Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an mBille i bprionsabal. Ba mhaith liom freisin tréaslú leis an Aire mar gheall ar an modh daonlathach in ar thug sé an Bille os ár gcómhair. Má bhíonn sé ar chumas an Teachta Begley feabhas a chur air tré leasuithe, beidh áthas orm iad a bhreithniú. Ta súil agam go bhfuil sé dáirire. Má tá sé, beidh athrú mór ar an mBille sula rithfear é. Dúirt mé go n-aontaim leis an mBille i bprionsabal, agus is mór an prionsabal é údarás a chur ar bun chun an Ghaeltacht a neartú, ach is mór an difríocht idir an prionsabal agus an scéim atá le feiceáil sa Bhille seo.
We are dealing in this Bill with nothing more or less than a national emergency. It is an emergency whose dimensions are not immediately apparent to many people because they do not live with it but nonetheless it is an emergency. It is an emergency that is perhaps not so obvious to people, because the change that takes place in the characteristics of the Gaeltacht appears to be one that is taking place relatively slowly so that there is no particular need for haste or hurry. However, the particular characteristic of change as it affects the Gaeltacht and the people living in it is that it is more radical and less reversible than change in almost any other area of our national life.
It is a truism to say that without the Gaeltacht as such the Irish language will effectively cease to exist. It may exist in scattered households from one end of the country to the other but without a central point, without a series of living and vital communities in which it is established, real, ongoing and part of a tradition the language will become no more than a code spoken by mandarins to each other.
It is precisely because of this point that I must stress the seriousness of the crisis that the Gaeltacht is faced with today. It is a crisis which this Bill, in part, attempts to deal with, although we know that legislation alone cannot solve the problem. When we talk about this Bill we are not dealing with special legislative arrangements to make sure that a picturesque national minority does not become extinct. The people and the communities of the Gaeltacht may be a minority in a numerical sense but they are, and remain, the only authentic representatives of what was once the majority tradition on this island and of a tradition and a culture that is still officially, and more than officially in the hearts of the people of this island, something that is vital and that should be preserved.
I suspect that this is the ultimate rationale behind any legislation that seeks to cut across established lines of administration, of authority and of power, to set up a new organisation with new powers for the Gaeltacht. One could argue that if the situation was going well there would be no need for an Údarás na Gaeltachta or for Bord na Gaeilge, that if every citizen, every Government Department and every local authority played their role in full there would be no need for special provision for those parts of our island in which this tradition is a living, communitarian one. Of course this has not happened. Not everybody is playing a full part. Not every Government Depart-ment or local authority is playing a full part and, therefore, there is a need for emergency action.
If I might draw a parallel with the situation that developed in Northern Ireland in the years after 1969 it might be instructive to the House. The parallel is that involved with the creation of the Ministry of Community Relations in the North. Again, one could argue that if all the public authorities and individual citizens there had a sense of community relations there would be no reason for having a special department to deal with community relations. There was an emergency of a different kind there and the Ministry was set up to do the work that should have been an integral part of all the Ministries. There is a somewhat similar rationale for the setting up of Údarás na Gaeltachta here, although I hope they will be more successful in relation to their objectives than was the Ministry for Community Relations in the North.
There is always the danger that by setting up a specific authority for a specific purpose in an area like this in relation to culture or the Irish language it will afford people the opportunity or excuse of saying that they do not need to do anything about the Irish language and Irish culture, that it is a job for Údarás na Gaeltachta. The way to ensure that people do not do that is to make certain that Údarás na Gaeltachta are given sufficient powers to enable them to do their job properly. In three generations there may be no need for Údarás na Gaeltachta. If they have done their job properly, hopefully there will not be any need for them any more, but there is a great danger that the reason there will not be any need for Údarás na Gaeltachta in three generations is that the Gaeltacht will have died and that this will have happened because Údarás na Gaeltachta were not given adequate scope and powers to enable them to do their job properly.
Deputy Begley in relatively scathing terms referred to the sparseness of the powers conferred on Údarás na Gaeltachta by this Bill. In his opening remarks the Minister said that if Údarás na Gaeltachta after they have been constituted come to the conclusion that they require different powers and functions these can be conferred on them by Government order. I would have thought that we have been examining for long enough and have been familiar for long enough with the problems of the Gaeltacht to know in very broad terms what powers a real Gaeltacht authority would need and what powers could, in broad terms, be conferred on them as a first step in the Bill which leads to their establishment.
I recognise part of the Minister's intention. It is a gesture towards a democratic element on the Údarás, to the fact that people should in some sense have a right to make their democratic input to the structure and function of the Údarás. But that input is by no means a guarantee because it must go through the filter of the Department of the Gaeltacht and need not come through the filter of this House. To put it mildly, I am intrigued to note that part of the Minister's speech in which he says that statutory provisions may be modified by order, that that is to say that an Act may be amended without passing a new Act. The Minister goes on to say that this would not be done without the knowledge of the Dáil, that the draft of any order would have to be laid before the Dáil for approval. I should like to hear more from the Minister as to whether this is the first occasion on which a device of this kind by which legislation has to be amended by order has been laid before the House.
When we talk about the need of Údarás na Gaeltachta for real powers, we may specify a number of areas in which these powers are necessary. First, there is the cultural area and then there are the educational, planning, basic services, research and the industrial development areas. I am putting the industrial development area last deliberately because this is the only area that receives any treatment of a worthwhile nature so far as the Bill is concerned, but even in this respect there are some questions to be asked.
In relation to the cultural area the Bill is sadly deficient because section 8 (1) reads that An tÚdarás
shall encourage the preservation and extension of the use of Irish as a vernacular language in the Gaeltacht and shall ensure that Irish is used to the greatest extent possible in the performance by it and on its behalf of its functions.
With all respect that is perhaps the kind of phrase in a Bill which is like the directive principles of social policy in the Constitution. It has no legislative effect. It does not confer on the Udarás any power to ensure the achievement of the worthwhile objectives.
When we turn to the later sections of the Bill we find that effectively the main area and perhaps the only area in which the Údarás are empowered as a result of this Bill to provide financial assistance is in section 10 and that assistance is for industrial purposes. There is no provision whereby the Údarás can make financial provision for cultural purposes. Subsection (1) of section 9 reads that:
For the purpose of promoting the economic, social, cultural, linguistic and physical development of the Gaeltacht an tÚdarás shall have, in addition to the functions specified in this Act apart from this section, such powers as are conferred on it by order made by the Government.
These Government orders may provide for payments by an tÚdarás but the Bill does not empower the Údarás to spend money on anything that is not authorised in section 10 which is for the purpose of:
establishing, developing or maintaining industries and productive schemes of employment in the Gaeltacht....
The Minister will be aware that there has been considerable controversy during the past few years in relation to the competence of Bord na Gaeilge in terms of the expenditure of moneys in the Gaeltacht areas. To the best of my knowledge the effective governmental decision—and I know not nor care not whether it was a decision of the last administration as much as of this Government—is that Bord na Gaeilge activities and financial assistance should be located effectively outside the Gaeltacht areas. Therefore, we have Bord na Gaeilge who are not allowed, at least not to any appreciable extent, to spend money for cultural reasons inside the Gaeltacht while we are to have the new Údarás who may be allowed at some indefinite date in the future to spend an unspecified sum on the development and the culture of the Gaeltacht. In the meantime it is left to private organisations, like Gael Linn for example, to support, not necessarily by way of grant but so far as they can do so commensurate with their normal commercial activities, the priceless work of recalling and ensuring the continued availability and spread of the Gaeltacht culture. This is the sort of omission that should be remedied before the Bill leaves this House.
I wish to refer, too, to the educational area. During the debate on Bord na Gaeilge we discussed at some length the role of the Department of Education, and it is not my intention to repeat any of the points I made then. However, there are a couple of specific points in relation to which the Údarás should be given specific responsibility. For example, in the primary sphere an tÚdarás should be given, by way of whatever administrative mechanism is deemed to be appropriate, an effective veto on the amalgamation of Gaeltacht primary schools where such amalgamation would involve the transfer of Gaeltacht children outside the Gaeltacht or even to a breac Gaeltacht school. The small primary schools in the Gaeltacht should be given every possible subvention, and more than subvention, they need the kind of structural support which would enable them to resist amalgamation with neighbouring areas which are not Irish speaking or which are only part-Irish speaking.
In the post-primary and third-level areas it is more difficult to think of specific administrative and executive powers that could be conferred on the Údarás in order to enable them to do their job properly, but the over-riding consideration here should be that no Gaeltacht child be deprived of the right to a good education in Irish in his locality or within reasonable proximity to his locality. We have made two major mistakes in the past four or five decades in relation to our attitudes to schools and to the revival of Irish. The first was by concentrating on the schools and on the curriculum as a method for reviving Irish. We have allowed other sectors of society to go their own way unhampered and unhindered by any sense of responsibility for the language.
The second thing we have done, and successive Governments must bear the blame for this, is that we have failed to ensure what I am suggesting the Údaras should have the power to ensure, the availability of good education in Irish for everybody who needs it, above all the Gaeltacht areas but also I would argue outside them. The reason why we have failed to do this is that we have traditionally allowed the provision of education to be dictated with very few exceptions by whether private institutions of one kind or another choose to start schools.
If it should be necessary for the provision of good second level education through Irish for the children of a particular location the Údaras should have the power to establish such a school. I believe that successive Governments have fought shy of allowing any State body, such as the Department of Education, the Department of the Gaeltacht or any semi-State body, such as An Údarás na Gaeltachta as envisaged here, directly to establish schools because that would involve challenging the existing structure of education. It would involve in some cases at least setting up competition between State-owned and privately-owned schools.
In the case of the survival and development of the Irish language above all, there has been an overwhelming argument in favour of the establishment by the State and its agencies of high quality Irish language schools wherever they are needed, inside and outside the Gaeltacht. In so far as inside the Gaeltacht is concerned, I believe the Údarás should be given the facility and the power, and where necessary the money, to establish a school if they believe it to be necessary. No doubt there would have to be some overall con-trol, some interface, as the in-word has it, with the Department of Education on this matter. But to leave them without any function in the area of education is to neutralise any good effect that the establishment of an tÚdarás may have.
The third area to which I want to refer is the planning area. This is vital because a Gaeltacht is not just a line drawn on the map. It is a Community. It is a collection of homes, families, shops, pubs and churches where the Irish language is habitually spoken. If it is not all these things, ultimately it is not a Gaeltacht, no matter where the lines may be drawn on the map, or what the role of an tÚdaras may be.
It is impossible to consider the operation of the planning laws without coming to the conclusion that, very often with the best will in the world, the operation of these laws has been such as seriously to threaten the existence of some relatively small Gaeltacht communities.
The social disruption in any western, south western or north western rural community which is caused by the building of large numbers of houses or factories is a matter of fact, but when the social disruption is accompanied by a linguistic disruption we must be doubly on our guard. If you put 50 or 80 houses into a Gaeltacht area, whether they are for permanent or even summer occupation, and if these houses are to be occupied for the most part by people whose normal language is English, it will be inevitable that in a very short space of time the language of commerce, of the pub, and of the church of that area will change. Irish will retreat to the heartside and eventually will be extinguished there as well.
That is why there is a very strong case to be made for allowing an tÚdarás to exercise in the Gaeltacht areas the planning powers that are currently exercised by the local authorities for those areas. This is a problem that will have to be faced sooner or later. I have no doubt but that the Minister will eventually receive a request of this kind from the new Údarás when it is established. This is all the more reason why we should face it now, because the longer we delay facing it the more damage will be done.
The fourth area I want to refer to is in connection with basic services. One of the main problems affecting the development of the Gaeltacht is not just the absence of basic services but very often a whole series of unresolved conflicts between different statutory authorities about who has responsibility of providing these services. Whether is it a pier at Rossaveel or anything else, the needed development of a Gaeltacht area can be held up for months, if not for years, while the buck is passed from the Department of the Gaeltacht to the Department of the Environment, to the local county council, to the local TDs and back again. It goes round and round in a complete merry-go-round. Development is delayed and ultimately the Gaeltacht suffers. The development of basic infrastructure and services in the Gaeltacht is too important to be left to this haphazard, who pays for it, passing the buck kind of idea. This is where the Údarás should have a role in the preservation and development of the Gaeltacht communities.
The fifth point I would like to discuss is the area of research. This is a fundamentally important area because, while research is sometimes used as an excuse for putting things on the long finger, it is also an essential in the establishment of priorities. Under the Bill an tÚdarás have the right to employ consultants but I suggest that this right is not broad enough, because they should have the right to establish their own research section so that the relationship between the priorities they are establishing and the evaluation of the work that is going on is a constant one, and one which works to the benefit of an tÚdarás and of the communities which they are trying to help.
My sixth point is on the industrial side. Here there is, unfortunately, more than a little evidence to support Deputy Begley's contention that what we have in the present Bill, as unamended, is no more than Gaeltarra Eireann with knobs on. We must look in the light of this assertion at the track record of Gaeltarra Éireann and ask whether enough is being done to ensure that the future industrial development of the Gaeltacht is brought hand in hand with the cultural, social and physical development of the Gaeltacht for which an tÚdarás is being given responsibility and no power. The traditional jibe against certain people is that they seek power without responsibility. Here we are being given an tÚdarás which is being given responsibility without power.
When one looks at the composition of an tÚdarás one wonders whether such an údarás without a permanent research service will be able to evaluate sufficiently the industrial projects which will come up for attention and authorisation. Even Gaeltarra which has a fair amount of professional expertise and a fair amount of professional help had its financial fingers severely burned in the recent past by developments which did not take off as they were supposed to take off. The risk of the same sort of thing happening under an Údarás must be a very real one.
The other aspect of all this is the economic development of the Gaeltacht in certain circumstances can contribute to a shift away from Irish towards English directly opposite from the way in which it was supposed to operate. Here, too, is a problem with which the new udarás will have to come to terms no matter how it is constituted. We might leave to Committee Stage the question of the arrangement of the constituencies. It could be argued that no Administration which put Galway, Mayo and Meath into one constituency can have anything further to complain about in the activities of the former Minister for Local Government, Deputy Tully. There is almost an argument for saying that, if you are to have widely geographically spread constituencies, the one widely spread geographical area which has common cause and perhaps needs its own representation is the area comprised by the islands. They are already united in many respects. They share many similar problems and might form a powerful, cohesive and coherent force within the new údarás if they were allowed to become one.
Many of the other points of detail will remain to be raised by us, and I would hope to be listened to constructively by the Minister, on Committee and Report Stages. At this stage I must warn the Minister and the House that the great danger of creating an Údarás with responsibility and without power is that it will provide the people of the island as a whole with an excuse for not doing anything to save that which is most dear to them when they admit it in their heart of hearts.