Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions (Resumed)

Heritage Sites

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

29. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the extent to which preservation or reconstruction works are in hand at various sites or buildings nationally with particular reference to the need to preserve such locations and buildings for posterity through education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24295/19]

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which preservation or restoration works are in hand at various historical buildings or sites throughout the country, with a view to availing of every opportunity to make them safe, preserve them and make them available for tourism and educational purposes.

First, I will take this opportunity to say a herzlich willkommen und schönen Aufenthalt in Irland to the German delegation.

My role with regard to the protection and management of our built heritage is set out in the provisions of relevant legislation, as are the roles of local authorities and the responsibilities of owners.

As Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I am the owner or guardian of almost 1,000 national monuments, ranging from prehistoric burial monuments to medieval fortifications and religious sites. Sites in my ownership or guardianship are maintained by the Office of Public Works. Conservation matters in respect of these sites are managed through regular liaison between the OPW and my Department, identifying condition issues and proposing appropriate conservation actions.

Educating young people about our heritage is fundamental to its preservation. To this end, the Heritage Council, funded by my Department, runs a highly successful heritage in schools programme, which aims to encourage greater awareness among primary school children of Ireland's rich heritage through engaging and stimulating visits to schools by a number of heritage in schools experts.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. Are moves afoot to identify sites that have missed out over the years and have become largely unknown in their localities? I refer to the importance of local history and the need to protect such structures and develop them archaeologically, perhaps with a view to excavation. I once had the opportunity to visit the rock of Masada and was very impressed with what had been done there. I think we can do a considerable amount here. I ask the Minister if we can look at the tapestry of historical sites and buildings throughout the country that seem to have been neglected over the years, notwithstanding the good work that has been done, with a view to encompassing them in a campaign for restoration.

I agree with the Deputy. We have to ensure that our national monuments are protected and preserved. As the Deputy knows, I am the owner or guardian of almost 1,000 national monuments ranging from prehistoric burial monuments to medieval fortifications and religious sites. Under the provisions of the National Monuments Acts, my Department has established and maintains the record of monuments and places. This affords legal protection to over 120,000 recorded archaeological sites and monuments in the State. Anyone proposing works to a monument that is included in the record of monuments and places must give my Department two months' prior notice before works can start. There are a number of mechanisms under the National Monuments Acts aimed at protecting Ireland's archaeological sites and monuments. They include any works to national monuments either managed by the OPW or those in the care of a local authority which require my consent under section 14. Two months' notice of any works to a monument which is included in the record of monuments and places must be given to my Department. Any excavation at an archaeological site can only take place under licence from my Department. For the Deputy's information, in 2018 there were 956 excavation licences issued.

Are any particular initiatives being taken to encourage the private sector where monuments or sites are in private ownership with a view to ensuring their preservation into the future and to ensuring such sites do not fade from memory? For example, a site in the middle of a forest may become extremely vague in so far as the local people are concerned. Measures might be put in place to ensure that such sites and locations are not lost forever with the passage of time. I suggest that we might initiate a particular programme of archaeological investigation and excavation to allow the present generation to avail of the benefit of such sites' existence and the knowledge that goes with it.

As the Deputy says, conservation and protection of our monuments is important, as is the enjoyment of those monuments in so far as we can enjoy them without jeopardising their structure. There is a fine balance there. In respect of supports, my Department provides financial support for the protection of heritage buildings and historic structures through the build heritage investment scheme and the historic structures fund, which are administered ultimately by local authorities. I announced funding of €4.3 million to 478 projects under these schemes. There is also the Heritage Council, which is funded by my Department and which runs a highly successful heritage in schools programme. That programme is about enjoyment for present as well as future generations. It aims to encourage greater awareness among primary schoolchildren of Ireland's rich heritage through engaging and stimulating visits to schools by heritage in schools experts. There was also an increase in visitor numbers to a castle in the Deputy's constituency last year.

Arts and Culture Capital Scheme

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

30. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if the examination of options for a new round of arts and cultural capital funding has been completed; if so, when the round will be announced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24333/19]

There is a need for a new capital programme to support arts centres across the country. We have not had one since 2017. There needs to be an ambitious capital programme so that projects such as Briary Gap in Macroom and many others can be supported. I understand the Department has been reviewing the various options. Can the Minister advise us of the up-to-date plan for a new capital programme? How ambitious is it going to be? It is going to meet the needs of places such as Macroom?

I have a soft spot for Macroom since my grandfather was born just outside it at Carrigaphooca, as I have told the Deputy before. Nevertheless we have to look at all of this from an impartial perspective. Project Ireland 2040 has given explicit recognition to the importance of our culture, language and heritage. It sets out the Government's objectives for capital investment in Ireland's culture, language and heritage. The plan includes a total of €40 million, or €4 million in each of the ten years from 2018 to 2027, to secure existing investment in arts and culture infrastructure nationwide and to ensure regional balance. A total of €3.9 million was spent on arts and culture infrastructure in 2018. This level of investment will ensure the upkeep of regional infrastructure right across the country.

The recent arts and cultural capital scheme to which the Deputy refers allocated €10.214 million to 134 projects under three complementary grant schemes for the refurbishment and enhancement of the existing arts and cultural facilities throughout the country. Over €1.5 million of this was drawn down in 2018 and over €3.9 million remains to be paid out over the coming years. This is the most significant investment in cultural infrastructure in a decade, with funding provided to arts centres, theatres, galleries and museums, artists' studios and creative spaces. The list of these projects with the amounts of their allocations is available on my Department's website.

The capital scheme is making a significant difference to many individual organisations. My Department is already seeing good outcomes and receiving positive feedback. My Department is currently giving consideration to a new round of grant funding for this capital scheme which is to be announced later this year.

In the meantime, the Arts Council in conjunction with local government, via the County and City Management Association, CCMA, commissioned an independent, strategic review of the network of venues and arts centres throughout the country. The review focuses on the infrastructure of professionally managed arts buildings that are open to the public throughout the year, and that will be used to help develop a co-ordinated, spatially informed strategy to support and develop the built infrastructure for the arts.

The previous scheme was announced in 2017. The seven flagship projects in that scheme all got grants between €300,000 and €1 million. The rest of the funding was then scattered across 55 schemes. Is the Minister considering the same scale of funding for a new scheme? How ambitious will any new scheme be? What is the total funding available for the scheme? It is three years since a fire caused the closure of the Briery Gap cultural centre in Macroom. An ambitious plan is being put in place for a €4 million redevelopment.

The county council, with fewer resources than the Minister's Department, has allocated €1 million to the project already. There is also insurance funding available. The Minister's Department has provided some moneys, about 6% of the overall cost. When we consider the size of the project and the type of schemes previously in place, the scale does not match up. Will there be an ambitious scheme that will meet the needs of projects such as Macroom and many other facilities throughout the country? The project in Macroom seeks to establish not just a cultural centre for the local area but one that will serve a wider regional and national audience.

I understand the importance of the Briery Gap theatre to the Deputy, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and the county in general. Deputy Moynihan is correct when he states that €3.9 million was spent in 2018 from a total of €10.214 million. Another €7.6 million is to be paid out. The Deputy may have noticed that I mentioned that we are waiting for the Arts Council to publish a report it has done on a review of local arts centres throughout the country. We cannot go ahead with the capital scheme until we have that report. It is important to note that the Arts Council incorporated a consultation phase into that study. All stakeholders had an opportunity to participate in that consultation. The Deputy mentioned the types of funding available. This review will inform my Department's framing of the new round of arts and cultural capital funding.

I return to an earlier question regarding the timeframe. The previous scheme was announced in 2017. Groups have been getting down to work since then. It took about a year at that stage for applications to be processed. If this scheme were to be opened tomorrow morning, it would still be almost 2020 before it would be possible to make an application. The Minister will understand the urgency given the absence of a scheme since 2017. There has been a gap in funding for three years. How quickly will a new scheme be put in place? Will the Minister ensure that this scheme is given more urgency? In addition, will the scheme have the scale of funding needed for projects such as the Briery Gap in Macroom and many others as well? As an example, an investment of €1.5 million in the redevelopment in Macroom would facilitate the provision of a €4 million regional and national cultural centre.

I call Deputy Calleary for a supplementary question.

I would like to intervene on this topic as well. Is the Minister giving any consideration to an ongoing programme of minor works for arts venues? Many such venues find that they do not have the money to do basic daily and annual maintenance. That builds up into a greater need for capital expenditure over time. In the context of the Arts Council review, will the Minister consider a minor works scheme that will allow such basic work to be done on an ongoing basis? To make a broader point, does she have plans, given the extra running costs and current expenditures, such as utility costs and insurance costs, to increase the level of expenditure of capitation on our various arts venues? Many of those venues have not had an increase in funding in many years.

Taking Deputy Moynihan's question first, the Arts Council, in conjunction with local government, via the CCMA, commissioned an independent strategic review of the network of venues and arts centres throughout the country. I am waiting on that report. This point also addresses Deputy Calleary's question. That report will inform the type of cultural capital scheme that we will put in place. I take Deputy Calleary's points on board. At the moment, however, it is possible for any arts centre to apply for funding for maintenance works. We have funded different arts centres that were having difficulties such as a leak, an issue with rewiring or similar problems. Small amounts of funding are available to help address such issues.

I appreciate that urgency is required from the perspective of both Deputies, and indeed from my own. I am anxious to help artists and arts centres. From our experience to date, the Department has noted that it is better value for money to provide smaller grants to organisations. The maximum grant that would be likely in that context would be about €200,000 to €300,000. It is most likely, however, that a smaller capital scheme for amounts up to €50,000 will be announced. I take on board the points made by the Deputies, and I understand the emphasis that Deputy Moynihan places on the need for urgency regarding the Briery Gap theatre redevelopment.

We will take the question from Deputy Wallace next. I ask the Minister to respond immediately. Deputy Wallace will then have one supplementary question because time is running out. I am being very kind to the Deputy as these are his last days in the House.

Questions Nos. 31 and 32 replied to with Written Answers.

Coastal Protection

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

33. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to increase vegetated coastal habitats such as mangroves, salt marsh and seagrass beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24282/19]

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is always kind. The peat bogs that Bord na Móna devastated are not being restored. Trees that were planted have all been ripped out of the ground and cut up. About half of them have been burnt and the carbon released back into the atmosphere. It is vital, therefore, that we do something else to sequester carbon quickly and in a permanent way. About 170 km of our coastline is protected by salt marshes. What is the Minister's Department doing to preserve those salt marshes and are there any plans to expand the existing areas?

I congratulate Deputy Wallace on his election to the European Parliament. He will be missed in the Dáil but I wish him all the very best.

My Department is the lead Department responsible for implementing EU nature legislation in Ireland, including the habitats directive. Under Articles 11 and 17, Ireland is required to carry out scientific monitoring of habitats and species and report on their status to the EU. My Department recently completed a draft report for 2013-2018. A decline in seagrass beds in several bays was recorded. The cause for such declines in some cases appears to be related to water quality, which in turn may be due to run-off from municipal or agricultural sources. Further research is needed, however. The scientific advice from my Department, based on experience elsewhere in Europe, is that replanting of seagrass is rarely successful and that dealing with water quality is likely to be the best option for restoration.

The Article 17 report assessed salt marshes and reported that nationally they are in an "inadequate" state but are relatively stable. Small losses were noted due to infilling and other activities. The main threat to salt marshes is sea level rise due to climate change. That could cause so-called coastal squeeze, whereby hard coastal defences would obstruct the natural shift of salt marsh habitat as the sea level rises. This is a matter to consider in the context of climate change adaptation planning. My Department’s biodiversity sectoral climate change adaptation plan recommends the development of an integrated coastal management strategy. That strategy should include ecosystem-based adaptation actions to manage climate risk and to build resilience to climate change.

The habitats directive also requires Ireland to develop a prioritised action framework for 2021 to 2027 for protected species and habitats, including salt marshes, seagrass beds and other coastal habitats. As well as reviewing the results of the scientific monitoring programme, my Department will be examining all of these other issues. Finally, mangrove forests generally occur in tropical and subtropical habitats worldwide and do not occur naturally in Ireland.

We do not have any time. We have had a bad day at the office and dealt with very few questions. I call Deputy Wallace.

I thank the Minister. We have to accept that salt marshes are very impressive at sequestering and storing carbon. Some studies have estimated that, per hectare, a salt marsh can sequester carbon at 40 times the speed of a tropical rainforest.

Vegetated coastal ecosystems such as our salt marshes currently store huge quantities of carbon and need to be protected and expanded. The Government is not doing enough in this respect. For instance, in a connected area, ecosystems such as Bantry Bay, which support much flora and fauna and biological communities and work as a carbon sink, the precautionary principal should be used. Unfortunately, however, in Bantry Bay, the profit principle is king. The Government has given permission for an industrial project in the bay, which is upsetting people who have an interest in protecting the ecosystem no end. I plead with the Minister to examine this again.

I thank the Deputy for bringing this to our attention. Salt marshes are widely distributed across Ireland, and are concentrated in the larger estuaries such as Bantry Bay, which the Deputy mentioned, as well as Dundalk Bay, the Shannon Estuary, inner Galway Bay and as far north as Inishowen in County Donegal. There are several smaller salt marsh areas in Wexford harbour too. Perhaps, when the Deputy is in the EU, he can bring it to the attention of the European Parliament also.

Before we move to Leaders' Questions, I advise Members that there was a carry-over list of 12 Deputies from yesterday who wished to raise questions, and I have another five. The Ceann Comhairle will take these when he comes in but I advise Members not to wait in anticipation that they might be called. I will put down the names anyway.