Topical Issue Debate

IBRC Liquidation

During the consumer impact section of last February's debate on the promissory note deal, the Minister for Finance made a point of saying it was "critically important that deposit account holders, mortgage account holders and those indebted to the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC, understand that their situation following the liquidation should generally remain unchanged". I have been contacted by a number of former Irish Nationwide mortgage holders, who are now obviously involved in the IBRC, since a variation on that statement was contained in a recent reply the Minister gave to a number of Deputies from the Technical Group. The reply stated:

I am advised that the contractual terms and conditions of customer mortgages and other borrowings of IBRC will not change as a result of the appointment of the Special Liquidators or the ultimate sale of the obligations to a third party ... The continued applicability of the Central Bank Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears and Mortgage Arrears Targets Programme will depend on the regulatory status of the ultimate acquirer of the portfolio which we will not know until the sales process has concluded.

There is a complete contrast between the two commitments. The Minister said in February that the circumstances will not change, but he said more recently that the question of whether the circumstances will change will depend on who buys the loan book. People with performing and non-performing mortgages are very concerned about who might ultimately buy these loan books and the changes in circumstances that might arise at that time. For example, the Central Bank might afford a lack of protection to some of the entities that might purchase loan books. I will come back in on other aspects of this matter after I have heard the Minister of State's reply.

I support Deputy Murphy in this regard. The issue at hand is the future of approximately 13,000 individual IBRC mortgage holders. Over 11,000 of those mortgages relate to principal private residences and family homes. The key issue is the potential for these people to lose the protections afforded to them by the code of mortgage arrears if the mortgage book is sold by the special liquidator to an entity that is not regulated by the Central Bank. That is the key concern. As Deputy Murphy has said, a recent ministerial reply suggested that "the continued applicability of the Central Bank Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears and Mortgage Arrears Targets Programme will depend on the regulatory status of the ultimate acquirer of the portfolio which we will not know until the sales process has concluded". That is not acceptable. The Minister has the power under section 4 of the IBRC Act to issue direction orders to the special liquidator. As far as I am concerned, under no circumstances should the Minister allow the mortgage book to be sold to an entity that is not regulated by the Central Bank. The consequence of such a sale would be that 11,000 mortgage holders would lose the key protections that apply to their family homes having been built up by successive Governments. To my mind, that would be unacceptable.

The mortgage holders have organised themselves as a group and this is to be welcomed. There is a great deal of information on a website, askaboutmoney.com. Mr. Brendan Burgess is advocating quite strongly on behalf of these mortgage holders. They have other concerns apart from those I have raised. In particular, they are concerned that the mortgage book might be sold on to a vulture fund or a venture capital fund that might unilaterally decide to increase interest rates. While it could be argued that the same thing applies to any bank or individual mortgage holder, it is a key concern for individuals. It is important for this House to reassure people that they will retain these key protections if the mortgage book is sold. That is absolutely essential. The Minister has made some positive noises about the possibility of NAMA ending up with the mortgage book. NAMA would almost certainly step up to the plate in terms of applying the current standards and protections. We need reassurance to be provided in this House.

I thank the Deputies for raising this very important issue for the people concerned. As the House will be aware, the special liquidators were appointed on 7 February to manage the liquidation of the IBRC for the benefit of all the creditors of the IBRC. Their role is to ensure the liquidation is carried out in an orderly manner within a given timeframe.

Independent valuers were engaged to value all the assets of the IBRC including the residential mortgage portfolio. All IBRC borrowers including the residential mortgage customers received correspondence from the special liquidators. This provided them with an update on the special liquidation and the sale of their loans. Borrowers were invited to make representations on the method of the disposal of their loans and the criteria for determining who may bid for these assets. The special liquidators took into consideration the responses received from the borrowers and also the independent sales advice they received. They then decided to split the residential mortgage book into four segments, namely, performing, non-performing, owner-occupier and buy-to let-mortgages, to bring them to the market. The special liquidators believe this sales approach would be the most efficient method of disposal. It is their belief that this approach is in the best interest of IBRC creditors, including the State and by extension the taxpayer.

The special liquidators are obliged to ensure that the assets of the IBRC are sold at a price that is equal to or in excess of the independent valuation obtained from the independent valuers. If no bid is received which is either at or above the valuation price, the loan asset will then be transferred to NAMA at the independent valuation price.

On the sale of the residential mortgage book, it is important to remember that phase 2 of that process has only commenced in the last week. I am advised by the special liquidators that the portfolio has attracted a range of credible bidders. However, it is far too early to speculate as to who may ultimately acquire the portfolio.

The regulatory status of the ultimate acquirer of the residential mortgage book will determine whether the Central Bank code of conduct on mortgage arrears, CCMA, will formally apply to that institution. The CCMA is issued under section 117 of the Central Bank Act 1989 and only applies to PDH mortgages by lenders who are regulated by the Central Bank. Unfortunately, given the legal status of the code, it is not possible to apply the code to institutions other than those institutions regulated by the Central Bank.

While I appreciate the concern of IBRC customers over the continued applicability of the code, a number of factors should be considered in the context of the sale of this book. First, I have been advised that in the event that NAMA ultimately acquires this IBRC residential mortgage book, it will determine its strategy for the management of that book being mindful of its legal obligations and also general market norms. As such NAMA is likely to apply best practice and no borrower will be in any worse position legally.

Second, recent court judgments suggest that compliance with the code is becoming a necessary condition for lenders seeking court orders for the repossession of primary residences. This is an important consideration as it is unlikely that an unregulated acquirer of the IBRC residential mortgage book would not seek to apply the code where it might have a detrimental impact on its ability to seek a repossession order.

I understand and appreciate that the sales process of the IBRC loans is an anxious time for mortgage holders with the bank. I reassure customers that the contractual terms and conditions of customer mortgages and other borrowings have not changed as a result of the appointment of the special liquidators. Furthermore they will not change as a result of the ultimate sale of these obligations to a third party.

The liquidation of the IBRC is progressing in a timely and orderly manner, and I am satisfied with the progress that has been made to date. The wind-down of the IBRC has been an arduous task and there have been many challenges in its execution. However, I reassure the House that the mortgage-holder customers of the IBRC are being treated fairly in this liquidation.

The key point is that they do not feel they are being treated fairly and that moral hazard only seems to apply to the little man. There is an inadequate supply of funding in the Irish banks and they are not interested in taking on these mortgages - even those that are performing. We can assume that the people who will be interested in purchasing these loan books and particularly the performing ones - unless the others are to be very heavily discounted - will be from outside the State. If that is not the case, from where will the money come? Therefore there is a considerable prospect that they will not be under the control of the Central Bank. There is good reason for people to be concerned about how they might be treated afterwards. The loans that are likely to go to NAMA are the non-performing ones that are not attractive to prospective purchasers. People are telling us they are hanging on by their fingernails. Any change in conditions will be of major significance for people with these mortgages. It is not right that they will not be covered by the Central Bank guarantee in how they are to be handled.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. If the loan book ends up in NAMA, I expect that best practice will apply. Even though NAMA is not a regulated entity, I suspect the code of conduct would be applied; I do not question that.

It would have to have regard to it.

The issue arises if it goes to an entity not regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. In his response, the Minister of State said it would be in the purchaser's interest to apply the code because it might find it difficult to get a repossession order in court otherwise. However, there is uncertainty there. I believe it should be explicit and clear that under no circumstances should the IBRC mortgage holders lose the key protections every other borrower has under the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. That should be a condition of the sale of the mortgage book. Under section 9 of the legislation, the Minister has the power to impose that condition. I believe that should be done as otherwise we run the risk that 11,000 borrowers in respect of their principal private residences will lose statutory protection for their family homes. That is unacceptable and is entirely avoidable if the political will exists.

It has been very useful to have this debate and I thank both Deputies for raising the issue. I can understand the reasons for concern.

Deputy Catherine Murphy should not assume anything as to who will ultimately purchase this loan book. The State's objective through the special liquidation process is to obtain the best price we can on behalf of the taxpayer, which we all support. As we are now in the process of the sale, I will not prejudge what third party might ultimately acquire this loan book.

As I outlined, there are existing contractual arrangements between lenders and borrowers for those people who took out loans in the first place. They do not ostensively change. The key issue, as Deputy Michael McGrath said, is whether the code of conduct, which we all support, is applicable in this case. NAMA has made clear its intention to apply the code, which we welcome. Whether it ultimately purchases the loan book is a matter that will become known in due course and I will not prejudge that. However, even if it does not, as a result of recent court decisions on repossessions it is clear that the courts are requiring parties to have a clear understanding and operation of the code where repossessions proceedings are brought before the courts.

Having the code in place provides an additional layer of protection. Most importantly having the code applied across the spectrum of people in mortgage difficulty provides some bone of comfort for people. Notwithstanding that, I take Deputy Michael McGrath's point seriously. We will keep this matter under constant review. I fully understand the difficulties people face and the Minister is being briefed on the matter on an ongoing basis.

Schools Building Projects Status

The building of a new secondary school in the town of Kells is an extremely important issue for the town and the surrounding communities. The local community supports the building of a new school but wants it to be completed as soon as possible. It is equally important that the right site is chosen and the future and current needs are met.

I and my colleague, Deputy Hannigan, other local Deputies, the town council and the local area councillors have raised concerns about the Cavan Road site. We think that the Navan Road site would be a better long-term solution. The Kells development plan recently zoned two suitable sites but it is my view and that of my colleagues that every effort should be made to develop the school on the community zoned land adjacent to the existing school campus on the Navan Road. The site on the Cavan Road is approximately 9.5 acres but it is landlocked by a supermarket on one side, a business on the other and a residence on another making it impossible to expand it for future needs. On the Navan Road site there are 12 acres adjacent to the existing school and the landowner has confirmed willingness to carry out a land swap which could be completed within a short timeframe. The site would also allow for future expansion, which is extremely important. It has been acknowledged that approximately 240 m of new road would be needed for this area but that land is available free of charge to the Department of Education and Skills should it decide to go with this site.

From a traffic management point of view the Navan Road site is much better for car-sharing. Parents would not have to make two journeys up and down the town. There are amenities next to the site, a swimming pool and playing fields. Many of the facilities there serve the schools that are there already and it would be detrimental to put the school at the other end of town. The Department needs to conduct a full assessment and comparison of the costs of the overall projects, including the possibility of having to carry out the works on the Cavan Road. The town council and Meath County Council have unanimously adopted motions asking the Department to carry out proper assessments on both sites. I ask the Minister to consider that today.

The people of Kells fully support the proposal to build a new secondary school. The issue is the location of the school. There are two sites, one on the Cavan Road at the north end of the town and one on the Navan Road at the south end of the town. The Kells development plan has zoned both sites for the purposes of building a new school. The important thing for us is that the right site is chosen. We have already spoken about this to the Minister for Education and Skills. I have visited both sites and walked up and down the fields as they are now. I share the concerns of many residents of the town. The Navan Road site is much closer to the new housing developments where the children are growing up. That site would enable them to walk and cycle to school in safety. It would also make it easier for parents to drop their children to school. It is closer to the existing school campuses where, as my colleague outlined, there is a swimming pool and sports pitches. There is in effect a campus there waiting for this new school.

I have spoken to many Kells residents about the school. They are perplexed and wonder why the Department would consider putting a school on the Cavan Road at the north end of town. People do not understand it. They are not particularly happy about it. When we spoke about this in the past the Minister told me that he needed to see some sort of consensus on behalf of the town councillors. We went to the town councillors and across the parties they have put forward a motion asking the Department to put the site on the Navan Road site as opposed to the Cavan Road site. I think a copy of that motion was sent to the Minister.

I understand that there were some land-locking issues but they have been resolved because the landowners will give permission for any access road to be built. Today we want the Minister to give a commitment that a review will be carried out of the merits of both sites. We do not want to see favouritism towards any particular site. We are simply concerned that we get the best site and we believe that is the Navan Road site.

I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. As both Deputies said, I am familiar with the issue. It has been brought to my attention. I thank both Deputies for outlining the situation and indicating that there is a great deal of concern about the location of this school.

The new school building will see some 800 students benefit from state of the art classrooms and facilities. Eureka secondary school, along with all the other schools included in bundle 5, which is part of the public private partnership, PPP, process, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016. It is envisaged that construction of this bundle of school projects will begin approximately 18 months prior to this target completion date. The delivery of this school through the PPP process is being carried out with the assistance of the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA.

The Deputies are aware that a site in Kells was acquired by my Department in 2007. This site is considered suitable for the development of the planned post-primary school and on this basis the project for Eureka secondary school was included for delivery under the PPP schools bundle 5. In that respect, work has already begun on the design of these schools and site investigations are scheduled to take place shortly. As part of the recent review of the Kells Development Plan 2013-2019, the members of the local authority approved a request from my Department to rezone the land to provide for community infrastructure, which includes educational facilities. The site is in the Department's ownership.

Ongoing representations, which have been repeated here today and to which I am listening carefully, have been made to my Department regarding the alternative site zoned in Kells for educational provision. Leaving aside that this site is not in the Department's ownership, although there have been clear indications that ownership could be available on the basis of a land swap, as I understand is the case with any proper accommodation to our benefit, several factors need to be taken into account. These include technical feasibility, associated development costs and implications for timely delivery of the project.

As part of the preliminary work to progress the PPP project, preparation of planning and surveys has commenced. This preliminary work will indicate whether any significant additional development costs are likely to be incurred in respect of the existing site in the Department's ownership. These facts will also inform the decision process. The Department will take all relevant factors into account when considering the outcome of this preliminary work, with a view to ensuring that the best interests of the taxpayer and the school community are served. I have heard very clearly, not for the first time, that it is the wish of the representatives in the area, and I am reliably informed, of parents and school communities, to have a consolidated education campus. We have some time in which to examine this particular site to see if what the two Deputies have said actually stands up. Without prejudice to any final decision I will undertake to expedite that so there will be some degree of certainty.

I thank the Minister for his response. There are technical issues that have to be addressed, such as costs and timely delivery. The fact that the landowner is willing to do a land swap and this could be completed within a short timeframe, under three months, would significantly speed up the process. A full review of both sites would be very worthwhile and will make clear what has been said.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply, which we welcome, along with his commitment to consider this proposal. I welcome his saying that he will study the additional development costs. Within the programme for Government we have committed to examining cost-benefit analyses. I expect that these development costs will not be financial only but will include social costs, such as journey time costs for parents to bring the kids to the other side of town, the additional traffic management costs and congestion costs. These should all form part of this appraisal when the Minister carries out this review. I thank the Minister for giving us his time and I look forward to a positive outcome.

I welcome the fact that this matter has been raised again. Several Deputies have raised it on different occasions. We have a degree of clarity now about the choice between the two sites. Without prejudice to any final decision there should be a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis in the totality of the terms outlined by both Deputies. This should be done as quickly as possible in order not to delay the project and to ensure that the 800 pupils are accommodated by 2016. I will report back to all the Deputies in the constituency on this matter.

National Food Bank

It is believed that, globally, one third of the world's food goes to waste. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of that waste is in the Western world - in Europe and the United States. Of course, to address global hunger fully, we need a radical shift in the distribution of wealth but, more locally, we can also help to ease the suffering of those currently economically oppressed by putting in place an infrastructure which can redistribute food to where it is most needed and save it from the bin.

Across Europe, €1 billion of food is redistributed through food banks every year. This equates to approximately 33,000 tonnes of food reaching 5 million people and making up 776 million meals. This saves businesses and charities money as well as paying for meals they are already serving, and it puts food on the plate for many people who are seriously suffering, particularly in this economic depression. A food bank rescues good quality surplus food that would otherwise have gone to waste and sends it to charities and community projects.

FareShare is a large food bank in Britain which only redistributes food inside its "best before" and "use by" dates. In 2012, it rescued 3,600 tonnes of food which would otherwise have gone to landfill. FareShare contributed towards more than 8.6 million meals in 2012, which equates to feeding 36,500 people a day. This food is delivered to a broad range of grassroots organisations all across the UK, including homeless shelters, day centres, women's refuge centres and children's breakfast clubs.

We have organisations like this in Ireland, such as Bia Food Bank and the Crosscare food bank, as well as a number of community projects in the North of Ireland, but there is no national distribution centre and, despite the great work being done, achieving the maximum capacity for sourcing food and rescuing it from waste is not currently possible. Some believe that a national food bank distribution centre could work with major supermarkets, wholesalers and others on the supply chain, and could massively increase the ability of charities and community groups to provide food where it is needed. This would only cost a small sum relative to the benefit it would yield. The head of Bia Food Bank believes it would cost some €250,000 and, given he has indicated €100,000 has already been raised, this leaves just €150,000 needed to get it off the ground.

Has the Government looked into aiding and funding these groups, helping them to source finance or taking any other type of supportive role? Crosscare runs a small food bank in Dublin but the Bia Food Bank initiative is for a nationwide scheme. Last month, Aldi stated it had to get rid of €10 million worth of surplus food each year, which is scandalous. Supermarkets, factories and other sources have also indicated they have huge waste. Nationally, it is estimated that 50,000 tonnes of good food is thrown away or fed to animals annually. When food poverty is increasing so much, it is a scandal we have not managed to organise proper distribution along the lines I have outlined.

I thank Deputy Ellis for raising this timely and important issue in regard to the distribution of surplus food. The Department has been involved for some years in administering the programme of food aid for deprived persons. The programme of food aid for deprived persons was first introduced in 1987 as a reaction to conditions faced by deprived persons during a particularly harsh winter. It was designed to release products that were available in European Community intervention stocks to charitable organisations for free distribution to people in need. Its primary objective was considered to be a social measure but it also had the effect of reducing the intervention storage costs for those products that are distributed which are borne by the EU.

For some years, butter, cheese and rice have been distributed to various charities by my Department. This year, my Department will be distributing cheese, butter and rice to the value of €2.6 million to 563 registered charities. Among those in receipt of product is the Dublin-based food bank operated by Crosscare. A number of the charities utilise the product distributed to provide meals for the most deprived in society.

In Ireland the programme is managed at operational level by hundreds of charitable organisations, mainly staffed by volunteers. The charities currently participate in the reception and distribution of the foodstuffs to deprived persons. These organisations play a key role in the implementation of the programme. However, the majority of the charitable organisations using the scheme in Ireland do not have the capacity to store large quantities of product and, therefore, the Department, as the intervention agency, arranges for the storing of the foodstuffs in various stores located throughout the country. The charities withdraw quantities of product from the stores as required and approved by the Department. The deprived programme operates as a stand-alone scheme and is not run in tandem with a national scheme.

This will be the last year that the current programme will operate under the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine in line with the expiry of the EU regulation. From 2014, the European Commission has proposed the introduction of a new fund to support the provision of food and consumer products for people who are the most deprived. The regulations for this fund have been agreed by the European Parliament and the Council and will be voted on in February 2014. The Department of Social Protection has begun preparatory work for the introduction of the new fund, which will have a budget of up to €3.5 million when co-funding by the Exchequer is taken into account.

Any proposals for the establishment of a national food bank will come in the first instance from the charitable sector in conjunction with food producers and retailers. The Minister for Social Protection and myself would welcome any ideas the Deputy might have on such a proposal.

I thank the Minister of State. There is no doubt a huge amount of work is done by the charities, and the Minister of State referred to 563 charities which are delivering different items, which is very worthwhile. However, it is clear there is a huge loss of food from other sources. As I said, Aldi indicated it had to get rid of €10 million worth of surplus food, which is scandalous. There must be some means of pulling together all of these supermarkets, businesses and other producers of food of all types, preparing a register of the food available and distributing it.

I have been out on a soup run and have seen the problems on the ground. I have also seen the problems in my own constituency office and know that due to the economic climate, some people are having cornflakes as their main meal. While this is hard to believe, it is the case that some people are not getting a full meal. There have also been cutbacks to the meals-on-wheels service for senior citizens and some children are going to school malnourished. These are the areas where we need to deliver the food. If this is co-ordinated better, we can deliver more, and there is certainly scope to do this, from the information I have received.

It is clear that the amount of food that is being thrown away in this society is massive. The Minister spoke about a new European initiative. I am not too clear about what that means. Does it mean that more money is coming in? Will it help in terms of funding, co-ordinating and bringing more groups on board to distribute and store food? The storing of food is probably very important. It is important that we can hold that food in case of emergencies and serious breakdown somewhere along the line.

I cannot but agree with what the Deputy says about the huge amount of food that is being wasted but consumers are demanding that very uniform products be available in the supermarkets. This morning, I visited north Dublin where the horticultural growers have a significant problem. There are many issues relating to supermarkets. One thing they pointed out was the demand for very uniform Brussels sprouts, carrots and turnips. There is a significant amount of wastage arising out of that. That material should certainly be looked at because the same quality exists in a carrot regardless of whether it is crooked or not and people must understand that. Shoppers do not want to buy these products.

Deputy Ellis said he did not understand the new European measure. The European Parliament has passed a directive which will come here for discussion. I welcome the input of the Deputy and everyone else because it is a huge problem and if really good, top class food is being produced here, if people here do not want to buy it, at least it should be made available. The Government will do everything in its power to help alleviate a problem with food. I welcome the opportunity here to clarify exactly where we are.

An Teanga Ghaeilge

Lá dubh don Ghaeilge a bhí ann an tseachtain seo caite nuair a d'fhógair Seán Ó Cuirreáin, an Coimisinéir Teanga, go bhfuil i gceist aige éirí as a phost mí Feabhra seo chugainn. Tá go leor sa ráiteas a thug sé don choiste Dála, ach tá abairt amháin sa ráiteas a léiríonn cé chomh tromchúiseach agus atá an cheist. Dúirt sé:

Ní fhaca mé in imeacht 30 bliain mar iriseoir nó mar Choimisinéir Teanga an oiread ísle brí agus lagmhisnigh. D'ainneoin tacaíocht ollmhór ag tromlach an phobail i gcoitinne sa tír don teanga, tá sí á ruaigeadh go leanúnach chuig imeall na sochaí, agus áirím anseo cuid mhaith den riarachán phoiblí; ní bheidh sé furasta í athabhairt ar ais go háit níos lárnaí.

Ba mhaith liomsa buíochas a shabháil leis an gcoimisinéir as ucht an éacht oibre a rinne sé agus ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis an bhfoireann atá aige freisin. Níl aon amhras ach go ndearna siadsan a ndualgais a chomhlíonadh.

Tá an-bhrón orm nach é an tAire sinsearach, an fear a fuair séala na hoifige mar Aire Gaeltachta, atá anseo inniu. Is léargas ar an dímheas atá ag an Aire ar an nGaeilge nach bhfuil seisean ag tógáil na ceiste seo inniu, agus ceist chomh tromchúiseach léi á tógáil. Muna bhfuil Gaeilge aige, tá córas aistriúcháin sa Teach. Dá mbeadh sé thall i bParlaimint na hEorpa, agus dá mbeidís ag labhairt Fraincíse, cuirfeadh sé air na cluasáin muna mbeadh Fraincís aige. Tá trua agam don Aire Stáit mar is eisean a cuirtear amach i gcónaí. Is léir go bhfuil a chroí san áit cheart, ach níl cumhacht dá laghad aige ar pholasaí an Rialtais. Ag deireadh an lae, caithfidh an tAire sinsearach, fear a bhfuil séala na hoifige aige, an fhreagracht a ghlacadh.

Nuair a thóg mise isteach an tAcht Teanga agus nuair a mhol mé don Rialtas é a chur faoi bhráid an Taoisigh agus nuair a glacadh leis, is é an smaoineamh a bhí taobh thiar den Acht sin ná go mbeadh cearta an tsaoránaigh Gaeilge a úsáid cosanta sa dlí. Thuig mé ag an am nárbh fhiú an chosaint a scríobh sa dlí muna mbeadh duine éigin ann leis an gcosaint sin a dhéanamh ar son an phobail agus sin an fáth gur cuireadh Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga mar chuid den Acht sin. An té a mhol mise don Rialtas le ceapadh ag an Uachtarán mar choimisinéir ná Seán Ó Cuirreáin, duine a bhfuil éacht oibre déanta aige le deich mbliana anuas.

Tá dualgas bunreachtúil an Ghaeilge a chosaint agus ní rud roghnaíoch é seo mar luaitear í sa Bhunreacht mar an teanga náisiúnta. Ach céard atá déanta ag an Rialtas seo? Tá sé tar éis na dualgais reachtúla agus bunreachtúla a chaitheamh ar neamhní. Tá gach rud déanta gur féidir le Oifig an Choimisinéara a chailliúnt. Níl ach ceathrar fostaí as seachtar atá ceaptha a bheith ar an bhfoireann. Tá leath de na poist le líonadh i gcónaí. Tá an Rialtas ag iarraidh an oifig a chruthú ar bhealach eile trí í a chuir isteach faoi Oifig an Ombudsman. Go simplí, tá sé ag iarraidh nach mbeidh deis cheart ag lucht labhartha na Gaeilge an Ghaeilge a úsáid.

Mar adúirt Seán Ó Cuirreáin, ní ceist airgid í seo. Is ceist pholasaí agus dearcaidh í. Ní leithscéil ar bith é mar a úsáideann an Stát go bhfuil dua ag baint le seo, mar dúirt Ó Beoláin sa Chúirt Uachtarach:

Caithfidh an Stát féin a dhualgais [i leith na Gaeilge] a chomhlíonadh, go háirithe iad siúd atá cumhdaithe sa Bhunreacht agus ní féidir é a chloisteáil ag gearán ach chomh beag leis an saoránach aonair gur dualgais thuirsiúla, throma iad sin.

Mar sin, tá mise ag rá gurb é an té ar cheart éirí as oifig anois ná an tAire Deenihan. Dá mba rud é gur éirigh Aire Leanaí as oifig nó dá n-éireodh Rialatheoir Airgeadais as oifig de bharr go raibh sé nó sí ag ceapadh go raibh an Stát faillíoch, bheadh na meáin Bhéarla ar fad ag rá gur vóta muiníne a bhí ansin san Aire. Is vóta iomlán mímhuiníne sa Rialtas, sa Taoiseach agus go mórmhór in Aire na Gaeltachta go mbraitheann an Coimisinéir Teanga go gcaithfidh sé éirí as a oifig.

Chuir an Coimisinéir Teanga in iúl dom ar 4 Nollaig, an tseachtain seo caite, go raibh sé tar éis scríobh chuig an Uachtarán an lá sin ag cur in iúl dó go mbeadh sé ag éirí as oifig ar 23 Feabhra 2014, tar éis deich mbliana a chaitheamh sa phost. Rinne an Coimisinéir Teanga fógra poiblí maidir lena chinneadh le linn dó a bheith ag tabhairt tuairisice maidir le tuarascáil bhliantúil a oifige don bhliain 2012, ag cruinniú den Chomhchoiste um Fhormhaoirsiú ar an tSeirbhís Phoiblí agus Achainíocha i dTeach Laighean ar an lá céanna, 4 Nollaig 2013.

Tá mo bhuíochas curtha in iúl agamsa don Choimisinéir Teanga, go pearsanta agus go poiblí, as an méid atá curtha i gcrích aige le linn a thréimhse in oifig agus tá áthas orm an deis a fháil é sin a chur ar thaifead an Tí seo inniu. Níl aon amhras ach go ndeachaigh an Coimisinéir Teanga i gceann a oifige nua a bhunú le fís agus díograis agus tá an t-ardmheas atá air i measc phobal na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta tuillte dá réir aige. Is trua liom, ar ndóigh, gur thóg an Choimisinéir Teanga an cinneadh gan a théarma ceapacháin, a mhaireann go dtí 22 Feabhra 2016, a chríochnú. Tá na céimeanna cuí á nglacadh ag mo Roinn anois chun coimisinéir nua a cheapadh agus cuirfear moladh ina leith seo faoi bhráid an Rialtais in am trátha.

Ba mhaith liom díriú anois go hachomair ar chuid de na pointí atá ardaithe sa phlé atá idir chamáin ó chuir an coimisinéir in iúl go raibh sé chun éirí as oifig. Tá sé tábhachtach a aithint go bhfuil feabhas tagtha ar líon agus ar chaighdeán na seirbhísí Stáit i nGaeilge a chuireann comhlachtaí poiblí ar fáil ó tháinig Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla i bhfeidhm. Aithníodh ón tús gur próiseas forchéimnitheach a bheadh i gceist le forfheidhmiú an Achta agus tá an dul chun cinn atá déanta maidir le forálacha éagsúla den Acht nótáilte sa Teach seo cheana féin.

Faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, is é an tAire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta atá freagrach as scéimeanna teanga na gcomhlachtaí poiblí a dhaingniú. Ní miste dom a threisiú arís go maireann scéim teanga i bhfeidhm ar feadh trí bliana ón dáta a dhaingnítear í, nó go dtí go ndaingnítear scéim nua, cibé acu is moille. Ó tháinig an tAcht i bhfeidhm, tá 148 scéim san iomlán daingnithe, ar a n-áirítear 112 céad scéim, 35 dara scéim agus tríú scéim amháin. Tá beagnach 200 comhlacht poiblí san iomlán clúdaithe faoi na scéimeanna éagsúla seo. Ní miste a aithint maidir le feidhmeanna comhlachtaí poiblí go ndéantar cuid dóibh a scor ó am go chéile. Mar shampla, tá an Bord Oideachais agus Oiliúna tagtha in áit na gcoistí gairmoideachais agus tá iarrtha agam ar gach ceann de na boird nua scéim teanga a ullmhú.

Faoi láthair, tá plé leanúnach ar siúl ag mo Roinn le 128 comhlacht poiblí maidir le scéimeanna a aontú. Tá sé aitheanta cheana go bhfuil an próiseas maidir le scéimeanna teanga a aontú casta agus tá céimeanna éagsúla chun an córas a éascú á mbeartú, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs na leasuithe reachtúla atá beartaithe a dhéanamh ar an Acht.

Is aidhm lárnach pholasaí de chuid an Rialtais é úsáid na Gaeilge agus tá sé ina ghné thábhachtach den pholasaí sin i gcónaí go mbeadh baill fhoirne atá inniúil sa Ghaeilge ar fáil sa Státseirbhís. Ceaptar gurb é an bealach is fearr chun an aidhm seo a bhaint amach ná trí chur chuige níos spriocdhírithe a úsáid chun a chinntiú go mbeidh foireann leis na scileanna riachtanacha Gaeilge ar fáil chun seirbhísí a sholáthar trí Ghaeilge nuair a theastaíonn sin. Sa chomhthéacs seo, thóg an Rialtas cinneadh i mí Dheireadh Fómhair 2013 an polasaí maidir le marcanna bónais do chomórtais earcaíochta agus ardaithe céime a chur ar ceal agus bearta a chur in áit a gcuirfidh leis an líon oifigeach sa Státseirhbís a bheidh in ann feidhmiú go dátheangach. Mar chéad chéim sa phróiseas seo, sa chéad chomórtas eile d'oifigigh fheidhmiúcháin a reáchtálfar go luath, tá sé i gceist fo-phainéal de dhá theanga feidhmeacha a bhunú nach rachaidh thar 6% den phainéal iomlán. Is dóigh liom féin gur céim dhearfach í seo, a thabharfaidh deis do Ranna Stáit a gcuid riachtanas maidir le seirbhísí i nGaeilge a aithint, agus tá mé dóchasach go rachaidh an t-athrú seo chun sochair don Ghaeilge sa státchóras sa todhchaí.

Tá dréacht cinn de Bhille chun Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla a leasú beagnach ullmhaithe agus tá mé ag súil iad a chur faoi bhráid an Rialtais ag tús na hathbhliana. Chomh maith leis na leasuithe éagsúla atá beartaithe mar thoradh ar an athbhreithniú, beidh bearta a bhainfidh le cónascadh Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga le hOifig an Ombudsman a chur i bhfeidhm. Ba mhaith liom a threisiú anseo inniu nach gcuirfidh an cónascadh seo isteach ar neamhspleáchas an Choimisinéara Teanga i bhfeidhmiú a chuid cumhachtaí agus go bhfanfaidh an oifig lonnaithe sa Ghaeltacht.

Mar fhocal scoir, ba mhaith liom a rá arís go bhfuil mé an-bhuíoch don Choimisinéir Teanga as an méid atá déanta aige chun a chinntiú go mbeidh feabhas forchéimnitheach ag teacht ar sheirbhísí an Stáit do phobal na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta sna blianta amach romhainn. Aithníonn muid ar fad go bhfuil dúshláin le sárú maidir le cur chun cinn na Gaeilge sa státchóras féin, sa Ghaeltacht agus sa phobal i gcoitinne. Is ábhar misnigh é an méid atá curtha agus á chur i gcrích ag an Rialtas seo chun bonn láidir folláin a chur faoin Ghaeilge. Tá mé dóchasach fosta go rachaidh an té a thiocfaidh i gcomharbas ar an Choimsinéir Teanga i mbun oibre chomh díograiseach agus chomh fuinniúil céanna leis an chéad choimisinéir, ag tógáil ar an dúshraith láidir atá leagtha síos aige le deich mbliana anuas.

Tá trua agam don Aire Stáit, ag léamh amach an méid atá léite aige anois agus fios aige nach amhlaidh atá an scéal. Cuirtear faoin Aire teacht isteach anseo leis na finscéalta seo. Deir sé go bhfuil feabhas tagtha ar líon na seirbhísí atá ann trí Ghaeilge - tá, de bharr obair an Rialtais deiridh. Rinneadh dul chun cinn maith ag an am sin agus tá 28 de rudaí a rinne muid, ina measc: Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla; Coimisinéir Teanga; Gaeilge san Eoraip; Gaeilge sa Tuaisceart; agus míle rud eile. Ceann ar cheann, tá an tAire Stáit ag dul ar gcúl orthu sin.

Maidir le seirbhísí agus na pleananna teanga a bheith ar fáil, má bhreathnaíonn muid ar an mhéid a dúirt an Coimisinéir Teanga, feiceann muid go ndeir sé go bhfuil na pleananna seo ag dul ar gcúl agus go bhfuiltear ag éirí coinníollach, is é sin go bhfuil bealach éalaithe i go leor de na pleananna teanga anois gan a ndualgais a chomhlíonadh. Deir sé freisin go dtógfaidh sé 28 mbliain ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna 3% den fhoireann sa Roinn sin a bheith inniúil ar an Ghaeilge, ainneoin a bhfuil de Ghaelscoileanna agus Gaelcholáistí sa tír - ach deir an tAire Stáit go bhfuil polasaí ann maidir le hearcaíocht.

Tá an tAire Stáit fós ag leanúint leis an smaoineamh craiceáilte nach bhfuil glactha ar bith ag éinne i bpobal na Gaeilge leis cónascadh a dhéanamh idir Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga agus Oifig an Ombudsman. Tá a fhios agamsa nach bhfuil aon neart ag an Aire Stáit ar seo agus nach n-aontaíonn sé le seo ar chor ar bith. Is é an tAire sinsearach atá ag bord an Rialtais atá ag aontú na bpolasaithe seo. Tuigim nach bhfuil aon neart ag an Aire Stáit ar seo. Níl ann ach an duine a cuirtear amach leis an teachtaireacht. Is dóigh liom gur chuir an coimisinéir a mhéar air nuair a dúirt sé:

Tráth a bhfuil muid ag teannadh lenár bhflaitheas eacnamaíoch a fháil ar ais, ba mhór an feall é dá gcaillfimis ár bhflaitheas teanga - bunchloch dár bhféiniúlacht chultúrtha, dár n-oidhreacht agus dár n-anam mar náisiún. Creidim gur measa mar bhaol é sin anois ná riamh.

Eisean atá á rá. Eisean, fear neamhspleách agus fear a bhfuil meas ag an Aire Stáit air agus ag pobal na Gaeilge air. Eisean a dúirt é, ní éinne eile. Tá sé in am ag an Aire Stáit éisteacht.

Ba mhaith liom cúpla rud a shoiléiriú don Teachta. Thagair sé don Aire Deenihan agus is cinnte gurb é an tAire sinsearach sa Roinn. Tá córas sa Roinn maidir le feidhmeanna dlite atá socraithe ag an Rialtas agus atá tugtha domsa. Tuigim, mura bhfuil dul amú orm, go raibh an socrú céanna i bhfeidhm uair amháin nuair a bhí an Teachta ó Cuív ina Aire Stáit.

Ar phointe eolais, ní raibh riamh agus ghlac an tAire sinsearach i gcónaí freagracht as an nGaeltacht, nuair a bhí mise sa Roinn mar Aire Stáit agus mar Aire sinsearach. I gcónaí, ghlac an tAire sinsearach le bun fhreagracht maidir leis an Ghaeilge.

Chomh fada agus a bhaineann sé liomsa, tá na cumhachtaí sin tugtha dom agus glacaim go hiomlán le freagracht ina leith. Ba mhaith liom é sin a shocrú - gur sin mar atá sé i láthair na huaire ag an Rialtas seo.

Ar ndóigh, tá coiste Rialtais againn chomh maith ar a bhfuil an Taoiseach ina Chathaoirleach. Bíonn deis agam féin, ag an Aire Deenihan agus ag Airí eile a bhfuil páirteach i seo a bheith i láthair agus rudaí mar seo a phlé. Maidir le pleananna teanga, tá níos mó pleananna á n-ullmhú i mbliana ná mar a rinne le blianta - ar a laghad scór, agus b'fhéidir níos mó. Tá teagmháil déanta le 128 comhlacht eile le pleananna teanga a chur ar fáil. Sílim gur céim ar aghaidh mhór í sin.

Tá mise i mo Theachta Dála le breis agus 30 bliain. Níl a fhios agam an raibh an Teachta Ó Cuív anseo romham nó nach raibh. Bhí baint lárnach agam i gcónaí le cur chun cinn agus foscadh saol na Gaeilge sa Dáil seo agus sa tír seo. An rud a shásaigh mé i gcónaí, cé acu agus mé sa Fhreasúra san áit a bhfuil an Teachta Ó Cuív nó an tamall beag atá mé abhus anseo, ná nach ndearna mé uirlis pholaitíochta den Ghaeilge riamh. Má dhéanann muid uirlis pholaitíochta ná uirlis pháirtí den teanga Ghaeilge, is í an Ghaeilge a bhíonn thíos leis ar an drochuair. Tá súil agam go rachaidh muid ar aghaidh le chéile, gan a bheith scoilte ar an Ghaeilge. Rinneadh sin cheana féin agus tá an t-eolas sin ag an Teachta. Rinneadh scoilt ar bhonn páirtí polaitíochta agus páirtithe eile maidir leis an Ghaeilge agus is an teanga a bhí thíos leis. In ainm Dé, seasaimis le chéile ar son na teanga san am amach romhainn agus déan dearmad den pholaitíocht.

Sitting suspended at 2 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.