I welcome Deputies to the House and wish them a good day on behalf of the people. I understand that Question No. 3, in the name of Deputy Calleary, will be taken last, which means that the priority questions of Deputies Barry and Maureen O'Sullivan will be taken third and fourth. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the work she is undertaking to promote and protect the theatre industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52380/19]
What work is the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht undertaking to promote and protect the theatre industry? Will she make a statement on the matter?
Primary support for the arts is delivered by the Arts Council, funding for which has increased steadily in recent years and will reach €80 million in 2020. The figure for 2020 will be €5 million, or an increase of 6.7% on that of 2019. The Arts Council, which is independent in its funding decisions under the Arts Act 2003, operates within a published ten-year strategic framework entitled Making Great Art Work. The strategy prioritises support for artists throughout their careers by the involvement of many agencies in cultural provision, the impact of the arts on the creative economy and the depth and breadth of people's engagement with the arts. The additional funding will allow the council to enhance its support for all artists and arts practices, including theatre. The Abbey Theatre, the Gate Theatre and the Druid Theatre Company receive significant financial support from the Arts Council.
The allocation to the Arts Council in 2020 should be considered in conjunction with the significant funding in 2020 of more than €7 million from my Department to support the 2020 European City of Culture, Galway. This is a significant sum to support artistic and creative activities in 2020.
The remit of Culture Ireland, a division of my Department, is to promote and advance Irish arts worldwide, thus strengthening Ireland's cultural profile and global reputation. Strategic priorities include providing support for the international presentation of Irish artists and arts organisations, developing new and diverse international audiences and markets for Irish arts, and linking culture into the Government's international promotion strategy in tandem with other relevant State agencies.
Total funding for the arts and culture sector will increase by more than 2% in 2020, from €189 million to just under €193 million, comprising €153 million in current expenditure and €39.7 million in capital. My Department and I will continue to work with all my Government colleagues to deliver on the commitment to increase Government spending on arts and culture and double funding for the sector by 2025. I am already delivering additional funding to the arts and culture sector, building on the €1.2 billion earmarked for culture, heritage and the Irish language under Project Ireland 2040, thus leading to increased activity and employment in all sectors under the remit of my Department.
I appreciate what the Minister stated about the investment and the money spent on theatre. Nevertheless, I am sure that she, too, read The Irish Times article by Peter Crawley at the weekend, in which he wrote about a crisis in the theatre world and dwindling opportunities for artists, who are being squeezed out of the frame by disappearing venues, rising rents and faltering subsidies. In March 2019, Theatre Upstairs, a venue committed exclusively to new work, announced its closure after nine years, while at the end of November, the Collapsing Horse theatre company announced it was calling it a day, another great loss to Irish theatre. In announcing its closure, Theatre Upstairs succinctly highlighted the importance of protecting theatre. It stated:
It is unquantifiable to know what Irish Theatre would look like now without this seedbed for rising artists... More artistic seedbeds need to exist in Ireland and they need to be supported. Failure has to be allowed if success is to be achieved and it is not for audiences to tell us what they want to see, it is for us to create something that they can’t even imagine.
The point is that we are losing our venues for new work.
It is very important that, as Irish people and as a Government, we support the theatre sector. There have been a number of initiatives over the past two years since I have been Minister to strengthen the sector, attempting in some way to bring forward new proposals and ideas. Some examples include the launch of gender policies for ten of Ireland's most important theatre companies and an €80 million redevelopment programme for the Abbey Theatre, for which I announced preliminary appraisal in September. Importantly, in March 2018, I held an event with the theatre sector at the Irish Theatre Institute to launch Speak Up & Call it Out, which sought to establish a code of conduct to address the abuse of power in the Irish and international theatre sectors. Furthermore, I spoke at the Youth at the Centre seminar on theatre, which was held in Blanchardstown.
It is not enough to support established theatre, that is, plays that we know will have commercial success and actors who we know will draw audiences because they are well known. My point is about new works, and venues that provide new works and allow artists to investigate, explore and interrogate themes relevant to the Irish psyche and culture, and that allow experimental works to happen. In the first instance, we must recognise the improvements of the financial circumstances of the Abbey Theatre. Nevertheless, Irish artists should not be sidelined by our national theatre. The Minister is acutely aware of the issues raised by theatre professionals in their open letter of 7 January 2019, in which the signatories criticised the production model of the Abbey Theatre and the over-reliance on staging co-productions, which has led to fewer actors being directly employed by the theatre and fewer in-house productions. They stated that this had a knock-on effect throughout the theatre sector. The issue was discussed at length at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht but I hasten to add that, unfortunately, it seems the commitments made by the Abbey Theatre at the time to employ actors directly and to produce new works have not come to fruition.
I will try to deal with the three main points raised by the Deputy. The Arts Council supports and develops theatre in Ireland through grant funding, project awards and supports to individual artists, venues, publications and resource organisations. This year, for the very first time, we have provided €250,000 to amateur theatre, drama and musical societies in the budget. Such funding has not been provided for more than ten years. It will help new productions that have a gap in their Arts Council funding. The capital culture scheme that has been launched is a capital scheme for arts venues. It will enable them to expand and facilitate better projects into the future. I have closely monitored the situation at the Abbey Theatre since the letter was originally sent to me in January. I have been updated on all the discussions. Considerable progress has been made, but some issues still need to be sorted out. I will write to the Abbey Theatre, to the theatre practitioners and to the Writers Guild of Ireland to see if we can find a solution that is palatable for everybody.
Aengus Ó SnodaighCeist:
2. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the Arts Council is set to move offices to a less appropriate building; if her attention has been further drawn to the fact the proposed new building has substantially higher rent and an atypical buy option; if her attention has been further drawn to the fact that if the deal is completed, it will involve the breaking of its existing lease (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52179/19]
Is the Minister aware of the Arts Council's plan to move its head office to a less appropriate building? If so, does she believe this move is appropriate in light of a protected disclosure that I have sent on to her and to the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as instructed by the person who made the protected disclosure to me?
I assure the Deputy the Department has been kept fully informed of this issue at all stages. Under the Arts Act 2003, the Arts Council is a statutory body under the aegis of my Department. As such, it is obliged to observe the 2016 code of practice for the governance of State bodies, which requires such bodies to "serve the interests of Government as shareholder, the taxpayer, and all other stakeholders, and pursue value for money in their endeavours". The council's obligations under the code of governance are encapsulated in an annual oversight agreement and an annual programme delivery agreement with the Department. The oversight agreement and the delivery agreement are signed each year by the chair and the director, respectively.
All of the Arts Council's expenditure is subject to value for money concerns. This includes the cost of the premises occupied by the council. It is incumbent on the council to keep expenditure on all outgoings under constant review to ensure best value for taxpayers' money. If the business case for any decision on the Arts Council's accommodation has been properly prepared by the time it reaches the board, it will include at least three options. It would be unrealistic and simplistic to assume that the decision revolves around the annual rent only. A proper business case should cover all the costs arising over an extended period of up to several decades. It would properly incorporate all costs including but not confined to rent, energy, insurance, repairs and maintenance, changes in regulations and service charges. In addition, every State agency should have due regard to sustainability and accessibility.
The Arts Council is a body corporate under section 8 of the Arts Act 2003. It has the power to acquire, hold and dispose of land and property with my consent and that of the Minister for Finance. To date, the council has not applied for such consent. I am confident that the Arts Council will comply with all requirements in appraising available options for its future accommodation needs. If the council does not examine options for alternative accommodation when the opportunity presents itself, it will not meet its obligations under the code of practice for the governance of State bodies.
Like the Minister, I presume the Arts Council and any other statutory agency would comply fully with the guidelines that have been laid out for the renting, leasing and disposing of property. According to the whistleblower in this instance, a business case has not been made. Has a business case been presented to the Minister, or to officials in the Department, with regard to the Arts Council's move? I have been told, subsequent to the protected disclosure being sent to the Minister, that this move is imminent. I understand that the negotiations on the new property are at such a heightened stage that the leases are being drawn up. Given that the new property seems to involve an increase of more than 30% in the annual rent, I suggest that this move is not as appropriate as it has been presented to the board of the Arts Council. Has a business case been made? If not, have the Minister and the Department instructed the Arts Council to prepare such a case before the attempt to move the council's head office goes any further?
I understand that a business case was presented to the Arts Council in September, following a discussion with the Department in August. I think that answers the Deputy's question about the business case. It is important to say that the Arts Council considers itself to be fully compliant with its governance procedures and statutory obligations under sections 8 and 9 of the Arts Act 2003, which relate to property acquisition and disposal. When a decision to enter any new lease or purchase is agreed, the council will proceed to seek the consent of the Minister in accordance with section 8(3) of the 2003 Act before any new lease is signed or any future purchase options are proceeded with. As I said, that consent has not yet been sought. The Department has been aware of this matter for several months. The Arts Council is required to examine its accommodation options to ensure the best value for money is obtained. There are many complex issues to consider when such a decision is being made. This decision will have an impact on the council for decades to come. As I said earlier, it is not sufficient to compare annual rents.
Basically, the Minister is saying that a business case to allow the Arts Council to purchase or lease another building has not come before her or before the Department in the appropriate format. The council will not be fully compliant until a decision is made. The Minister might decide in the future that the business case and the proposal are not fully compliant. I ask her to look at the protected disclosure when she is considering this matter. She should ask the Arts Council to make a full case that deals with the fact that it is in negotiations with the existing landlord on a further extension to the leasehold on No. 69 at the same time as it is negotiating the purchase of a new building. As part of the negotiations with the landlord, consideration is being given to major alterations to the building to make it fully accessible. That would be a much cheaper option for now and into the future. Given the state of the finances, it would be better to spend money on the arts than on buying a building to house the Arts Council.
According to the chair of the Arts Council, Professor Kevin Rafter, the council has been examining the options with regard to its future location for the past six months. This issue was the subject of detailed discussions at five recent meetings of the council. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has been informed of these discussions. Arts Council staff were briefed on them last week. The Arts Council has been undertaking significant property searches since 2013. It has viewed several options over the intervening years. This process has identified four property options for the council. First, it can extend the leases on Nos. 69 and 70 and the mews without taking any extra space. As the Deputy will be aware, these properties are the subject of a rent review at present. Second, it can extend the leases on Nos. 69 and 70 while taking the full building in the case of No. 69. Third, it can lease a new building in a city centre location. Fourth, it can purchase a new building in a city centre location. As I have said, the Arts Council is in protracted lease renewal discussions with its current landlord. The timing of this process has coincided with the recent identification of a new property option. Unlike other options that have been explored in the past, this option substantially meets the existing and evolving needs of the Arts Council, particularly with regard to new policy areas that have been identified and prioritised by the council. In June 2019, it was agreed that the Arts Council needs a public-facing, accessible, greener and more modern work environment.
4. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the measures she is taking to double arts funding by 2023; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [52178/19]
I ask the Minister to set out the position with regard to the Government's plan to double arts funding.
Primary support for the arts in Ireland is delivered by the Arts Council.
Funding for the Arts Council has been increasing steadily in recent years and will reach €80 million in 2020. The increase in 2020 is €5 million or 6.7% on 2019. The Arts Council, which is independent in its funding decisions under the Arts Act 2003, operates within a published ten-year strategic framework entitled Making Great Art Work. This strategy prioritises support for artists throughout their careers by the involvement of many agencies in cultural provision, the impact of the arts on the creative economy and the depth and breadth of people's engagement with the arts. The additional funding will allow the Arts Council to enhance its support for all artists, arts festivals, street arts and family events.
The allocation to the Arts Council in 2020, should be considered in conjunction with the significant funding in 2020 of more than €7 million from my Department to support the 2020 European City of Culture, Galway. This is a significant sum to support artistic and creative activities in 2020.
The remit of Culture Ireland, a division of my Department, is to promote and advance Irish arts worldwide, thus strengthening Ireland's cultural profile and global reputation. Strategic priorities include providing support for the international presentation of Irish artists and arts organisations, developing new and diverse international audiences and markets for Irish arts, and linking culture into the Government's international promotion strategy in tandem with other relevant Government agencies.
Total funding for the arts and culture sector will increase by over 2% in 2020 from €189 million to just under €193 million composed of €153 million in current expenditure and €39.7 million in capital. My Department and I will continue to work with all my Government colleagues to deliver on the commitment to increase Government spending on arts and culture and double funding for the sector by 2025. I am already delivering additional supports to the arts and culture sector, building on the €1.2 billion earmarked for culture, heritage and the Irish language under Project Ireland 2040, thus leading to increased activity and employment across all sectors under the remit of my Department.
Funding for the Arts Council will increase from €75 million in 2019 to €80 million 2020. Is it not the case that only €1.25 million of the increase is a new injection of money in that €3.75 million, or three quarters of it, has been rejigged from one corner of the Department to another, in this case the Arts Council? It is a sham, therefore, to speak of €5 million in extra funding.
Culture Ireland had funding of €4.6 million last year. Is it not the case that funding this year is €4.1 million and has, therefore, been cut? My question referred to the doubling of arts funding by 2025. The Minister referred to a 2% increase this year. Can she show us the roadmap for moving from funding of €158 million in 2017, when the commitment was made, to €316 million by 2025? If she increases spending by 2% every year, it will fall a long way short.
The chair of the Arts Council, Dr. Kevin Rafter, has welcomed the increase, particularly given the difficult budget we had in the context of Brexit. That should be acknowledged. The budget for the Arts Council increased by €5 million to €80 million, or 6.7%, in the budget and has increased by 23% since 2017.
On Culture Ireland, we are still finalising figures for the Revised Estimates but I am confident funding for Culture Ireland will remain the same as it has been.
On the trajectory for doubling funding to the arts sector, we are fully committed to doing this. Funding for the arts stood at €303 million in 2018, so doubling that figure by 2025 would mean increasing arts funding to €606 million. We increased funding to €339 million and it will be €354 million next year. We are, therefore, consistently increasing funding. There are still a few years to go to acknowledge and implement the commitment.
Workers in the arts in this country are trying to survive on scandalously low incomes. Does the Minister accept that is a stain on the record of her Department? Last year, 75% of arts workers had an income of less than €30,000, 64% or nearly two thirds had an income of less than €20,000, and 39% or nearly two in five had an income of less than €10,000. Will the Minister comment on that?
The Minister stated that the Government is fully committed to doubling arts spending by 2025. Does she accept that if she continues to increase arts spending at the current rate, she will come nowhere near doubling it by 2025? Does she accept that substantial annual increases are needed to come anywhere close to the target?
The answer is in the Deputy's question. As he stated, the commitment is to double funding by 2025. We have not reached 2025. The Government did not give a commitment to front-load funding in the early years.
I am not asking for front-loading.
We are on an upward trajectory and we will fulfil our commitment by 2025. The approach by Solidarity-People Before Profit to arts funding does not make sense because it wants to increase funding for the arts by €100 million in 2020, while also seeking to abolish the universal social charge and local property tax. That does not add up. I am acutely aware of the decades long difficulties faced by those who wish to engage in artistic pursuits. For this reason, I brought in new initiatives this year. For example, I extended the jobseeker's allowance under the social welfare scheme for artists and others who were previously unable to avail of it. This will allow them to continue with their work without being penalised or subject to the normal labour activation measures. I also expanded the bands that apply under the percent for art scheme to give more work to artists. Spending on artists has never been as high. We are, however, conscious of the issues facing artists and we are always trying to find new ways to support them.
5. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if the practice of licensing live hare coursing will be reviewed in view of recent opinion polls (details supplied) and the fact that RHD2 disease is present here, which is a threat to the survival of the Irish hare; and if the views of many persons that live hare coursing has no place in modern civil society will be accepted. [52177/19]
My question relates to hare coursing, the RHD2 virus and also the results of a recent opinion poll which relates to hare coursing having no place in a modern civil society. What are the Minister's views on the matter?
The control of live hare coursing, including the operation of individual coursing meetings and managing the use of hares for that activity, is carried out under the Greyhound Industry Act 1958, which is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. My responsibility relates to the conservation status of the hare. While the regulation of hare coursing is not under my statutory control, licences are required by the Irish Coursing Club under the terms of the Wildlife Acts on behalf of its affiliated clubs to facilitate the netting and tagging of hares for closed park meetings. The annual licence to capture and tag hares for the 2019-20 coursing season was issued by my Department on 9 August this year. The licences granted by my Department in such instances include a range of conditions in relation to coursing hares which are designed to provide as much protection as possible to the conservation status of the hare.
The Deputy is aware that the RHD2 virus, which affects both rabbits and hares, was discovered in a number of rabbits and hares around the country during the summer. Based on these results RHD2 appeared at the time to be widespread in Ireland. The scientific advice available to me following the issuing of the annual licences indicated at that point that the virus was highly contagious and easily spread. In these circumstances, given my responsibility in relation to the conservation status of the Irish hare, I decided to suspend the licences issued to the Irish Coursing Club on 9 August until we had a clearer understanding of the extent, spread and implications of the RHD2 virus. In mid-October, I issued revised and restricted licences to the Irish Coursing Club last month to allow the netting and tagging of hares but there are specific limitations and strict conditions attached to the issue of those licences. The Deputy tabled a Topical Issue matter on this subject and in my response, I reiterated the details regarding those trials and how we are conducting them.
The Minister is correct that we have discussed this matter before. The RHD2 virus was not considered enough of a threat to ban live hare coursing, although it should have been, as should the well documented injuries to hares that occur before and during coursing.
The practice is banned in almost every advanced country in the world, with only three allowing it. All of that should have been enough to ensure a ban on live hare coursing, yet it continues to be permitted.
My question relates to the finding in a recent RED C poll that 77% of Irish citizens want to see an end to live hare coursing, with only 9% supporting its continuation. In addition, there has been extensive correspondence to the Minister's office, which was released via a freedom of information request, indicating overwhelming support for a ban on live hare coursing. Coursing involves the blooding of the greyhound. Otherwise, why would such a gentle animal chase a hare with such ferocity? There have been convictions for illegal hunting of hares, including two in Offaly some months ago, and we know what happened on Whiddy Island. It is time to stand up to the 9% minority on this matter. If no licences are issued by the Minister, then there can be no live hare coursing.
The Deputy referred to a RED C poll. My understanding was that the research was done by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ISPCA.
There were two polls.
The ISPCA has welcomed the introduction of a testing regime and field studies on hares and rabbits. We should bear in mind that polls commissioned by an organisation usually reflect the views of that organisation. I appreciate the Deputy's concerns. I must ensure that there is a balanced response from the Government to this issue, but the protection and conservation of the hare is my primary concern. The strict conditions we have set down should assuage the Deputy's concerns somewhat. The Irish Coursing Club vet has to certify in writing that all the captured hares are healthy. The number of courses will be reduced proportionately, as will the numbers of hares that can be coursed. The ongoing trials and field tests should give us a clearer picture as to the status and condition of hares and rabbits. It is important to note that no new hares have tested positive for RHD2 since the beginning of October.
Respect should be accorded to the findings of the RED C poll. We are told that live hare coursing is important for the rural economy, but I do not accept that. Before the American Civil War, the southern states argued that ending the slave trade would affect their rural economy. Banning live hare coursing will not damage the rural economy in this country because there is a viable alternative available in drag coursing. If the greyhounds will pursue a mechanical lure in racing, why cannot the same be tried in coursing, instead of causing pain and harm to timid wild hares? My late colleague, former Deputy Tony Gregory, observed in March 1996, "The only way to eliminate the cruelty is to have drag coursing where there is no live bait used." We must take a responsible attitude to the sensitivity of animals. This is a debate about cruelty versus compassion and I am asking the Minister to consider setting up a working group to look at the alternatives. Those alternatives are being used in other countries and are proving viable and lucrative for local economies.
I conveyed to my Department officials the information on drag coursing which the Deputy provided on a previous occasion. In addition to the 29 conditions that are associated with the licence in general terms, we now have the other conditions which I set out. Field tests are ongoing in Limerick, Tipperary, Cork and Cavan town and will take some ten weeks to conclude. It was important to have the involvement of the Irish Coursing Club and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in those trials. I am satisfied with the procedures for swabbing, tagging and microchipping and that the certification is done in writing. We are constantly monitoring the situation and my door is always open to people on both sides of the argument with a view to finding a solution.
Údarás na Gaeltachta
3. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Dara Calleary den Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta cén soláthar airgeadais a cuireadh ar fáil d’Údarás na Gaeltachta don bhliain 2020; an ndéanfar socrú maidir le toghcháin dhíreacha do bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta a aisiriú; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [52286/19]
Is mí an-tábhachtach an mhí seo mar táimid ag comóradh an chéad toghchán díreach do bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta, a tharla 40 bliain ó shin. Is mí thábhachtach í don Ghaeltacht freisin mar gheall ar cháinaisnéis an údaráis. Tá a fhios agam go raibh ardú beag faighte tar éis na gearáin mhóra a rinneadh le deich mbliana anuas. Táimid ag iarraidh cáinaisnéis an údaráis agus toghchán díreach go dtí a bhord nua a phlé.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta. Dírím a aird ar an bhfreagra a thug mé ar Cheist Uimh. 23 ar 6 Samhain 2019 maidir le maoiniú Údarás na Gaeltachta. Mar a thug mé le fios san fhreagra sin, fógraíodh i mbuiséad 2020 go mbeidh ardú de €1 mhilliún á chur ar fáil do chiste caipitil Údarás na Gaeltachta in 2020. Fágfaidh sé seo go mbeidh ciste de €10 milliún ar fáil don eagraíocht. Is ionann sin agus méadú de bhreis agus 11% le hais an tsoláthair atá ann sa bhliain reatha.
Chomh maith leis sin, cuirfear €200,000 breise in airgead reatha ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta don bhliain seo chugainn le dáileadh ar na heagraíochtaí pobalbhunaithe agus na comharchumainn Ghaeltachta. Is ionann seo agus ardú 25% le trí bliana anuas ar an gciste seo. Fágann sé sin go mbeidh soláthar iomlán de €4.05 mhilliún ar fáil don údarás in 2020 le dáileadh ar na heagraíochtaí pobalbhunaithe agus ar na comharchumainn Ghaeltachta. Ina theannta sin, beidh teacht ag Údarás na Gaeltachta ar chiste faoi leith sa chás go dtarlóidh Breatimeacht gan ord gan eagar. Sa bhreis air sin ar fad, beidh soláthar €9.602 milliún san iomlán ar fáil don eagraíocht in 2020 le haghaidh costais riaracháin a chlúdach. Beidh na sonraí iomlán maidir le soláthar Údarás na Gaeltachta ar fáil sna Meastacháin Athbhreithnithe do 2020 a fhoilseofar roimh dheireadh na bliana.
Maidir le toghcháin díreach do bhord Údarás na Gaeltachta, faoin socrú a tháinig i bhfeidhm faoi Acht na Gaeltachta 2012, tá bord reatha Údarás na Gaeltachta, a ceapadh anuraidh, comhdhéanta de chúigear comhalta a d'ainmnigh na húdaráis áitiúla ábhartha a bhfuil ceantar Gaeltachta faoina gcúram acu chomh maith le seachtar comhalta eile a roghnaíodh bunaithe ar chomórtas poiblí a eagraíodh faoi scáth na Seirbhíse um Cheapacháin Phoiblí. Cinntíonn an córas reatha seo faoina gceaptar ionadaíocht na húdaráis áitiúla go mbíonn bunús daonlathach le bord Údarás na Gaeltachta agus cinntíonn ceapacháin na seachtar comhalta eile go bhfuil daoine leis an saineolas agus na scileanna ábhartha cuí á roghnú don chúram - rud atá ar leas foriomlán an údaráis agus an phobail a ndéanann sé freastal air mar fhoras Stáit.
Is fiú dom a mheabhrú don Teachta go bhfuil roinnt inniúlachtaí caighdeánacha ann a aithnítear a bheith tábhachtach sa lá atá inniu ann chun a bheith mar chomhalta ar bhord Stáit ar nós Údarás na Gaeltachta. San áireamh anseo, tá dearcadh straitéiseach anailíse, obair foirne, cion tairbhe agus iarracht, agus cumarsáid agus tuiscint ar chúrsaí airgeadais. Is ionann go deimhin an líon reatha comhaltaí atá ar an mbord faoin gcur chuige reatha agus an líon comhaltaí a mholtar, de réir taighde idirnáisiúnta, ar chóir a bheith ar bhord den chineál atá i gceist le hÚdarás na Gaeltachta.
I bhfianaise seo uile, ní léir dom go bhfuil cúis ann go ndéanfaí aon athrú ar an gcur chuige reatha maidir le struchtúr an bhoird, a thagann go hiomlán go deimhin le treoirlínte an Rialtais maidir le ceapacháin do bhoird Stáit.
Aontaím go bhfuil an dá rud ceangailte. Gabhaim buíochas le gach duine a bhí ina bhall nó ina ball de bhord an údaráis nó a d'oibrigh don údarás le linn an 40 bliain. Tá poitéinseal iontach ag an údarás ach tá sé soiléir nach dtuigeann an Rialtas an poitéinseal sin. Deich mbliana ó shin, bhí €15 mhilliún ag an údarás gach bliain. Níl an méid sin aige anois, fiú leis an €1 mhilliún breise. Caithfidh mé a rá gur oibrigh an tAire Stáit go crua chun an €1 mhilliún sin a fháil. I gcomhthéacs an phoitéinsil atá ann agus an t-airgead a tugtar d'Fhiontar Éireann agus IDA Ireland, níl a dhóthain airgid ag dul go dtí an t-údarás chun an jab a dhéanamh, jab atá an-tábhachtach do cheantair Ghaeltachta. Tá an easpa airgid sin ceangailte leis an easpa toghchán díreacha. Tá difríocht mhór idir duine a bheith ainmnithe chun a bheith ar bhord agus duine a bheith tofa. Tá muinín ag daoine i ndaoine tofa. Beidh díospóireacht sna Gaeltachtaí faoi chúrsaí a bhaineann leis an údarás. Ba chóir don díospóireacht sin a tharlú. Tá faitíos ar Fhine Gael roimh dhíospóireacht sna ceantair Ghaeltachta faoi cháinaisnéis agus poitéinseal an údaráis. Ba cheart go mbeidh toghcháin ann. Bheadh díospóireacht ann leis na toghcháin sin.
Ní aontaím go bhfuil ceangal ann idir buiséad an údaráis agus toghcháin chuig bord an údaráis. Mar Aire Stáit, déanaim iarracht breis airgid a chur ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta nuair atá sé ann. Gabhaim buíochas do mo chomhghleacaí, an tAire, Teachta Madigan, as ucht an tacaíocht a bhfuair mé uaithi i gcomhair bhuiséad 2020. Ní aontaím go bhfuil an ceangal sin ann. Tá gach uile Aire riamh ag lorg níos mó airgid do bhord an údaráis agus do gach uile eagraíocht eile. Is é sin an chaoi ina n-oibríonn cúrsaí. Bíonn gach uile Aire agus gach uile Rialtas ag lorg breis airgid. Bhí muid in ann breis airgid a chur ar fáil. Tá ardú de 11% ar an maoiniú d'Údarás na Gaeltachta i mbliana. Tá an ceart ag an Teachta go raibh buiséad mór ag an údarás i rith an Celtic tiger ach bhí laghdú ann ó €25 milliún, go €16 mhilliún, agus go €10 milliún nó €9 milliún nuair a bhí Fianna Fail sa rialtas. Bhí an laghdú sin ann mar gheall ar an drochgheilleagar a bhí againn sa Stát.
Bhíomar in ann cur leis an mbuiséad caipitil don údarás ar feadh cúpla bliain anuas.
Léiríonn sé sin nach raibh an t-airgead ann. Chuir muid an t-airgead go dtí an t-údarás agus bhain sé úsáid as. Níor chuir an Rialtas an t-airgead go dtí an t-údarás. Tá siad ceangailte. Dá mba rud é go raibh an Rialtas faoi bhrú sna ceantair Ghaeltachta, agus dá mbeadh toghcháin agus díospóireacht ann, bheadh i bhfad níos mó airgid ag dul go dtí an t-údarás toisc go mbeadh an Rialtas faoi bhrú polaitiúil. Níl aon bhrú ann faoi láthair toisc go n-ainmnítear comhaltaí ag an Aire nó ag an gcomhairle áitiúil. Tá a fhios ag an Aire Stáit go raibh an t-údarás ag iarraidh i bhfad níos mó airgid, agus airgead caipitil ach go háirithe, mar tá sé faoi bhrú. Tá foirgnimh ag éirí sean. Caithfear athrú a dhéanamh maidir le cúrsaí meán cumarsáide agus cúrsaí teicniúla. Ba cheart go mbeadh go leor airgid ann chun é sin a dhéanamh. Bhí lá iontach againn in oifig an Aire Stáit le gteic a chur ar an mbóthar. Léiríonn gteic cé chomh tábhachtach is atá an t-údarás agus an jab a dhéanann sé nuair atá an t-airgead aige. Ba cheart go mbeidh gteic i ngach ceantar Gaeltachta ach ní bheidh mar níl an t-airgead ag an údarás. Tá a lán projects eile go mbeidh an t-údarás in ann a dhéanamh chun daoine a choimeád sa Ghaeltacht, chun obair a chur ar fáil dóibh, agus chun iad a fhostú dá mbeadh an t-airgead aige.
Aontaím leis an Teachta go bhfuil an-phoitéinseal ag an údarás. Tá a fhios ag chuile dhuine go bhfuil sé ag lorg breis airgid chaipitil. Táimid ag déanamh chuile iarracht breis airgid a chur ar fáil. Bhí muid in ann €1 mhilliún breise a chur ar fáil i mbuiséad 2020. Tá comhpháirtíocht idir Údarás na Gaeltachta agus an Roinn Forbartha Tuaithe agus Pobail. Fuair Údarás na Gaeltachta airgead ó choiste athghiniúna na Roinne sin. Is é sin an chaoi ina raibh sé in ann infheistíocht a dhéanamh i gteic sa Spidéal, mar shampla. Tá an-phleananna aige chun moil gteic a oscailt trasna na tíre. Bhí muid i mBaile Átha an Ghaorthaidh chun mol gteic a oscailt ansin. Tá a fhios againn go bhfuil pleananna eile ag an údarás chun moil gteic a bhunú trasna na tíre, na hoileáin Ghaeltachta san áireamh. Tá an-obair á déanamh ag an údarás laistigh den bhuiséad atá aige ach aontaím leis an Teachta go bhfuil an-phoitéinseal aige agus go bhfuil sé ag lorg níos mó airgid. Beidh mé ag cur brú ar mo chomhghleacaithe chun breis airgid a fháil.