Priority Questions

Departmental Expenditure

Éamon Ó Cuív


18. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if her Department will expend the full allocation made available to her Department in the Estimates for 2016; if not, the likely shortfall in expenditure in 2016 and the reasons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37560/16]

Looking at the expenditure report of the Department month on month, it is clear there is a huge underspend in the Department. Will the Minister end up in a situation whereby money is returned to the Exchequer? What can be done to avoid that when there is so much work to be done, both in the arts, heritage, Gaeltacht, regional and rural development, and the islands? How did this happen?

While it is too early at this point to accurately forecast the full end of year outturn, I can advise that all current funding is expected to be expended in full and no capital savings beyond those which can be carried forward by deferred surrender into 2017 are envisaged at present.

Public financial procedures provide that a maximum of 10% of the capital envelope of a Vote may be carried over by way of deferred surrender to the following year for spending in that year on priority capital programmes. For my Department, this means that a maximum of just over €13.5 million in capital funds can be carried over into 2017, subject to the approval of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

There have been delays in the drawdown of funding across a number of programme areas within my Department's Vote. These relate in the main to the rural and regional programme, which transferred to my Department in June last, and the arts programme in respect of certain once-off decade of centenaries projects.

With regard to the rural and regional programme, the main delay in drawdown is in regard to Leader. This is because the new Leader programme has only recently commenced.

In terms of the arts programme, there have been some delays in drawdown of funding regarding the permanent reminders component of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme. There were unavoidable delays in regard to the national monument at 14-17 Moore Street and the major redevelopment at the National Archives. While some progress has been made on these projects, the full expected drawdown of funds will not now occur this year.

All expenditure within my Department's Vote will continue to be carefully monitored between now and year-end to ensure the best use of all available financial resources.

Could the Minister confirm that the allocation for the Leader programme for this year was €40 million and that, at the end of October, the expenditure was €8,333,000, meaning that €32 million, or three quarters of the fund, had been left unspent? Can she explain how she will get the total carry-over to €13 million or less, which is the figure I thought she mentioned, when she has an underspend of €32 million on that one sub-head? My understanding is that there will be no capital expenditure on Leader, other than on administration, which would amount to approximately €10 million, bringing the figure up to €30 million. Can the Minister explain to me, out of the €30 million, and that is not allowing for any other underspending of capital, where that money will be spent between now and the end of the year because it certainly will not be spent on Leader?

Regarding the Leader funding, there was €40 million in the budget. I have just reallocated under €35 million. That was made up of €22 million from the Leader rural sub-economy programme; that is, €22 million out of the €40 million. The balance of almost €13 million came from the arts programme, which mainly related to allocations originally made in respect of the decade of centenaries programme. I reallocated the €22 million in Leader funding to other programmes and projects that benefit rural Ireland, including town and village regeneration, which got an extra €6 million. The rural economic development zones, REDZ, programme got an extra €5 million. The national countryside recreation strategy got an extra €4 million and CLÁR got an extra €3 million. Waterways Ireland got an extra €3 million and the rural broadband scheme got an extra €1 million.

To give the Minister one example, she said she allocated extra funding under town and village renewal but after ten months, nothing of the €4 million initially allocated had been spent. Can the Minister explain how she will get all of these builds done in the last month? She spoke about the CLÁR programme. I have not seen any announcement by the Minister's Department on the approval of specific projects under the CLÁR programme even though she has allocated funds. The Minister might outline when we can expect announcements on specific projects under CLÁR and how they will be completed by the end of the year? Finally, does the Minister not think it is very bad practice to have a carry-over of, say, €13 million? I have no doubt she negotiated the Estimate on the basis that she needed more money and I have no doubt also that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, DPER, said to her that she could not spend what it gave her this year. Does she not accept that is totally unacceptable in terms of the good running of the Department?

All of the budgets are being kept under review. As the Deputy will appreciate, this happens. It is normal in any budgetary year. I am keeping spending under close review and I am keeping in touch with DPER. There are a number of weeks to go before the end of the year and spending continues. On the programme side, as I said, I expect to spend all of my current expenditure apart from the capital amount a Minister is allowed to carry over at the end of the year.

On the CLÁR programme, we hope to be in a position to announce that very shortly.

Library Projects

Peadar Tóibín


19. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the departmental scheme under which the decision was made to fund the Mary Robinson library. [37402/16]

Yesterday, we learned that the former President, Mary Robinson, is to withdraw her application for tax relief under section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, which was linked to the controversial proposal for a purpose-built library at her former family home in Ballina. It is a good development because it means there will be a saving to the State of some millions of euro. What was the Minister's role in making the decision on the go-ahead of that project? Under what programme or section in the Department was that decision made? What role did the Taoiseach have with regard to the decision?

My Department approved a grant to Mayo County Council in respect of the proposed Mary Robinson centre in Ballina under subhead A7 of my Department’s Vote, which supports cultural infrastructure and development.

It should be noted that my Department supports a range of capital projects in the cultural area, both scheme-based and once-off. For example, the permanent reminder projects, which were developed as part of the Ireland 2016 centenary programme, were all once-off projects promoted by a mixture of public entities, including Government Departments and offices, State agencies and local authorities.

In the case referred to by the Deputy, my Department received a formal request for funding in July 2015 from the project promoters, Mayo County Council. This funding was provided in the normal way in the context of the 2016 Revised Estimates. In February 2016, my Department offered a capital grant in principle to Mayo County Council of up to €2 million towards the cost of construction of the proposed centre, subject to the standard conditions that apply to all such capital grants.

The board of the Victoria House Foundation issued a statement yesterday indicating that it is now to review the options for developing the proposed centre in Ballina following the decision to donate the Mary Robinson archive to NUI Galway. It was indicated that this review would be completed in the first quarter of 2017. My Department is liaising with Mayo County Council on the matter and I will consider any proposals which may emerge from the review, when completed.

The people of Mayo, in particular, Ballina, are rightly proud of the legacy of Mrs. Mary Robinson for her work, as an iar-Sheanadóir, as a former President and as a former UN High Commissioner. It is important, if possible, that the Minister should work with the two organisations to ensure the archive has a facility for display in Ballina in Mayo but it is also important that we protect the taxpayers' money.

I understand that the Minister accepted a guarantee of indefinite value from Mayo County Council with regard to the potential cost of this project. In other words, Mayo County Council stated that if there were unforeseen costs the Department would not accept, Mayo County Council would. This, in effect, is a blank cheque from a State organisation on a particular project. Did it not cause alarm to the Minister, given that she is also dealing with the Galway Picture Palace controversy where there is funding going into what looked to a certain extent like a black hole without the service being made available to the people of Galway as of yet?

This project, as I said, is being developed by Mayo County Council. I met it in relation to the plans early last year when I was briefed on the project. My Department then got a formal request for funding towards the Mary Robinson centre from Mayo County Council in July of 2015, and the request was for €2.175 million. Funding of €2 million for the Mary Robinson centre was subsequently included in the 2016 Revised Estimates Volume, which was published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on 17 December 2015. We have approved the grant to the local authority but no funding has been drawn down. The grant offer is subject to the standard conditions that apply to all capital grants and these must be met before any funding is drawn down. All funding needed to bring the facility into public use must be in place and documented before a contract with a developer is signed and before any grant payments are made by my Department.

To clarify regarding the responsibilities of the spending, the onus to ensure compliance with The Public Spending Code, published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, falls in the first instance to the project promoter, which in this case is Mayo County Council. Under the provisions of The Public Spending Code, a cost-benefit analysis is required for projects with a total cost of €20 million or more. My Department will be satisfying itself that the project is in compliance with the relevant requirements of the code before any funding is released to Mayo County Council.

It must strike the Minister as unusual that a State body, the county council, entered into an agreement with the Department on this project in which the local authority gave a commitment that it would cover the unforeseen costs that would arise given that we have found out subsequently that the building in question has major structural problems and would have needed major investment for the project to have gone ahead. Perhaps the Minister would address that as I did ask it in the first part of the question.

The second issue is the role of the Taoiseach. Has the Taoiseach discussed this with the Minister? Did the Department of the Taoiseach discuss it with her? Did his Department discuss it with her Department? We understand that the imprimatur of the Taoiseach was fully behind this project before all those cost-benefit analyses were carried out.

Does it make sense for the materials which were created while a well-pensioned former public representative was in the employment of the State to be the subject of a tax relief in the future? Should the Taoiseach be able to apply for a tax relief in the future for an archive that he has produced? Is it not time to get rid of the tax relief for archives from public representatives?

To be clear, there is nothing unusual about this process. We work regularly with local authorities and we support local authorities in developing projects in their counties. In fact, I can give the Deputy a list of projects that were awarded grants under departmental schemes. Projects which were awarded grants in recent years include the Wexford Opera House, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the Fire Station Artists' Studios, the North Inner City Task Force, Athlone Little Theatre, Boston College Active Research Limited, Druid Theatre in Galway, the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin, the Gate Theatre, Other Voices and Na Píobairí Uilleann. Those are examples of other projects that requested funding.

There were guarantees made on the project.

The Taoiseach did not ask me to provide funding for this project but I was aware that he was supportive of the project because he made it known. Naturally, he spoke publicly about his support for the project. As a Deputy for Mayo, why would he not want to support a worthwhile project in his constituency?

Foireann Roinne

Éamon Ó Cuív


20. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gnóthaí Réigiúnacha, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta cad é líon na bhfolúntas foirne sa Roinn nach bhfuil líonta go fóill; cad iad na rannóga lena mbaineann siad; cad iad na céimeanna nó na gráid atá i gceist; cén uair ar éirigh na folúntais seo; an bhfuil sé i gceist an tríú príomhoifigeach a cheapadh i rannóg na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na noileán; cén uair a líonfar na folúntais seo; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [37561/16]

Cé mhéad folúntas foirne atá sa Roinn? Cén fáth nach bhfuil siad líonta? De réir mar a thuigim, tá roinnt folúntas sa Roinn le tamall agus, ar chuma éigin, níl siad líonta. Tá sé an-deacair an obair a dhéanamh mura bhfuil folúntais líonta de réir mar a éiríonn siad. Ar ndóigh, an lá go siúlann duine amach as post, ba cheart go siúladh duine eile isteach ina áit.

Déantar athbhreithniú rialta ar líon foirne na rannán go léir i mo Roinn ar aon dul leis na riachtanais ghnó a thagann chun cinn mar chuid de phróiseas pleanála na Roinne don fhórsa oibre. Nuair a thagann post folamh chun cinn ar aon chúis, ní chaitear leis ar bhonn aonair mar phost atá le líonadh go huathoibríoch. Ina áit sin, déantar scrúdú criticiúil ar riachtanas leanúnach phoist gan líonadh dá leithéid mar chuid de phróiseas pleanála mo Roinne don fhórsa oibre, ag cur tosaíochtaí foirne reatha eile i gcuntas i gcomhthéacs pholasaí an Rialtais i ndáil le pá agus soláthar foirne na hearnála poiblí, de réir mar atá curtha in iúl ag an Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe.

Tá trí phost á líonadh faoi láthair i ránnán Gaeltachta na Roinne. Is iad seo stiúrthóir na Gaeilge, folúntas a tháinig chun cinn i mí Eanáir 2016, príomhoifigeach, folúntas a tháinig chun cinn i mí Mheán Fómhair 2016, agus oifigeach feidhmiúcháin, folúntas a tháinig chun cinn i mí na Nollag 2015.

Rinne an tSeirbhís um Cheapacháin Phoiblí an feachtas earcaíochta do phost stiúrthóir na Gaeilge a fhógairt ar an 9 Meán Fómhair 2016 ar Meastar go líonfar an post seo a luaithe a bheidh an comórtas curtha i gcrích sna seachtainí atá amach romhainn.

Tá post mar phríomhoifigeach á líonadh ag mo Roinn freisin i rannán na Gaeltachta trí chomórtas inmheánach. Déanfar agallaimh don phost seo a reáchtáil ar an 12 Nollaig 2016. Meastar go gceapfar duine ón phainéal a chuirfear le chéile mar thoradh na hagallaimh sin mar phríomhoifigeach faoi dheireadh na bliana.

Tá mo Roinn ag breathnú freisin ar an fhéidearthacht a bhaineann le hoifigeach feidhmiúcháin a thrasaistriú chuig an oifig sna Doirí Beaga. Níl aon chinneadh déanta go dtí seo maidir leis an tríú príomhoifigeach a cheapadh do rannán na Gaeltachta.

Gabhaim mo bhuíochas leis an Aire Stáit as ucht an cheist seo a fhreagairt. An bhfuil aon fholúntas eile in aon áit eile sa Roinn nach bhfuil líonta? An é an scéal atá ann ná go bhfágfar lucht na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileán ar an trá fholamh? Níl sé sásúil ar chor ar bith go bhfuil cuid mhaith de na folúntais seo ann le bliain anuas agus go bhfuil an Roinn ag caint timpeall i gciorcal ó thaobh iad a líonadh. Sa deireadh ní raibh ach príomhoifigeach amháin ann agus bhí an Roinn gan aon stúirthóir ag plé le gnóthaí Gaeilge, Gaeltachta agus oileánda. Tá sé sin thar a bheith mí-shásúil.

An bhfuil aon fholúntas eile sa Roinn nach raibh líonta i gcaitheamh an ama seo nó nach bhfuil líonta i láthair na huaire? Cén fáth ar thóg sé bliain a oibriú amach go dteastódh stiúrthóir na Gaeilge sa Roinn?

Go bhfios dom, níl aon fholúntas in aon áit eile seachas iadsan i rannóg na Gaeilge. Ba í Máire Killoran stiúrthóir na Gaeilge ach tá folúntas ann don phost sin ó mhí Eanáir 2016. Ansin bhí olltoghchán ann agus thóg sé am Rialtas a chur le chéile. Tharla sé sin i dtús mhí na Bealtaine. Ina dhiaidh sin, bhí orainn cead a fháil ón Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe. Ansin bhí an samhradh orainn. Rinneadh an cinneadh agus d'fhógair an tSeirbhís um Cheapacháin Phoiblí ar an 9 Meán Fómhair 2016. Thóg sé am é sin a dhéanamh ach beidh an post líonta roimh an Nollaig. Aontaím leis an Teachta gur phost fíorthábhachtach é ó thaobh an straitéis 20 bliain agus Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla de agus beidh ról tábhachtach ag an duine sin as seo amach.

Ní ghlacaim leis an bhfreagra atá tugtha don Aire Stáit le tabhairt dom. Bhí a fhios ag an Roinn go raibh Máire Killoran ag imeacht sara d'imigh sí. Ní thuigim cén fáth nár réitíodh amach san am go raibh an Roinn ag fanacht go n-imeodh sí go raibh stiúrthóir na Gaeilge le bheith ag teastáil ar aon chuí . Ní thuigim cén ceist mhór a bhí le plé ag an Roinn Caiteachtais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe maidir le líonadh post an stiurthóra. Níl an tAire Stáit ag rá liomsa go m'bhféidir go gcuirfí deireadh leis sin agus go bhfágfaí rannóg na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileán taobhach le príomhoifigeach amháin, rud atá tarlaithe.

Go bhfios domsa, gach aon lá ó mhí Eanáir seo caite agus sa tréimhse roimhe sin nuair a bhí fógra tugtha aici, bhí Rialtas in áit agus bhí dualgas ar an Rialtas sin cinnte a dhéanamh. Ní leithscéal ar bith é an olltoghchán. Chuile lá le bliain anuas, nuair a bhí a fhios ag an Roinn go raibh Máire Killoran ag imeacht, bhí Rialtas in áit. Cén fáth gur thóg sé bliain, nó geall leis, an post seo a líonadh nuair atá an oiread sin oibre le déanamh ó thaobh na Gaeilge de agus nuair atá an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge le cur in áit?

Ó cheapadh mise mar Aire Stáit ar an 19 Bealtaine, bhí an post seo á líonadh. Bhí sé ar bharr mo liosta. Bhí mé i dteagmháil go minic le feidhmeannaigh mo Roinne agus leis an Ard-Rúnaí. Bhí seisean i dteagmháil leis an Roinn Caiteachais Phoiblí agus Athchóirithe. Rinne an Roinn sin cinneadh tar éis tamaill cead a thabhairt do mo Roinn dul ar aghaidh agus an post a líonadh. I rith an tréimhse roimh an olltoghchán, agus ina dhiaidh, ní raibh an Roinn sásta cinneadh mór a dhéanamh gan Rialtas nua curtha le chéile agus cinneadh déanta maidir leis an bpost seo agus leis an bpolasaí a bheadh ann.

Mar a dúirt mé, beidh an post líonta roimh an Nollaig agus beidh an duine ag obair ag tús na bliana agus ag dul ar aghaidh leis an obair tábhachtach atá le déanamh.

Irish Language

Mattie McGrath


21. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if she will review the funding allocation provided for the development and growth of the Irish language with specific reference to the fact that the number of Irish language summer camps has been reduced from 92 in 2015 to 59 in 2016, a drop of 35%; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37693/16]

Níl aon airgead ag grupaí Gaeilge. There have been reductions in the money provided to Conradh na Gaeilge, Foras na Gaeilge and other organisations that are providing valuable supports to community groups and groups such as naíonraí and coláistí samhraidh. Níl aon seans acu an obair a dhéanamh.

Ní aontaím nach bhfuil aon airgead acu. At the outset, I emphasise that almost €60 million has been provided in the 2017 Estimates for the Irish language and the Gaeltacht and islands programme, including funding for An Foras Teanga. This represents an increase of €2.3 million over the 2016 baseline provision.

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the annual summer camps scheme funded by Foras na Gaeilge. In that context, there are three general points I wish to bring to the attention of the House. First, Foras na Gaeilge, as an agency of An Foras Teanga - a North-South implementation body - is co-funded by my Department with the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland. Consequently, its budget is subject to approval by the North-South Ministerial Council, NSMC. Second, the indicative provision of €13.239 million in my Department's Vote for An Foras Teanga in 2017 is intended to fund both agencies of the body - Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency - in addition to providing ring-fenced funding for Clár na Leabhar Gaeilge agus Colmcille. Third, in regard to funding for specific programmes of work, the dispersal of Foras na Gaeilge’s budget is primarily an operational matter for the agency within the framework of the NSMC approved business plan and budget.

With regard to the specific issue of summer camps, I understand from Foras na Gaeilge that funding was provided to 69 summer camps attended by 3,002 young people in 2016, but that if additional funding had been available, it would have been possible for it to provide funding for a further 45 applications which met the criteria of the scheme. From a wider perspective, the House will be interested to know that in addition to the summer camps funded by Foras na Gaeilge, my Department provided funding for 183 summer camps attended by 6,077 children in Gaeltacht areas and for 26,004 children attending the summer colleges scheme under Scéim na bhFoghlaimeoirí Gaeilge.

I am aware that good work is under way in regard to providing opportunities for young people to learn, to improve and to use the Irish language in a social and recreational context outside of the formal education setting. However, it is also clear that there is an even greater demand for participation in such schemes and that more could be done with the availability of additional resources. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I met recently with Foras na Gaeilge regarding these and other associated matters, and I am committed to continuing to seek additional funding for the Irish language within the overall budgetary resources available to the Government.

They are fine words but the programme for Government states that the Government will increase investment in the Irish language, yet Foras na Gaeilge has had to reduce the number of Irish language summer courses. The public agrees that additional support should be made available and that has been shown in a Millward Brown survey, in which 61% of people in 2016 agreed that the State should provide additional support for the Irish language. It is our heritage. Only 18% were against it. The majority of Teachta Dála also agreed that €18 million should be invested in the plan brought forward by 80 Irish language and Gaeltacht groups. However, the proposed funding for the Irish language is truly disappointing.

How can the Minister's Department claim to be fulfilling its responsibility for the implementation of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030, which we all fought for, when, according to Conradh na Gaeilge, both the Foras na Gaeilge budget and the Údarás na Gaeltacht capital budget have been reduced by over 50% since 2008? Sin é an tslí. I also understand there is no new funding allocated for these budgets in 2017, while the operational budget for Seachtain na Gaeilge was reduced by 40%. We speak here gach bliain faoi chabhrú le Seachtain na Gaeilge, but there is no support for it. It cannot run on air. The Minister must do something in that area and give some tacit support.

First, there were substantial increases in Údarás na Gaeltachta's capital budget for 2016 compared with 2015, including €2.4 million in additional resources allocated this autumn. That will allow Údarás na Gaeltachta, instead of using its own resources in 2016, to divert that to 2017 to invest in a series of programmes for job creation and additional capital works. There has also been an additional €2.3 million overall increase in the baseline figure over the 2016 allocation for the Irish language. There is €13.239 million, which is an indicative figure, available for An Foras Teanga, to fund both Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency. That is to be agreed at the North-South Ministerial Council in December. As I said, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I met Foras na Gaeilge last week and we will continue to push for additional funding, in the Revised Estimates and elsewhere.

Words are no use.

There is a huge disparity between what the Minister of State is saying and what I am being told. If this is what the Minister and the Department understand to be a robust commitment to the 20-year strategy, then serious questions have to be answered, and níl aon fhreagra anseo. When the budget was being delivered, the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform spoke about the kind of Ireland we want to create. Surely that ought to include a more passionate and resourced commitment to the growth and study of our Irish language. Without our teanga we will not have a nation. I strongly believe that. We need a commitment that the cuts to funding allocations will be reversed and increased. The Minister of State can mention funding of €13 million here and €13 million there but that is not the reality on the ground. Níl pingin ar fáil do a lán grúpaí. If there is anything less than this, the Government will be clearly demonstrating that when it comes to the Irish language lip-service continues to be the order of the day. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil Gaeilge flúirseach na Gaillimhe ag an Aire Stáit. The reality is that the groups are not getting funding. The Minister of State did not answer my question concerning the 40% cut for Seachtain na Gaeilge. Everybody bought into that initiative, both grupaí na Gaeilge agus grupaí an Bhéarla. A lán communities used that funding for Seachtain na Gaeilge projects but they have been drastically cut. We have to get people interested.

Tá an t-am caite. Caithfimid dul ar aghaidh.

Go raibh maith agat.

Tá noiméad amháin ag an Aire Stáit le críochnú.

I accept the Deputy's passion and interest in the Irish language and his commitment to the allocation of extra funding. I applaud that. I, as Minister of State, and the Government are committed to the 20-year strategy for the Irish language.

Cá bhfuil an t-airgead?

There were increases in funding in recent years from €500,000 to €1 million to €1.25 million this year. There has been an increase of €250,000 in the current budget for Údarás na Gaeltachta and that will allow the comharchumainn on the islands and elsewhere within Gaeltacht areas to receive extra funding to implement the work they have to do on behalf of the straitéis and the pleananna teanga. The Department of Education and Skills, in conjunction with this Department, launched, for the first time ever, an education policy for the Gaeltacht, for which €1 million has been available for this year. There is also a commitment to allocate €4 million and €8 million over the next two budgetary cycles. That has been welcomed across the board. I am committed to increasing and finding extra resources-----

What about Seachtain na Gaeilge?

-----over the next number of years for all the bodies dealing with the Irish language.

Arts Funding

Róisín Shortall


22. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the steps she will take to address the shortage of affordable studio space for artists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37698/16]

We all talk about our visual artists with a sense of national pride and we frequently praise them. Artists cannot live on praise and pride, however, they need investment in facilities. At the most basic level, we need to provide more studio space for artists in which to work. We know from Visual Artists Ireland that some 67% of artists earn less than €25,000 a year. We need to assist them on a very practical level with the provision of additional studio space.

I am aware of the issue regarding the provision of affordable studio space, particularly as a result of the changing property market. In general, I would consider that local approaches driven by artists, local arts officers and the owners of vacant buildings are best suited to respond to the specific local circumstances involved and provide the most effective outcomes.

However, my Department is also in discussion with the Arts Council, Dublin City Council and the OPW to consider some possible short-term and longer-term approaches to the issue, both in respect of specific issues in Dublin and in the context of wider national approaches. In addition, as part of the Government’s initiative on the north-east inner city, I awarded a grant of €35,000 this year to Fire Station Artists' Studios, Buckingham Street, to assist in providing additional studio space in conjunction with Dublin City Council.

In terms of investment by my Department, I have launched a new €9 million investment scheme for arts and cultural centres to run over the next three years. This will be focused on securing and enhancing our arts and culture infrastructure. The scheme will target investment at a range of different facilities, including arts centres, theatres, galleries and museums, as well as artists’ studios and creative spaces. The closing date for receipt of applications was in September and applications received are now undergoing evaluation. Awards will be announced in the near future.

In addition, I will soon be announcing a subset of the scheme, with grants of up to €20,000 for community or voluntary organisations. The details of this funding stream are being finalised and the process relating to applications will open in the near future. I will consider how best this scheme could assist with the provision or enhancement of artist studio space.

I thank the Minister for that information and those initiatives are certainly welcome. We have seen in recent years, especially as the commercial property market starts to bounce back, that a number of premises, especially in Dublin city, have been lost to the artistic community. I refer to places such as the Broadstone Studios, The Joinery in Stoneybatter and Block T in Smithfield. All those premises have been lost.

If we consider the cities to which our creative artists emigrate, both London and Berlin, for example, have very clear policies on providing space for artists and, in that way, not only do they hugely enhance the artistic and creative atmosphere in the city, they also contribute very significantly towards job creation. We know that 11% of the workforce in Berlin works in the creative field. There is huge potential in this area and we need to further invest in it.

I agree with the Deputy that there is a need for increased artists' studio space. In respect of rural Ireland, under the town and village enhancement scheme and the rural economic development zones, REDZ, programme, additional art spaces are being made available, and I very much welcome that. The REDZ programme was only announced yesterday. There is space in many of those projects for studios.

In terms of this city, I agree with the Deputy that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get premises for artists and I am conscious of that. The new capital scheme provides for an investment of €9 million, with the provision of €3 million each year for the next three years. It will take some time for the relevant projects to come on stream. This is a six-year programme and, hopefully, we should have another €9 million to invest in three years' time. I have always said that as the economy improves, we will need to invest more money in the arts.

Unfortunately, the provision of €3 million a year nationally will not go very far in terms of acquiring premises. Considering the price of premises in the Dublin area, something needs to be done. I acknowledge the work that has been done by the arts officer in Dublin City Council but the problem is that demand is far outstripping supply. We need to look at new ways of bringing vacant buildings on stream, especially those that are in the ownership of the State. Closed Garda stations, closed banks and such places could be brought into use as community facilities for visual artists who are desperately seeking space. The potential is huge in terms of people being able to earn a living working in the arts. We need a Government plan to do that, particularly in the capital, so that we can be very clear about where we are going and that we do not adopt a scatter-gun approach.

The best way to resolve this is to work with Arts Council, Dublin City Council, as the Deputy mentioned, and the OPW. Where they identify vacant buildings that are in public use, there is no reason why these could not be adapted and developed into studio spaces. If suggestions are put forward by the different organisations, I will certainly consider them. As already stated, however, the current capital scheme is closed and the applications are being assessed. When the funding is allocated and work starts on these particular projects, that should provide some extra space.