Priority Questions.

Community Development.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

100 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will guarantee realistic funding to partnership boards for the next five years; if he is committed to the partnership structure being retained; if his decision to step down the existing board of ADM has implications for the funding of partnerships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7742/04]

Marian Harkin

Ceist:

102 Ms Harkin asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason he proposes to change the board of Area Development Management Limited and replace it with his own appointees. [7915/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 102 together.

I have no specific plans to alter the partnership structure or approach fundamentally to local and community development. However, the number and complexity of structures now involved is both extensive and complex and these arrangements can be confusing and present difficulties for the communities they are designed to serve. This is the reason for the review of the local and community development delivery structures, which I undertook with my colleagues, the Ministers for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I informed the House previously that, arising from the review, community and local development groups were asked to bring forward measures for improved alignment of structures in their respective areas by mid-year. This process will be co-ordinated by the local county and city development boards.

With regard to funding of partnership companies, Deputies will be aware that Area Development Management Limited, ADM, manages the local development social inclusion programme on behalf of my Department. ADM is appraising implementation plans for 2004-2006 and programmes of activities for 2004 from partnerships and community groups. Decisions on funding allocations for 2004 will be made by ADM in due course. Changes to the way in which the board of ADM is selected will not of themselves have implications for the funding of partnerships.

The Government appreciates the key role that ADM has had and continues to undertake in the delivery of successful local development services and programmes. The Government especially appreciates the work and commitment of board members, past and present, individually and collectively, in contributing to the many achievements of the company.

The Indecon report, which is available on my Department's website, noted that ADM continues to perform well across key areas. However, the report also noted the context in which ADM operates has changed significantly since its inception — in particular, a shift from EU to Exchequer funding — and identified accountability issues arising from current structures. The report also proposed options to address these issues, among them that the Government would appoint the board, including the chairman

The Government accepted the broad thrust of the report and that ADM should be restructured to better reflect the context and priorities that now obtain. I wrote to the chairman of the board seeking his co-operation and that of the board in giving effect to the Government decision on this matter and I followed this up through a meeting with him and the chief executive. I recently received a reply confirming the board's willingness to co-operate fully in the process of change arising from the Government decision. These changes will provide the company with an opportunity to enhance its key role in support and delivery of Government programmes to enable communities to tackle the problems of disadvantage.

I welcome the Minister's clarification of the issue. Does he accept partnership has played a major role in issues such as adult education and transport for the elderly in areas such as my own of Latton but that the budgetary position is so unclear that long-term commitments cannot be made? For instance, the Minster launched the transport initiative last year but the Lattion partnership received the same budget for nine months in 2003 as it did for 12 months this year.

That is unworkable. It is being asked also to take responsibility for other areas. It finds it cannot plan on the education front.

A question please, Deputy.

At a recent meeting with the group it raised the issue of a financial commitment to a five year programme which would give it certainty and security.

The Minister indicated that he has written requesting the chairman and other board members of ADM to vacate their positions. Is that not indicative of a political decision on who should serve on the board of ADM?

I have made it clear that it will be a political decision. As we have discussed and on most occasions agreed, we are elected to make decisions and manage Government expenditure.

Not to create quangos.

ADM exists. Is the Deputy proposing its dissolution?

The Minister is proposing to change the board.

I am proposing, with the agreement of the board of ADM, to nominate three people to the board. I am charged with responsibility for managing the expenditure of the Exchequer funds provided for my Department and I do not see anything strange in the Minister having an input into decisions on spending money provided by his Department.

Deputy Crawford asked whether ADM will receive a guaranteed allocation for a five year period. In my reply I referred to the three year plan from 2004 to 2006 which coincides with the second part of the national development plan. As the Deputy will be aware, this House decides on the Estimates each year and, therefore, there may be adjustments from year to year but, subject to that, a three year programme will be agreed.

The Deputy referred to adult education and rural transport, but neither are funded primarily by my Department. Rural transport is funded by the Department of Transport and it uses ADM and the partnerships as a vehicle for delivering its work. I understand that the same amount of money is available this year as was available last year. Similarly, the Department of Education and Science has responsibility for educational funding, including adult education.

The Minister referred a moment ago to those who are elected to make decisions. Is the Minister trying to reverse the major advances in participative democracy, whereby local people contribute and influence local plans and whereby independent boards, free from political interference, distribute the funding?

Is the Minister kowtowing to the wishes of local councillors and others who simply want to be the first with the news of the grant and so on, to have the letter the day before the announcement and perpetuate a system of client list politics? Does the Minister want to bring us back to the 1950s and 1960s where members of any voluntary, community or self-help group had to knock on the door of the local politician with their hand outstretched and saying, "Please, sir, can I have some funding"?

Does the Minister accept that ADM was established by the European Union because it recognised that an independent body free from political influence was required to distribute the money? The Minister quoted from the letter sent to some of the chief executives, a copy of which I have, referring to the major changes that have taken place, but does he accept that the major change is the shift from EU to Exchequer funding, and that is the reason for the changes he proposes to implement?

Certainly — there is no question. Indecon pointed out in its report that the structures in ADM were set up because of EU regulations. It is incorrect to say that the EU set up ADM but it is true that the EU, as co-funding body, insisted on rules for spending money which are no longer relevant as the body is now 100% State-funded. The role of ADM has changed somewhat as a result and, in the light of that, Indecon, an independent body, recommended that we change the structure of ADM. I am not proposing to nominate people directly on to the partnerships or any other such changes. The partnerships will continue as before.

ADM is an intermediate body which provides many services for the State. Partnerships and service to partnerships is just one. It also delivers and manages the child care programme, the rural transport programme and the taxi hardship fund. This body is able to deliver on a number of State services and I expect that role to grow in future because, as explained previously, the Government has decided that, rather than establishing new bodies to perform new functions, existing bodies should be used. ADM is one of the multifunctional bodies that can take on different roles as the State decides and, in that case, it is not strange that the Minister nominates the board.

I have always acted properly and in accordance with the legislation. The Deputy would want to read the legislation before jumping to conclusions as to whether I acted properly. I am happy that, in every case, I have acted properly in regard to the boards that answer to me.

I do not suggest for a moment that the Minister does not act properly, but Ministers may change and one never knows who will be in office. Has the outgoing board failed to deliver or are there other reasons for the structural changes in ADM?

The Minister referred to EU rules on funding. Does he accept that those rules were good and we should keep them because no organisation is 100% perfect? According to the Minister's blurb, ADM has performed efficiently and would he not accept, therefore, that we should keep the organisation we have?

I am happy with ADM, but everything can change and improve and circumstances change. The role and circumstances of ADM are shifting quite rapidly. Where jobs need to be done for the State in future, they will be done by ADM. That is different from the original role which was purely to deal with co-funded schemes. It was suggested by independent consultants that, given the changed role, the structures would change. That is reasonable.

Most politicians find it frustrating that they are saddled with the blame when things go wrong, even if they do not have control or the power to nominate members to boards. We are saddled with the blame if decisions do not go the way the people want them to go. I am a great believer that those elected who serve in Government have a responsibility for departmental expenditure. To put such a distance between the Government and the body responsible for spending money that the Government loses control is to detach the people from their money. I do not think it is right to detach the taxpayers' from their money.

Irish Language.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

101 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the proposals he has to form a task force for the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7739/04]

As I announced recently, I intend to establish an Irish language advisory committee, coiste comhairleach na Gaeilge, and to appoint the members of the committee before Easter. The State and those organisations working with it to promote the Irish language should have a clear vision of their role and a practical plan which sets out their role in promoting the language.

The role of the advisory committee will be to advise me on the advisability of preparing a 20 year strategic plan with realistic goals for the Irish language in the State, the short-term strategic priorities for the preservation and promotion of the Irish language within the State, the priorities regarding the implementation of the Official Languages Act, and the best and most practical ways to achieve progress in the implementation of that work. Arising from that, it is hoped that there will be an integrated approach among the main community and State organisations that promote the Irish language.

The advisory committee will not prepare a report but will advise me on Irish language policy. I anticipate that the committee will also assist in bringing a greater degree of co-ordination to the work of the various parties engaged in supporting and promoting the Irish language.

I understand the Minister was present at Tóstal na Gaeilge in Galway recently where Dr. Peadar Ó Flatharta was quoted to the effect that the lack of a national policy meant the work of language maintenance had lost focus and energy. He said Government had to draft a national policy for the language and referred to the urgent need to rethink entirely the State's Irish language infrastructure. While I would normally welcome the establishment of an advisory committee or board, Dr. Ó Flatharta was looking for something more. He sought the establishment of a task force. A task force is given a task, which in this case should be to draft a new policy for the language.

With coiste comhairleach na Gaeltachta we found we were able to get the various players around a table. Not only did those who promoted ideas participate in putting them forward, they were also the players who would have to implement them. The danger with grandiose plans — and we have seen some of those in this House — is that while they may include everything, they may have been made without the engagement of the bodies who will have to deliver on them. I have been able to move forward so fast with the Coimisiúin na Gaeltachta report because I brought the players around the table when its implementation was being discussed.

My intention in this case is to establish the coiste comhairleach. Its members will be there to represent organisations rather than as individuals. I will try to get the key players around a table to provide a concerted view as to how we shall proceed. The national policy of successive Governments has been to extend the daily use of Irish. As we all know where we would like to be, the question is how to get there. While the coiste might not solve all our problems, it might give us some idea of the proper steps to be taken to achieve our goal.

While I acknowledge everything the Minister has said, there is an urgency about coming up with a national policy. The point Dr. Ó Flatharta made was that we should rethink the entire State infrastructure. It does not necessarily follow that those who are part of the current infrastructure should be the ones to draft a new policy. There is a great deal to be said for putting together a group which has a commitment to the language but whose members do not belong to the existing infrastructure. Clearly, the current structures have failed to deliver anything like what we would all like to see.

The committee will simply advise on policy. My Department will draft it as it is responsible for policy making. It is a good idea to obtain the advice and criticism of the various players to whom one will turn to implement a policy. While a policy drawn up on the basis of an academic exercise might be fantastic in theory, it may fail to recognise the limited nature of resources, focus and power. It is vital when drafting policy to take on board the views of the various players involved. The committee will be made up of representatives of the statutory agencies, including Foras na Gaeilge. We will also look to Irish language organisations for their input through Comhdháil Naisiunta na Gaeilge.

We will bring statutory and non-statutory bodies together and they will give their advice. The policy, however, must be drawn up by the Government, which has that responsibility.

While I acknowledge what the Minister is saying, I strongly put to him the view that the task force should draft a policy. The Government may then endorse, reject or amend it. A task force which introduces fresh thinking will yield the best result in terms of a draft policy. The task force should be set the objective of coming up with a draft policy within a certain time frame. The process the Minister has outlined this evening is one which will continue indefinitely while producing nothing original or worthwhile.

I find it strange that the Deputy should say that. I heard the same criticism when I established the coiste comhairleach na Gaeltachta to implement the recommendations of the report of Coimisiúin na Gaeltachta. I was checking yesterday and discovered that significant progress has been made on a great number of those recommendations.

All of us stand for election and some of us might remember when we did so for the first time. We all had policies and we were entering politics to implement new ideas.

That was 20 years ago.

It was not for me, thanks be to God.

Then the Minister's policies are old-fashioned.

We come to this House and then say we should switch off those ideas and ask someone who was not elected to think some up. While I am always open to new ideas, I entered this House because I already had ideas I wanted to act on. I can point to many ideas I had about the islands, Gaeltachtaí and Gaeilge which I have put into force since becoming Minister. My answer to Deputy O'Shea is that I entered politics to implement the ideas I picked up and which I put before the electorate. While I am open to a good idea from any source, be it a person on the street or a group, I became a politician to implement the vision my colleagues and I had for the country.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

103 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason he believes the dormant accounts disbursement board should not distribute all dormant fund account moneys in view of the fact that other independent State agencies are permitted to allocate moneys without Government involvement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7743/04]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

104 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the organisations to which money has been disbursed from the dormant accounts fund; the amount of money in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7740/04]

On a point of order, I do not mean any disrespect to the Minister of State, but I thought the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, would answer these questions as he addressed them on radio.

That is not a point of order.

I live nearer to RTE.

I would appreciate answers from the Minister to supplementary questions

Decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are currently a matter for the dormant accounts disbursement board. The board is an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. The board is currently deciding how to disburse up to €30 million. At its meetings on 19 December 2003 and 17 February 2004, the board approved 18 projects for funding totalling approximately €1.7 million. The details of these approvals, including the names of the individual organisations involved as well as the specific grant amounts follow in tabular form. The board will next meet on 16 March 2004 when it is anticipated that a further list of projects will be submitted to it.

Given the emerging size of the fund, existing legislative provision is inadequate. Shortcomings are evident on a number of fronts. There is no explicit provision for a properly developed organisational structure to support the board. Current arrangements, which involve a handful of seconded civil servants in a secretariat role, are not designed to support disbursements on the scale now emerging. Existing provision requires that a part-time chairman should be wholly accountable for expenditure running into hundreds of million of euros which is, clearly, unsustainable. Existing arrangements do not adequately support the aligning of expenditure by the dormant accounts board with policy priorities debated in this House and approved by Government.

If we are serious about tackling disadvantage, we must target resources. There is a considerable wealth of expertise and practical experience residing in public bodies which routinely deal with areas of disadvantage and disability. Current arrangements do not adequately allow this key resource to inform decisions on expenditure from the fund. These alone were the reasons the Government reviewed arrangements for dormant accounts in December 2003. In view of these issues, it was apparent there were two possible routes that could be followed. One was to set up an independent agency with a large staff, CEO, offices etc., to administer the fund. The other was to use the existing mechanisms of State and accounting procedures, including accounting officers of different Departments, to support clear criteria, a transparent application process, and rigorous evaluation of projects.

The first approach would have led to an inordinate amount of the fund being dissipated on administration. Implicit in the second route, using existing agencies was the requirement that Departments or their agencies would support and inform the disbursement of funds. The advantage of using the existing infrastructure of State to carry out this work is that much less of the money than otherwise would be the case will be spent on overheads and administration, and the benefit or the expertise of the whole State system will be available for the evaluation of projects. Under this, legal responsibility for decisions would ultimately lie with the relevant Minister and accounting responsibility with the relevant accounting officers.

The objectives of the disbursements scheme — as set out in the board's first disbursement plan — will remain unchanged. It is focused on funding to assist programmes or projects targeting three broad categories of persons, namely, those affected by economic and social disadvantage, those affected by educational disadvantage, and persons with a disability.

As regards the integrity of the proposed future system for disbursement, it is important to note that the Government decision of December 2003 provides that decisions in this area would be taken following a transparent application and evaluation process. With regard to the board itself, the Government proposes key roles for it, with particular regard to advising on priority areas to be considered annually for funding, and preparation of the disbursement plan.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Furthermore, the board will critically assess the additionality and impact of spend on a regular basis. This is of critical importance and arrangements will be put in place to ensure that spending under the Dormant Accounts Board will be kept separate from the normal Estimates process, so that additionality can be verified. Draft legislation is to be brought forward this year with a view to giving effect to these decisions. I expect the draft legislation will be published over the coming months. The proposed improved arrangements will lead to much better governance and improved impact and will secure and enhance accountability to the Oireachtas.

List of Approved Grants

Group/Organisation

Grant (€)

Proposal Description

St. Paul’s Scout Unit, Lisduggan, Waterford

95,000

Scout hall renovation

South Westmeath Literacy Scheme, Athlone

17,500

Assistance for After Schools Programme

Mountmellick Development Association

60,333

Building renovations to ensure accessibility for persons with a disability

Sligo County Council

117,800

Development of urban regeneration plan for Cranmore area

Leitrim County Council

40,000

Renovations to Drumshanbo outdoor swimming pool

North Cork Adult Basic Education Service, Mallow

49,331

Education programme for adults who missed out on second-level education

Mallow Daycare Centre, Cork

6,030

Provision of furniture for daycare extension

Tralee Community Development Project Ltd., Kerry

199,912

Refurbishment of first floor of centre

Monsignor McCarthy Steering Committee, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

110,300

Renovations to existing community recreational facility

Merchants Quay Project, Dublin 8

157,709

Managing drug-related neighbourhood programme

Wexford Borough Council

160,000

Provision of three play areas within local disadvantaged estates

Crosscare Aftercare Support Unit, Dublin 7

103,000

Development of community programmes to benefit young people

Youghal Youth Committee (Foroige), Co. Cork

137,271

Programme enabling at risk young people achieve optimum benefit from school

National Adult Literacy Agency, Dublin 1

69,555

Develop literacy CD

Mayfield Employment Action Project Ltd., Old Youghal Road, Co. Cork

10,462

Conduct study of community education needs

Tallaght West Education Support Forum, Dublin 34

48,300

Training programme for isolated women

Co. Wexford Community Workshop, Enniscorthy

250,000

Provision of sports facility for persons with a disability

Irish Rural Link, Moate, Co. Westmeath

45,110

Building renovations to ensure accessibility for persons with a disability

Total Grants (€):

1,677,612

No of Approvals: 18

I have never heard such rubbish in all my life. It is clear that ADM has the full knowledge and support of the community and voluntary sectors. As the board stands, ADM assesses all applications. An assistant secretary from the Minister of State's Department is a member of the board. Therefore, the Department is fully cognisant and knowledgeable in every aspect of the decisions the board takes.

The Minister of State has given us a list detailing how the board has disbursed €1.6 million. It was notified to the public and Members at the same time. When the Minister of State brings forward his legislation, this will become the Minister's stroke list. It will then be for the Minister to decide and his deputies will inform the public. The credibility of the applications will be in question as it will become a slush fund. In 2001 the Minister for Finance said this should not be allowed to become a slush fund. Is the Minister of State not ashamed about what he is doing? Does he not feel it is disgraceful that he will manipulate and stroke €400 million so that the Minister and his minions on the county councils will inform community groups that they have been so good to them?

Certainly not. If the Deputy listened to my answer, he would have heard the factual position.

It is a load of rubbish.

ADM is currently carrying out the processing.

It has the full knowledge of community groups. What is wrong with this?

Order, please. Please allow the Minister of State to continue.

ADM carries out the processing. We could have done this another way and set up a——

It could have been left alone.

The Deputy had his say. We might have left it alone. However, in three or four years' time the Comptroller and Auditor General would complain that the system is deficient. The system that was set up was not sufficient for the fund that is available. We are using ADM to process the cases. Spending and accounting for the money is a different matter. There must be proper management, governance and procedures. This is down the road.

While we could have done this by establishing a new body, all parties have often said there are too many organisations and independent bodies duplicating work that could be carried out with the expertise within Departments and State organisations. We should be careful about setting up new organisations. We have looked at this matter and consider the best way to proceed is to use the skill and expertise of Departments and their accounting officers.

From the Government's perspective, what was set up was deficient. The part-time chairman would be accountable for large funds.

The part-time chairman happened to be a senior barrister.

He may well be, and while I am not casting any doubt on his ability, he was part-time. A proper structure is required when we are spending, controlling and governing a couple of hundred million euros. This is what we are trying to do.

It is sad that by 9 March 2004 only €1.6 million has been disbursed. There is obviously a problem. To paraphrase Deputy McCreevy when the legislation was before the House, the dormant accounts disbursement board was put in place to prevent these moneys becoming a slush fund. It cannot be denied that this was seen to be the fairest method.

I do not agree that the board cannot be strengthened. There is also a cost factor if civil servants in other Departments are working on these applications. The State is already paying for their time. The public sees this for what it is. The money in question belongs to the community and is not Exchequer money in any sense. Many of the people that held these accounts are dead and there are no apparent heirs.

If there is a deficiency in the operation of the board, and there obviously is, it will not be solved by giving the final decision to the Government. Will the recommendations go to Cabinet where it will add to or take from them? The statement indicated the Government will make the decisions. Does this mean the Cabinet will take the final decisions or will it be the Minister? Whatever way it emerges, this is the wrong road to travel. The Government saw the crock of gold and decided to grab it so that it could manipulate votes at election times.

Hear, hear.

That is entirely untrue. The board ran advertisements and has allocated €1.6 million. It has the authority to allocate up to €30 million within the year. Last year, it spent some months in drawing up a disbursement plan that was submitted to the Department and approved. There are no difficulties and the applications are being processed.

The role of the board will change. However, it will still advise Government and review, evaluate and monitor allocations. We will have the best of both worlds.

That is exactly it.

The Government will have a slush fund for spending on projects in constituencies with marginal seats.

We will use the expertise of Departments and State agencies. The independent board will monitor and evaluate this and report to the Government on it. The disbursement plan will continue to be the board's plan. I do not see the concerns.

Who will inform the groups?

That concludes priority questions.

On a point of order, am I not entitled to a supplementary question?

Only if time permits and it ran out.

The Minister of State was talking such rot that we could not——

Who will inform the community groups in this new scheme of things? Will it be the Minister of State?

The Chair has called Question No. 105.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, allow us that supplementary question. The Minister of State wants to answer the question.

That is the key question.

We can discuss this when the legislation is taken. As I understand——

That will be lovely. I like that one.

Different agencies will be used. If that is the Opposition's only objection to the whole scheme——

That is the Minister of State's objection.

——we will allow it to do so now and again.

The people will resolve this. The Minister of State's arrogance is unacceptable.

He is beginning to believe it himself.