came to in excess of €7 million, but the spend on the ground followed the actual allocations and it did not all occur during the year. When a new initiative or scheme is introduced, receipt of bills usually follows the roll-out and enactment of initiatives. This is also relevant to the rural social scheme. Such a process is reflected in the figures. It is not that decisions were not made or allocations were not advanced, but simply that bills were not received. In 2005 the spend increased substantially to closer to €6 million.

Are 45 towns involved under the RAPID programme?

Mr. Kearney

Yes.

Is there any gauging or monitoring of the impact of the programme on various towns? This might pertain to what the programme was designed to do and what it is achieving.

Mr. Kearney

I must respond on a number of levels. The first is whether there are impact indicators for assessing the effectiveness of the RAPID programme which has been in place for a number of years. A review is under way of this aspect and a report on the overall impact of the programme will be available to Departments within the next six weeks.

To take a broader view, the expectation that the RAPID programme would see a massive front-loading of investment in programme areas was discussed previously at this committee. It was a crude measure, but one to which many were looking. One of the difficulties we ran into immediately was tracking clearly the spend by various public bodies within RAPID programme areas. At this juncture Departments would tentatively suggest that of the order of €340 million has been invested in extra infrastructure in such areas since the programme's inception. However, as a safer barometer, because RAPID co-ordinators were concerned as to the quality of the data earmarking on this, they started to track expenditure in the local AITs from June 2004. From that date, they would have estimated allocations of the order of €184 million from national investments and a further €16 million from local investment. In the period June 2004 to March 2006, therefore, those local groups would have reflected a fairly significant investment of the order of €200 million.

I caution against overemphasis on simply examining the capital allocation alone because the benefits of the RAPID programme do not come about merely by attracting cash into it. What has emerged is the earmarking and identification of those areas for priority under other programmes. In anticipation of coming before the committee, I inquired as to how much money from the dormant accounts fund allocations had been allocated by the disbursements board. Of its €60 million, €32 million will go directly to RAPID programmes. Of the first tranche of Government spending under the new dormant accounts fund arrangements, €12 million out of the initial €24 million has been allocated directly to RAPID AITs.

Prioritisation is also afforded under the sports capital programme and under a number of Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform initiatives. It is important to understand that the RAPID programme represents a valuable opportunity for Departments and public bodies to prioritise their programmes in support of disadvantaged areas rather than simply counting the cash. I acknowledge, however, that the latter is also important.

I agree with the Secretary General in regard to counting the cash. Is there any way of monitoring the impact of improvements to the quality of life in each town? Surely there is some way of monitoring the impact of investment in the 45 RAPID areas? Are the poorer areas in the particular towns monitored?

Mr. Kearney

The Deputy makes a fair point. Perhaps I should have clarified that in each RAPID area there is an area implementation team and a co-ordinator that tracks and gathers information on performance on the ground within those areas. Further fairly substantial data are published on the Pobal website. If the Deputy wishes, I would be happy to speak with the RAPID co-ordinator and have information provided to him in respect of particular towns.

I thank Mr. Kearney.

The level of drug abuse is increasing rapidly. Every town and village is affected by drugs and the problem appears to be spiralling out of control. I do not know where it will end. People are concerned for the safety of their children because of the effects of the drugs culture. Can the Secretary General outline the Department's impact on what is a huge problem nationally?

Mr. Kearney

The Department co-ordinates the national drugs strategy, which sets out four pillars, namely, prevention, supply reduction, treatment and research, as the basis for tackling the drugs problem. A key part of the strategy has been the establishment of the local drugs task forces. These were established in 12 areas throughout Dublin and in Bray and Cork. This was our frontline activity at community level for tackling the drugs problem. I will refer briefly to the local drugs task forces and then return to the strategy. We are currently having an independent review of the work of those local drugs task forces. The evidence so far suggests they have been remarkably successful in harnessing the State response to what is an extraordinarily difficult societal issue. Reflecting the approaches taken in the local drugs task forces, we have now established ten regional drugs task forces to address the issue touched on by the Deputy, that is, the proliferation of the drugs problem into and across provincial and rural areas. They have been engaged in mapping the scale of the drugs problems, the gaps in services and strategies to address those gaps.

The most striking issue I have seen in my time in the Department is the development of the youth services and facilities initiatives to seek to attract and provide alternatives to young people away from the drugs lifestyle and initiation into it. What we are seeing at this stage is an investment of the order of €100 million substantially targeting disadvantaged areas in our capital city up to now and the employment of approximately 300 youth workers, sports development officers and others in those centres to give those children an opportunity and an alternative to being attracted to drugs. What we are now hearing is a level of demand for the extension of the facilities and investments under that programme into the wider areas.

Coming back to the impact of the drugs strategy, a review was undertaken, which concluded last year, of the national drugs strategy. That found that significant progress was being made across the major areas of the strategy. It highlighted one particular area that needed significantly more work, namely, the whole area of rehabilitation of drug misusers. It asked that we go beyond four pillars and make that a fifth pillar. It also identified issues regarding policing, community involvement, control of drugs misuse and supports of families. What is currently under way, through the work of the Department and the national drugs strategy team, which includes community and voluntary representatives, is getting public bodies to sign up to what they will do now to address in a specific way the issues arising from that strategy.

In answer to the Deputy's question, we have the extension of the work of the regional drugs task forces. We are looking again at young people's facilities and services funds and we have the follow-up on the findings of the national drugs strategy review. I would also have to reflect - the Deputy is probably aware of this - that the allocation for this year to the drugs subhead in our Department is €43 million. Compared to the allocation or the outcome in 2004, that is a very substantial increase.

The lack of treatment centres throughout the country is notable. Does the Department have an involvement in the Aislinn centre in our region, Ballyragget, Kilkenny? Does it support that centre in any way? It is running into financial problems and is unable to cope with the numbers, which has caused many problems. Perhaps Mr. Kearney would reply generally on centres throughout the country but in particular with regard to the centre I have mentioned?

Mr. Kearney

I understand that of the order of €5 million has been allocated to regional drugs task forces with the expectation that the actual spend will move closer to €12 million over time. I anticipate that the group to which the Deputy referred should be in contact with its regional drugs task force because those groups are critical and the facilities important to tackling drug misuse.

In his opening statement Mr. Kearney said he would use the opportunity of today's questioning to outline the way the Department will respond to recommendations the committee made in its most recent report. He outlined three areas — the RAPID programme, community grants and management of Leader and partnership programmes. He referred, to some degree, about the RAPID programme. However, the criticism of the latter in the report relates to its general vagueness, how it is structured, what it represents and how its funding is drawn down. I am not sure whether some of the answers Mr. Kearney supplied clarified the position. Perhaps he might take this opportunity to explain further about the programme.

I presume Mr. Kearney's reference to community grants relates to the criticism in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report about the dormant accounts fund, which is not specifically dealt with in his own report. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report refers to unhappiness about the accountability element of the dormant accounts fund under the old system operated in the Department. Does Mr. Kearney consider that the change in the system, which effectively amounts to direct ministerial disbursement of the fund, has improved that element to any great degree? Some members are concerned that further accountability issues relating to the fund might arise in the future. The figures Mr. Kearney provided in respect of the disbursement of dormant accounts fund moneys in the RAPID areas show that there has been a slight slippage in percentage terms since the change in the system. However, I do not know whether that indicates a trend.

A third area to which I wish to refer is the management of Leader and partnership programmes in respect of which the committee recommended a rationalisation of the existing structures. What consideration is being given to that recommendation in the Department? There is concern that such funding is being too widely disbursed to groups that are broadly similar in their aims and the geographical areas they cover.

Mr. Kearney

I acknowledge that the role of this committee is a critical part of the governance of public bodies and of the Department. The committee made recommendations, not only in the 2003 report but also in previous reports, regarding the ferries issue and the need to draw on international expertise to strengthen our performance in the management of contracts in that area. We very much took that recommendation on board, welcomed it as a useful contribution and developed our understanding of it.

Deputy Boyle referred to a number of issues concerning the RAPID programme, with some of which I agree but on some of which our views diverge. It is generally understood that there is a lack of clarity regarding what the RAPID programme now means and delivers. It was initially flagged to provide substantial additional investment to disadvantaged communities, with reference to improving the delivery of public services through integration and co-ordination. It also offered opportunities to communities to participate in the improvement of their areas, although this element was not well advertised. The advent of the co-funding measures, the involvement of the AITs in smaller scale projects in their areas and the development of RAPID as a particular target across public programmes has led to a degree of obfuscation.

The programme is subject to review and we expect to report on that shortly. The Minister indicated his strong support for the continuation of the programme beyond this year. I agree with Deputy Boyle that, in this context, it is important that the objectives of the programme and the outcomes we seek from it need to be more explicitly set out. The review under way will, subject to the Government's endorsement of the continuation of the programme, help us in that regard. I agree with the Deputy that the way the programme has developed during the years has not been helpful.

I disagree with Deputy Boyle on one point. I referred to the spend from the dormant accounts fund under the disbursements board arrangement. That followed from an instruction by the Minister to prioritise, under the board's plan, the spend into RAPID areas. The Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board has completed its work under that regime. The Government has only initiated its spend under its new arrangements. At this stage, the first groups to which funding was allocated were the area implementation teams, with the allocation of €12 million of the €24 million approved. However, there are two other measures, one relating to education and another to disability, to follow. It would not, therefore, be correct to say that the position in regard to RAPID areas has disimproved under the new arrangement. It is only getting under way. Deputies may be aware that an advertisement was placed only last week for flagship projects, including those in respect of the elderly. It is too early to make such a judgment. There are changed accountability arrangements. There are certainly more explicit arrangements now as regards how financial procedures are to be adopted when their disbursement is being made by public bodies. That is as far as I can go on that matter.

The Deputy's third point concerned the Leader and partnership structures. Both the Department and the Minister strongly concur with this committee's view, as reflected by Deputy Boyle, on the benefits of more streamlined local structures for the delivery of these programmes. There are huge gains for people in those structures and for the Government in terms of the flexibility to provide such programmes in a seamless manner. To that end, and acknowledging the role of the Department of Finance, we established an incentive fund to encourage local groups. We said that if they could come forward with sensible proposals to develop and integrate their structures we would provide them with financial support. That initiative is now under way across the various groups.

I would not like to simplify the complexity involved, nor would I like to understate the nervousness by some groups and individuals who see their careers and livelihood as being under threat. It is not about that, however, but it is complex to seek to have overarching structures that will deliver a multiplicity of programmes, rather than having separate structures for each programme. Our aim by the end of this year is to have moved substantially towards achieving the recommendations of the committee in that regard.

As regards the underspending in the RAPID, CLÁR and Leader programmes, to what extent does the Department operate a roll-over system? RAPID has been in existence since before 2002 and CLÁR since 2003. The Leader programmes have a long history. Should the Department not have mechanisms to anticipate when bills come in and whether other projects can be funded in the interim? Has the Department examined those mechanisms and, if so, is it considering altering them to allow full expenditure in each of these areas to be made in the years in question?

Is there a full take-up on the rural social scheme, over which there are question marks? What is the impact on the Department of taking over the running of the social economy scheme? When it was operated by FÁS it ran into many brick walls because sponsoring organisations were required to contribute over a three year period. Are there any figures for the number of people who were subsequently taken into full-time employment through their involvement in the social economy scheme?

Mr. Kearney

As regards the roll-over system, the Deputy has pinpointed a problem in working with intermediaries and local bodies — that is, the time lag between when one makes allocation decisions and the implementation of those decisions and the receipt of bills. Every October our management committee examines this in the knowledge of the amount of money it has allocated and the mismatch between that and the receipt of bills from intermediaries who are generally public bodies, local authorities or health authorities. Every year we seek to improve that arrangement by making decisions earlier.

In terms of roll-over, quite a number of our programmes are EU-funded and operate on that basis. Therefore, the allocation or the spend would be reflected in subsequent allocations. We have a target to meet either under the NDP or an EU programme which is generally reflected in the Estimates allocations in subsequent years. It is not done in a narrow sense but means that the cash is not necessarily lost.

Participation in the rural social scheme, to date, currently stands at just under 2,200 participants and 103 supervisors. Our target is 2,500, so we have moved pretty close to the achievement of full participation, with a fairly significant improvement recently.

The Deputy's last point concerned the CE scheme. I have visited some CE projects, including a food services project in north Cork. Many people who have suffered disadvantage provide services to older people living in remote areas and they also provide employment and sell food to local supermarkets. It is an absolutely remarkable project. It is excellent to see such projects being expanded and supported at community level.

We did not take the community services programme into the Department until the beginning of this year. We are developing it with a much stronger emphasis on community services. That is where we see this substantially lying. We anticipate asking local structures such as partnerships and Leader groups for additional eligible projects over the coming period. We will ask them to address this shortly. It is a relatively new initiative for us but we have a strong appreciation of the nature of the projects and the value they are delivering to communities.

The Department chose to cease funding the Community Workers Co-operative in 2004. The organisation received funding under the peace initiative but it had difficulties administering that because its core funding had ceased. Has there been contact with that organisation since? Was the funding reviewed? There was criticism of Government policy at the time, which was regarded as a threat to the future funding of voluntary organisations.

Could Mr. Kearney supply the subsidy rates to the committee for all island ferries? What rules of thumb are used? For example, are islands with larger populations or those further from the mainland expected to meet more of the cost of the ferries?

Mr. Kearney

The Deputy raised the issue of the Community Workers Co-operative previously. Since the last meeting, the co-operative has received a once-off grant of €46,000 from the Department for its work. The decision to cease its funding was taken on the basis of it not being in a position to identify a single group experiencing disadvantage in contrast to other groups funded under the anti-poverty network. It is envisaged that the anti-poverty network funding scheme and the federations' and networks' funding arrangement will be jointly subject to an independent review of their operation and objectives, what they are delivering and the fair and transparent process by which groups can be admitted to funding in the future. That work will get under way immediately and I anticipate that the Department will activate a new scheme for federations and networks, including the anti-poverty network, on a competitive, open and transparent basis later this year.

Mr. Kearney referred to playgrounds. Is he familiar with the Department's decision to fund playground developments in Ladyswell and Paslickstown, Mulhuddart, County Dublin, because it had spare cash lying around? However, considerable anti-social behaviour resulted. Money was left over at the end of the year and the Department allocated €60,000 in each case without consultation. Did Mr. Kearney examine the outcome of the Department's largesse, which was well meant? In one case, a large steel structure was erected in the middle of a green space on a housing estate that experiences significant drug-related problems and anti-social behaviour. It immediately became an extraordinarily attractive target for use by drug users late in the evening. In Ladyswell there was a small green space used by small children and the Department's contractor went in, laid tarmac at random in the green space and inserted hillocks about four feet high around the boundaries of the green space which were an invitation to people on motorbikes etc. to engage in scrambling. Usually four-year-olds do not ride motorbikes. We all get things wrong occasionally. Did the Department learn from that experience?

Mr. Kearney

I recall some correspondence on the matter. I understand those playgrounds were funded under mainstream programmes, either on the recommendation of a local community development group or an area implementation team attached to the area under the RAPID programme. Rather than being done on a once-off basis on the initiative of the Department, it would be on the initiative of a local group seeking funding to improve its area. There is a practical difficulty that arises in areas that experience severe disadvantage because of the problem the Deputy has reflected, which is the level of anti-social behaviour and how one mediates interventions by public bodies. We are substantially dependent on the advice, requests and views of the local groups, whether it is an area implementation team or a local community CDP. I understand that was the basis on which this money was spent. Assuming we are discussing the same themes, the community subsequently came back with two complaints, one regarding the anti-social behaviour and the second regarding the quality of the work done. Both complaints were drawn to attention. It is a difficulty for us and it highlights less about the decision and more about an integrated approach involving the Garda and other providers of State services in those areas. Rather than intervening under a single programme, an integrated set of actions is needed.

Barnardos, an organisation with considerable expertise in playgrounds, has guidelines regarding the supervision, design and openness of playgrounds. I know many organisations that would give their right arm to get €120,000 approaching Christmas. Does the Department have guidelines? How much of the Department's budget is spent on consultants' fees for writing, producing and launching reports? Could Mr. Kearney take a guess at the amount?

Mr. Kearney

The Deputy's first point goes back to a point raised by Deputy Michael Smith. Our focus and objective is to work with communities, to the benefit of communities and through community groups in establishing and funding local projects. It was brought to the attention of the Department that the two projects mentioned had not worked as intended. I would need to reflect also that these were not initiated by the Department. They were initiated, pursued and supported with local groups.

I believe money was left over at the end of the year, which was divvied out with two play spaces each getting €60,000. It took me seven or eight months including negotiations with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to try to get the various agents that had delivered the infrastructure in Ladyswell and Parslickstown to come back and either undo the work altogether or initiate some kind of remedial action which would limit the problems being caused.

Mr. Kearney

I acknowledge the Deputy's point in terms of the problems that arose with both those projects. One is trying to match the responsiveness to small groups with the complexity of the problems and needs of local areas. I acknowledge the difficulties with both projects.

Does the Secretary General have a figure for the consultancy subhead?

Mr. Kearney

The outturn for 2004 was just over €500,000 out of an overall budget of close to €300 million gross.

I have something slightly closer to grassroots level in mind. The Blanchardstown area was widely praised by the Department for the submissions it had made to the RAPID programme. Deputy Higgins is another representative of the area but I do not know if he would concur with me. Public representatives are suffering from exhaustion due to the many consultancy reports continually launched at a time when many of the groups dealing with the most disadvantaged have severe difficulty in gaining the assistance of the Department, probably because they are not employing a consultant or accountant to fill in the form. We continually receive reports on the literacy levels of persons who for one reason or another are suffering from social exclusion. How does one expect them to fill in application forms in order that they can seek various grants from the Department? Many believe the future of the community development programme is under threat, as Mr. Kearney indicated to Deputy Boyle. How does the Department plan to get the most disadvantaged and excluded involved? Should they hire consultants and send the bill to the Department?

Mr. Kearney

The Deputy has raised two points. I will take the question on the community development programme, CDP, first. This is an extraordinarily important programme which has been in place since the 1980s and witnessed recent expansion. Between 180 and 190 projects operate nationwide. The Department considers the programme to be of immense value and would support its continuation. It is a vital locus for animating communities and supporting them in accessing services.

The second point raised by the Deputy concerns the problem that the most disadvantaged are required to compete with more organised groups which have greater support and competencies. This presents a serious difficulty for us. We are working with Pobal on many of our schemes and very conscious of the difficulties involved for certain groups. Difficult discussions have to take place within the Department on the issue. What we are trying to do is balance accountability for public money with the reality for the groups described by the Deputy. In this respect transparency and records are essential. It will not be easy to strike a balance. However, I acknowledge the Deputy's point.

On the national drugs strategy, was the Secretary General disappointed at the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe from the forum, given that he was one of the key community representatives? When the group was originally established, it was to be a partnership between Government, public agencies and the community sector. Mr. McCabe stated publicly over and over again that he felt obliged to resign because, although a drugs epidemic faced communities, not just in inner city areas but right across the country — including crack cocaine and cocaine — it was his expert view as a long-term community activist that the community voice was no longer being listened to by the Department.

Mr. Kearney

The community and voluntary sectors were fully represented in the review of the national drugs strategy which highlighted the achievements and some of the difficulties facing the strategy. They substantially shaped what needed to be done in implementation of the strategy. It is widely acknowledged that Fergus McCabe made an excellent contribution. He is hugely respected. The process to appoint a replacement is under way.

Does Mr. Kearney regret that he felt obliged to quit the group?

Mr. Kearney

That is not an area of competence for me.

The key community person for the input of funds to the tune of tens of millions of euro quits the key programme and Mr.Kearney does not regret it. If that is the case, there is something very wrong with the programme.

Mr. Kearney

There are others on the national drugs strategy team. Fr. Seán Cassin comes to mind. There is a network of local drugs task forces which feed in very strongly. While I respect the point the Deputy is making about the calibre of Fergus McCabe, I also acknowledge the network and others represented. A process to find a replacement is under way.

By consultants.

I shall take up the point that the resignation of Mr. Fergus McCabe indicates frustration among many activists at ground level that the Department is not sufficiently tuned in to the struggle in which they are involved and their experiences. This is especially the case in regard to the emerging needs fund which was seen by people on the ground as a source of finance for projects and initiatives that could perhaps head off trouble and cope with new challenges and difficulties such as that presented by crack cocaine. The fact is the funding did not match the aspiration.

Mr. Kearney

I anticipate that the views of communities which have fought the drugs problem for over ten years and the courage of local community representatives who have given of their time unselfishly and so successfully will be reflected in a forthcoming report on the local drugs task forces. This must be acknowledged, as well as the tiredness and exhaustion experienced in that continuous struggle. Societies across Europe are seeing a worsening of the problem. The more difficult drugs problem is reflected in Ireland by the incidence of drugs offences and seizures. That said, the level of funding provided by the Department for the local drugs task forces has increased substantially in recent years.

Deputy Burton referred to the end of year spend. At the MAC meetings held every autumn we seek to make available spare cash to support appropriate initiatives on the drugs front. I acknowledge the difficulties and challenges faced by people on the ground. There was also an increase in funding. Core funding for the local drugs task forces in 2004 stood at €11 million. In 2005, it was approximately €16 million and will increase incrementally again this year.

The Deputy correctly reflected the degree of concern and difficulty that arose in respect of the emerging needs fund and expectations relating thereto. The national drugs strategy team comprises the community and voluntary sector and statutory bodies. That is the filtering mechanism for receiving applications under the emerging needs fund and for making recommendations to the Department. At this stage, it has received applications amounting to over €6 million. It has forwarded applications amounting to €3.5 million to the Minister for approval, of which €3.2 million has now been approved. Applications amounting to €400,000 are awaiting approval.

The national drugs strategy team received applications for projects amounting to €1.3 million, which it says need further work as they are not sufficiently developed to advance. The team identified projects amounting to €1 million that should not be proceeded with. This is a different scenario to that which we were facing at the beginning of the year. Over half of the projects have been approved for funding and a substantial number of projects are being processed.

All members acknowledge that facilities have improved considerably, particularly when one compares them with those that existed in the mid-1990s. At that stage, I was running around my electoral area with a person from the Eastern Health Board allocating sheds as treatment centres. We were obliged to approach pharmacists and ask if they were prepared to deal with individuals who wished to come off heroin through a methadone programme. Although matters have improved since then, that is not the touchstone.

What is the funding position in respect of the regional drugs task forces?

Mr. Kearney

The allocation for the regional drugs task forces is €5 million. However, we anticipate that the figure will rise to €12 million in order that the regional drugs task forces will fulfil their potential and have a full impact. If they bring forward particular initiatives going beyond that, we will consider their funding again.

Mr. Kearney mentioned that the rehabilitation of recovering drug addicts was to become a major pillar of the Department's approach. I welcome this because its absence was a major weakness in the past. Considering the difficulties of kicking serious addiction, rehabilitation is critical. Community activists, however, are finding that it is difficult to access funding from the Department. My colleague, the Independent Member, Deputy Gregory, pointed out that a north Dublin inner city project, with people doing excellent work in it, is haplessly trying to manage with part-timers on FÁS courses. That is not good enough. While Mr. Kearney has acknowledged rehabilitation is a pillar, what will be the ramifications of this move for funding such projects?

Mr. Kearney

Arising from the findings of the review of the national drugs strategy on rehabilitation, a working group was established to report, as a priority, on the current provision of services and how they could be improved. The group comprises representatives from Departments, the national drugs strategy, the advisory committee on drugs and the community and voluntary sector. I anticipate that the report will be available in the next few months. We expect to see the availability and range of treatment options to be increased to reflect the complexities to which the Deputy referred, including poly-drug and cocaine use. The group will be the catalyst in improving opportunities for supports for rehabilitation.

I hope that those who are putting together projects of this nature will be facilitated.

Tá an clog i mo choinne, agus ardóidh mé cúpla pointe atá difriúil ar fad. An bhfuil aon bhaint ag an Roinn leis an Bhlascaod Mór agus an togra chun é a thógaint isteach i seilbh phóiblí?

Mr. Kearney

Tuigtear dom go bhfuil €5 milliún i Meastacháin na Roinne i dtaobh na gcéibheanna, ach taobh amuigh de sin, níl baint againn leis.

Tá an Roinn ag cur isteach bunstruchtúr, ach níl aon bhaint aici le riarachán an oileáin a chaomhnú?

Mr. Kearney

Tuigim gurb iad an Roinn Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil agus Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí a bhaineann leis na hábhair sin. Más rud é go bhfuil dul chun cinn a dhéanamh acu, beidh an Roinn ábalta airgead a chur ar fáil chun feabhas a chur ar na céibheanna. Sa chomhthéacs sin, tá€5 milliún curtha ar fáil.

Ní thuigim faoi mar atá cúrsaíá riaradh i láthair na huaire. Tá an-bhaint ag an Bhlascaod Mór leis an nGaeltacht, agus baint níos mó ag an Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta ná ag Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí. Más mar sin atá an scéal, níl mé sásta leis an tslí a bhfuil cúrsaíá riaradh i láthair na huaire nó leis an bhéim atáá cur ar dhuine nó bheirt lucht mór ghnó agus an fhabhraíocht atáá taispeáint dóibh siúd seachas go mbeadh rudaí i bhfad ní b'oscailte do mhuintir na háite. Ní bhaineann sé sin leis an Roinn, áfach.

Mr. Kearney

Baineann na ceisteanna a d'ardaigh an Teachta le cúrsaí oidhreachta, agus tá na hábhair sin faoi smacht na Roinne Comhshaoil, Oidhreachta agus Rialtais Áitiúil agus Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí.

Baineann an cheist dheireannach le comharthaí bóithre, bailte, fo-bhailte, ainmneacha, logainmneacha agus a leithéid. Conas mar atá cúrsaí sa Roinn maidir leis an cheist seo i láthair na huaire?

Mr. Kearney

Measaim go bhfuil an Teachta ag tagairt don Daingean.

Sin ceann díobh.

Mr. Kearney

Tá conspóid ag baint leis an gcás sin i láthair na huaire. Ba mhaith liom a shoiléiriú don choiste go raibh próiseas áirithe leagtha síos sa reachtaíocht chun ordú logainmneacha a dhéanamh, agus chloígh an tAire leis an phróiseas sin nuair a ghlac sé leis an chomhairle a fuair séón gCoimisiún Logainmneacha. Ina dhiaidh sin, d'ardaigh Comhairle Chontae Chiarraí dhá cheist. Nuair a dhein an tAire ordú logainmneacha do bhaile fearainn an Daingín, an raibh baint ar bith ag an ordú sin leis an bhaile féin? Ba í an chomhairle dlí a fuaireamar faoi sin ná go mbaineann an t-ordú ní amháin leis an bhaile fearainn ach le háit nó ceantar eile ar bith leis an ainm céanna. Ba í an cheist eile a cuireadh orainn ná an féidir leis an chomhairle contae an t-ordú a chur ar leataobh faoi reachtaíocht a bhaineann leis an gcóras rialtais áitiúil. Ba í an chomhairle a fuaireamar ó Oifig an Ard-Aighne faoi sin ná nach bhféadfaíé sin a dhéanamh. Seasann an t-ordú.

Chun soiléiriú a dhéanamh ar an scéal, de réir dlí, níl cead ag Comhairle Chontae Chiarraí comharthaí dátheangacha a chur suas. An é sin atáá rá ag an Uas. Kearney?

Mr. Kearney

Ní féidir léi é sin a dhéanamh taobh istigh den Ghaeltacht, ach ní bhaineann sé sin le hAcht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. Bhí an dualgas sin ann 30 nó 40 bliain ó shin, i 1970. Tá na coinníollacha sin ann i gcónaí, le beagnach 40 bliain anuas.

D'fhéadfá a rá go raibh na comhairlí contae ag briseadh an dlí.

Mr. Kearney

Más rud é nach raibh na comharthaí i nGaeilge sna ceantair Gaeltachta——

I nGaeilge amháin.

Mr. Kearney

I nGaeilge amháin.

Sea. Chun an cheist a fheabhsú nó chun freagra a fháil ar an gceist maidir leis an Daingean, tá tú ag rá liom go gcaithfí an dlí a athrú dá mba rud é go mbeadh comharthaí bóthair ag dul suas le "Dingle — Daingean Uí Chúis".

Mr. Kearney

Taobh istigh den Ghaeltacht.

Mr. Kearney

Ní mar a gcéanna a bhí an scéal taobh istigh agus taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht faoin gcóras atá i bhfeidhm le beagnach 40 bliain anuas. Laistigh den Ghaeltacht, bhíodh ar na húdaráis áitiúla aitiúila déanamh cinnte de go raibh na comharthaí i nGaeilge an t-am go léir. Faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003, bíonn ar na húdaráis áitiúila an córas céanna a chuir i bhfeidhm, taobh amuigh de na ceantair Ghaeltachta maidir le háiteanna laistigh den Gaeltacht.

D'fhéadfadh Comhairle Contae Chiarraí comhartha a chuir suas a deireann "Dingle — Daingean Uí Chúis" ar imeall baile Thrá Lí, mar shampla, ach ní bheadh ann ach "An Daingean" ar na comharthaí i ngar don bhaile fhéin.

Mr. Kearney

Ceapaim nach bhfuil Trá Lí taobh istigh den Ghaeltacht.

Níl, cinnte.

Mr. Kearney

Measaim nach mbeadh cead——

Nach bhfuil sé amaideach, i ndáiríre, go deireann na comharthaí"Dingle" nuair atá daoine iasachta ag fágaint baile Thrá Lí ach nuair a fhéachann siad amach ag lorg "Dingle" nuair atá siad ag teacht cóngarach don bhaile, ní féidir leo aon chomhartha bóthair den chineál céanna a fháil. B'fhéidir nach dtuigeann siad go bhfuil an rud céanna i gceist nuair a deireann an comhartha "Daingean". An aontaíonn Mr. Kearney go gcaithfear an dlí sin a athrú, i ndáiríre?

Mr. Kearney

Baineann an cheist sin leis an Tithe an Oireachtais. Ní bhaineann sé liom.

Perhaps such signs are part of this country's charm and make touring more interesting.

Ní fhéadfadh seirbhíseach phoiblí smaoineamh faoi leith a bheith aige faoi sin, nó an smaoineamh sin a nochtadh.

Mr. Kearney

Caithfidh mé a rá gur féidir leis an Aire, faoi alt áirithe d'Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003, athrú a dhéanamh ar ordú atá déanta aige cheana más rud é go bhfaigheann sé breis comhairle ón gCoimisiún Logainmneacha.

Tá mé ag cur deireadh le suas agus síos na fo-bhóithre in iarthar Chiarraí.

Go raibh maith agat. I have three questions for Mr. Kearney. Does the Department collect data on trends of drug abuse and its consequences from the regional drug task forces, the health authorities or from the Garda, for example?

Mr. Kearney

A critical pillar under the national drugs strategy is the research activity. We have national advisory committee on drugs, NACD, that carries out pretty extensive research. Earlier this year it published a major report on drug use in Ireland and in Northern Ireland. That is the principal vehicle for research. Our experience is that local drugs task forces and regional drugs task forces, too, I anticipate, will map the scale of drugs misuse in their areas. However, the principal national vehicle is the NACD. The Garda Síochána is represented on the national drugs strategy team and we receive data from it as regards the numbers of offences on an annual basis, the types of drug offences etc.

Will Mr. Kearney remind the committee briefly of the current trends?

Mr. Kearney

The value of drug seizures stood at around €100 million in 2003. It went up to €130 million in 2004, according to Garda figures, and the provisional figure for 2005 appears to be somewhat lower. However, the critical issue is that the incidence of offences involving cocaine has moved from about 9% to 23% last year. Similarly, the incidence of offences involving heroin use rose from 10% to 12% and slipped back to around 9% last year. We are witnessing a growth in the evidence of access to and usage of cocaine and a levelling off in the area of heroin. The figures are provisional, but there seems to be a significant fall in the incidence of ecstasy offences as well.

Is there evidence to support the conventional wisdom that there is a strong correlation between drug abuse and the incidence of suicide among the young?

Mr. Kearney

I have not seen this featured in the research undertaken by the NACD coming to the Department at this stage, but we can check this for the Chairman. There may be some anecdotal material available, however.

Moving on, there was an announcement some months ago that the additional amounts of money the Department accessed from dormant accounts would be used, inter alia, for services for the disabled. Groups and individuals have told me that when it came to accessing the funds there did not appear to be any way of processing an application. Is this because there is a time lag between the announcement and the actual programme, or what is the position? If someone who is disabled, for example, wants an extension to his or her residence, does Mr.Kearney envisage that being covered? Or will the voluntary and statutory groups with responsibility for the disabled have to access funds in general?

Mr. Kearney

The Government has earmarked some €18 million of the fund for services in support of the disabled. These have to be additional to whatever services are already available. That is a requirement under the new legislation. The Department has been successful in pushing ahead with its end of it, which relates to general disadvantage. We have just received the recommendations from the Department of Health and Children that will now go before Government for initiatives to support people with disabilities. Subject to Government approval of those proposals, I anticipate that they will be the subject of a publicly advertised process to get under way within the next month or so.

It is correct to say that while the announcement has been made, the actual detailed scheme is not yet in place.

Mr. Kearney

That is correct. The programme has not been rolled out.

Without revealing any secrets as regards documents going to Cabinet, can Mr. Kearney indicate whether the approach will enable individuals to access funds? Will the accessing of funds be confined to either statutory or voluntary groups or will both options be available?

Mr. Kearney

I am not privy to the detail on this one, but I recall that in the original very general call for applications by the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board there was a phenomenal volume of applications and corresponding levels of disappointment as regards unsuccessful applications. Experience from that would encourage an approach towards using local groups as a conduit and a filter mechanism towards more development of collective applications. However, I honestly do not have knowledge on this aspect.

My third question has to do with the Department. How many people are employed and where do they work, from a geographic viewpoint? I see from the Vote that the Department has conducted an assessment of the potential as regards difficulties that might arise from decentralising the Department. Mr. Kearney might indicate what was discovered and the main lines of resistance.

Mr. Kearney

There are 259 posts in the Department's headquarters. The majority of serving staff, about 175, are located in Dublin, with about 50 in Na Forbacha and the balance comprising Leader inspectors, cigirí Gaeltachta and other staff across the rest of the country. The critical figures for the committee are those for the approximately 175 headquarters staff and the 50 or so staff in Na Forbacha. In terms of decentralisation, we are at the stage where we anticipate an initial move of approximately 70 posts to Tubbercurry later this year. The catalyst for the temporary move was the requirement that applied to the finance branch in the context of the sensitivity of its work and the need to let that work dovetail with the cycle of accounts, the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the accountability of this committee. Following from that decision and contacts with the decentralisation implementation group, we decided to increase the number to 70 staff, and we are proceeding well on that basis.

We carried out a series of risk management exercises, both in the context of our general obligations to introduce the system to the Department and particularly in regard to this individual initiative relating to decentralisation. The main issues arising include the danger to corporate knowledge from the massive turnover of staff involved. With regard to Knock, which is one of the critical moves, up to 90% of headquarters staff are leaving and being replaced by others.

Is that an actual figure? Have 90% of staff indicated——

Mr. Kearney

The figure is not less than 90%. We are talking about ten to 15 out of 160-odd staff, which is a fairly safe figure. Since the beginning of this year we have embarked on a comprehensive programme of transferring staff into the Department. We now have close to 30 staff in place to advance the temporary move. Our experience has been that the process is working quite well.

To touch on the point with regard to mitigation strategies, we are relying heavily on procedures manuals as basic information to advise new staff on the work of the sections. We are seeking to have periods of overlap between staff coming into the Department and staff moving out and we are also relying on training. However, a critical aspect is that it will be a phased move. It would be difficult to manage all of the turnover and change in one go. Doing it on a phased basis from now until the end of 2007 will give us time for adjustment and learning.

When Mr. Kearney refers to the hiring of staff by the Department, do the staff come from elsewhere in the public service?

Mr. Kearney

Yes. There is a high level of interest. Approximately 190 staff from other Departments have applied to transfer into the Department for the 160 posts that will transfer.

Has Mr. Glavey anything to add?

Mr. Glavey

No.

Is it agreed that we note Vote 27? Agreed. Is it agreed that chapter 8.1 be disposed of? Agreed. As there is no other business, we will conclude.

Our next meeting will be on Thursday, 27 April. The agenda is: 2004 annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and appropriation accounts, Vote 28 — Department of Foreign Affairs; and Vote 29 — International Co-operation, chapter 10.1, EU Presidency, and chapter 10.2, automated passport system.

The witnesses withdrew.

The committee adjourned at 2.05 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Thursday, 27 April 2006.