I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Cúis áthais dom an deis seo a fháil chun an Bille um Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta (Forálacha Inghnéitheacha) 2007 a chur in bhur láthair. Is é bunchuspóir an Bhille ná bonn comhtháite reachtúil a chinntiú don raon leathan feidhmeanna agus dualgas a thagann faoi mo choimirce mar Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta. Dá réir sin, féachann an Bille le mandáid reachtúil níos soiléire a dhaingniú do na feidhmeanna uile a aistríodh ar bhonn Ionstraimí Reachtúla nó Orduithe Aistriú Feidhmeanna, mar aon leis na cláracha nua a tionscnaíodh, ó bunaíodh mo Roinnse i Meitheamh 2002.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to bring the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 before Dáil Éireann and to outline its main provisions. Members of the House will note that this is a short Bill, with a total of nine sections, and that many of the provisions reflected in the Bill are primarily of a technical nature. The main purpose of the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 is to confirm and secure an integrated statutory basis for the broad range of functions and responsibilities of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Essentially, the Bill aims to secure a more coherent statutory mandate for functions previously transferred to the Minister by way of statutory instrument and transfer of functions orders, with new programmes introduced since the establishment of my Department in June 2002. In addition to this, a number of technical amendments to existing legislation are also proposed in the Bill.
The objectives and key features of the Bill, including the technical amendments to existing legislation, will confirm the powers, functions and responsibilities of the Minister. The Bill will also provide for the inclusion in the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 of section 18 of the Western Development Commission Act 1998 and amend section 8(5) of the Western Development Commission Act 1998, raising to €1 million the limit of financial or other material aid to enterprises or projects, which the Western Development Commission can provide without the consent of the Minister. Section 2(4) of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003 will be amended in respect of transport services for island students, while sections 3(1)(b) and 3(1)(c) of that Act will be amended to clarify the Minister’s remit regarding specified functions in respect of new aerodromes and ancillary facilities connected with the provision of air services between the islands and the mainland. The Bill aims to repeal the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts from 1949 to 2002.
I will now outline on a section by section basis the key aspects of the Bill. In line with the main purpose of the Bill which is to confirm the statutory basis for the broad range of functions and responsibilities coming within the remit of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, section 2 sets out a range of functions that are and are deemed always to have been functions of the Minister. Members will note that the range of functions outlined includes community development, voluntary activity and philanthropy, rural development and the co-ordination of the national drugs strategy. Functions outlined also cover the Irish language, including the co-ordination of policy in this regard, the development of the Gaeltacht and the islands, and North-South co-operation within the ambit of these functions, including matters relating to Ulster Scots heritage, culture and language. This provision is without prejudice to the generality of any other provision of the Bill or any other enactment conferring functions on the Minister. In other words, the provision in the Bill does not affect any other existing statutory provisions in relation to the functions of the Minister. In addition, section 2 of the Bill provides for powers to develop, implement, maintain, expand or terminate any scheme that, in the Minister's opinion, supports or promotes the functions set out in the Bill.
It should be noted that section 2 does not seek to limit or assume in any way the powers, functions and responsibilities of other Ministers or State agencies or bodies. Accordingly, there is provision in the Bill for appropriate consultation with other Ministers.
Responsibility for rural development falls within the remit of my Department. One of the bodies falling within the ambit of my Department is the Western Development Commission, WDC. In line with the requirements of the Department of Finance regarding the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and the WDC, I have taken the opportunity in the Bill to provide in section 3 for the inclusion in the Third Schedule to the Freedom of Information Act 1997 of section 18 of the Western Development Commission Act 1998. Essentially, the effect is that this provision which relates to a prohibition on the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information can no longer be cited as grounds for refusing access to records sought under the Freedom of Information Acts. This section of the Bill provides for greater transparency and will enable the public have access to Western Development Commission records previously unavailable to them.
Section 4 also relates to the Western Development Commission. As the Deputies will be aware, the commission was established under the Western Development Commission Act 1998 to promote the economic and social development of the western region. This Act requires that direct assistance provided by the commission shall be in the form of the purchase of shares in share capital and the provision of loans, but excluding grant aid. The commission is unique among State agencies in that it provides such venture capital by means of its own investment vehicle, the western investment fund.
Section 8(5) of the Western Development Commission Act 1998 provides that:
Financial or other material aid provided to enterprises or projects by the Commission shall be in such form and subject to such terms and conditions as may be determined from time to time (at such times as may be specified by the Minister) by the Commission with the consent of the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance, and the amount thereof, in the case of any particular enterprise or project, shall not exceed £250,000 (€317,434) without the consent in writing of the Minister.
The figure of £250,000 provided for in the 1998 legislation was set down at a time when fewer projects were being approved for funding by the Western Development Commission. Given inflation and the increasing number of projects funded by the commission that now exceed the £250,000 value, I have decided in section 4 to provide for the raising to €1 million of the limit for financial or other material aid to enterprises or projects which the commission can provide without seeking the formal consent of the Minister. It is my view that the proposed new limit will provide for a more efficient and streamlined project approval process.
I now propose to deal with sections 5, 6 and 7. As I have previously stated, I am taking the opportunity in the Bill to make a number of technical amendments to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003. Section 5 provides for the amendment of section 2 of the 2003 Act and will enable my Department to pay subsidies in respect of travel by island students to second level schools on the mainland which are outside the radius of 120km of the terminus currently provided for. This will enable my Department to address issues that have arisen in respect of students on Inishbofin. My Department had been subsidising, as part of the Inishbofin subsidised ferry service, a bus service on Sunday and Friday afternoons between Cleggan Pier and St. Jarlath's College, Tuam, which is within the aforementioned 120 km radius of Cleggan. Within the past couple of years, however, St. Jarlath's College has ceased taking first year boarders, which means that students from Inishbofin now attend Garbally College, Ballinasloe. This has created a difficulty in that Garbally College lies outside the 120 km radius of Cleggan, thus prohibiting payment of a subsidy in respect of the bus service to that location. It would only be in exceptional circumstances such as this that my Department would be required to use the provision proposed in the Bill. Any regulations made in respect of such cases would be made following consultation with the Minister for Education and Science and with the consent of the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Transport.
In the Bill I am also providing for the amendment of section 3 of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003. This amendment is provided for in section 6 and will clarify the Minister's remit in respect of specified functions relating to both existing and new aerodromes and ancillary facilities connected with the provision of air services between the islands and the mainland.
My Department recently took legal advice on the use of the words "any such" in section 3(1)(b) and (c) in the 2003 Act and the advice was that this wording could be deemed to restrict the Minister to performing these functions solely in respect of existing aerodromes acquired in accordance with section 3(1)(a) of the 2003 Act.
The Bill provides for the repeal of the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts from 1949 to 2002, following the transfer of the State shareholding in the former commercial State body Arramara Teoranta to Údaras na Gaeltachta with effect from 16 October 2006. Alginate Industries (Ireland) Limited was established in 1947 as a company limited by shares and changed its name to Arramara Teoranta by certificate in 1955. The principal activity of the company is to produce seaweed meal for use in the alginate industry. The State's involvement arose from the acquisition of shares in the company, as provided for in the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts, over a period from 1949 to 2002. In 2006 the Government decided to transfer its shareholding in Arramara Teoranta which is located in the Connemara Gaeltacht at Cill Chiaráin to Údaras na Gaeltachta, the State body with responsibility for the overall economic development of the Gaeltacht. It is within this context that the repeal of the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts 1949 to 2002 is proposed.
It is my view that the transfer of Arramara Teoranta to Údaras na Gaeltachta has been very positive for the body. Arramara Teoranta's seaweed business is a good fit with Údaras na Gaeltachta's focus upon indigenous and natural resources in the Gaeltacht generally. As a result of this action, Údaras na Gaeltachta now holds the entire shareholding of the company and its stewardship will offer scope for expansion of the existing business into more value-added products. In the longer term this move will achieve optimum coherence regarding State investment in industry in the Gaeltacht, in addition togreater flexibility in regard to the development and future of Arramara.
In addition to facilitating a number of amendments to existing legislation, the legislative proposals will provide a firm and more coherent statutory basis for the wide-ranging functions and responsibilities currently assigned to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
I thank my colleagues, Deputies McGinley and O'Shea, for agreeing to take all Stages of this primarily technical Bill today and look forward to the debate on its provisions.