Order of Business. - Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Bill 2003: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Tá ríméad orm bheith sa Seanad inniú chun na díospóireachta ar an Dara Céim den Bhille an Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 2003 a oscailt. Tugann an Bille deis dúinn díriú isteach ar chursaí a bhaineann lenár n-oileáin amach ón gcósta. Tá mé ag tnúth go mór le cloisteáil ó na Seanadóirí ar ball maidir lena gcuid tuairimí ar an reachtaíocht seo agus, dar ndóigh, a gcuid tuairimí maidir le cursaí oileánda i gcoitinne. "Cur chun cinn agus cothú daonra a bheidh ag cur fúthu agus ag obair faoin tuath, sa Ghaeltacht agus ar na hoileáin, trí chúnamh a thabhairt chun pobail inmharthana agus bheo ó thaobh an chultúir a chothú sna háiteanna sin." Is é sin ceann de na spriocanna a leag an Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta roimpi féin ina ráiteas straitéise.

Ba mhaith liom an deis a thapú chun cúpla rud a rá faoin sprioc tábhachtach sin go ginearálta roimh dhíriú isteach ar fhorálacha sonracha an Bhille. Is fiú a mheabhrú don Teach go bhfuil os cionn 40% de dhaonra na hÉireann, sin é, thart ar 1.5 milliún duine, ina gcónaí i gceantair tuaithe. Tá tuiscint níos fearr ann anois – go háirithe ag éirí as an obair ar fad a rinneadh i ndáil leis an straitéis spásuil náisiúnta – ar na hathruithe móra atá tarlaithe cheana féin agus atá fós ag tarlú sna ceantair sin. Samplaí de na mórathruithe seo ná an ghluaiseacht daonra – idir dhaoine áitiúla ag bogadh i dtreo na gcathracha agus a mhalairt treo – an fheirmeoireacht ag dul i leig, riachtanais agus rialacha nua i gcúrsaí pleanála agus comhshaoil ach go háirithe, easpa áiseanna agus infrastruchtúir.

D'aithin an Rialtas an riachtanas a bhí ann cur chuige straitéiseach a chur i bhfeidhm a bheadh dírithe ar phobail a chónaíonn i gceantair tuaithe. Mar thoradh air sin, tugadh an cúram d'fhorbairt tuaithe don Roinn nua Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta. Is é an dúshlán ar leith atá os comhair mo Roinne ná polasaithe a aimsiú a thugann aghaidh ar na hathruithe atá ag tarlú sna pobail tuaithe, tacaíocht a thabhairt dá bhforbairt agus cothromaíocht réigiúnach níos fearr a chur chun cinn.

Tá mé sásta go bhfuil dul chun cinn leanúnach a dhéanamh le leas eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta na bpobal tuaithe a chinntiú faoin bplean forbartha náisiúnta – a bhfuil tionchar mór ag an bPáipear Bán ar fhorbairt tuaithe air – agus faoin gclár CLÁR ach go háirithe. Mar is eol don Teach, tá CLÁR ag díriú isteach ar na ceantair tuaithe faoi mhíbhuntáiste is mó a d'fhulaing titim sa daonra idir 1926 agus 1996, le meántitim de 50%. Beidh suim ag an Teach cloisteáil gur ghnóthaigh daonra iomlán de 284,000 buntáiste caiteachais de thart ar 14 milliún a caitheadh ar thacaíocht don bhonneagar fisiciúil, pobail agus sóisialta faoin gciste CLÁR sa bhliain 2002. Tagann cuid mhaith de na hoileáin mhara faoin gclár seo freisin, mar shampla, Árainn Mhór ó thuaidh, Inis Bó Finne, Cliara, agus Inis Tuirc san larthar, agus na hoileáin Béara agus Cléire ó dheas.

Is í bunaidhm pholasaí na Roinne i ndáil leis na hoileáin ná forbairt inmharthana na n-oileán mhara sin a bhfuil daoine ina gcónaí orthu a chur chun cinn agus iarracht a dhéanamh leibhéil shásúla seirbhíse a sholáthar do na hoileánaigh. Is féidir an bhunaidhm pholasaí seo a shainiú i dtrí chuspóir straitéiseacha: rochtain shásúil ar chóras iompair i rith na bliana ar fad do phobail oileán a éascú; pobail na n-oileán a spreagadh chun eagraíochtaí ionadaíocha a bhunú a oibreoidh le Ranna Rialtais, le háisíneachtaí Stáit agus le húdaráis áitiúla chun bonneagar, tionscal, talmhaíocht, iascach, turasóireacht agus araile na n-oileán a fhorbairt; agus polasaithe Rialtais maidir leis na hoileáin a chur chun cinn agus a chomhordú.

Tá mé thar a bheith bródúil go pearsanta as an méid atá bainte amach do na hoileáin le blianta beaga anuas. Is dócha gurbh í an chéad chéim thábhachtach dár tógadh ná coiste idir-Ranna comhordaithe um fhorbairt óileán a bhunú i 1993 chun athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar straitéisí forbartha do na hoileáin agus na tosaíochtaí sin a mheas. Cuireadh tuarascáil chuimsitheach le chéile agus foilsíodh í sa bhliain 1996. Ba chéim thábhachtach eile í ná freagracht shonrach i leith na n-oileán a bhronnadh ar an Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán, a bunaíodh i 1997. Is cúis áthais dom gur thit na dualgais sin ormsa ag an am mar Aire Stáit ag an Roinn sin go dtí 2001 agus arís anuraidh nuair a ceapadh mé mar Aire ar an Roinn seo, An Roinn Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta.

Tá se rí-shoiléir go bhfuil lán-tacaíocht tugtha ag an Rialtas seo agus an Rialtas a d'imigh roimhe do chaighdeán saoil na n-oileánach a fheabhsú. Mar shampla, tá an soláthar i leith fhorbairt na n-oileán méadaithe ó faoi bhun €2.5 milliún sa bhliain 1997 go dtí €10 milliún don bhliain seo chugainn, sin é, €7.5 milliún i leith thograí caipitil agus €2.5 milliún i leith thograí reatha. Tá infheistíocht an-mhór déanta le seacht mbliana anuas i gcúrsaí infrastruchtúir na n-oileán, mar a chéile le seirbhísí – agus airím ina measc sin iompar farantóireachta agus aeir, céibheanna, bóithre, soláthar leictreachais agus uisce, cúrsaí slainte agus oideachais.

Gan dabht ar bith is í rochtain shábhailte an tosaíocht is mó a bhaineann le hinmharthanacht phobail na n-oileán. Go deimhin féin, tá sé aisteach a smaoineamh go bhfuil sé 50 bliain ó thréig daoine na Blascaoidí, agus dá mbeadh na seirbhísí ann ag an am sin atá anois ann, ní tharlódh an rud sin, mar tagann bád farantóireachta isteach go dtí an Bhlascaoid chuile lá, nó cúpla uair sa lá, ach sin mar a bhí an saol, agus seo mar atá an saol. Tá feabhas thar cuimse tagtha ar na seirbhísí farantóireachta ó 1997 – faoi láthair tá 14 seirbhís á maoiniú le hais cúig cinn i 1997. Is fiú a lua chomh maith go bhfuil seirbhísí aeir á maoiniú go dtí na hoileáin Árann chomh maith le seirbhís ingearáin do Thoraigh i rith an gheimhridh. Níl deireadh leis an obair seo go fóill beag. Rinne Ollscoil Cranfield stáidéar ar leith ar sheirbhísí aeir chuig na hoileáin i 2001, agus tá na moltaí sin fós á meas ag mo Roinn. Cheana féin, tá dul chun cinn sásúil á dhéanamh chun aerstráicí a chur ar fáil ar Inis Bó Finne agus ar Oileán Thoraí mar atá geallta i gclár an Rialtais. Ceapadh comhairleoirí le gairid le stáidéar a dhéanamh ar na seirbhísi farantóireachta agus ar an infrastruchtúr atá riachtanach ina leith. Táthar ag súil leis an tuarascáil sin go han-luath.

Tá infheistíocht ollmhór déanta agus le feiceáil go soiléir i gcéibheanna oileánda le cúpla bliain anuas, mar shampla, caitheadh níos mó na €1 milliún ar Chéibh Léab Gharbh in Árainn Mhór agus €2.4 milliún ar Chéibh Mhachaire Rabhartaigh le freastal ar Thoraigh agus Inis Bó Finne. Tá €1.75 milliún ceadaithe do Chéibh Rú an Átha le freastal ar Oileán Cliara agus Inis Tuirc agus deontas de bheagnach €11 milliún, an ceann is mó a ceadaíodh ariamh do oileán, tugtha chun forbairtí móra a dhéanamh ar na céibheanna Cliara agus Tuirc iad féin. Anuas air seo, tá pleanáil maidir le mórfhorbairt na gcéibheanna ar na hoileáin Árann ag dul ar aghaidh chomh maith.

Is dushlan mór eile do mo Roinn deiseanna fostaíochta inmharthana a chur ar bun ar na hoileáin. Tá na hoileáin Ghaeltachta ag fáil seirbhís mhaith ó Údaras na Gaeltachta, go háirithe mar thoradh ar scéim nua fiontair a fógraíodh i mbliana do na hoileáin seo. Faoin scéim sin, anuas ar na gnáthdheontais caipitil agus fostaíochta, beidh deontais eile suas go dtí €90,000, nó 80% de na costais bhreise a bhaineann le gnó a bhunú ar oileán, ar fáil faoin scéim de minimis. Tá se inmholta go mbeadh aitheantas den saghas sin tugtha do na hoileáin taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht a thagann faoi chúram na Ranna Fiontair, Trádála agus Fostaíochta. Le tamall anuas, tá mo Roinn-se ag breathnú ar na féidearthachtaí atá ann ciste fiontair a bhunú do na hoileáin seo i gcomhairle leis an Roinn Fiontair, Trádála agus Fostaíochta. Tá mé sásta a chur in iúl go bhfuil dul chun cinn suntasach déanta maidir leis an gciste fiontair seo le deireanaí, agus tá súil agam scéim a fhógairt sa bhliain nua.

Is cuid dhílis d'oidhreacht an Stáit iad ár n-oileáin mhara, agus cé go bhfuil go leor déanta le blianta beaga anuas, aithním an gá le feabhsúcháin bhreise ar rochtain, seirbhísí agus bonneagar le caighdeán maireachtála na n-oileánach a chothú agus a fheabhsú. Tá sé mar aidhm agam a chinntiú go leanfar ar aghaidh le hinfheistíocht fhiúntach i bhforbairt na n-oileán sna blianta amach romhainn, agus tá mé cinnte go mbeidh beannacht an Tí seo ann dá leithéid. Cad is fiú na hoileáin Arainn i gcúrsaí turasóireachta do chathair na Gaillimhe? Níl aon amhras ann ach gur fiú i bhfad níos mó ná caiteachas atá á dhéanamh ar na hoileáin.

Beidh Uachtarántacht an Aontais Eorpaigh ag Éirinn sa chéad sé mhí de 2004. Is cúis mhór sásaimh dom a chur in iúl go mbeidh trí chomhdháil thábhachtacha á n-eagrú ag mo Roinnse, mar chuid den Uachtarántacht seo, ag a mbeidh toscaireachtaí ó bhallstáit an Aontais mhéadaithe ann. Reachtálfar comhdháil amháin i mBaile Átha Cliath le plé a dhéanamh ar chúrsaí drúgaí. Reachtálfar an péire eile faoin tuath, ceann ar fhorbairt na tuaithe i gcontae Mhaigh Eo agus an ceann eile ar chúrsaí oileán agus nithe gaolmhara i gContae na Gaillimhe. Tá na socruithe i ndáil leis na comhdhálacha seo á ndéanamh faoi láthair.

Is mian liom anois aghaidh a thabhairt ar an reachtaíocht atá os ár gcomhair inniu ag míniú aidhmeanna an Bhille ar dtús agus, ina dhiaidh sin, ag míniú téacs an Bhille de réir ailt.

Bille gairid le sé alt a bhfuil trí aidhm aige: foráil a dhéanamh i leith cumhachtaí nua i ndáil le seirbhísí paisinéirí bus a chur ar fáil mar chuid de chonarthaí farantóireachta nó aeir éirithe; foráil a dhéanamh i leith cumhachtaí breise a bhaineann le haerstraicí a chur ar bun ar na hoileáin; agus daingniú a dhéanamh ar na cumhachtaí reachtúla reatha atá ag an Aire i ndáil le seirbhísí iompair go dtí na hoileáin.

Tá an chumhacht maidir le seirbhísí paisinéirí bus ag teastail ar bhonn siarghabhálach chun faidhbe ultra vires a d'aimsigh Oifig an Phríomh-Aturnae Stáit a leigheas agus rinneadh plé air le gairid ag an gCoiste um Chuntais Phoiblí. Bhí i gceist díriú ar an ngné seo i gcomhthéacs Bhille an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna)(Leasú) 2001 nár achtaíodh. Go bunúsach tá an chumhacht seo ag teastáil sna cuinsí go bhfuil riachtanas ann paisinéirí a thabhairt ar aghaidh idir an phointe tuirlingthe/fágála ar an mórthír agus an t-ionad daonra is giorra. Is sampla den chineál riachtanas atá i gceist ná an conradh farantóireachta d'Inis Bó Finne. Tagann an bád i dtír ag Céibh an Chloiginn agus bíonn seirbhís bus ceangailte leis an gconradh chun na gasúr scoile ón oileán a thabhairt ar aghaidh go dtí an scoil i dTuam nó Mainistir na Coille Móire. Sampla eile is ea an tseirbhís bus go Gaillimh a chuirtear ar fáil do phobail Oileáin Arann nuair a thagann siad i dtír ag Ros an Mhíl. I láthair na huaire tá riachtanas mar seo ann i gcás ceithre cinn as 14 chonradh farantóireachta chomh maith le conradh aeir amháin.

Feidhmeoidh an dara cumhacht maidir le haerstraicí ar na hoileáin mar chreatlach reachtúil faoina bhféadfaí forbairt a dhéanamh ar sheirbhísí iompar aeir go dtí na hoileáin amach anseo ach cead an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire lompair a fháil. Bhí an chumhacht chumasaithe seo san áireamh chomh maith i mBille an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna)(Leasú) 2001 nár achtaíodh sa deireadh agus tá sé á lorg anois i gcomhthéacs gealltanais i gclár aontaithe an Rialtais maidir le haersheirbhísí a chur ar fáil go dtí na hoileáin.

I gcomhthéacs na reachtaíochta atá molta, ceaptar go bhfuil sé iomchuí daingniú a dhéanamh ar na cumhachtaí reachtúla reatha. Faoi láthair tá cumhacht ag an Aire foirdheontais a íoc i leith seirbhísí farantóireachta faoin Acht lompair Oileáin Arann 1946 agus Acht an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 1998. Tá i gceist na forálacha seo a aisghairm agus iad a thabhairt isteach arís sa reachtaíocht nua.

Ag díriú isteach ar théacs an Bhille anois, is foráil chaighdeánach í an fhoráil léiritheach atá in alt 1. Leagtar amach ann na sainmhínithe atá in úsáid sa reachtaíocht, mar shampla, ciallaíonn "oileán" oileán áirithe de chuid an Stáit. Maidir le "comhsheirbhís paisinéirí bus agus oileáin" a leagtar síos an bhrí de in alt 2, go bunusach séard atá i gceist na seirbhís bus do phaisinéirí a chuirtear ar fáil mar chuid de chonradh farantóireachta nó aeir idir oileáin áirithe agus an mhórthír.

Baineann alt 2 le cumhachtaí an Aire i ndáil le seirbhísí iompair a sholáthar le haghaidh oileán. Féadfaidh an tAire, le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais, foirdheontais a íoc le haghaidh oibriú seirbhísí farantóireachta, mar a foráladh cheana faoi Acht Iompalr Oileán Arann 1946 agus Acht an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 1998.

Ina theannta sin, féadfaidh an tAire, le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire lompair foirdheontais a íoc i ndáil le seirbhísí paisinéirí bus agus oileáin mar chuid de chonarthaí farantóireachta nó aeir áirithe. Déanfar na cinn scríbe dóibh siúd a leagan amach i rialacháin. Tá an chumhacht á bronnadh gan dochar do bhailíocht foirdheontais a íocadh roimhe i ndáil leis seo.

Tugann alt 3 cumhachtaí don Aire i ndáil le haeradróim a sholáthar i dtaca le haersheirbhísí a chur ar fáil idir na hoileáin agus an mhórthír. Sa chomhthéacs sin, féadfaidh an tAire, le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire lompair, talamh a fháil, trí aontú no go héigeantach, chun aeradróim agus saoráidí gaolmhara a thógáil, a fheabhsú, a leathnú nó a fhorbairt ar na hoileáin nó ar an mórthír más amhlaidh. Áirítear chun na críocha seo aon aeradróm atá ann cheana. Tá foráil ann freisin i leith maoiniú a dhéanamh ar na gnéithe seo.

Leagtar amach in alt 3 na nósanna imeachta a bheidh le leanúint sa chás gur gá ceannach éigeantach, lena n-áiritear forálacha caighdeánacha maidir le fógra roimh ré, pleananna a thaispáint, fógra chuig daoine leasmhara, fiosrúchán poiblí, cuiteamh, eadráin, etc. Tá foráil san alt seo freisin maidir le cumhacht an Aire i ndáil le bainistiú agus oibriú aeradróm den sórt sin, nó, má údaraítear é le hordú arna dhéanamh ag an Aire le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire lompair, i ndáil leis an bhfeidhm sin a bhronnadh ar eagras reachtúil, mar shampla, chuig údarás áitiúil nó chuig cuideachta a fhaigheann maoiniú nó cuidiú ón Státchiste.

Baineann alt 4 maidir le haisghairm Acht lompair Oilean Arann 1946 agus alt 4 d'Acht an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 1998, gan dochar do chonarthaí a bhí nó atá i bhfeidhm agus a rinneadh faoin reachtaíocht sin.

Leagtar amach in alt 5 go n-íocfar caiteachas a bhaineann le riaradh an Achta ó thaobh an Aire Gnothaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta nó an Aire Iompair nó an Aire Airgeadais as an Státchiste ach cead an Aire Airgeadais a fháil mar is cuí.

Is foráil chaighdeánach eile atá in alt 6 ina leagtar amach gearrtheideal an Bhille. Molaim an Bille seo don Teach.

I am delighted to bring this Bill before the House. It is important we place the islands in their proper context because they are incredibly important. They have a population of 3,000 people, who are important in themselves and have a right to their share of good services provided by the State. The islands are repositories of a great deal of traditional Irish culture. In recent weeks, we have been commemorating the 50th anniversary of the last people leaving the Blasket Islands. Times were different then and there was no technology but, had those people had electricity, two daily services to the mainland, doctors on call and helicopters, it would have been possible to maintain the community on the Blasket Islands.

I am not one for bemoaning the past – what is gone is gone and what is done is done. I was recently on an island with ESB workers who had installed an electricity service there. The island had been deserted but the people returned to it each summer to farm and fish. The cost was not excessive and I asked why the installation had not been carried out ten or 20 years ago. The answer was that the technology did not exist to lay the type of underwater cable which now exists in order to give a secure supply. Therefore, many of the changes relate to developments in technology in regard to boats, electricity cables and so on.

The Estimates provide €10 million for the islands, which some might say is a considerable sum of money. However, that is in the context of the fact that 254,000 people, a vast number of whom are tourists, visit Ireland every year. The importance of the Aran Islands to Galway city and Ireland as a tourist destination is the equivalent to the Boyne Valley or Glendalough in the east and their attraction and positive image of Galway means this expenditure must be put into context.

Coca-Cola and other drinks companies spend vast amounts of money on brand marketing to try to create a good image. The Aran Islands' image is worth an enormous amount to Ireland Inc. every year. Dún Aengus, the people, the jarveys and so on make the islands an invaluable selling point. In that context, the money we spend on the islands is actually quite modest.

It is interesting that the organisers of next year's Milwaukee festival, which attracts more than 100,000 people over three days, have decided to have islands as its theme. There is a huge business in tourism and the organisers know the American market is looking for something different. They do not want to come to Ireland to find MacDonalds. Rather, they want to find something different which is traditional and modern at the same time.

The islands cannot exist in a time warp. We can preserve all that is good about the Aran Islands, their marvellous culture, language and fantastic archaeological ruins. However, those who visit the islands also want en suite services and the ability to travel by safe, quick and comfortable means. These people want the islands to have facilities to allow recreational activities on wet days and they want access to hotels, etc. What we must do is move forward positively in terms of providing the best of modern services while also protecting all that was good about the past and discarding the rest.

The Bill does a number of simple things. The first of these is that it regularises a situation which was found to be ultra vires. I refer to the fact that I, as Minister, was responsible for the fact that people travelling from the islands were not left at the mainland by the boat and that was it. What is the point in bringing people from Inisbofin on the west coast and leaving them in Cleggan and saying that they are on their own? We dealt with this situation by tying up the boat contract with a bus contract and now, on days when regular services are provided, people can travel from Inisbofin to Clifden in Galway. However, we went one step further. There is no secondary school in Inisbofin so we arranged that on each Sunday evening and Friday evening, and on school holidays, children from the island are picked up at the pier and brought to their schools, Kylemore Abbey and St. Jarlath's in Tuam, on the mainland. The position is reversed when they are returning home. From the point of view of parents, that is a revolutionary change in the situation which existed 20 years ago when children came home for their mid-term breaks, returned to school and lost all contact with the island.

It was pointed out by the Chief State Solicitor that there was a slight question that I had acted ultra vires and we want to put matters right. Anyone who argues with the principle of having an integrated transport service for the islands does not understand that most of the ferry ports are not people's final destinations.

Until now, Údarás na Gaeltachta has developed airstrips on the three Aran Islands. As proposed in the Cranfield report, I want to develop further airstrips, initially on Inisbofin and Tory Island. To do that, I need the powers I am seeking in the Bill. In basic terms, the legislation will give me the power to purchase land, including, where necessary by compulsory purchase, for an aerodrome and to run that aerodrome. Much of the land will be purchased through what are termed "friendly CPOs" because a great deal of it is owned in commonage and there will, on occasion, be difficulty in establishing title. It would lead to inordinate delays if we had to seek titles for every person. The land will be bought by agreement, in so far as possible, but we need, on a technical level, the power to take out CPOs, subject to all the normal protections that exist. We will be given the power, under the Bill, to delegate the operation of these services to a county council or another statutory agency such as, for example, Údarás na Gaeltachta.

This is a simple Bill which will not do anything revolutionary. It will consolidate that which has already been done and ensure that matters in that regard are airtight. However, it will also allow us to proceed with the rolling programme where every islander will feel that he or she will have, subject to weather conditions at sea, as much access to services as is physically possible and the old days of being isolated on islands will be long gone. It is charming to think about isolated islands and the people who inhabit them, as long as one does not have to live on one 365 days a year. The modern islands are different because people come and go. In the late 1960s it took one a day to travel out to the Aran Islands and a day to get back. However, this meant that an islander who wished to attend an appointment or do some shopping in Galway had to spend a day travelling each way and was obliged to stay overnight in the city. That was incredibly expensive. People no longer have time to make such journeys.

I am informed that people travelling on the regular services from Inis Mór in the Aran Islands can get to Galway quicker than those using the regular public transport service from Carraroe to Galway. That is a hell of a turnaround of which I am proud. It is great that people can travel from the islands to Galway in the morning and return home in the evening. That kind of practical improvement will maintain the population of the islands. The six provisions in this simple Bill will allow those things to happen.

I look forward to a good debate on the Bill. I am anxious to proceed as quickly as possible with the Bill in order that the small matter of the bus services can be regularised in the near future.

Tá failte roimh an Aire go dtí an Seanad agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille seo. Tá brón orm nach labharfaidh mé as Gaeilge inniu ach tá mé ag dul go rang seachtainiúil. B'fhéidir go mbeidh tuilleadh muiníne agam an bhliain seo chugainn.

I welcome the Minister and this timely Bill, with which my party has no difficulty. I also welcome the fact that the Minister spoke as Béarla. I know that he holds a Gaeltacht portfolio, but his use of English makes matters somewhat easier for Members who do not speak Irish.

I wish to digress to a certain extent and discuss the definition of island, particularly as it relates to Inch Island off the coast of Donegal. The Minister has probably received numerous representations from his colleagues in respect of this island. Transportation to the island is not a problem and emergency transportation can gain access through the road network. However, there is another side to this story, namely, the infrastructural deficit that exists on the island. There are still 300 people living on the island who continue to refer to themselves as islanders. There is a small fishing industry on the island but there is no road leading down to the existing pier, which is almost devoid of the up to date facilities required to land a fleet.

I presume the Minister is already well aware of this matter. However, I would welcome it if there was anything that could be done by way of changing the legislative detail. The place in question is called Inch Islanders and the people who live there refer to themselves as islanders. The Minister referred to the culture that exists on the Aran Islands and Inisbofin. The people to whom I refer have the culture and way of life of an island community. At present, a land mass must be completely surrounded by water for a particular period each year to be classified as an island. However, some provision must be made in terms of considering the cultural and infrastructural aspects.

I have no difficulty with the Bill. Anything which can help people to travel to and from the islands, particularly Tory Island, is welcome. We must keep our eye on the ball, however, and ensure that the existing ferry services are not adversely affected.

I visited the Aran Islands in 1990. They were, to an extent, commercialised at that stage. People involved in business on the islands have stated that they are now becoming even more commercialised. It is a question of sustainability. The Minister is correct with regard to the direct and positive contribution made by the Aran Islands to the economy of Galway. The same can be said of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, which is visited by many people each year. I visit Arranmore once or twice a year and bring some friends of mine from Dublin whose lives in the city are hectic. They visit Arranmore in winter to get away from commercialism and everything else. I accept there is an argument that islanders must still be in a position to make money. However, we must achieve a balance without making it completely commercial and focus also on the area of protection.

Is mian liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. Tá áthas orm tacaíocht a thabhairt do Bhille an Aire Gnothaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 2003.

Le fada an lá, ní raibh na deiseanna nó áiseanna céanna ag muintir na n-oileán agus a bhí ag muintir na mórthíre. Tá forbairt iontach déanta maidir le córais iompair agus aeir sa chuid eile den tíre ach ní raibh mórán déanta ar son muintire na n-oileáin toisc go raibh siad scaipthe amach uainn. Tugann an Bille seo deis dúinn díriú ar riachtanais muintire na n-oileán agus áiseanna agus infrastructúr cuí a chur ar fáil dóibh.

Tá an Bille tráthúil agus molaim an tAire as ucht an dhíográis agus na ndúthrachtaí a thaispeáin sé ina chrói agus a ghníomhartha ar son leasa muintire na n-oileán le fada anois, go háirithe le bliain go leith ó toghadh ina Aire é.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on bringing the Bill forward. It is refreshing that Senator McHugh is positively disposed towards the Bill. He acknowledged its necessity to accelerate the development programme being implemented by the Minister on behalf of islanders. They have the same rights as people living on the mainland. Those rights were not acknowledged in the past but they are addressed in this legislation because the Minister believes in equality for all. That is one of the guiding spirits of his Ministry, whether one lives on the mainland or on an island. The Minister has backed up his conviction with financial resources, which was attested to by many Members in the Lower House, and one Opposition Member acknowledged he is not a latter day convert to the needs and rights of islanders. I fully support that sentiment.

There is no doubt the Minister's contribution to gaeltachtaí and the islands surpasses everything received by these communities previously. Bus, rail and air transport services, for example, have not been readily available on islands, most of which are located off the west coast. There has been significant depopulation of the islands over the past 50 years and, as the Minister correctly stated, if education, health and integrated transport facilities and services had been available over the years, depopulation would not have taken place.

Infrastructural and industrial development had passed the islands by until relatively recently. Entrepreneurs and multinational companies do not have a presence on the islands and the development of services to the islands is hampered significantly by remoteness from the marketplace, difficulties in the transport of raw materials and other factors. Everybody agrees islanders are disadvantaged, yet island communities are part of what we are. As the Minister stated, they are repositories of all that is best about our heritage, history and culture and that must be preserved. Senator McHugh shares that aspiration.

I commend the Minister for the manner in which he has passionately set out to preserve our heritage and culture. It must also be acknowledged that people who left the islands over the years have a tremendous emotional attachment to their birthplace. Two of the most essential ingredients in the revitalisation of the islands are the promotion of employment and the promotion of quality of life.

Improvements have been made on the islands in recent decades through the subsidisation of transport services, for example, but a number of people still travel to and from the islands in open boats, usually students travelling to the mainland to continue their education. The Minister has acknowledged this is dangerous and unfair and he has provided substantial resources in recent times to address that problem, which is to be welcomed. I am not a frequent visitor to the islands but, from what I know of islanders, they will appreciate the Minister's commitment.

Exciting schemes have been introduced which touch on almost every aspect of life on the islands, including infrastructure, integrated transport services and the development of facilities for communities. The Minister has sought to reach out to islands through the provision of facilities and resources. One of the key objectives of his Department is to co-ordinate the provision of State services throughout the islands. The Minister chairs an interdepartmental committee that has taken a significant number of initiatives, which recognise and acknowledge that the balance needs to be tilted a little more in favour of islands in order to achieve equality. This is consistent with the spirit of the Minister's philosophy and vision of fairness that should obtain in regard to island communities.

A considerable number of projects have passed through the planning process and are being implemented. I welcome, in particular, the five year action plan drawn up by the Department with responsibility for the islands, which was promised under the national development plan. The benefits of the plan are being realised on a number of islands. The Minister has secured an 18% spending increase in his Department's Estimate, which is much higher than the average increase. This will assist the Minister in terms of what he wishes to achieve during his term of office on behalf of people who have been rarely acknowledged.

There has been phenomenal development in the variety and quality of air transport to the islands. The emergence of small, commercial aircraft means there is significant potential for island hopping and this readily accessible mode of transport has become feasible for islanders. The Minister has grasped this opportunity. I refer to Aer Arann. The founder and chief executive, Padraig O'Ceidigh, who is a former teacher, emerged from humble beginnings. Indeed, I believe he recently acknowledged that he was almost penniless when he started out – he certainly had very little money. He is reputed to have said that, if he had made one wrong move, he would have gone down, but there was very little to go down with him in terms of resources. However, he has achieved huge success, as the Minister will be very well aware, to the extent that I understand the airline will have a turnover of approximately €60 million this year and is expected to be in profit. It has doubled its workforce over the last few years and expects to carry approximately 650,000 passengers during the current year. That is a tremendous success story.

Aer Arann services connect many of our other cities with Dublin. The islands need and deserve such a facility, but before this can come to pass, aerodromes must be built. The Bill before the House will enable the Minister to evaluate the need for such facilities. If he or any of his successors are satisfied that a particular air service is necessary, the Minister of the day will have the power to initiate the process of providing the relevant facilities.

Of course, the Bill's provisions are equally applicable to sea travel, in terms of placing the same obligations on the Minister. For countless centuries, the only means of transport between the islands and the mainland has been by sea. One can only marvel at the courage and strength of character of the islanders, throughout past centuries, who had to travel in small currachs, under very unfavourable and dangerous conditions, from the various islands to the mainland and back.

I have a rather vivid personal memory of an overnight stay on Clare Island a few years ago, when our scheduled return trip to County Mayo was cancelled because of extremely unfavourable conditions. Four hours later, the captain decided to travel. The return journey to the pier on the mainland was something out of the ordinary. It would be putting it rather mildly to describe it as a harrowing experience for me, my brother and our wives. That experience has given me some perspective and understanding of what people had to endure over previous generations. Although my family group had the benefit of a modern vessel, with the best captain available today, or so I am reliably informed by the locals, I am very conscious of what we experienced during that trip. I cannot even begin to imagine what previous generations would have endured under such conditions.

This Bill is essentially about providing equality and facilitating the Minister with powers and provisions to provide that equality for islanders, in terms of their quality of life, the development of infrastructure and integrated transport, educational opportunities, and an equal share in the spoils of the progress and prosperity the rest of Ireland has had the good fortune to enjoy.

Mar fhocal scoir, is mian liom mo thacaíocht iomlán a thabhairt don Bhille seo agus comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis an Aire arís as ucht na sároibre atá á déanamh aige ar son na Gaeilge, ar son na Roinne Ghnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta, agus ar son mhuintir na n-oileán. Táim cinnte go bhfuil siad uilig slán go leor faoina chúram.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus iar-Sheanadóir. B'fhéidir go bhfuil súil agam nach mbeidh sé ina Sheanadóir ariamh aríst, agus b'fhéidir nach bhfuil. Is ceist pholaitiúil é sin seachas ceist phearsanta. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille. Ní bheadh éinne atá réasúnta ábalta cur ina choinne. Tá cumhachtaí á soiléiriú nó á dtabhairt don Aire don chéad uair ar chóir a bheith aige le tamall fada, agus oireann sé do riachtanais na n-oileán na cumhachtaí seo a bheith ag an Aire. Cosúil lena lán rudaí a thagann trí Thithe an Oireachtais, nuair a cuireadh an reachtaíocht os mo chomhair, chuir sé ionadh orm nach raibh na cumhachtaí sin ag an Aire is oiriúnaí roimhe seo, agus sin ceann de na heaspaí is mó a chítear sa chóras Stáit. Níl mé ag cur milleáin ar Rialtas ar bith, ach sa chóras Stáit go ginearálta, níl na bun-phrionsabail ann a gceapann a lán daoine a bheith ann ó thaobh chumhachtaí Rialtais de. B'fhéidir, ar shlite eile, go mbíonn an iomarca cumhachtaí ag Airí Rialtais in áiteacha nach gá dóibh a bheith ann in aon chor, ach sin ceist i bhfad níos leithne ná atá sa Bhille seo.

Cuirim fáilte roimh na cumhachtaí atá á bhfáil aige. Caithfear cúpla rud a rá. Tá na cumhachtaí seo tábhachtach, ach tá na hacmhainní atá riachtanach chun na cumhachtaí sin a chur i bhfeidhm chomh tábhachtach leis na cumhachtaí féin. Tá pleananna iontacha ann, mar shampla, faoin bplean náisiúnta forbartha do bhóithre agus taisteal poiblí agus a leithéid. Gan acmhainní, áfach, beidh siad ann, agus beidh daoine ag féachaint orthu agus ag léamh na bpleananna ildaite go brách, ach ní dhéanfar mórán. Bheadh sé go breá a bheith cinnte go mbeadh na hacmhainní ar fáil.

Glacaim leis – agus caithfidh mé é seo a rá – go bhfuil an-fheabhas tagtha ar chaighdeán na mbóithre in áiteacha sna Gaeltachtaí. Tá aithne agam go mórmhór ar Ghaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne, agus le deich mbliana anuas, tá an-fheabhas tagtha ar chaighdeán na mbóithre. Ní bhrisfidh éinne a charr a thuilleadh ag tiomáint timpeall Chorca Dhuibhne, agus is dul chun cinn é sin. Chím, agus chonaic mé, na fógraí i ngach áit, go mórmhór i nGaeilge Chonamara in ionad a bheith i nGaelainn Chorca Dhuibhne, ag tabhairt eolais dúinn faoi cé chomh fláthúil is a bhí Aire na Gaeltachta. Má tá sé ábalta na comharthaí a chur in airde, b'fhéidir go mbeadh sé ábalta aitheantas a thabhairt do Ghaelainn Chorca Dhuibhne agus a chuid fógraí a chur in airde sa chanúint sin. Sin rud beag, áfach.

Tá rud éigin bunúsach sa Bhille seo. Tá codarsnacht idir fealsúnacht an Bhille seo agus a bhfeicim féin mar fhealsúnacht an Rialtais. Is é seo an cheist: an leanann infreastruchtúr an margadh, nó an leanann an margadh an t-infreastruchtúr? Má chreidimid go leanann infreastruchtúr an margadh, ba chóir dúinn é a ligint don margadh, agus dá ligfimis don margadh é, ba bheag an pobal beo a bheadh fágtha ar na hoileáin. Tá an oiread sin daoine á dtarraingt isteach do na cathracha agus na bailte móra gur bheag an líon a bheadh fágtha ar na hoileáin. Tá sé sin doghlactha. Ní dóigh liom gur fiú argóint faoi.

Is éard atá ar siúl ag an Aire, agus is é bunchloch an Bhille seo, ná cur i gcoinne sin, agus infreastruchtúr a chur ar fáil ag dul i gcoinne chumhacht an mhargaidh. Ní ghlacann sé leis go gcaithfimis géilleadh don margadh i gcónaí. Beidh mé réasúnta cúramach faoi seo. Ní hionann iad an fhealsúnacht seo agus fealsúnacht na Ranna Airgeadais. Tá sé soiléir ó gach cinneadh mór faoi infreastruchtúr sa tír seo gurbh é an bhunfhealsúnacht atá ag an Roinn Airgeadais ná go leanann infreastruchtúr an margadh. Nuair a bhíonn an pobal méadaithe, cuireann sé isteach go déanach é. Sin an fáth go bhfuil gach rud sa chathair seo déanach. Níor dheineadar pleanáil nó na rudaí a bhí ag teastáil roimh ré, agus anois, tá géarchéim infreastruchtúir sa tír seo. Is é an idé-eolaíocht atá ag an Roinn Airgeadais is bun leis. Glacaim leis go bhfuil an-chomhaontú idir é sin agus idé-eolaíocht an Aire Airgeadais, ach ní hé an tAire is cúis leis sin ach an Roinn. Ní ghlacann an Roinn Airgeadais leis gur cóir infrastructúr a fhorbairt sula n-éilíonn an margadh é agus an margadh a mhealladh ina dhiadh sin. Cuireann sí i gcoinne gach rud, an western rail corridor agus gach rud atá a lorg i mBaile Átha Cliath. Deir an Roinn nach bhfuil an t-éileamh ann, nach fiú a dhéanamh ó thaobh airgid de. Sa gcás seo, níl dóthan daoine ar na hoileáin le híoc as na seirbhísí ach sé atá i gceist ná foirdheontais a chur ar fáil le cinntiú go mbeidh daoine ábalta leanúint ag úsáid na seirbhísí seo. Is microcosm sin den bhfealsúnacht ar chóir a bheith i bpleananna forbartha na tíre go léir, infrastructúr a chur sna háiteanna go dteastaíonn uainn pobal a tharraingt dóibh. Má theastaíonn uainn daoine a tharraingt amach go dtí iarthar na tíre ba chóir go mbeadh an fealsúnacht céanna ann agus atá ag an Aire sa Bhille seo.

Níl an choimhlint sin réitithe go fóill agus ní réiteofar é riamh. Beimid in ann rudaí beaga ó thaobh caiteachais poiblí a dhéanamh, cosúil leis na hoileáin, ach go ginerálta a mhalairt ar fad a bheidh ann mar gheall ar fhealsúnacht an Rialtais seo agus na Ranna Airgeadais. Sin an fáth go bhfuil an oiread sin míbhuntáistí againn i bhforbairt eacnamaíochta sa todhchaí, níl muid sásta infrastructúr a chur in áit sula thagann éileamh ón mhargadh. Sin difríocht fealsúnachta idir mé féin agus an Rialtas, ní fhéadar faoin Aire, mar sé mo thuairim go bhfuil sé ar an eite chlé den Rialtas, b'fhéidir ina aonar.

Agus sin ráite agus fáilte curtha agam roimh an Bhille, tá cúpla gearán agam. Is trua é nár éisigh an tAire scríbhinn i mBéarla. Tá a lán focail teicniúla sa Bhille agus luafaidh mé iad a chabhrú leis an Aire sa todhchaí. Gan aon mholadh a thabhairt dom féin, mar duine ón nGalltacht, tá Gaelainn reasúnta maith agam ach tá focail sa scríbhinn nár chuala mé riamh. Sampla amháin de ná "fostaíocht inmharthanach", sin "sustainable employment" ach má thugaim an scríbhinn seo do dhuine i nGaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne, ní bheadh sé in ann an téarma sin a aistriú. Is iomaí oíche a chaith mé ag airneáil le daoine ó Ghaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne agus ní chuala mé "fostaíocht inmharthanach" riamh. Dá mba rud é go mbeimís ag plé an ábhair sin, déarfadh an duine "sustainable employment".

Tá na focail anseo in úsáid ar Raidió na Gaeltachta.

No, seo ceist bunúsach.

An bhfuil rang scoile ar siúl againn anseo?

Tá ceist bunúsach anseo.

An rang scoile atá ar súil?

Baineann seo le dátheangathas agus an meas ceart a bheith againn air, go speisialta ar an nGaelainn. Ní chóir d'éinne an Ghaelainn a úsáid chun ceiste a dhéanamh níos casta do dhaoine. Bhí sliocht sa scríbhinn a deir, "tá an cumhacht maidir le seirbhísí paisinéirí bus ag teastáil ar bhonn siarghabálach chun faidhbe ultra vires a d'aimsigh Oifig an Phríomh-Atornae Stáit”.

Ultra vires– tá fadhbanna ansin ach sin Laidin.

Tuigim ultra vires ach ní thuigim cad is brí le “ar bhonn siarghabálach”.

"Siar" is "back" and "ghabháil" is to "go."

Tá Gaeilge níos fearr ag an Aire ná atá agamsa.

An bhfuil cead agam dul amach go dtí an leithreas?

Tá sé ina chónaí sa nGaeltacht agus tá Gaelainn níos fearr aige ná atá agamsa ach tá sé de chead againn anseo iarraidh ar an Aire, agus tá sé de dhualgas aige, tacú linn nach bhfuil Gaelainn den gcaighdeán céanna agus atá aige chun Gaelainne a úsáid mar ghnáth-theanga. Ní chabhraíonn sé scríbhinn mar seo a chur amach agus téarmaí mar siúd istigh inti gan leagan Béarla.

Tá a lán daoine i gCorca Dhuibhne a thuigfeadh seo.

Tá an Bille seo dátheangach.

Ní thuigfidís muintir Chorca Dhuibhne de minimis.

Ní dhéanfaidh mé argóint faoi mhuintir Chorca Dhuibhne, b'fhéidir go dtuigfidís cuid den fhoclaíocht ach iarraim ar an Aire bheith cúirtéiseach agus deamheasach dúinn aga bhfuil Gaelainn reasúnta maith agus gan scríbhinn a chur amach le foclaíocht nach dtuigfeadh 90% de phobal na tíre aga bhfuil Gaelainn reasúnta maith. Ba chóir dó smaoineamh faoi seo sa todhchaí.

Ag baint le fealsúnacht an Aire, agus bainfidh mé úsáid as an Béarla, níl aon fíor-integration idir na seirbhísí eitleáin—

Comhtháthú.

Níl mé ar lorg ceartúcháin Gaelainne. Tá mé ar lorg béasanna, ní cheacht. Níl integration idir na seirbhísí reigiúnda agus Aer Lingus. Ó tharraing Aer Lingus amach as Corcaigh, má fhéachann duine ar a shuíomh Idirlín, de réir na cosúlachta níl sé in ann éitilt go haon áit as Corcaigh ach amháin na háiteanna go bhfuil seirbhísí díreacha chucú mar ní aithníonn sé a thuilleadh go bhfuil ceangal aeir idir Chorcaigh agus Baile Átha Cliath. Má iarrann duine ar Aer Lingus éitilt ó Chorcaigh go Nua Eabharc, deir an aerlíne go bhfuil na héitleáin uilig lán agus ní fíor sin. Tá Aer Arann ag cur seirbhíse ar fáil ach níl aon integration idir Aer Lingus agus Aer Arann so fágtar daoine den tuairim nach féidir éitilt ó Chorcaigh. Ceist pholasaí atá ansin.

Tá an Aontas Eorpaigh ag athrú agus tá Malta ag teacht isteach. Tá daonra níos lú a labhrann teanga Malta mar ghnáth-theanga go rialta ná mar atá ag labhairt na Gaelainne anseo ach beidh Maltese ina theanga oifigiúil san Aontas Eorpaigh. Tá sé in am dúinn stádas na Gaelainne san Aontas Eorpaigh a athrú mar cailleadh an argóint a bhí ina choinne – nach bhfuil go leor daoine á labhairt. Anois tá pobal níos lú ná pobal na Gaelainne sa tír seo ag fáil an chirt go n-aithneofaí a dteanga. Ba chóir go n-aithneofar teanga na tíre seo fosta.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach agus tugaim tacaíocht don Bhille seo. Is ceart na cumhachtaí nua a chur ar fáil don Aire mar tá cuid mhaith de na hoileáin ina dháilcheantar agus is dócha go bhfuil obair le déanamh aige ansin. Níl aon oileán i mo dháilcheantar féin so b'fhéidir go mbainim tuilleadh pléisiúir as cuairt go dtí na hoileáin.

Bhí an méid a dúirt sé an-suimiúil faoi seirbhísí do phaisinéirí bus. Luaigh sé scoláirí ag dul go Coláiste Naomh Iarfhláith agus Kylemore Abbey. Regarding the Minister's comments about secondary school students, some of the students from St. Jarlath's College, Tuam, County Galway, visited the Dáil and the Seanad yesterday. We discussed with the teachers the many people from Galway who are attending St. Jarlath's. I understand first years no longer board in the college, but there are many students from all parts of the country boarding at the college. I pay tribute to the Minister for his great work for the islands when he was a Senator, a Minister of State and now as a Cabinet Minister. He has devoted considerable time and energy to working for the islands and their people. As he said, while the money might be very modest, it is very important to have that commitment.

On the occasions the Minister has been involved in the official opening of new facilities on an island, he never forgets to invite the representatives from east Galway. We have had some lovely occasions on the islands. Some years ago the Minister opened an interpretive centre, which gave us the opportunity to see the great development of the islands. In my earlier visits to the islands, I usually managed to get a bicycle when I reached Kilronan. On the most recent occasion, the Minister had organised a bus to bring us to the centre he was opening. This is an example of the improvements that are being made. This was the first time I had travelled around Kilronan on a bus.

The Minister deserves credit for an increase in the Estimates at a time when we know there have been significant battles at Cabinet for many items of expenditure. He has been involved in many innovative and interesting projects on the Aran Islands. When I was a member of the health board in the late 1990s, the question of medical services on the islands arose. There was a proposal to have medical consultations for minor illnesses via video link. People have regularly availed of this service. We know how difficult it can be for a medical person to get to an island if a patient needs treatment. As the Minister said, in days gone by there was considerable difficulty for people getting out to the islands. The same applied to people wanting to travel to the mainland.

The Minister mentioned the Milwaukee festival, in which Galway County Council and Galway City Council have been involved every year. It is great that the theme of the islands has been in the mind of the people of Milwaukee and the thousands who come to see that exhibition every year. This year, Galway city and county councils were represented and I am sure the islands were very much the focus of attention.

The Minister also mentioned the Cleggan to Inisbofin service, which is very important. I hope this service will be promoted as this Bill is not just about the Aran Islands but also about all the islands. The Minister has shown his commitment to Inisbofin. The health board has also introduced very good health services on that island.

As the Minister said, while the money here is not revolutionary it is important to see the commitment. He also said the port is not always the final destination and other services like the bus service are very important. The provision of airstrips and consolidating existing legislation are also important. The Minister has been very involved with promoting the need for air services in Clifden and it is good to see the provisions concerning such services in the islands in this legislation. Having spoken to members of the local authority, I know many of them use the air services to get to the islands. As Senator Fitzgerald has said, the new services might afford people the opportunity to visit all three of the Aran Islands. People often think it would take too long to take in all the islands in a boat trip. Anyone who has visited those islands would agree they are worth visiting.

The difficulties of people on the islands always come to the fore at the time of voting in an election. The Minister clearly stated in the strongest terms that people on the islands should vote on the same day as those on the mainland. Down the years we have seen last minute decisions that mean the islanders have to vote a few days before everybody else. With the introduction of electronic voting, it should be possible for this to happen on one day with the exception of those who have a postal vote and who vote some days earlier. Why should all those who want to vote on the same day not have that opportunity to do so? I hope this will happen and give islanders the same rights as everybody else.

I love visiting the islands. While this might be work for the Minister, it is not work for me. Knowing the Minister's commitment to the islands I am sure he takes the same pleasure and an-taitneamh from his visits there. I hope the commitment he has always given in the past will continue and that in the future we will be talking about new services such as health services, airstrips and new technology being available to people on the islands, as they have been available to people on the mainland.

Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá ar an mBille seo. I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on the great work he is doing for the islands. He has been a champion for the island and Gaeltacht communities for many years. With limited resources, former Deputy Donal Carey did great work for the Gaeltacht and the islands back in 1995 and 1996 when he was a Minister of State.

As previous speakers have said, the islanders have had great transport difficulties. Shopping often entailed going to Galway or the nearest town or city, staying overnight and returning the following day. This was an enormous and expensive task. It is appropriate that they would get grant-aided facilities, as they deserve the same services as people in the rest of the country.

I am a member of Mayo County Council, which annually holds a meeting on one of the islands off the coast of County Mayo. This gives councillors a great insight into what takes place on the islands and the hardships and difficulties in transport, postal facilities, etc. It was a big deal for the council meeting to take place on an island. The transport out and back meant it was a full day's work to attend. I can well understand the need for the minimum statutory notice of three days for meetings. A member of a local authority from an island, the Gaeltacht or other remote area needs sufficient time to get to the meeting venue. If someone were elected from one of the islands it would be a considerable task to attend a local authority meeting and get back again. Those difficulties have never been fully recognised or appreciated.

Mayo County Council has always held meetings on Achill, which is attached to the mainland by a bridge, Inisturk and Clare Island. These are very informative days out and, similar to Senator Fitzgerald's episode about travelling to an island, we had many hair-raising days going to Inisturk. I am delighted with the powers which the Bill vests in the Minister and I appreciate his intentions.

The Government introduced the concept of better local government in recent years. In doing so, local authorities were reorganised and given more powers, staff and directors of services. What is the position of local authorities vis-à-vis the legislation? The Minister said he would analyse the work to be done and decide which body would do it – Údarás na Gaeltachta or the local authority. To prevent ambiguity, the Minister should specify which body would carry out the work. When local people look for a service they go to their public representative who then goes to the local authority. Another representative might go to Údarás na Gaeltachta and then to the Department. There may be confusion as to which body is dealing with the Department on different issues. I would prefer if he designated a particular body to which power would be given. Departmental funding should be allocated on an annual basis, as this would allow for an examination of the work that has been completed to date and what plans are envisaged for the future.

I welcome what the Minister is doing and congratulate him. I hope he keeps up the good work in this area.

Ba mhaith liom, ar dtús báire, buíochas a ghabháil le chuile dhuine a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht. I thank everybody who took part in the debate. I will briefly deal with some of the valid points raised.

A point was raised in regard to Inch Island. Islands connected to the mainland by bridges present a challenge. My constituency is the greatest beneficiary if one counts the islands connected to the mainland in the manner in which this is done for census purposes. County Mayo has Achill Island. We immediately get Eanach Mheáin, Lettermore, Gorumna, Lettermullan, Furnish, Mweenish and so on. It would be a great day for me but this would spread the money more thinly.

What about the 365 islands in Clew Bay?

They are not connected by bridges to the mainland so they are not considered in this context. We define as islands those cut off by the tide once a day in a normal tide. They must have a permanent population and not be in the ownership of one person. The legislation allows us to make the definition so if, for example, the causeway to Inch Island gets washed away, we can define it as an island. A list of islands is not scheduled in the legislation. In the case of Inch Island, my Department provided money on a once-off basis to maintain the causeway so that it would not become a fully offshore island. Responsibility for this lies with the county council but because the job requires a little more work I will consider these exceptional circumstances on a once-off basis.

The islands have a good representative body. Islands have a close connection with the Government and islanders do not have any difficulty interacting with Government. In recent years I usually have to seek a meeting with them, rather than the other way around. They get straight on the telephone to our officials. There is a marvellous interaction between islanders and local authority and departmental officials. It is critical that officials on the ground are seen as friendly, accessible, helpful and co-operative people. The great aspect about dealing with a body of 3,000 people is that one can virtually get to know each one individually.

I give due recognition to the work of a former Minister of State with responsibility for this area, Donal Carey, who set up a dedicated island fund. This was the first breakthrough for non-Gaeltacht islands. Gaeltacht islands always had access to funds. It is intended to continue to develop facilities. I was amused to hear references to money. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, has been more than generous to the islands. Every time I went to him with a reasonable case, he was more than willing to provide finance.

Tory and Inishbofin are the two most northerly islands. Work has been completed on the Magheraroarty pier and we have finished the work commenced by the rainbow Government on Tory Island. We have also completed work on Bunbeg Harbour, which is important for ferry services. The Leabh Gharbh pier has been completed on Arranmore. Down the coast from there, money was recently sanctioned for Coney Island where we also installed electricity. We are now working on the two biggest contracts ever for islands, namely Clare Island and Inisturk. We built slipways on both ends of Inishbiggle, at Ballycroy and Doran's Point. The delay with the cable car was beyond our control. In Clew Bay, work on Inislyre, Insegort and Clynish is either in progress or has been completed. The largest project is scheduled for the Aran Islands. Planning work is already in progress there and we will get around to it in due course. Next year, we hope to put in an airstrip and carry out dredging of the harbour in Inishbofin. All of the County Cork islands, with the exception of Dursey which has a cable car, have had major improvements to piers since 1997.

Every island has seen a change. Electricity was installed in eight islands which did not have it previously. Most of them are only inhabited on a part-time basis but those who live there have a strong connection with the place. There is a lower car tax rate on islands in recognition of the fact that they only have some three miles of road. The cars are somewhat similar to Oisín in Tír nÓg. When he went off on his white horse, he was warned that he could not put his foot on the land of Ireland or he would become 300 years old. Cars on the island fall into the same category in that if they come on to the mainland they need mainland tax. Like Oisín, they should be warned not to bring an island-taxed car on to the mainland.

It is like shebeens.

Allow the Minister to conclude without interruption, please.

We did away with the means testing of remote area grants and increased them substantially. Since I became Minister, thanks to the support of the Minister for Education and Science and his predecessors, secondary schools now exist on Tory Island and Inishmaan. We have also helped with the provision of health services. There are doctors on the three most populated islands, Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmore. I could mention many other developments. One of the points of great interest is the island allowance that recognises the higher cost of living for pensioners on islands compared to the mainland. Capital and current funding has been provided. This year's Estimate provides 18%, on which I will not elaborate at the moment.

I have covered most of the questions raised on the islands. Other issues raised related to national air services and so on. No more than on the mainland, one cannot depend on one mode of transport on an island. Where islands have a sufficient population and are of sufficient distance from the mainland to warrant it, we aim to provide both ferry and air services. One service supports the other, rather than one taking passengers away from the other. What tends to happen is that more people use the services as they are more certain of getting back. A boat can always travel in fog because in such conditions the sea is calm. Air services can operate in almost any weather. The net effect on the Aran Islands is that both services have grown incrementally.

I must make a short reference to the issue of the use of Irish which is always being raised with me. People ask why I use Irish rather than English words. We tend to use Latin words quite a bit. I sometimes have to ask myself what the Latin derivation of de minimis is. A great deal of European jargon is constantly entering the English language. New words enter languages and we adapt to them very quickly when people begin to use them. One of the great things Raidió na Gaeltachta has done over the years has been to bring many new words into the Irish language. When a new word enters English, it simultaneously enters Irish. I am sure words which were strange to me or to the people of the Gaeltacht five or 50 years ago were strange in English. The first time I heard talk of capacity building and animation I had to ask what it was all about. Those words are now in common use in English and Irish. There are very few people in the Gaeltacht who do not understand the meanings of the words “boilsciú”, “rothar”, “bogearraí”, “fón phóca”, “Idirlíon”, “ríomhaire” and others which also refer to great things. They also understand “inmharthanach” and “chomh-tháthú” when they need to know their meanings.

And "airgead".

Tuigeann siad "airgead" iontach maith.

I doubt there were more than three words in the speech which were not easily understandable. We have a policy of writing i gcaint na ndaoine – in the way ordinary people speak Irish. However, if there is a technical concept which has to be explained, it is only right to encourage the import or creation of terms which match the new words coming into the English language.

I accept that one word we must be very careful about is "sustainable". I worry that every time one wants to accomplish something in a rural area the concept of sustainability is always at the top of the agenda. I never see it being mentioned in respect of urban areas. If any lifestyle is sustainable, it is more likely to be the rural than the urban. City dwellers depend on others to provide their food. It is important that we prevent the use of the word "sustainability" from becoming another excuse to fail to make provisions in rural areas. I notice that while all the cars in the cities are sustainable, none of the cars in the country are such.

I am a little mesmerised by the theory that limits have to be placed on the number of tourists who can be brought to the Aran Islands. The islanders who might make an economic gain should be the arbiters of whether they must limit the number of customers they have each year. When the DART service was suspended for three days to upgrade it to bring more passengers into Dublin, the O'Connell Street Chamber of Commerce and others went wild because they were going to lose business. Despite the great number of customers they have, they cannot afford to lose a theoretical amount of business. I am of the opinion that if the DART stops for three days, people will use their cars. If this argument can be made in Dublin, we must recognise the need to allow business to grow reasonably on the islands if the populations there are to be sustained. To fail to do that is to ask people in a vulnerable economic situation, who earn their livings over four or five months of the year if they are lucky, to curtail their businesses in a way we would never ask of people in a major city.

We must be careful to avoid looking at these places as theme parks. They are not places which are to be allowed to grow at the discretion of people who do not have to live there. Growth must be allowed to take place. Nobody is more conscious of the need to manage that growth in a way that prevents it from destroying the very thing which is creating it than the islanders themselves. I have seen that time and again. On Inis Mór, I witnessed the huge effort which has been made to upgrade the product to avoid attracting tourists who would prove a liability in the long term. It is sought to get more bed nights and to provide better facilities on the island. Ragus, for example, represents an attempt to show traditional Irish culture to the people who visit the island rather than to simply attract people to drink in pubs. The island is trying to avoid the mistakes of the Isle of Man which attracted the wrong type of tourist in the 1960s. The islanders know that their long-term interest is served by good quality tourism and a good quality product.

The islanders are the people who should decide how best to develop that product. They do not need a great many people who do not have to live there attempting to curtail reasonable development. There is a perception that Aran is like O'Connell Street on a fine day. If one leaves the main road on Inis Mór and travels to Gort na gCapall or Bun Gabhla, there is plenty of solitude and beauty to be found. There is a small stretch of road between Cill Rónáin and Dun Aonghasa which serves a reasonable amount of traffic in the summer. That is understandable. As Minister, I have provided money for the development of roads to places which will allow people to avoid any contact with other humans. There is a great deal of space on Inis Mór to permit these initiatives. It is wrong to give the impression that there is a metropolis on the island because there is a reasonable amount of traffic on a short stretch of road during the summer.

Inis Mór is still a marvellous place to go as are all the islands. Each one is unique and beautiful. It is in the long-term interest of the islands to encourage developments similar to those on Inis Mór on Tory Island, Inisbofin, Gabhla, Clare Island and Inisturk. I thank Senators for a constructive debate and I look forward to Committee and Report Stages. I look forward to the passage of this Bill to allow us to proceed with the development of the islands.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 10 December 2003.
Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.
Barr