Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Hedge Cutting

Denis Naughten


17. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to enhance hedge-cutting during winter 2020-2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17116/20]

The Minister is aware that the ban on hedge cutting applies from 1 March to 31 August. At long last, on 1 March next year we are going to have high-speed broadband outside people's homes. As a basic offering, they are going to be offered 500 Mbps. Next March, I do not want people to be refused access to broadband because they are prohibited from trimming back hedges or cutting trees to access it.

I am responsible for questions under the heritage remit. Hedgerows are very important wildlife habits, providing food, shelter, corridors of movement, nesting and hibernation sites for many of our native flora and fauna. There are approximately 400,000 km of hedges in this country. In general, it is permissible to cut hedges during the winter period mentioned in the question. While under section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended, there are restrictions on cutting, grubbing, burning or destruction of vegetation from 1 March to 31 August, this prohibition does not apply from 1 September to 28 February of the following year. Even during the closed period between March and August, there is provision in the legislation for some restricted exemptions from this prohibition. For example, there are exemptions for works undertaken in the ordinary course of agriculture, forestry and for road safety reasons.

Section 7 of the Heritage Act included a limited power to make regulations for a period of two years after the passing of the Act to allow cutting of roadside hedges during the month of August, subject to conditions. That provision has now lapsed and it is not the intention to seek to renew it. In July last year my predecessor announced that she would not be proceeding with the making of regulations for August of that year. The decision recognised the increased threats to biodiversity nationally and globally and followed a number of Government initiatives to protect and nurture Ireland's flora and fauna and a Dáil declaration on a climate and biodiversity emergency.

At the time there was extensive public debate and engagement by my Department on this matter, including during the national biodiversity conference in Dublin last year, hosted together with the Irish Forum on Natural Capital. Arising from the conference, the Seeds for Nature initiative was launched, which comprised a range of initiatives for nature and biodiversity. In addition, there was a wide public consultation on the Heritage Ireland 2030 plan, debates in the Dáil on biodiversity loss and extensive engagement across the Government on the climate action plan, including by my Department. The climate action plan made a number of references to the importance of hedgerows.

It is important to underline that the current legislation allows both landowners and public authorities to cut hedges for road safety reasons at any time of the year. Under the roads legislation, landowners are obliged to ensure that a tree, shrub, hedge or any other vegetation is not a hazard for persons using public roads. In addition, local authorities have the legal power to cut roadside hedges for road safety reasons during any month of the year. Therefore, there is no legal obstacle to both landowners and local authorities ensuring that country roads are safe for road users, whether drivers, cyclists or walkers.

I bring the Minister of State back to my original question. This should not come as a surprise to him because I raised it with the senior Minister here in the Chamber two weeks ago and she gave me a commitment that she would bring this directly to the attention of the new Aire Stáit. I will ask him again, as he comes from a rural constituency. On 1 March next year people will have 500 Mbps, high-speed broadband, outside their home. I want to know what he is going to do to ensure that people are not going to be denied access to high-speed broadband. I suggest to the Minister of State, as a solution, to contact National Broadband Ireland to get the specification for the broadband going from the telephone pole on the road into people's homes and to circulate that extensively across rural Ireland so that any hedge trimming or tree cutting takes place between 1 September and 28 February, rather than causing a problem next spring.

I thank the Deputy for the clarification. In relation to hedge cutting and broadband, on 9 July this year during a discussion on the 2020 Revised Estimate for the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Naughten indicated that the roll-out of the national broadband plan could result in a requirement for householders to clear vegetation to facilitate connections. The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, has since brought this issue to my attention.

Given the constraints set out in the law on the timing of the cutting of vegetation during the bird-nesting season, it would make perfect sense that any such cutting required to bring broadband into homes would be done in advance during the September to February period when it is permissible to cut. Officials in my Department have since brought this matter to the attention of colleagues in the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and I will ensure that the relevant details on the legislation are brought to the attention of the Department so that arrangements can be made, if necessary.

I am trying to protect the Minister of State's rear end here. He represents a rural constituency, just like my own. Next spring, he is the one who will be blamed when people are denied access to broadband. I ask him to pick up the phone to National Broadband Ireland to find out exactly what the specifications are in terms of bringing fibre cable from the telegraph pole into those homes and to circulate that widely across rural Ireland from 1 September to ensure that people have their hedges cut back and trees trimmed, rather than contacting the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which will contact National Broadband Ireland, which will then get back to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. This issue will land on his desk next spring. Let us pre-empt that and resolve this problem. Let us give homeowners the tools to ensure that they can access high-speed broadband once it arrives outside their door.

Deputy Naughten has made a very worthwhile proposal and I will certainly take it back to the Department. It is absolutely right that we protect our hedgerows and that we have taken all due account of the protection of our biodiversity, but broadband is an essential item that must be delivered, through the national broadband plan. My Department will ensure that a line of communication is established and we will do all we can to ensure that as much work as can be done within the permissible period is carried out in a timely manner.

Arts Plan

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


18. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht when she will publish a comprehensive Covid-19 recovery roadmap for the arts. [17292/20]

This question relates to a comprehensive Covid-19 recovery roadmap for the arts and when it will be published. It was one of the first sectors to close down and will probably be one of the last sectors to reopen.

On 19 June the then Government, having considered the expert public health advice provided by the national public health emergency team, approved the rephasing of the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business. Apart from some exceptions, most sectors were brought forward to phase 3, which began on Monday, 29 June. Museums, galleries, theatres, concert halls and other cultural outlets could reopen from that date but the current restrictions on a maximum of 50 people at indoor gatherings and 200 people at outdoor gatherings have been extended to 10 August. There is no denying that due to social distancing and public confidence issues, the reopening of live performance and entertainment venues will prove challenging. The Government is committed, in the context of budget 2021, to bring forward a national economic plan setting out our long-term approach to restore employment, and detailing how we will secure our public finances in a world where we must live with Covid-19 while driving our efforts to decarbonise the economy and prepare for the next phases of technological transformation.

The programme for Government also commits to establishing a cross-departmental task force to develop a clear approach, informed by the views of all stakeholders, to protect and sustain the arts and culture sector through the Covid-19 recovery and beyond, which in turn will inform the national economic plan. This task force will be established shortly. It will build on additional supports already provided in the form of the increase in Arts Council funding to €100 million this year. The additional €20 million was in line with the recommendations of the expert advisory group to the Arts Council, and of the National Campaign for the Arts' 13 point national arts recovery plan. The additional measures to be announced in the context of the July stimulus will further support employment-intensive activities within the sector. In all of these actions, the Government remains focused on sustaining the arts and culture sector through the challenges posed by Covid-19.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an bhfreagra sin. The return to full employment for the entertainment industry and those involved in artistic endeavour will prove challenging as we go through the phases of the roadmap. In some ways the Minister is asking all of those engaged in that sector of society to wait until the budget or when the task force will be set up at some stage.

Whenever I have had an opportunity, either in the Dáil or at meetings of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, I have asked when the task force will be set up in order that some type of surety will be given to those in the sector in general. Many artists, musicians and those involved in the entertainment business are hanging on by their fingernails. For many of them who have seen their income collapse totally, as have many others in society, there is no possibility of seeing any income before next year. At that stage, they might have moved on to a different industry or they might have left the country.

I thank the Deputy. In the few weeks since I was appointed, I have been concentrating on the July stimulus package to see what supports I can give immediately to the sector, which has been devastated by Covid. In answer to Deputy Duncan Smith's earlier question, I mentioned the commitment in the programme for Government on the night-time economy task force, which will be announced next week. I am working on the art sector task force. In recent months, we have been engaging with a range of stakeholders from throughout the arts and culture sector. Of the €25 million funding, €20 million went to the Arts Council. This is leading to new bursaries and commissions, including supports for freelance artists and those seeking to develop projects on a collaborative basis. I will establish this task force and it is a priority. We have to do it right and engage properly. As I said, the immediate short-term priority for me was the July stimulus package and those supports. I am on the Cabinet sub-committee and I am fighting for it.

I accept that and I have acknowledged most of what the Minister has said already. It is not just the fault of the Minister, particularly as the task force could have been set up by the caretaker Government. It could have been established quite quickly under the new Government but we still have not seen sight of it. One of the problems now emerging, which in a way is under the Minister's brief, is that the Covid payment to many artists and musicians is being cut. Will the Minister have a conversation with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to explain the nature of artistic endeavour and musicians and the fact that this sector will be the last in society that will return to work and that a cut in the pandemic unemployment payment for those in the sector at this stage is dire and retrograde in the extreme?

I thank the Deputy. As he pointed out, this is a matter for my colleagues at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and the Department of Finance. As I have said, I am examining a suite of measures to support the arts sector. We have been particularly focused on the very challenging issue of how live performances can be delivered in the context of public health restrictions. Such opportunities will be important for collective well-being but also from an employment perspective. The contribution the arts and culture make to our society has an economic value and also has a value to our well-being as a nation, so it is a priority. As stated, I am examining a suite of measures. This specific measure is a matter for my colleagues at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and the Department of Finance.

Wildlife Data

Christopher O'Sullivan


19. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to provide additional supports in respect of the collection of biodiversity data. [17285/20]

As the Minister knows well, we are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis. Globally, 1 million species are threatened with extinction. This is also an issue at home. It is easy to track the demise of iconic species such as the yellowhammer or curlew, which is at the brink of extinction as a breeding species, but there are big gaps in the data on biodiversity. This is best seen by the fact we know the conservation status of only 10% of our species. What are the Minister's plans to provide additional supports for the collection of biodiversity data?

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan who, I know, has a huge interest in this area. The Department is responsible for implementing the Wildlife Acts and the birds and natural habitats regulations, the principal items of legislation underpinning the protection, conservation and restoration of nature and biodiversity in the State. In addition, the Department has responsibility for implementing a range of other EU nature legislation, including the EU regulations on invasive alien species.

The collection of biodiversity and species data is a central part of the scientific work carried out by the National Parks & Wildlife Service, NPWS, in the Department and there is substantial investment annually in surveys, scientific monitoring and data collection. This is achieved directly by NPWS staff work, programmes at national and regional level and via the many contracts issued each year by the science and biodiversity section of the NPWS to NGOs, specialist contractors, experts and academics in the field. The Department also supports a number of postgraduate projects in universities. The results from much of this work are published in the Irish wildlife manual series on the NPWS website. Included in the publications this year alone are works on marine habitats, surveys of squirrels and pine martens, breeding waders and coastal grasslands, and a European checklist of mosses and ferns. The NPWS, working with national experts, the contractor hosting the National Biodiversity Data Centre for the Heritage Council and colleagues in Northern Ireland, produces regional red lists for the island of Ireland, which catalogue species under threat.

In the course of its annual programme of work, the NPWS provides funding and other support towards gathering of biodiversity data. This includes, for example, research on impacts of climate change on biodiversity and the intrinsic links between these, a small grants scheme for specialist biodiversity recorders and biodiversity grants for local authorities, some of which are used to support locally-led biodiversity data collection.

In addition to work carried out directly by, or on contract for, the NPWS, the Department funds the Heritage Council, which operates the National Biodiversity Data Centre. The centre collates and disseminates biological data on a national level. Most biological data collected by the Department and many relevant State agencies that have a role in data collection is sent to the centre.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply and I appreciate that he gave an overview of the work of the NPWS. I am glad he referred to the National Biodiversity Data Centre in Waterford. The centre plays a key role in data collection but needs to be financed on a long-term basis and not by means of the ad hoc, year-to-year funding model that obtains at present. It has incredible expertise. It is usually involved in citizen science and is very good at getting people involved. For example, the national butterfly and bumblebee survey conducted recently was a huge success. Centres such as this need long-term investment and not to be funded on an ad hoc basis.

The Minister of State mentioned the NGOs. These include BirdWatch Ireland, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and the Irish Wildlife Trust. The data they collect on a voluntary basis is absolutely fantastic but they are stretching themselves very thinly. Will the Minister of State elaborate on the supports the National Biodiversity Data Centre and the NGOs may be able to avail of? The work of both is vital in the context of biodiversity data collection?

I could not agree more. I would not suggest that the data centre is funded on an ad hoc basis because the work is contracted out. It is a separate piece of work and there is a commitment in the programme for Government to ensure support for biodiversity recording and the essential citizen science work the Deputy spoke about, which is so valuable on a community basis. I know it is work the Deputy is involved in. It is work I have done with regard to invasive species management and the recording of species. I see it as vital. This is why we have a strong commitment in the programme for Government for biodiversity and to work with NGOs such as BirdWatch Ireland and all of the various conservation groups to ensure we have a comprehensive set of data. If we do not have the data we cannot protect and conserve, so it is vital.

I thank the Minister of State and I appreciate his commentary. The NPWS needs to be properly resourced and I would like to see a review of its functions and roles. This needs to happen because it needs to have a bit more clout. An issue about which I have spoken to the Minister, on a personal basis and in the Dáil, is the need for a specific wildlife crime investigation unit as a dedicated section in An Garda Síochána. This needs to happen. Recently, I spoke about the massacre of 23 common buzzards in my constituency of Cork South-West.

It was needless. No prosecutions have been brought so far, and I understand we are getting no closer to bringing any. Now more than ever we need a dedicated wildlife crime investigation unit because all of the fantastic work and citizen science we are doing, as well as the recreation of biodiversity, is worth nothing unless we can stamp out wildlife crimes.

I agree with everything Deputy O'Sullivan has said. In regard to the NPWS, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to a comprehensive review of the role, function and resourcing of the NPWS. The Deputy is correct in saying that there is a resourcing issue, and that is important. In the short time I have been in this office, I have seen some amazing work done by our staff and rangers throughout the country and I am immensely proud of that. The body is under-resourced.

We will explore the possibility of a wildlife crime unit. There has been quite an amount of discussion about that, and I will meet with BirdWatch Ireland and a number of other NGOs over the next number of weeks to try to advance that proposal. We are very fortunate to have in our NPWS a great team of people. I thank the Deputy for the great work he does in a personal capacity. It is fantastic to have that synergy in the Dáil and that we are focusing on biodiversity at this critical time.

Inland Waterways

Brendan Smith


20. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to provide additional capital funding for necessary upgrading work on the navigable inland waterways network; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17386/20]

Brendan Smith


27. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if additional capital funding will be provided to Waterways Ireland in 2020 and 2021 for the necessary upkeep and provision of additional facilities on the navigable waterways network; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17385/20]

I congratulate the Ministers on their appointments and wish them well in the important work they will be doing on behalf of all of us over the next number of years. As the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, is well aware, our inland waterways are an important natural resource and we want to ensure that we maximise them for the potential of our people and visitors to our country.

There was substantial investment in our inland waterways in the 1990s and early 2000s, and it is now time to re-energise the inland waterways investment programme, ensure we protect the investment that has already been made and prepare our inland waterways for greater traffic movement. There must be ongoing investment and the existing infrastructure must be protected.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 20 and 27 together.

Waterways Ireland's work programme is critical to providing a safe and high-quality recreation environment for the public, while also preserving the industrial and environmental heritage of the waterways for future generations. These challenges must be balanced with the objective of increasing recreational activity across all of our waterways.

The Estimates for 2020 provide for an allocation of €25.6 million for Waterways Ireland, comprising €21.2 million in current funding and €4.38 million in capital funding, an overall increase of €546,000 on the original 2019 allocation. The funding of Waterways Ireland for 2020 is for investment in the management, maintenance and development of inland waterways under its control. Any proposed works to be carried out in 2021 are an operational matter for Waterways Ireland which will take into account its strategic business objectives for the waterways network.

Additional funding from Waterways Ireland in 2020 is not complicated by the Estimates process and it will, like other agencies under my remit, need to live within its capital allocation. As Minister, I have many competing and compelling requests for funding in 2021. I am acutely aware of the value of our inland waterways amenity and its excellent work and the excellent work carried out by Waterways Ireland.

Of particular importance is the strong community and business outreach and partnership policy that the organisation has implemented in order to engage with and deliver services for communities adjacent to waterways to create social, recreational, health and economic benefits. Inland waterways are also an intrinsic part of Ireland's tourism attractions and Waterways Ireland plays a key role in their marketing and promotion.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Over the past number of years it has been a source of concern to me that there has been a decline in boat movements on some of our inland waterways. When the Minister of State has the opportunity to meet various representative bodies I am sure he will become aware of this issue. We want to ensure that we arrest the decline in the number of people using our waterways.

When infrastructure is used it needs ongoing investment and maintenance, including repairs to banks, weirs and jetties and dredging. We would also like cycle blueways to be developed, which are a relatively recent development. I would like the Minister of State and his Department to fight hard to provide the necessary funding to ensure that there is additional capital investment in inland waterways activities.

Waterways Ireland is an all-Ireland body and we are very fortunate that our waterways are under its remit. It would send a clear message on re-energising areas that have an all-Ireland remit if we show that we are anxious to develop inland waterways and realise their potential for the benefit of our people from a recreational point of view, increasing tourism and attracting more visitors to our country.

I could not agree more with the Deputy. It is the objective of our Department to work very closely with Waterways Ireland to achieve the priorities outlined by the Deputy. I visited a fantastic project run by Waterways Ireland in Lough Allen last week. It was incredible to see how the resource is being used.

It is particularly pertinent during these Covid times that these resources are available for communities. They have been a lifeline for people's mental health and well-being. That priority, in the discussions I have had with Waterways Ireland, will be forthcoming in its ten-year plan. I also want to advance liveaboards on the Grand and Royal Canals in Dublin. That is important and there will be a positive engagement in that regard over the next number of weeks and months.

I thank the Minister of State. I am familiar with the Drumshanbo development. The development of that great facility is a credit to everyone involved, including Waterways Ireland, the local community and statutory agencies.

The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and I have a particular interest in the restoration of the Ulster Canal. Some work has been done and it is essential that there is further development this year in preparing outline designs and preliminary investigatory work in order to facilitate the preparation of estimates for the restoration of a section of the canal in County Monaghan. It is a project that can be done incrementally, and each year we need to move that project on and get more work done. It has powerful potential in terms of providing more of our country with navigable waterways.

The restoration of the Ulster Canal is a long-standing commitment and goes back quite a number of years between the Northern Ireland Executive and our Government. I hope the Minister of State is able to give a commitment before the end of this year that the project will be progressed further. It has fabulous potential and is an important all-Ireland project. At a time like this, we want to send out a clear message that we are developing the economy and carrying out developments and projects on an all-Ireland basis.

I thank Deputy Smith for keeping this on the agenda. It is an important matter. I agree with the contention that the process should be incremental, because these are capital intensive projects, as I said at the outset. Budgets are limited and constrained.

I am encouraged by the positive engagement we have had with Waterways Ireland. It is very early days for me to get fully up to speed on all of these issues, but the upcoming planning process provides us with a significant opportunity to increase the usage and recreational advantage of this amenity, and develop biodiversity values of our inland waterways. They can be a recreational resource for the entire community, particularly, as I have said, as we live through these very challenging times. They are an amazing resource for local communities. I saw their tourism value for local shops and bakeries in Drumshanbo last week. That can be replicated throughout the country and I want to see that happen.

Culture Policy

Cathal Crowe


21. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if additional supports will be considered for local communities to hold replacement events in view of the cancellation of a number of festivals and other cultural events in County Clare in recent months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17286/20]

I congratulate the three Ministers on the new roles they are undertaking and have every confidence they will do a good job.

I want to ask about cancelled events and festivals this summer. There have been many cancellations. In my county, the famous Lisdoonvarna matchmaking festival, Willie Clancy week, the Feakle festival, the Scariff Harbour festival and Consairtín, which is Ireland's national convention for concertina players, have been cancelled and have incurred debts. There will be no events this year. Will the Minister engage with them to ensure there is a funding stream available to them so that they can restart at the earliest opportunity in 2021?

I thank the Deputy for his good wishes and look forward to working with him and all other Deputies in the House. My Department runs a small-scale local festivals and summer school scheme. Funding available under the scheme is typically capped at €5,000. Full details of the scheme are available from my Department's website. Applications for 2020 closed on 24 April and details of allocations may also be found on the website.

There were no applications from County Clare to my Department's 2020 small-scale local festivals and summer schools scheme. The Arts Council funds a number of festivals in County Clare under its festival investment scheme. All funding decisions can be viewed on the Arts Council website.

The list of festivals that the Arts Council funded in County Clare in 2019, under its programme festival scheme, included funding of €3,000 for the Feakle International Traditional Musical Festival. Also under the scheme, Consairtín 2019, the National Concertina Convention, received €5,000, Ennis Book Club Festival received €25,500, Iniscealtra Arts Festival received €9,500, Killaloe Chamber Music Festival received €16,000, Oidhreacht an Chlair received €3,467 for the Seventh Annual Concertina Cruinniú and Sixmilebridge Folk Club received €5,000 for the Shannonside Winter Music Festival.

It is important to note that, under the Arts Act, the Arts Council is statutorily independent in its funding decisions. Therefore, neither my officials nor I have any input into the disbursement of funding.

Fáilte Ireland provides support to large-scale festivals and participative events through its national programme. At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, Fáilte Ireland immediately paid 50% of the festivals' agreed funding within the programme. Fáilte Ireland is working with these festivals to establish whether they will go ahead and, where appropriate, helping to develop revised programming. The remainder of the funding will be provided based on these revised programmes. Fáilte Ireland also administers a regional festivals programme and funding has been paid in full to the local authorities. It also runs an innovation programme for new festivals but this programme has been temporarily suspended and no new applications are being considered at present.

I thank the Minister and appreciate her reply. There is a domino effect to the cancellation of many of these events. Some of these events have tie-ins with local charities and community groups. For example, Ennistymon Community Hospital, Conradh na Gaeilge, West Clare Mental Health Association and Clare GAA are beneficiaries. A trickle-on funding stream is lost as a result of these festivals being cancelled. It has put the county on a downer because these were the stand-out festivals of the spring and summer months that brought people west of the Shannon into County Clare. Clare is famous for its traditional music. I am glad to hear that the Department is committed to working with these groups. They will carry a debt across this autumn and winter and we need to make it possible for these events to run successfully in 2021.

I wish to ask whether the Minister has any plans for Shannon Heritage sites because they are intrinsic to tourism in County Clare. As the Minister knows, those sites will close at the end of August. Those sites employ 350 people, 145 of them full time. They are iconic and key sites in the region. People visit Clare to see those sites and it makes no commercial sense to close them. We are now being told by management that €4 million has been requested from the Government to keep the sites open and I hope the Minister can offer some clarity on that matter.

I assure the Deputy that I am acutely aware of the value of local festivals, their links to the community from a cultural perspective and how they can boost the tourism sector and local economies. As I said, many festivals have had to cancel this year's events and we must look at how we can support those types of events in the future. That issue will be examined by the task force. We must reimagine how we do these things. I will ask my officials to engage with the Deputy on the Shannon Heritage sites and answer his question in writing.

Deputy Pearse Doherty wants to come in.

I agree with Deputy Cathal Crowe on this matter. I am the chairperson of Sult Festival, a music festival in Gweedore in County Donegal that should have run for its third year last week. The festival has grown to cost us, as a non-profit organisation, in the region of €150,000. The festival has been cancelled and we cannot claim back thousands of euro that has been spent. We have not been able to benefit from Fáilte Ireland grants or supports because of the criteria in terms of the number of bed nights. There must be supports available for festivals that have spent large amounts of money. That money is now lost to them. Otherwise, we will lose community festivals that are a unique fabric of rural Ireland should they be unable to go on in the future. I ask the Minister whether she intends to come up with a plan or scheme to support music festivals of that nature which have lost considerable amounts of money and whose ability to function in the future could be in jeopardy without additional support.

I agree with the Deputy that these festivals are part of the unique fabric of rural Ireland. The Arts Council is currently accepting applications for funding under round 1 of the festivals investment scheme for festivals taking place between January and June of next year. There are three bands of funding available: band A provides funding up to €7,000; band B provides funding of between €7,000 and €20,000; and band C provides funding of between €20,000 and €35,000. The closing date for applications for further supports is 5.30 p.m. on Thursday, 23 July. I bring that to the Deputy's attention.

The festivals and events industry, and the broader tourism sector, are facing severe limitations and challenges in these exceptional times. Therefore, Fáilte Ireland is working to redefine the scope of the festivals innovation programme into the future. For that reason, the programme has been temporarily suspended and no applications are being considered but that is because we are trying to reinvent how it can be done and improve the scope of the programme.

Údarás na Gaeltachta

Alan Dillon


22. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her views on Údarás na Gaeltachta using the same assessment criteria as the county local enterprise offices, LEOs, in applications for assistance from small businesses and start-ups (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17248/20]

I also extend my congratulations and best wishes to the Minister and the Ministers of State on their new portfolios. What are the views of the Minister and Ministers of State on Údarás na Gaeltachta? Is it using the same assessment criteria as county LEOs in applications for assistance for small businesses and start-ups?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as na beannachtaí. Le dul siar go dtí an t-iarratas ar eolas maidir le maoiniú i gcomhair Covid-19 ón Teachta Ó Snodaigh, tá an tAire, Teachta Catherine Martin, agus mé féin ag plé lenár gcomhghleacaithe sa Rialtas faoi láthair chun tacaíochtaí breise a sholáthar don Ghaeltacht mar chuid den phacáiste mhí Iúil atá le fógairt an tseachtain seo.

To return to the question asked by Deputy Dillon, Údarás na Gaeltachta encourages investment in the Gaeltacht to arrange financial and non-financial incentives for new and existing enterprises. The organisation also facilitates access to the services provided by IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and LEOs in Gaeltacht areas. As is the case with LEOs, these schemes are provided until the budget is exhausted. Given the hype and demand, an additional budget allocation of €600,000 was recently announced for Údarás na Gaeltachta to continue its online trading scheme. I will reply in further detail during the next round of questions.

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed and informative response. I am sure he is aware, given his Mayo roots, that there are three Gaeltacht regions in the county, namely, Toormakeady, Achill Island and Erris. Excellent work is being done in those areas to support small and medium-sized enterprises in the food and drink, tourism and manufacturing sectors. Will the Minister of State outline how he intends to develop and roll out these support measures?

I thank the Deputy. Both of my parents are from the same county as the Deputy and I absolutely want to support the Gaeltacht region. The Minister and I hope to visit the area in the coming period. I acknowledge that there difficulties with the present funding situation. Officials in my Department are engaging with officials in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation which funds the scheme. Those officials will continue to pursue this matter as a priority.

As the Deputy mentioned, Údarás na Gaeltachta is important to ensure that Irish remains the communal language of the Gaeltacht, promote enterprise in the region, develop job creation initiatives and support strategic language, cultural and community-based initiatives. An tÚdarás promotes productive employment through the development of local natural resources, skills and entrepreneurial abilities, and aims to attract mobile investment to the Gaeltacht. It also promotes and supports community development initiatives and a wide range of language, cultural and educational schemes aimed at strengthening the place of Irish as the principal means of communication among all sections and sectors of the community.

The Deputy asked specifically about the scheme and the funding shortage. Those matters are currently being actively examined, as I have referenced, with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation which is involved in the scheme. We want to ensure that Údarás na Gaeltachta and LEOs can deliver on their remits. It is welcome that we have had such demand for the scheme during the pandemic and it is important that we support all businesses, particularly those in Gaeltacht regions, during this difficult period.

I am glad to hear the Minister of State's reply. I acknowledge the work of Údarás na Gaeltachta.

These support measures will go a long way for businesses in the Gaeltacht and give them a chance to survive in the crisis and find new markets and an opportunity for them to provide innovative services and products.

Údarás na Gaeltachta has been engaging directly with Gaeltacht businesses to support them and their staff through these challenging times. The authority is working alongside Government, State agencies and the Gaeltacht community on a cohesive approach to the Covid-19 crisis. Údarás na Gaeltachta continues to advise clients on contingency planning, financial planning, liquidity issues and recovery strategies.

Údarás na Gaeltachta and the local enterprise offices have a good working relationship at local level. This ensures Údarás na Gaeltachta clients have access to the extensive expertise of the local enterprise offices through training and mentoring programmes.

If Deputy Dillon has any specific feedback on the Gaeltacht region in Mayo, he may wish to bring it to my attention and we can have an interaction with officials on any particular issues. I would be happy to assist him in that.

Animal Diseases

Jennifer Whitmore


23. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will suspend the issue of hare coursing licences across the entire country in view of the recently reported increase in the spread of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17046/20]

The Department highlighted and confirmed to me this week that there have been several confirmed additional cases of rabbit haemorrhagic disease identified in hares in Wexford and Kildare and in rabbits in Clare and Cork. In light of this, will the Minister of State suspend the issuing of the hare coursing licences as a precautionary measure until further information on the disease is available?

I thank Deputy Whitmore for bringing this important issue forward. 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. The statute 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 their affiliated clubs to facilitate the netting and tagging of hares for closed park meetings. The annual licence to capture and tag hares for the 2019-2020 coursing season was issued by my Department on 9 August last year. The licences granted by my Department in such instances include a range of conditions relating to coursing hares that were designed to provide as much protection as possible to the conservation status of the hare.

The RHD2 virus, which affects rabbits and hares, was discovered in several rabbits and hares around the country during last summer. The scientific advice available to my Department at the time and following the issuing of annual licences indicated that the virus was highly contagious and easily spread. Moreover, the Department was advised that catching of hares in nets and keeping them in transportation boxes and confined areas like coursing hare parks could all be considered to increase the risk of disease spread. In these circumstances, given my Department's responsibility in respect of the conservation status of the Irish hare, it was decided to suspend the licences issued to the Irish Coursing Club on 9 August last year until a clearer understanding of the context, spread and implications of RHD2 was developed. A revised more restrictive licence was subsequently issued to the Irish Coursing Club in October 2019 effective to the end of February this year following discussions between the National Parks & Wildlife Service of my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Irish Coursing Club on the impact of the virus. The restrictions included the condition that the capturing of hares and coursing activity was prohibited in areas within a 25 km radius of where wild rabbits or hares had tested positive for the virus. New zones were added on an ongoing basis as positive tests arose and in these new zones the capturing of hares was to cease immediately. Coursing would only be possible with already captured hares and where the hares were certified in writing by a veterinary surgeon as being healthy. Such hares would only be released back into the wild on foot of such certification. This impacted on a significant number of coursing events.

I do not think the Minister of State quite answered the question. Will he suspend the licences? We have seen further instances. I am unsure how many hares were found in Wexford and Kildare but there have been confirmed instances.

It appears from the response from the Department that the research work promised has not been carried out. The Department has said that it is working with colleagues and that it will sample rabbits from hunting bags at different locations. In the absence of that scientific data we need to take a precautionary approach in addressing this issue.

The hare is an iconic endemic species in Ireland. There have been instances of this disease in the UK in recent years. In some areas there up to 70% of the population was wiped out. We cannot afford to allow that to happen to our hare population. It is important that we restrict and suspend licences at this point until we have sufficient research data available to us that can specify how widespread it is in our population across the country. It is not enough to know where cases involving hares are found. We must be proactive in sampling. Until that happens we should suspend licences. I call on the Minister of State again to suspend licences.

To increase our knowledge of the prevalence of RHD2 virus across the country the NPWS is working with colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to develop a national survey of RHD2 in rabbits. This will involve sampling rabbits from hunting bags in different locations throughout the country. The vast majority of rabbits sampled will be those ordinarily taken by licensed hunters in the course of their normal leisure shooting.

A small number of additional animals may be taken for the purpose of the survey to fill geographical gaps. All animals will be tested for RHD2 virus. This will demonstrate the presence of the disease. They will also be tested for RHD2 antibodies to confirm previous exposure.

I agree with Deputy Whitmore. We have to do this based on science and the evidence before us. I share the concerns around hare coursing. Ultimately, this may be a decision that could fall to a senior Minister. I guarantee that our Department will inform the final decision on whether the licensing of netting of hares will take place this year.

It is disappointing that the Minister of State will not say "Yes" or "No". This area is within the remit of the Minister of State. I would like to see a ban on hare coursing but that is not within the remit of the Minister of State. However, this is within the remit of the Minister of State.

From a conservation perspective, we should take the precautionary approach and decide to protect and conserve our species. We must have the scientific data to do that. We do not have it in this instance. I appeal to the Minister of State to look further and perhaps talk to the senior Minister. I call on him to suspend the licences until we have that data. Untold damage could be taking place at the moment. This is a highly contagious disease. Allowing the netting and capturing of these hares could be spreading it throughout the population. We cannot afford to let that happen. I call on the Minister of State to suspend the licensing.

I share the concerns expressed by Deputy Whitmore. There is no commitment in the programme for Government to ban hare coursing. We would have liked to have secured that, but it is not there.

We are still collating information and data. The decision is due in the next while. I cannot give a commitment today on whether that will be a positive or negative decision. We need to gather all the information, data and veterinary advice on this. I will give a commitment that whatever decision is made will be made based on the best available data. That is the only response I can give to Deputy Whitmore today.

Maoiniú d'Eagrais Ghaeilge

Mairéad Farrell


24. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Mairéad Farrell den Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta an bhfuil plean ar bith ag a Roinn chun maoiniú a chur ar fáil do rannóg Gaeilge Ollscoil Uladh i gcampas Mhic Aoidh i nDoire; an mbeadh sí toilteanach cásadh leis an Rannóg leis seo a phlé; agus an mbeidh sí sásta comhoibriú leis an Roinn Oideachas agus Scileanna ar an ábhar seo. [17404/20]

Question No. 24 is in the name of Deputy Mairéad Farrell ach níl sí anseo. Cuirfidh Teachta Doherty an cheist.

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Aire Stáit. Tá súil agam go bhfeicfimid é, agus an tAire sinsearach, i nGaeltacht Thír Chonaill gan mhoill. Baineann an cheist atá roimh an Dáil leis na tacaíochtaí gur féidir leis an Roinn a thabhairt don rannóg Ghaeilge i gcampas Mhic Aoidh i nDoire de chuid Ollscoil Uladh. Bhuail Teachta Mac Lochlainn agus mé féin le grúpa ollamh agus léachtóirí ón rannóg seo le gairid. Is é an rannóg Ghaeilge sin an t-aon rannóg Ghaeilge a bhíonn ag teagasc go huile is go hiomlán i nGaeilge Uladh. Déanann sé freastal ar chainteoirí Gaeilge Uladh sa taobh seo tíre. An bhfuil Roinn an Aire Stáit sásta tacaíocht airgid nó cúiteamh a thabhairt dó sa dóigh is gur féidir leis leanúint ar aghaidh leis an tseirbhís a chuireann sé ar fáil?

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as na beannachtaí. Gabhaim buíochas leis as an gceist freisin. Is iad aidhmeanna an chiste d’ollscoileanna idirnáisiúnta dea-thoil i leith na Gaeilge a chothú agus a chur chun cinn lasmuigh den Stát, trasna na hEorpa, sna Stáit Aontaithe Mheiriceá, i gCeanada agus níos faide ó bhaile agus ardán a chur ar fáil ionas gur féidir teacht ar an nGaeilge agus í a chur i lár an aonaigh mar theanga idirnáisiúnta. Cothaíonn sé tuiscint níos fearr ar an teanga agus ar chultúr na hÉireann lasmuigh den Stát agus cothaíonn sé naisc idir Éirinn agus na tíortha ina bhfuil na hinstitiúidí lonnaithe.

Chomh maith leis sin, cuireann sé go mór le scoláireacht na Gaeilge i measc an phobail acadúil idirnáisiúnta agus méadaítear stádas na teanga dá réir.

Faoi láthair, tá mo Roinn ag maoiniú cúrsaí Gaeilge in os cionn 40 institiúidí tríú leibhéal idirnáisiúnta agus tá súil againn cur leis seo sna blianta amach romhainn. San áireamh anseo, tá dhá pháirtnéireacht le Coimisiún Fulbright agus le Fondúireacht Ollscolaíochta na hÉireann-Ceanada ar mhaithe le teagascóirí Gaeilge a chur go tuaisceart Mheiriceá ar feadh tréimhse bliana. Déantar maoiniú ar chúrsaí in ollscoileanna ar fud na hEorpa chomh maith.

Cuidíonn an maoiniú leis na hollscoileanna tuarastal na dteagascóirí a íoc, ábhar teagaisc a chlúdach agus riaracháin na gcúrsaí chomh maith le deis a thabhairt do dhaltaí a theacht go hÉirinn ar scoláireacht i gceann de na ceithre ionad i nGleann Cholm Cille, Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, an Cheathrú Rua agus Inis Oírr.

Cé go bhfuil an ciste dírithe go príomha ar institiúidí nach bhfuil suite ar oileán na hÉireann, ach teagmháil a bheith déanta ag údaráis Ollscoil Uladh le mo Roinn, bheinn sásta iarraidh ar oifigigh mo Roinne casadh leo chun an cheist atá ardaithe ag an Teachta a phlé.

Déanfaidh mé teagmháil leo fosta agus déanfaidh mé cinnte go dtarlóidh an cruinniú gan mhoill. Ón chruinniú a bhí agam féin agus ag an Teachta Mac Lochlainn leis na léachtóirí agus na hollúna ón ollscoil sin, tá sé iontach soiléir go bhfuil ionsaí á dhéanamh ar an rannóg sin. Tá maoiniú caillte aici le blianta beaga anuas. Bhí cúrsaí á gcur ar fáil aici i Leitir Ceanainn, in Anagaire i nGaeltacht Thír Chonaill, agus in aiteanna eile ach, mar gheall ar an ghearradh maoinithe a rinne an Rialtas le linn na géarchéime eacnamaíche, níl an rannóg ábalta iad a chur ar fáil ag an phointe seo.

Mar a dúirt an tAire Stáit, tá maoiniú á chur ar fáil ag an Roinn do 40 aonad idirnáisiúnta, ach níl sé á chur ar fáil don rannóg ar champas Mhic Aoidh i nDoire i leith na seirbhísí a sholáthraítear. Tá an rannóg seo fíorthábhachtach do Ghaeilgeoirí agus scoláirí Uladh. Tá sé tábhachtach ó thaobh cosaint a thabhairt do chanúint agus chun deis a thabhairt do scoláirí freastal ar an ollscoil le staidéar a dhéanamh ar an teanga gan iad a bheith i bhfeidhm taistil chomh fada le Gaillimh, Maigh Nuad nó Baile Átha Cliath. Tá súil agam go mbeidh dearcadh maith ag an Aire Stáit agus ag a Roinn nuair a chasann siad leis na daoine as an champas seo i nDoire.

Tuigim tábhacht an ábhair seo. Is mór liom an cúlra agus na mionsonraí ar thug sé dom ina chuid cainte. Go ginearálta, cuireann an maoiniú sin go mór leis an teanga. Cruthaíonn sé tuiscint níos fearr ar an teanga agus ar chultúr na hÉireann lasmuigh d'Éirinn. Cothaíonn sé naisc idir Éire agus na tíortha ina bhfuil na hinstitiúidí lonnaithe. Chomh maith leis sin, cuireann sé go mór le scoláireacht na Gaeilge i measc an phobail acadúil idirnáisiúnta agus méadaítear stádas na teanga dá réir. Cuireann sé deis ar fáil an Ghaeilge a chur i láthair phobal acadúil ar fud an domhain. Tugann sé stádas comhionann don Ghaeilge le teangacha Eorpacha eile atá á dteagasc thar lear.

Caiteachas Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


25. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Cultúir, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta cén tacaíocht atá curha ar fháil aici do na hallaí pobail san Ghaeltacht atá i mbaol dúnadh go h-iomlán toisc an teip ar a ioncam i mbliana toisc an pandemic, agus an ardú árachas atá á bhuaileadh anois. [17294/20]

Cén cúnamh breise atá á thabhairt do cheantair Ghaeltachta chun hallaí pobail a choimeád oscailte i mbliana agus sa bhliain seo chugainn?

Aithníonn an Roinn gur tréimhse dhúshlánach í seo do phobal na Gaeltachta i gcoitinne de dheasca Covid-19 - lucht stiúrtha na hallaí agus na n-ionad pobail sa Ghaeltacht san áireamh - ós rud é go bhfuil an fhoinse ioncaim bhliantúil a bheadh ag cuid mhaith díobh ceilte uathu i mbliana mar gheall ar na coláistí Gaeilge a bheith curtha ar ceal an samhradh seo. Chun tacú le cobhsú earnáil na gcoláistí samhraidh Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht, d'fhógair mo Roinn le gairid go raibh ciste éigeandála aon uaire ar fiú €4.7 milliún ar fáil. Tagann an tionscnamh seo tar éis gur fhógair mo Roinn ar an 20 Aibreán 2020 nach reáchtálfaí aon chúrsa foghlama Ghaeilge sa Ghaeltacht an samhradh seo de bharr na paindéime Covid-19, ar mhaithe le sláinte phoiblí a chosaint.

Is beart aon uaire é a bhfuil mar aidhm aige inmharthanacht leanúnach na hearnála a chinntiú, agus dá réir, ligean don earnáil leanúint ar aghaidh chun cur leis an iarracht chórasach atá á déanamh chun tacú leis an nGaeilge agus leis na réigiúin Ghaeltachta de réir chuspóirí uileghabhálacha an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030 agus an plean gníomhaíochta don tréimhse ó 2018 go 2022 lena mbaineann.

Maidir leis na hallaí pobail, is tríd a cuid scéimeanna caipitil a chuireann mo Roinn tacaíocht airgid ar fáil do phobail áitiúla chun áiseanna pobail agus chaitheamh aimsire a fhorbairt. Cé nach bhfuil aon scéim ná ciste ag an Roinn faoina bhféadfaí cúnamh reatha a chur ar fáil do hallaí agus ionaid phobail, is féidir a bheith cinnte go leanfaidh mo Roinn ag cabhrú mar is cuí le cúnamh caipitil a chur ar fáil faoina clár tacaíochtaí pobail agus teanga ar leas na hallaí agus ionaid phobail.

Ag aithint, ar ndóigh, go bhfuil rath chóras na gcoláistí agus na n-ionad pobail sa Ghaeltacht ag brath ar a chéile, chas oifigigh mo Roinne le toscaireacht ó hallaí pobail i nGaeltacht Chonamara le gairid agus pléadh na hábhair imní atá acu.

Agus an tAire Stáit ag teacht chuig deireadh a fhreagra, bhí an cuma ar an scéal go raibh sé chun a fhógairt go raibh airgead éigin áit éigin tar éis a chruinniú leis an toscaireacht ó na hallaí pobail. Tá fadhbanna ollmhóra acu toisc go bhfuil a n-ioncam imithe go huile is go hiomlán toisc na coláistí samhraidh a bheith curtha ar ceal i mbliana toisc Covid-19. Ní ceist na foirgnimh a choimeád amháin an t-aon fhadhb atá ann. Tá seans nach mbeidh airgead ann an t-árachas agus na costais reatha eile a íoc. Is í sin an cheist. D'admhaigh an tAire Stáit nach bhfuil stór airgid ag an Roinn chun déileáil leis sin.

Cén uair a bhunófar ciste sa Roinn a mbeidh na hallaí seo timpeall na nGaeltachtaí in ann iarratais a chur isteach air chun a gcostais reatha, mar shampla, árachas, athchóiriú agus slándáil, a chlúdach chun déanamh cinnte go mbeidh siad ann arís an bhliain seo chugainn do na coláistí samhraidh?

Tuigim gur fadhb dheacair í seo. Tugann an earnáil seo, a bhfuil luach measta ar thimpeall €50 milliún go bliantúil don gheilleagar sna réigiúin Ghaeltachta bainteach leis, foinse luachmhair ioncaim do na teaghlaigh Ghaeltachta maraon le tairbhe níos leithne do na pobail Ghaeltachta.

Is ciste éigeandála aon uair ar fiú €4.7 milliún chun tacú le cobhsú earnáil na gcoláistí samhraidh Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht atá i gceist. Tógadh an cinneadh seo tar éis d'fhógair mo Roinn ar 20 Aibreán nach reáchtálfaí aon chúrsa foghlama Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht an samhradh seo de bharr na paindéime Covid-19 ar mhaithe le sláinte phoiblí a chosaint. Is beart aon uaire é a bhfuil mar aidhm aige inmharthanacht leanúnach na hearnála a chinntiú, agus dá réir, ligean don earnáil leanúint ar aghaidh chun cur leis an iarracht chórasach atá á déanamh chun tacú leis an nGaeilge agus leis na réigiúin Ghaeltachta de réir chuspóirí uileghabhálacha an Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030 agus an plean gníomhaíochta don tréimhse ó 2018 go 2022 lena mbaineann.

Mar atá ráite agam, is maith a thuigimid na deacrachtaí atá ag cur as do na hallaí pobail sa Ghaeltacht an samhradh seo mar gheall gurb éigean don Roinn na coláistí Gaeilge a chur ar ceal de bharr na paindéime. Bhí, agus beidh, oifigigh mo Roinne ar fáil chun an cheist a phlé tuilleadh le lucht na hallaí pobail, más gá. Os rud é go bhfuil na coláistí Gaeilge agus na hallaí pobail ag brath ar a chéile, ba dheas a shamhlú go n-aithneoidh lucht stiúrtha na gcoláistí Gaeilge gur mar sin atá sa phlé seo ar fad. Beimid i dteagmháil le lucht stiúrtha faoin ábhar go luath.