Other Questions.

Tourism Industry.

Brian Hayes

Ceist:

6 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism whether he has consulted with the Department of Finance regarding the implications of section 74 of the Finance Bill 2008 in respect of car hire on tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10956/08]

I am aware that VRT relief on cars used in the short-term car hire industry was introduced in the Finance Act 1992 and amended subsequently in 1993, 1994 and 1998. The measure is aimed at boosting supply of hired cars to facilitate the development of the tourism industry.

I am advised by my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, that the measure has been abused by some in the car hire and leasing industries as a tax avoidance measure to support a range of business models that have nothing to do with the tourism industry. Accordingly, the Finance Bill 2008 introduces an amendment to tighten up the application of the existing policy and to restrict such abuse, while still facilitating the availability of vehicles for the tourism industry generally.

I understand that, in the course of debate on Committee Stage in the Dáil on the Finance Bill, the Tánaiste indicated the Revenue Commissioners could defer implementation of the amendment as an administrative arrangement until September 2008. This would allow the sector some time to regularise its current position in order that it be fully compliant with the requirements of the legislation for the 2009 season. The concession will not apply in the case of abuses of the VRT refund scheme or the application of the current VAT rules.

I understand the Tánaiste also offered to consult with the car hire trade to determine whether its concerns warrant changes to meet the objective of the short-term car hire scheme in respect of the tourism sector, while excluding the possibility of abuse and if so, what changes would be required. I have asked my Department, having regard to any significant tourism impacts that may be identified, to monitor and, if appropriate, assist in any consultations engaged in by the Department of Finance.

I agree the Department of Finance cannot but ensure that schemes are not amenable to tax evasion and that it has to be vigilant of abuse in cases where VRT is not payable. However, it is almost impossible for the car hire industry to implement the scheme as proposed without increasing its costs enormously. Even though car hire companies will have to be aware whenever a car reaches its 34th day of hire and pay VRT for outstanding days, they have no guarantee that customers will not move to the next company to hire a car for another 34 days. It is a cumbersome scheme which will increase the cost of car hire generally. The industry's understanding was that the moratorium on the implementation of this measure was imposed to allow time for consultation and changes.

This is a finance measure but the Minister has also to be conscious of the effect it will have on car hire by tourists, particularly in the regions. The car hire business exists for people who may fly into cities but want to travel to the regions. Will the Minister ensure meaningful consultation takes place before this section of the Act is implemented with a view to making the system less cumbersome for the industry so that it does not increase the price of car hire generally? Our costs are high enough as it is.

We keep a close eye on the scheme to ensure it does what is intended. The long list of avoidance practices which gave rise to concerns include breaking a long-term hire into a number of shorter term hires, providing different cars of the same type or model, including replacement cars within the short-term fleet and providing vehicles as insurance replacements. A concession originally intended to support the tourism industry was increasingly used to support a range of unrelated business models. I accept the Deputy's point that it is important from my perspective that the measures are simple and do not damage the car hire or tourism industries in any way and I will monitor them closely.

Arts and Culture Plan.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

7 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the way he is promoting accessibility to the arts for all sectors of society in Government owned and sponsored institutions and organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10837/08]

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

9 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism further to Question No. 61 of 25 October 2007, the progress made towards extending the opening hours of national museums and galleries; when these extended opening times will take effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10824/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 9 together.

Government policy on the arts is set out in the programme for Government and elaborated further in my Department's statement of strategy and my recently published arts and culture plan 2008. One of the stated objectives of this policy is to encourage and support the strategic development of the arts in geographic communities and communities of interest for the disadvantaged and for minority groups. My policy is to promote and strengthen the arts in all its forms, increase access and participation and make the arts an integral and valued part of our national life. Consequently, all funding allocated by my Department to the arts is aimed at,inter alia, addressing the issues of cultural participation, access and social inclusion.

Provision is made within the annual funding allocations to the national cultural institutions for education and outreach programmes, which are a key element in addressing and promoting accessibility for all sectors of society. Within these institutions, education and outreach programmes are aimed particularly at disadvantaged sections of society. The institutions are also actively engaged in promoting accessibility through primary and secondary school programmes, in many cases targeting schools designated as disadvantaged.

My Department and the agencies under its remit are also considering the recent ESRI report, In the Frame or Out of the Picture: a Statistical Analysis of Public Involvement in the Arts, in the context of the accessibility question. In September 2007 I announced proposals for more flexible opening hours in the national cultural institutions, and especially the national museums and galleries, to reflect the changed lifestyles of those who wish to visit. I am particularly anxious to extend Sunday opening hours and to arrange for late openings at least one night per week. The funding allocated to the national cultural institutions for 2008 includes additional funding to facilitate these extended opening hours. Significant progress is being made on this issue and Sunday opening will be in place at the main institutions, with the exception of the National Library, from this May.

The NESF report, The Arts, Cultural Inclusion and Social Cohesion, and the report to which the Minister referred, In the Frame or Out of the Picture, have indicated clearly that people from disadvantaged socioeconomic or educational backgrounds are less likely to access arts facilities. I am concerned that much of what the Minister said was aspirational, with little delivery thus far on his objectives. I welcome his comments on outreach but much more can be done, such as reduced ticket prices or family entrance fees. Involvement with local government on promoting the arts should be encouraged.

In reply to a parliamentary question put in October, he stated that a strategy committee was to be established. What exactly has happened in that regard, apart from the establishment of the committee? I fear we will have a recurrence of the arts in education report, in respect of which we are still awaiting action after 18 months.

The NESF report, about which I have spoken publicly, points out that access to the arts is an issue and artistic exclusion is as painful in many ways as social exclusion. I fully accept that and intend to work towards the solutions it suggests.

Other issues arise regarding, for example, access by non-nationals to the artistic world in a strategic context. I recently published the Department's plan for 2008, which addresses in detail the issue of access in the context of opening hours, forthcoming events and what agencies are doing to ensure more structured access to the arts. That plan and the Department's strategy will continue to press for greater access to the arts.

Dublin City Council organised a successful culture night during which access was free to theatres and all cultural facilities under the council's remit. I understand the event will be repeated this year. Does the Minister see a role for himself in encouraging local authorities and arts venues to participate in a national culture week? Access also requires awareness because the reason people do not participate is often that they are unaware of what is going on or are not conscious of art galleries and museums. They may not realise a play is being staged down the road in The New Theatre. Is there anything the Minister can do to ensure there is a national advertising campaign for such a week which would go a long way towards introducing people to the arts, perhaps for the first time?

Yes. On page five of the Arts and Culture Plan 2008, I propose a national cultural day in order to welcome a new audience. It is debatable whether it can be expanded beyond a day or whether it should be focused on a few hours. The concept of focusing in this way is almost simplistic but it highlights the importance of a national cultural day. It can be put together along the lines of the city council's successful evening some months back when it focused on a few hours; because it highlighted those few hours the cultural institutions got a huge response with which they were very happy. I hope to be able to proceed with the national cultural day I proposed in the document during the summer, if not sooner.

My first point is along the lines outlined by Deputy Mitchell on advertising and informing people. A greater effort is required at local level. A case can also be made for a national television campaign to keep people informed and aware of what is going on. For example, airports can be useful from a tourism point of view in terms of galleries and museums and when they are open.

An interesting statistic from the In the Frame report was that ethnic minorities do not interact very much with the arts other than through churches. Perhaps this is an opening through which the arts can be promoted and encouraged. We can all examine how that approach can be further used to encourage ethnic minorities and the population in general to engage more in the arts.

That is a useful suggestion which I will examine more closely.

Sports and Public Health.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

8 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the role his Department plays in facilitating the level of co-operation between public health policy and promotion and sport policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10847/08]

The Government recognises the major role that sport can play in enhancing the health of people through active participation. The Irish Sports Council, ISC, which is funded by my Department, is the statutory body responsible for encouraging the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and for increasing participation in recreational sport. My Department and the ISC liaise with the Department of Health and Children and the HSE on matters of mutual concern.

Officials from my Department and the council have actively participated in the development of key initiatives such as, for example, the national children's strategy and the task force on obesity. The ISC participates in various working groups and committees of both the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health and Children on broad public health issues. For example, the chief executive officer of the ISC chaired the national obesity task force and also serves on a number of other groups including the national implementation committee for the children's strategy and a high level group on cardiovascular disease prevention.

At national level, the ISC has developed a close working relationship with the population health function of the HSE and has regular meetings with it to discuss areas of common interest and possible co-operation. In recent years the ISC has received funding from the HSE of €200,000, which is used to promote programmes that target obesity at local level through the local sports partnerships, LSPs.

My Department and the council also worked with the Department of Health and Children to secure support from the dormant accounts fund to employ social inclusion development officers in 20 LSPs throughout the country to promote participation opportunities for people with a disability. This year, funding of €1.5 million has been allocated from the dormant accounts fund for this initiative.

With regard to the LSPs, all of the LSP boards and committees include a local officer representing the HSE. In most cases, the HSE representative works directly in the area of health promotion with an emphasis on physical activity promotion. As part of the work of the LSPs, they develop a local strategic plan for sport and this plan is closely linked to the positive health messages endorsed by the HSE. Furthermore, the LSPs deliver programmes and projects in conjunction with the HSE to target specific groups that have traditionally low levels of participation in sport and physical activity. Examples of these types of projects include participation programmes for older people, women and people from areas of disadvantage.

The ISC is committed to the roll out of the LSP network on a nationwide basis to increase participation at a local level, ensure that local resources are used to best effect and to make sure that the experiences of participants in sport are positive. This network is due to be completed later this year, with 33 sites established covering the whole country.

The Minister referred to the obesity taskforce. My understanding is that many of the sections of its report are gathering dust and little progress has been made. It is very important that the Department with a responsibility for sport has an input and that there is interaction with the Department of Health and Children. What is the role of the Department of Education and Science in terms of interaction? There is a need for considerably more joined-up thinking. A delegation appeared before a committee yesterday from the Federation of Irish Sport. One of the points it made was that a cross-departmental interaction is required, especially including education.

There is a significant drop-out rate among young people playing sport in the 15 years to 19 years age group. That is an age when one hopes young people are retained within sporting activities but, unfortunately, for a variety of reasons they seem to drop out. The encouragement does not seem to be there. What we are trying to do is to lay down the framework for healthy lifestyles.

To return to the debate we had last night on primary schools, there is a lack of adequate PE facilities in many schools. Again, what we are trying to do there is put down the building blocks and give young children an opportunity. If we do not do that at a very early age then we cannot expect that they will be able to maintain an interest in sport because they will never have had that opportunity. I would like to hear the Minister's comments on the role of primary schools in regard to sport and health and the factors that influence the drop out of teenagers, especially between the ages of 15 years and 19 years according to the reports.

We are all learning that health is a multifaceted area that needs to be supported and tackled with a range of resources. We referred to obesity and research and how sport can be used as a weapon against obesity, and by virtue of that against ill health.

The role of the alcohol industry is an important one. The question is whether we can continue the double think of supporting the industry at one level and denouncing it at another level, especially in the context of sport. I do not have the figures for the drop-out rate of young people aged between 15 and 20 but I know it is substantial. We do need to address that issue to try to hold on to young people. It is not easy to hold on to them up to the age of 15 but beyond that other interests present and it becomes increasingly difficult to continue to retain them in sporting activities. That is why the Irish Sports Council programmes are very important.

Deputy Upton inquired about obesity. I recognise that issue has to be addressed at various levels, including diet. Lifestyle is an important factor in obesity and environmental issues. The role of sport is very much at the centre of health promotion. Sport can play a leading role in tackling obesity. We are making every effort to ensure that is happening and to bring about joined-up Government in terms of health, sport, the environment and various Departments and agencies that have a direct involvement in it.

There is no disputing the correlation between physical activity and better health and we have had all the warning signs that our population is heading in the wrong direction. I feel sorry for the Minister because to talk about a drop-out rate is one thing, but so many children never participate in a sport because there are so few facilities in schools. Even in our constituency many schools have no sports hall. It is no wonder they do not get involved in sport, get no interest in sport and, if they take to a sport, drop out, particularly girls.

From the lottery funding point of view, now that we have many facilities around the country there is an opportunity to be more focused on what facilities are provided in future. Given that the Department of Education and Science has little interest in sport, is there a case to be made for changing the guidelines to ensure facilities provided are placed near schools so that if a school has no sports ground, children have access to them? Few grants of the capital lottery money go to public, State schools. Am I correct?

Some have gone to private schools. There is an assumption that State schools will receive funding from the Department of Education and Science but that is not happening. Perhaps it falls to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to target facilities that would be available to school children. I have raised the issue and I know Deputy Brennan is examining the guidelines for the applications to try to be more focused and get multi-user and multi-ownership of facilities. That is the key to getting participation at an early age.

Now that the sports capital programme is so many years old and has provided so many thousands of infrastructural projects up and down the country we are examining the next round of that and how we can make it even more effective. One way to do that is to ensure facilities can embrace the educational system. That might be as simple as ensuring a facility is built on an adjacent site or in consultation with a school, or it might be more complicated. We are closely examining the notion that facilities built through the sports capital programme would be available to schools. We did not do this in the past because we were focused on providing the facilities for the clubs, agencies, towns and teams. In this round we can examine synergies between schools and the lottery funding.

I refer to the first part of the Minister's reply and the drop-out rate for 15-19 year olds. The Minister made many soothing noises, which are all very reassuring. He said we must address it, but what exactly will we do, who will do it and when will it happen? This problem has been around for a long time. The drop-put rate remains consistently high, yet nothing has happened. Can we have an action plan, a timeframe and some definites about when it will be in place?

It would be unfair for any of us to give the impression that nothing is going on in that area and I do not think Deputy Upton suggests that. Many schools are trying hard and doing their best for students from age 15 upwards and putting on physical education programmes. An amount of the sports capital programme money allocated in recent years has gone to more than 60 different sports. We tend to think of football when we look at that scheme but there is a range of up to 60 other sports and they engage the attention of many 15 to 19 year olds in quite a systematic way. Quite an amount is going on, Deputy Upton says we can do more and that is true. I will take a close look at the options available.

Question No. 9 taken with Question No. 7

National Archives.

Michael D'Arcy

Ceist:

10 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the new board of the National Archives Advisory Council will be appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10938/08]

The principal function of the National Archives Advisory Council, NAAC, is to advise me in the exercise of my powers under the National Archives Act on all matters affecting archives within the scope of the Act, and on the use of the archives by the public. The council also has a statutory function to advise the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on keeping local authority records. The term of office of the current members of the NAAC expired recently.

The National Archives is facing into years with a complex agenda including the redevelopment of its headquarters and the revision of the National Archives Act. A complete changeover at this point would leave very little of the corporate memory of the NAAC. For continuity some of the members should be reappointed to the council, if they are willing to serve a further term of office. Accordingly, I am currently considering appointment of a new board. In view of the complex nature of the work facing the council in the coming years, I do not propose to rush into these appointments and will ensure that the council is provided with the necessary expertise to fulfil its duties. I anticipate, however, that I will make these appointments shortly.

I recently read that the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Brennan, has 199 board positions within his gift. This is a serious responsibility and I do not need to lecture him on the importance of choosing the right people. I have no problem with the members of the former board. If he wants to reappoint all of them I will not complain. However, appointments should be made. This is a statutory body. By law we should have it, but we have had no body since last November. As the Minister said, part of its obligation is to advise him. If there had been such a body it might have advised the Minister not to put what little genealogy records we have left in the hands of groups of people charging for it. This is public information and it is the wrong choice. I am appalled that the few genealogy records we have, having burned nearly 1,000 years of records in 1922, which are parish records collated and gathered using public money, are not available to the public. On St. Patrick's Day we will spend hundreds of thousands of euro, millions of euro as Deputy Tom Kitt erroneously stated this morning, sending Ministers overseas to showcase Ireland to our diaspora. I think all the Cabinet members except Deputy Brennan are going away. In the same week we are telling them we will charge them for information on their forefathers. It was the wrong message to send and even at this stage we should examine this. It should be public information. We have a long tradition of making archival material freely available and facilitating access to it. Charging for it is the wrong choice.

I want to address a range of issues around the National Archives. In most countries the national archives are a major institution and are usually housed in an iconic building and looked on with pride by the citizenry. I do not say that is not the case here, but we tend to take a storage view of our archives rather than a view that we are proud of what we have managed to assemble. We saw it recently when we published the 1911 census on the Web. Already there have been 17 million hits. That shows the appetite that is there. Deputy Olivia Mitchell has been concerned for some time about the quality and availability of storage space and because of that urging I have asked my Department to consider the views I am putting forward and to come back to me as quickly as possible. I will take a look at the fee situation, but it is a bigger issue than that. I would like to take a broader national view of these archives to see how we can bring them centre stage in our artistic world.

Can I take it from that response that we can look forward to an iconic building for the national archives? Is that a promise?

Whether a building is iconic is a matter of opinion.

Indeed, but if it is the Minister's opinion I will be happy with that. Are we heading in that direction?

There is approximately €20 million in the national development plan for the development of the archives. It does not specifically lay down that it is for a building, but I have come to the conclusion that the archives are unsung heroes that need to be brought centre stage. Just like our museum or our library, they need the same kind of national status. I will look at how I can move that forward.

Film Industry Development.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

11 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the report by the Irish Film Board to his Department on studio facilities here; if a decision has been taken by him on progress in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10830/08]

The availability of adequate, fully equipped studio resources that can cater for the needs of indigenous and incoming film and television productions is essential to marketing Ireland as a film location. The Irish Film Board was asked to prepare a report on the future options available for film studios in Ireland. With the support of independent consultants, the Irish Film Board, which is our national film agency and which,inter alia, promotes Ireland as a location for international film production, submitted its proposals to me on how to ensure that Ireland has its own film studio. With the assistance of the Office of Public Works, my Department is working on assuring the future availability of film studios in Ireland. That process is currently at a sensitive point and I do not wish to be drawn on the state of play on discussions, but it is my intention to bring the matter to successful conclusion shortly.

If the negotiations are at a delicate stage, I understand that it would not be appropriate to go into detail on the issue. It is very important that we have our film studio and the Minister might be able to comment on issues such as the economies of scale. I am looking for a much wider discussion on the Irish film industry. We need to be able to encourage people to come into this country to make films here. There has unfortunately been a drop-off in activity recently. We must make a serious effort to put in place the right kind of environment and incentives for the film makers to come to Ireland to support and sustain that studio.

I have often said that we are only scratching the surface when it comes to the Irish film industry. There is great potential, but we need to roll up our sleeves and come at it from a fresh direction. There are almost 2,000 people employed full time in the industry, which is the highest number since 2000. We are doing very well in television and we have also had wonderful successes in the Oscars and with other awards. I am bit concerned that we have not managed to attract feature films in sufficient quantity. We were able to attract many such films years ago, but we have only done one or two in recent years. I have instructed the Department and the Irish Film Board to figure out the problem and I will see what I can do to respond to it.

The Minister for Finance extended the tax concession in the budget, which was widely welcomed by the industry and which should help somewhat. We are only scratching the surface and we can do much more. I look forward to working with the film industry to making that happen.

Access to Sporting Facilities.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

12 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the discussions with the Department of Education and Science that have taken place to promote and encourage the use of school halls and sports facilities for voluntary and community groups; the discussions he has had with the Department of Education and Science to enable barriers to be removed to allow access to facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10852/08]

The Department of Education and Science is represented on the inter-agency steering group established by my Department to oversee the development of a national sports facility strategy. The aim of the strategy is to provide high-level policy direction for future investment at national, regional and local level. Work on the development of the national sports facility strategy has included discussions with the Department of Education and Science on how its policy on the provision of sports hall facilities and my Department's policy for the provision of sports facilities might be complementary.

Under the sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, funding is allocated to sporting and community organisations, and in certain circumstances to schools and colleges throughout the country. It is the main vehicle for development of sports facilities at local, regional and national level throughout the country. Under the programme, priority is given to the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities

Primary and post-primary schools that wish to be considered for funding under the programme may apply for funding jointly with local sports clubs or community groups, and they must meet other conditions including a requirement that the local community will have significant access to the proposed facility. This access must be for at least 30 hours a week throughout the year when it is not being used by the school itself. Any sports facility proposed for funding by a sporting organisation and which would be located within school grounds would have to meet these same conditions. I think that is reasonable. Applications from primary and post-primary schools and colleges on their own are not considered under the programme, as responsibility for the provision of sports facilities in schools and colleges is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for Education and Science.

There is a need for joined-up thinking on the interaction with the Department of Education and Science. All of the sporting groups that have recently come before the committee have spoken to us about the duplication of resources in a small town or a parish, where two or three halls might be available. There is a need to put in a place a system where people can find out why the school hall already in place cannot be used throughout the summer by sporting groups. It seems to be a huge waste of an available resource.

It may require some discussion, negotiation and possibly some financial exchanges of a modest variety. Community halls and school halls are publicly funded facilities and there is a need to open them up to the public.

The Deputy previously raised this issue with me and the need for joined-up thinking. Primary and post-primary schools that want to be considered for funding can apply jointly with local sports clubs. This is a change because until now, the sports capital programme was separate from the Department of Education and Science. We have formally agreed for the first time that we will work more closely with that Department and see whether joint applications for funds could be considered when awarding sports capital grants.

We are moving in the direction urged by the Deputy. We did not do that in the past, because there was sufficient demand for the sports capital programme on its own, without being drawn into the area of education.

I will not labour the point, but despite all the facilities that have been built, there is a problem with access. Many of the facilities that have a single owner, such as clubs composed largely of volunteers, find it extremely onerous to maintain a building. The financial burden and the workload would be significantly reduced if there was multi-ownership.

I wish to raise with the Minister a problem that was brought to my attention by my colleague, Deputy Olwyn Enright, in respect of the Birr Rugby Club. Apparently there is a rule that when an organisation receives a second grant under the scheme, it must obtain a document from the Chief State Solicitor's Office but there is enormous delay in obtaining said document. I understand that Birr Rugby Club has been forced to obtain a bank loan, which is costing it a fortune. It may have to carry that loan for up to one year. Perhaps something could be done to streamline that system.

I also wish to take this opportunity to wish the hurling team of my home town, Birr, the best of luck on Monday.

I appreciate the points about the future programme of sports capital funding, the interaction between clubs and schools and so on. However, my key point is that facilities are already in existence that have been paid for by the taxpayer but access to them is not available. Very often they are closed at 6 p.m. when many clubs would love to avail of them. Basketball Ireland, for example, would love to have access to a number of facilities that are available for use, but not available to them. The facilities are in place, the buildings are there but access to them is not. We must examine ways in which to make such facilities more widely available.

As the Deputy knows, that is an old issue, which comes up regularly. Many of the difficulties are related to insurance issues and so on.

We must find ways to get over the insurance issues. There must be a way around them.

It is ridiculous.

What I can offer is that if funding is jointly applied for by sports clubs, community groups and/or local schools, whether primary or post primary, that the mixture can be considered for a capital grant and in that connection, use of whatever public building is available could be part of that deal. That is all I can offer.

On the Chief State Solicitor's office issue, my Department informs me that there are two reasons why a lot of sports grants which are agreed do not get paid for a long time. One is planning applications and the other is legal issues tied up at the Chief State Solicitor's office. I urge those applying for funds to make sure that under the planning and legal headings, they have cleared those obstacles before they progress their application.

Arts Plan.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

13 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when he proposes to act on the recommendations in the Arts in Education Report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10963/08]

I refer the Deputy to my reply of 12 February last. As I outlined then, meetings are taking place between officials from my Department, the Department of Education and Science and the Arts Council to consider the recommendations contained in the draft report. This inter-agency group has been examining the report and is identifying ways of implementing and giving effect to the practical recommendations that it contains.

These recommendations reflect the result of the wide-ranging and in-depth research that was conducted by the committee set up to consider this important issue. This is the first such study of its nature for some considerable time and it is important that a reasoned and practical approach be adopted to considering its recommendations.

The inter-agency group is now in the process of drawing up proposals that will effectively and efficiently put in place actions to progress the essential aspects of the draft report.

I know the Minister is keen to increase participation in the arts and made a speech to that effect at the launch of the NESF report, which went down well with the players in the arts. I reiterate the point that unless we increase participation in the arts through the schools, the arts will always be on the fringe. We must mainstream the arts. The Minister is probably too polite to say this, but I am not — if there is inertia here, it is coming from the Department of Education and Science. I know it is the Department that is most resistant to change. Therefore, it falls to the Minister to drive this. If it is to proceed, he will have to get behind it. It must be his initiative. I am sure he accepts that but I ask him to take that burden. Schools are the key in turning around participation in the arts but the arts should not just be an occasional experience for students. While the artists in residence programme, for example, is wonderful, it is not permanently in place in schools. It is available in a school one year, but not the next, meaning the next cohort of students do not get to enjoy it. It is tantalising and it is almost worse than nothing to give students something and then take it away.

I have sent the report back to the Arts Council with a request that it come up with some practical recommendations. Some of the recommendations, in my view, are not very practical. They need to be fleshed out some more so I have returned the report to the Arts Council and asked it to do that.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.