Tá áthas orm cúpla focal a rá ar Bille na Gaeltachta 2012. Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire Stáit. Níl aon dabht ach go bhfuil an teanga i dtrioblóid mhór. Cé nach bhfuil mórán Gaeilge agam, tá sé d'onóir agam bheith mar Theachta Dála do Ghaeltacht Mhúscraí. Tá sé feicthe agam thar na blianta go bhfuil an Ghaeilge i dtrioblóid sa cheantar sin agus sna Gaeltachtaí eile. Tá sé soiléir sa census and in numerous other studies that the language is in considerable difficulty. I wish to preface my remarks by congratulating the Minister on bringing forward a Bill with the primary function and purpose of addressing the stagnation, decline and the reversal in fortune of our native tongue. If I am correct, this is the first time that a piece of primary legislation has been introduced with this aim in mind. I appreciate the Minister's personal commitment to the language and I hope the Bill will be successful.
Tá sé tábhachtach seans a thabhairt do dhaoine nach bhfuil ach cúpla focal acu. Níl áthas orm a rá go bhfuil saghas linguistic imperialism i measc cuid dóibh siúd atá ábalta an teanga a labhairt go flúirseach. Mar a deir an seanfhocal, "mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí". Ní cheapaim go dtugann iad siúd a bhfuil Gaeilge flúirseach acu support agus encouragement dóibh siúd a bhfuil ag baint triail as agus nach bhfuil acu ach cúpla focal. Dá bhrí sin, tá sé an-tábhachtach that the Bill contains proposals for language planning areas. This provision will give encouragement to the people who have some competence but who, like me, are not very comfortable in speaking the language. I was very fortunate in my education to have attended Inchigeela national school which had a very enlightened approach to the language in a school which is outside the Gaeltacht. The school did everything to foster and encourage an appreciation of the language. However, in my view, it seems that some of those who are most competent in the language almost frown upon the people who are not as familiar or as competent. The provision for language planning areas and the process involved in developing a plan for the promotion and advancement of the language, as envisaged in the Bill, is important. We might delude ourselves into thinking that because the census shows that 1.7 million people can speak Irish that all is well, but this is patently not the case. Numerous studies have confirmed this fact and if we were to do nothing, the language would probably enter into irreversible decline within the next 15 to 20 years.
Much of the advancement of the language in recent years has not taken place in Gaeltacht areas but rather outside the Gaeltacht in the gaelscoileanna movement. The education system has a significant role in the development of area language plans which will be community based. In the formulation of those plans I would like to see all Gaeltacht schools being regarded as gaelscoileanna at both primary and post-primary level. Unless there is immersion in a language, it is very difficult to arrest the decline. The schools are a critical component. Many, but not all the schools, operate as de facto gaelscoileanna in all but name. I ask that local communities might consider this point when formulating area language plans.
The Bill raises the prospect of redefining the geographical extent of the Gaeltacht areas and for new Gaeltacht areas to be considered because much of the advances in competence in the language have been made in areas outside of the Gaeltacht. The reason for the decline in the language in the Gaeltacht areas has been emigration because native speakers have been forced to look for work outside the areas or abroad. In the good times when jobs were available there was an influx into the Gaeltacht areas of people from outside and this must be taken into consideration when formulating local plans for Gaeltacht areas.
I am concerned about the enterprise function which is currently fulfilled by Údarás na Gaeltachta. I am privileged to represent the Muskerry Gaeltacht. I will not deny the problems of unemployment in my constituency or in the Muskerry Gaeltacht but I have noted local entrepreneurial successes and the area has been fortunate to have an effective representative on the board of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Mícheál Ó Scannaill. However, I am concerned that to some degree there has been a diminution of the enterprise function of Údarás na Gaeltachta with the proposal to have formal links in one way or another with Enterprise Ireland or the IDA. I live in Macroom which lies just outside the Muskerry Gaeltacht. We rarely have visits from Enterprise Ireland or the IDA while the opposite is the case in the Muskerry Gaeltacht. That could be to the detriment of the enterprise function Údarás currently fulfils.
I read somewhere with regard to the budget for Údarás na Gaeltachta, and I do not wish to make a major point about this because I have not had time to research its veracity, that over 50% of its budget allocation is spent on administrative costs. That appears to be extraordinarily high, notwithstanding the compliments I have paid to the body. Of the 2012 allocation of €19 million, €5.9 million was for capital expenditure, €3.2 million was for current expenditure and €9.8 million, which is more that 50%, was for administration. That is an extraordinarily high proportion of a budget to be spent on administration.
I am concerned that in our understandable preoccupation with the language there is a danger the equally critical component that Údarás has fulfilled to date in respect of the language and enterprise will be lost. As a result of its role in assisting and encouraging local entrepreneurship there are plenty of success stories in the Gaeltacht communities for enterprises that have been grant aided by Údaras na Gaeltachta. However, there is a real danger that establishing formal links with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland will, to some extent, diminish the role the Údarás can play in the future in this regard. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure me that this will not be the case.
The other issue I wish to raise is board membership of Údarás na Gaeltachta. Personally, I do not have a big problem with the fact that there will not be elections. It is not that we fear elections because we have had considerable success in them in the area I represent. I understand the determination, in the context of the language, to have expertise in that area on the board and I do not have a difficulty in principle with the board being reduced to 12 members. However, I have a significant difficulty with the differentiation that the process outlined in the Bill will impose on the smaller Gaeltacht areas. The Minister and I have discussed this matter on a number of occasions previously and I hope he will be able to bring forward amendments that will meet my concerns. The Muskerry, Waterford and Meath Gaeltachtaí, in particular, will no longer have automatic nominees on the board. These are the three smallest Gaeltachtaí.
If Members recall the Lisbon treaty, we strongly opposed the suggestion that was floated at one stage that small countries would not have an automatic right to nominate a Commission member. We considered it a cornerstone of our commitment to the European Union that every member state should be treated equally. The same principle applies here. In fact, there is considerable credit and recognition due to those small Gaeltachtaí that they have survived and prospered in difficult times. If anything, it is the interests and future of the smaller Gaeltachtaí that that should be reassured and copperfastened in a new board. Critical mass in terms of population for Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Kerry, which coincidentally happen to include the constituencies of the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, the Minister, Deputy Deenihan, and the Taoiseach, means those areas have a right under the current process to have a nominee. However, I do not understand the logic of saying that Cork, Waterford and Meath should be excluded. That is fundamentally unfair and I urge the Minister to look at it again.
The current proposal is that Cork, Waterford and Meath should have a rotating entitlement every two years. Even in terms of corporate governance, all members of a board should be of equal standing and have a right to serve terms of the same duration. There is a likelihood that somebody who will only be on the board for two years will only have their feet under the table when they will have to start getting ready to depart, to be replaced by another member who will have similar insecurity and short tenure. That is fundamentally unfair. There are a number of possible alternatives the Minister could consider which would not significantly impact on the functioning of the board. I will suggest three in order of preference.
First, I suggest that the Minister leave the board at 12 members, but reduce the number of ministerial nominees from seven to five. That would automatically give Waterford, Cork and Meath membership of the board. The second preference is that the Minister could increase the board membership from 12 to 14. This will involve minor additional costs, which are insignificant in the overall running of the board. It would meet the requirement that Cork, Waterford and Meath would have representation on the board. The third option, which I advance reluctantly, is to remove the right of local authorities of all Gaeltacht areas to nominate anybody to the board, so at least there would not be discrimination against any sector. The Minister could reserve to himself, his Department and his ministerial successors the right to nominate all the members of the board. That is my least preferred alternative proposal to what is proposed in the Bill.
The Minister has scope to deal with this issue. What is in the Bill is a slight on the Muskerry Gaeltacht and the other smaller Gaeltachtaí and that is unfair. No rationale has been advanced in the Bill, that I can see, to explain why this should be the case. I sincerely urge the Minister, on what is otherwise an important day for the language and for the objectives in the Bill, to reconsider this critical issue and treat all the Gaeltachtaí equally. It is essential. We have discussed this matter previously and I am aware it is something the Minister is considering. I await his reply to this debate and the amendments he will table. It is critical that the small Gaeltachtaí are not discriminated against in terms of board membership.
We have seen what effective representation on the board can achieve. Notwithstanding that there is a lone voice for the Muskerry Gaeltacht on the board, it has worked effectively for that area. The same can be said for Waterford and Rath Cairn Gaeltacht in Meath. This regrettable shortcoming in the Bill can be easily resolved if there is the political will to do so. I have advanced three possible ways of dealing with it. It is an issue the Minister should consider in his reply to this debate and in amendments. I understand time is important and that the debate will conclude next week, but I believe it is possible to draft appropriate amendments in that short time.
This is not a pitch for an individual member. I appreciate that the skills set required is people with language competence and, importantly, people with enterprise skills and people who have the capacity to conduct business through the medium of Irish. I do not mind if the Minister has a prerequisite in terms of the skills set required. Local authorities are not necessarily obliged to nominate council members, but there is a way to solve this. We can advance the interests of the language, the Gaeltacht areas and the position of the language across the country in a harmonious fashion if these issues can be addressed.