Other Questions

Irish Language Strategy

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

47 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress that has been made regarding the implementation of the 20 year strategy for the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39359/10]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to today's Question No. 45.

As the Deputy will be aware, the draft 20-year strategy for Irish was published by the Government at the end of 2009 and was referred to the Joint Committee on Arts, Sports, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for its consideration. The joint committee held several meetings with stakeholders earlier this year, including meetings in the Gaeltacht, and agreed on a report with 39 recommendations, which I received on 28 July 2010. These recommendations are currently being considered by my Department in co-operation with other relevant Departments.

It is expected that this process will be concluded shortly and that the final draft will be brought before the Cabinet committee on Irish and the Gaeltacht and, subsequently, to Government. It is hoped that the next meeting of the Cabinet committee will take place on 17 November 2010, when the final draft will be discussed with a view to submitting it formally to Government. Subject to Government approval, I expect the draft strategy to be published shortly thereafter.

I am delighted to hear that, because we were working on the basis that the final draft of the report had not yet been submitted to the Government for approval. The Minister says it will be published on 17 November.

I am sure the Minister has received a number of representations, as have the rest of the Deputies, about the cuts to Gaeltacht infrastructural projects, and to the role of Údarás na Gaeltachta, envisaged in the Government's revised capital expenditure programme. Will the Minister clarify his intentions in this regard?

That is broadly within the scope of the question.

We will narrow it. There were 39 recommendations, but there are now 38 because one of them — the recommendation for debates in the Seanad and the Dáil — was partly dealt with by yesterday's Seanad debate. Well, there are now 38 and a half. With regard to the future role of Údarás na Gaeltachta, both the draft strategy and the report of the joint committee contain a recommendation that a number of the obligations and responsibilities of Údarás be maintained, including the enterprise function. It is also anticipated, in the context of the implementation of the 20-year strategy, that Údarás na Gaeltachta, in a re-worked fashion, would have responsibility for promoting the strategy outside the Gaeltachtaí. This will involve the introduction of amending legislation, which I expect will be done in the course of the coming year.

Tacaím leis an scéim chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn ach sa Teach seo, cuireadh deireadh leis na ranganna a bhí ar siúl do Theachtaí, do Sheanadóirí agus do dhaoine atá ag obair anseo. Chuir Gaeleagras ar bun iad agus cuireadh deireadh leis na ranganna ag deireadh mhí Iúil. Níl na ranganna ar fáil anois. An féidir leis an Aire a rá leis an Teach cén fáth?

Mar a thuigim, tá athrú intinne tagtha ar dhuine éigin agus beidh na ranganna sin ar fáil. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a chur in iúl do Mháirín de Brún, a bhí ag múineadh na Gaeilge san Oireachtas leis na blianta ar son Gaeleagrais. Tá sí éirithe as a post anois agus guím gach ráth uirithi. Tiocfaidh mé ar ais chuig an Teachta chun eolas níos cruinne a thabhairt maidir leis na ranganna sin.

Is mór an trua go bhfuil deireadh curtha leis na ranganna a raibh freastal orthu ag Baill de na Tithe seo.

Sílim nach bhfuil sin fíor.

Dúirt an tAire go mbeidh ról lárnach ag Údarás na Gaeltachta i bhfeidhmiú na straitéise 20 bliain. B'fhéidir gur thug an tAire freagra air seo cheana féin. Tá Bille údaráis geallta le ceithre bliana anuas. An bhfuil sé ar intinn ag an Aire an Bille sin a thabhairt isteach gan mhoill. Tá sé ar chlár an Rialtais le fada.

Chuaigh mé go dtí Oileán Chléire agus Carraig an Chabhaltaigh agus bhí mé ag caint le gach duine ar fud na tíre. Will the new role for Údarás na Gaeltachta include the provision of Irish language classes in Oileán Chléire, Carraig an Chabhaltaigh and other areas around the country?

Tá dualgais agus cúraimí breise le bheith ag an údarás, tá sin sa straitéis agus mhol an coiste sin.

An mbeidh reachtaíocht riachtananch?

Beidh. Caithfimid an tAcht a leasú nó Acht nua a thabhairt isteach. Beidh sin dréachtaithe in am chun é a thabhairt isteach.

Tá brón mór orm nach bhfuil na ranganna Gaeilge le fáil. Nach bhfuil sé suimiúil go bhfuil ranganna Fraincise ar fáil sa Teach nuair nach bhfuil ranganna Gaeilge ann?

Níl freagra ag teastáil ar an gceist sin.

Irish Language

Joan Burton

Ceist:

48 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his plans to carry out a review of the working of the Official Languages Act 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39304/10]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 9 of 1 July in which I confirmed that my Department keeps the work of implementing the Official Languages Act 2003 under continuing review. Furthermore, there is an obligation on me, as Minister, to review the operation of the Act each year, as provided for in section 5 of the Act, and to report formally to the Houses of the Oireachtas in this regard. The reports for the years to 2009 are available in the Oireachtas Library.

While I am satisfied that considerable progress has been made to date in the implementation, on a phased basis, of the provisions of the Act, I consider it will not be possible to achieve everything in the short term. However, I am committed to the implementation of the Act and to the achievement of its objectives over time. The full implementation of the Act is one of the principles set out in the Government's policy statement on the Irish language, issued in December 2006, which forms the basis of the draft 20-year strategy for Irish. The Deputy will be aware that the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs recently published a report on its recommendations on the strategy. These recommendations are being assessed by the relevant Departments and I hope to be in a position to seek the approval of Government to publish the strategy shortly.

I am also committed to ensuring that the Official Languages Act be implemented in as cost effective a way as possible, particularly having regard to the current economic climate. My Department will continue to approach these matters in a realistic, flexible and pragmatic way, especially in agreeing statutory language schemes. In this context, a significant number of resources are already in place to assist public bodies in meeting their obligations as cost effectively as possible.

While I take it as given that the Minister produced those reports, there is a deeper agenda that needs to be addressed. How much does it cost to implement the Act at the moment? A survey carried out on behalf of the Sunday Tribune discovered that the 29 local authorities — one of which did not need to produce a development plan during the period since the passage of the Act — spent almost €300,000 on translating development plans into Irish. In some cases nobody is looking for them or there is very small demand for them in the Irish language. It costs approximately €10,000 or more for the translation. Is this sensible use of resources with regard to the Irish language? What has that money achieved in terms of broadening the Irish language? We are in difficult times and we need to get the best out of all the money that is spent. I am very concerned that much of the money being spent on the implementation of the Act is not working to benefit the Irish language in any significant way. Enactments are made by the Oireachtas and the Oireachtas can change enactments.

I request some latitude in trying to expand on this matter, which is by no means straightforward. The Official Languages Act requires local authority draft development plans to be produced simultaneously in Irish and English since they are key consultation documents. The requirement to publish official documents in Irish is strictly limited to very specific documents and does not encompass all official documents as often suggested in the media. In a recent newspaper article — I believe the one to which the Deputy referred — in October a figure of €300,000 was mentioned. This figure appears to suggest an estimate of the total cost of translating local authority development plans. As there are 34 local authorities and each development plan covers a six-year period, on the figures provided the cost to individual local authorities would appear to less than €1,500 annually for each local authority.

I refer Members to the reply to parliamentary questions on 3 February 2009 in respect of the cost associated with implementation of the Act since its enactment in 2003. Of the 15 Departments, 11 replied and when the figures are totalled my Department has estimated that the average direct cost per year amounted to €600,000, which is €55,000 per Department. I believe no fair-minded person would consider either or both of these costs excessive or unreasonable.

Regarding the cost of implementation of the Act to my Department in 2009, it has been a long-standing policy of my Department to ensure that customers, who wish to conduct their business through a choice of Irish or English, are facilitated. Accordingly, expenditure on providing services through Irish and English arises from our existing commitments to our customers and is met from our normal administrative budget. The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga is funded under my Department's Vote. This is a statutory independent office whose role and functions are provided for in Part 4 of the Official Languages Act. The office spent €831,000 in 2009.

We are encouraging the implementation of the Act in a sensible and pragmatic way and whenever compact disks or on-line publishing of reports can be used, that should be done. I am afraid sometimes in a small number of areas some public bodies seem to be using the supposed cost of translation as a way of long-fingering the publishing of reports, which is unfortunate. However, I am satisfied that in the vast majority of cases any money spent is being spent appropriately and wisely.

At the end of the day the question is whether the funds used by the State on the promotion of the Irish language are being used to best effect. In other words is it helping to promote wider use of the Irish language among the population at large? My concern is that the resources being deployed under the Act are not getting the best value for money in the objective of making this a bilingual State as quickly as possible. It is like pouring this money down the drain in terms of the underlying objective of promoting the Irish language.

This Government is complying and I am sure future Governments will comply with the determination of the courts on the status of the Irish language. It is no more or less than that. In nearly all cases public bodies are not only being compliant with the wishes of the court and the obligations of the Official Languages Act, but also being sensible in how they spend the taxpayers' money. I fully agree with the Deputy that we should not waste any money and I do not believe that the compliance with the determination of the courts and the obligations of the Official Languages Act is in any way a waste of public money.

Local authorities are effectively required to translate plans, which in my county and other counties can cost between €75,000 and €100,000. That money might be better spent at the coalface in providing Irish courses. In my county I do not believe anybody has ever asked for the plans in Irish. At this time of crisis it is appropriate to consider how that money might be better spent on promoting the Irish language.

I believe I addressed the issue earlier but I reiterate the point. The numbers of hard copies of draft development plans in Irish sold to the public should not be seen as a measure of their usage since they can be downloaded free of charge from local authority websites. It is important that local authorities should encourage the public to engage with them and the planning process in Irish as well as in English. To do otherwise would marginalise the Irish language.

Designated Areas

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

49 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his plans for the future expansion if any under the RAPID and CLARP programmes; if any strategic decisions have been taken as to the way in which can be most effectively utilised in the current economic climate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39452/10]

Through its focus on deprivation and social exclusion, the RAPID programme is continuing to address the impact of the economic downturn on vulnerable communities and to provide opportunities for social and economic recovery. In order to ensure the programme's continued relevance, a review of RAPID area boundaries, including an analysis of data from the 2006 census across a range of socioeconomic and deprivation indicators, was undertaken to ensure that areas are appropriately targeting the most disadvantaged communities. Following this, the Government approved the inclusion of five new towns in the RAPID programme in 2009: Ballina, Dungarvan, Enniscorthy, Mullingar and Rathkeale. The review also proposed changes to the boundaries of some of the other 46 RAPID areas and these have been implemented.

This year, €5 million was allocated for the RAPID leverage schemes through which my Department co-funds with other Departments and agencies a range of small-scale local projects such as playgrounds, traffic measures, health facilities, CCTV and sports facilities. In this regard, I assure the Deputy that my primary focus will continue to be to ensure that the front line services provided by, or supported through, my Department, and especially those focused on the needs of the most socially deprived communities, are protected.

The CLÁR programme has continued to invest in infrastructure and services in rural areas, with an estimated €7 million to be spent this year. This funding, in turn, leverages a significant co-funding from other agencies and Departments. Recent spending under CLÁR has mostly been in the areas of water infrastructure and health facilities in rural areas. In the context of the overall funding available to my Department next year, I will consider how best to continue to allocate funding in support of rural areas, taking account of the Government's Capital Expenditure Review and Infrastructure Investment Priorities 2010-2016.

Does the Minister agree that in the current economic climate it is more important than ever to focus on areas of social and economic exclusion in both urban and rural settings? Has he updated the data available to him to account for 2010 and for projections for 2011, with particular reference to these areas now more than ever?

I assume the Deputy is referring to the census data and the SAHRU-Haase indices which Pobal uses to analyse deprivation and other matters. It is not true to say it is under continual review because an extensive review of CLÁR and RAPID areas was conducted in light of the 2006 census over the past number of years and before I took up office, a number of decisions were taken to increase the number of towns to be included and to adjust the boundaries in a number of RAPID areas. I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy that we need to constantly monitor the needs of communities, which is why this issue does not only apply to RAPID and CLÁR. The LCDP programme and local partnership and Leader companies are also significant actors in combatting social exclusion and deprivation in communities. My Department has a co-ordinating function and it helps to encourage and leverage support from other State agencies and Departments.

The Minister stated €12 million was allocated to the RAPID and CLÁR programmes. Are any of the projects dependent on funding from other Departments or agencies on hold because of cutbacks? Have projects approved under these programmes been finalised by the Minister's Department? If not, can an arrangement be brokered whereby funding is provided for good projects when another agency cannot provide it and they are put on hold? How much of the €12 million has been drawn down so far this year?

I have to check that because I do not want to give an answer off the top of my head. I met the co-ordinating group for the RAPID programme a fortnight ago. Most of the programmes are small in scale because the same leveraging of funding is not available. I checked over the past week to ascertain what is outstanding and there is a reasonable amount.

This year, €5 million was allocated for the RAPID leverage schemes through which my Department co-funds with other Departments and agencies a range of small-scale local projects such as playgrounds, traffic measures, health facilities, CCTV and sports facilities. It is making a difference. I visited the RAPID project in Kilkenny last week and what it has done for the community is extraordinary. Sports facilities have been upgraded, a riverside walk and a playground built and a family resource centre has been established. RAPID turns the key to unlock a great deal of other stuff and there are good examples in Cork as well.

Will the Minister confirm that he is aware of the significant downturn in the economy since 2007? Projections based on data from that time are out of date. Based on recent developments in the economy and the number of applications received by his Department under both headings, will he outline the extent to which he can or will re-evaluate the requirements for both the RAPID and CLÁR programmes in the coming and subsequent years?

I know where the Deputy is coming from but the strength of the RAPID initiative is it applies to a limited number of areas, which are significantly economically and socially disadvantaged. If a programme such as this is spread around, its effectiveness is diluted. However, there is merit in using, for example, the quarterly national household survey conducted by the CSO to get a clearer picture of the up to date position. The social inclusion division of my Department is involved in monitoring changes in income and employment levels.

Community Development

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

50 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs his plans regarding the development and funding of the national community and voluntary sector; if such plans include alleviating poverty, social exclusion and inequality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39295/10]

Dan Neville

Ceist:

52 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if his Department has completed a review of organisations supported by the community and voluntary sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39385/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 52 together.

The primary role of my Department in regard to the community and voluntary sector is to encourage and facilitate communities, with a special focus on areas of disadvantage, to pursue social and economic progress. This policy is underpinned by the Towards 2016 partnership agreement, which recognises the valuable role of the sector. To this end, my Department supports a range of initiatives that supports the work of the sector.

In particular, I draw the Deputy's attention to a number of schemes that provide such supports directly. Under the scheme for national organisations within the community and voluntary sector, core funding of €5 million was allocated to 64 organisations in 2010. My Department has completed a review of the operation and scope of this scheme and I will consider various options regarding its future in the coming weeks. Funding of €878,000 is also being provided in 2010 to support the sector in its work under social partnership.

Encouraging volunteering and supporting active citizenship is also a key part of the work of my Department in this context. To this end, my Department provides annual funding of €3.4 million to support the work of 22 volunteer centres operating at county level, as well other volunteering projects. Core funding is also provided to Volunteer Centres Ireland and Volunteering Ireland, both of which promote volunteering nationally. The role of the sector is also widely acknowledged in other areas in my Department, for example, in the ongoing implementation of the national drugs strategy and in the context of my Department's new local and community development programme, which aims to tackle poverty and social exclusion through partnership and constructive engagement between government and its agencies and people in disadvantaged communities. Overall funding of €67.5 million was allocated to this new programme for 2010.

In general terms, combating poverty and building an inclusive society remain key priorities for the Government. The national action plan for social inclusion, NAPinclusion, and the social inclusion commitments in the national development plan were drawn up in consultation with the social partners, and after a wide-ranging consultation process with other stakeholders, including the community and voluntary sector. Within this framework, the community and voluntary sector has key role in helping to build sustainable and vibrant communities in which families can thrive.

The Minister, like every other Member, has had representations from various community and voluntary organisations regarding funding as we approach the budget. Following his meetings with them, is he satisfied he can address the concerns raised? In the community sector, there is an employment factor and each project employs a number of people in each area. There is grave concern that community and voluntary projects should continue. What does the Minister see as the overall scene in the sector? In a previous discussion of the issue, I pointed out that it is essential that we do not lose focus on the community and voluntary sectors to ensure the meitheal we talk about in here does not dwindle any further. Funding must be provided and effort and determination shown by the Minister and his Department to ensure the maximum funding in made available to allow for the funding of all groups in 2011.

I have indirectly or directly met the vast majority of groups that had been funded under the previous three year envelope scheme. We have examined the three year programme and it was a good programme that achieved many of its objectives. Things have changed economically and I envisage a broadly similar approach being taken in the next round.

Several organisations working in the same area have approached me to see if I could encourage their desire for greater cooperation. From that point of view, new thinking is emerging on how things might be done. Some of it is driven by the scarcity of resources, but not all. Many groups realise that the ground can be crowded with different groups trying to do the same thing. There are 24,000 voluntary groups in the country, the movement's great strength, but sometimes the weakness is that the efforts are diluted. I cannot do it this side of budget but as soon as I can, we will re-engage in a scheme along similar lines. I can give a commitment to promote the scheme for three years but will only be able to outline funding for the first year.

Everyone acknowledges cuts must be made in the budget but strong communities are at the heart of recovery from the recession and we must not dismantle the good work done in this area. Have the organisations been notified of their status for 2011? The Minister mentioned a figure of €3.4 million but the figure last year was €5 million. Is that a reduction of €1.6 million?

No decision has been made about future funding yet and no organisation has been told what will be available. There will be some reduction but at a time of scarce resources, I am determined the limited resources we have will be directed at those most disadvantaged and marginalised. I am anxious that front line services are protected to the greatest possible extent.

I appreciate what the Minister said. I hope that after the budget we have a situation where the Minister will meet the national organisations at the earliest opportunity to debate the approach to the budget. We must have that conversation as soon as possible.

I hope to be able indicate the principles of the scheme to the sector in advance of the budget. We will have to advertise and it is possible the timeframe may be too short. Interim funding may be needed for a month or two in 2011 while the new scheme is being put together but I am minded at present to maintain the essentials of the scheme currently in place.

I agree that we must work together to protect front line services. Next year has been designated the European year of volunteering. To mark the occasion, the European Commission has set aside a fund to support volunteer initiatives. Has the Government submitted any proposals to obtain funding in 2011 for voluntary initiatives?

The funding is extremely modest, in the order of €50,000. Discussions are ongoing among the voluntary groups coordinating the year of volunteering on behalf of the Government but this is more directed to raising awareness of the need for volunteering and the opportunities in the sector.

Community Development Projects

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

51 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will provide an update on the structural changes affecting community development projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39327/10]

I welcome the opportunity to brief the Deputy on developments affecting community development projects which have been under way for several months. At a strategic level, the local development social inclusion and the community development programmes have been superseded by the local and community development programme. A key difference between the new LCDP and its predecessor programmes is the fact that, when fully implemented, it will be delivered nationally on an integrated basis by a reduced number of companies.

A national model involving full integration of CDPs with local development companies has been set out by my Department. However, it was made clear that other options could be considered as long as they meet a range of criteria, including reduced structures, better integrated delivery of services, supporting efficiencies and reducing company law compliance requirements for CDPs. I am pleased that, to date, I have been able to approve four alternative models put forward by HSE South, the Limerick city CDPs/Paul Partnership, the women's sector CDPs and Northside Partnership.

In this context, it is important to note that, despite statements by some commentators, full integration does not mean cessation of CDP activities in any given area. As has been outlined previously, worthwhile community development activities or services delivered under a CDP can continue to be delivered under the proposed new LCDP structure.

While the deadline for receipt of further proposals has now passed, a small number of other alternative models remain under active consideration by my Department. The groups involved will be advised of the outcome shortly. It is also recognised that there may be the potential in a small number of instances for larger CDPs to make use of formal agreements locally, with LDCs, for programme delivery. Any such arrangements, where approved, will be subject to ongoing review.

Some CDPs may also decide to opt out of the LCDP integration process and to go it alone. In such cases, my Department will seek to provide funding to help meet statutory redundancy and modest wind-up costs, where appropriate. To date, three CDPs have confirmed that they are withdrawing from the LCDP.

Work on rolling out the new programme is now at a critically important stage and the LDCs and CDPs are currently engaged in a due diligence exercise designed to complete the integration process before year-end. In this context, legal supports are in place to assist the companies. I urge all parties to engage constructively in this process to ensure that the arrangements are completed over the coming weeks and thereby ensure continued LCDP funding from 1 January 2011.

My overall aim is to ensure that, notwithstanding the difficult budgetary position, disadvantaged communities will benefit from a more focused programme and better integrated actions. As previously indicated, my primary concerns are to make every effort to ensure the front-line services provided by, or supported through, the Department, especially those focused on the needs of the most disadvantaged communities, are protected and to minimise overheads and ancillary costs.

How many proposals are still up for consideration?

It is small number in single figures. I anticipate decisions will be made on these in the next three weeks.

Many community development projects were run effectively but on a shoestring budget. A concern is that funding is being channelled through local partnership and the amount spent on the front line in community development could be jeopardised. How will the Minister ensure community development projects continue to receive an adequate amount of support under this new model?

I agree that the level of funding for community development projects has not been great. The average grant received is €103,000 with some at €145,000. It usually allows for the recruitment of a full-time co-ordinator and sometimes a part-time administrator. After this, other resources have to be leveraged. Those projects that are vibrant and can stand on their own are able to do this well. However, I do not agree that in the proposals being discussed there should be any reduction in the level of community development activity. Instead, it should be enhanced. There is an expertise in community development projects which will enrich the local partnership companies and vice versa. The synergy which will result in the coming together of all will be strong. The volunteer input can also remain strong. I can assure those in the sector who are concerned the proposals will marginalise them that they will not. While each of the local groups is an independent entity, I urge them all to ensure the level of resourcing for the LCDP end of their programmes is maintained at the highest level possible.

The closing dates for this have moved on several occasions. Where there are doubts about continuing programmes, I hope the Minister's door is still open for negotiations. We should not lose any of these successful projects. I accept there have been problems but I hope the Minister will resolve them.

The last time I spoke about this subject was just before the summer recess when I referred to injury time.

It could well be injury time for the Government now.

The sector blew the whistle on problems with this on 20 September. I met with a representative group which has worked well. I will not be recommending the extension of any timetable. It is necessary to bring closure to this problem that I inherited and that we can embark on the new scheme on 1 January 2011. It is the people on the ground who are recipients of the services who we must consider most of all. I recognise the concerns of those who may feel their jobs are under threat. They are not. The people key to this are the recipients of the services and the volunteers driving it.