Adjournment Matters

Ionad Oidhreachta Theach An Phiarsaigh

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is trua go gcaithfidh mé a tharraingt isteach ar lá chomh breá leis seo ach is lá breáé thiar i Ros Muc chomh maith céanna, táim cinnte. Baineann an cheist atá curtha agam ar an Athló tráthnóna leis an ionad oidhreachta a bhí beartaithe in onóir Phádraig Mhic Phiarais i gceantar Ros Muc. Mar atá a fhios ag gach duine, duine de laochra na Cásca a bhí ann sa Phiarsach ach duine ildánach é chomh maith, fear dlí, fear léannta, múinteoir Gaeilge, oideachasóir agus duine na bpríomhdhaoine a bhí bainteach le hÉirí Amach 1916 agus an phleanáil ar fad a chuaigh isteach ansin. Thugadh Pádraig Mac Piarais cuairt go rialta ar Ros Muc. Tá an teachín beag a cheannaigh sé ansin coinnithe faoi scáth Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí go fóill. Bíonn cuid mhaith cuairteoirí ansin agus bíonn comóradh ansin go rialta. Roinnt blianta ó shin tháinig daoine le chéile ón Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, daoine ón gceantar féin, Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí agus mar sin agus bhí pléá dhéanamh go dtógfaí ionad mínithe in onóir Phádraig Mhic Phiarais, agus go ndéanfaí sin ag suíomh in aice le láthair an tí i Ros Muc. Bheadh buntáistí ag baint leis sin ach an príomhrud ná go mbeadh sé ag tabhairt aitheantais mar is cuí don laoch ildánach seo. Bheadh sé iontach tábhachtach ó thaobh an cheantair féin de. Is ceantar é nach bhfuil an t-uafás séadchomharthaí náisiúnta ann agus níl an oiread sin tarraingt ar an turasóir ar an bhóthar sin ach go háirithe agus tharraingeodh sé daoine isteach go deisceart Chonamara as gach áit ar fud an domhain mar bheadh aithne ar Phádraig Mac Piarais ar fud an domhain. De réir mar a thuigim, bhí pleananna ullmhaithe, cuid mhaith taighde déanta, ailtirí de chuid Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí ag obair ar phlean, agus is cosúil go ndearnadh staidéar féidearthachta fiú ar an láthair agus go raibh seo gar a bheith réidh le cur i gcrích.

Ach ó shin i leith, níor chuala muid aon rud faoi. Táimid ag teannadh le 2016, ceiliúradh 100 bliain comóradh Éirí Amach na Cásca 1916. Bhí mé ag labhairt le roinnt daoine sa cheantar aimsir na Cásca agus bhraith siad gur cóir ceist a chur an bhfuil plean ag an Rialtas aitheantas cuí a thabhairt do Phádraig Mac Piarais i gcóir 2016 agus an mbeadh sé i gceist ionad mínithe a thógáil, mar a bhí beartaithe. An bhfuil an plean sin fós ag an Rialtas agus an bhfuil sé i gceist é a bhrú chun cinn i gceantar Ros Muc mar chuid den chomóradh seo? Arís, cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit agus fáiltím roimh an scéal atá aige dúinn.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as an ábhar seo, a luíonn le mo chroí féin, a thógáil anseo ar an Athló. Thug mé cuairt níos mó ná uair amháin ar theach an Phiarsaigh i Ros Muc. Ar cheann de na laethanta ar thug mé cuairt ann, bhí an aimsir cosúil leis an lá inniu. Ní iarrfaí ar éinne an áit a fhágáil agus tuigim cén fáth gur thit Pádraig Mac Piarais i ngrá leis an gceantar agus le muintir na háite. Lá eile, agus ní raibh an aimsir thar moladh beirte. Ach is cuma cé acu atá an lá go maith ná go holc, nuair a thugann muid cuairt ar Ros Muc agus go speisialta ar theach an Phiarsaigh go bhfuil dúthracht éigin ag baint leis agus gur fiú go mór é a dhéanamh.

Mar atá ráite ag an Seanadóir, chaith Pádraig Mac Piarais a chuid saoire i rith an tsamhraidh i Ros Muc. Is cinnte go bhfaigheann cuairteoirí ar Theach an Phiarsaigh léargas ann ar an bPiarsach mar réabhlóidí. Ina theannta sin, faigheann siad léargas ann ar ghnéithe eile den Phiarsach mar oideachasóir, mar scríbhneoir agus, go mór mhór, mar ghníomhaí paiseanta ar son na Gaeilge.

Tuigim go bhfuil plé ar siúl le cúpla bliain anuas chun ionad cuairteoirí a fhorbairt ag suíomh Teach an Phiarsaigh i Ros Muc. Mar thoradh ar na cainteanna idir na páirtithe éagsúla, lena n-airítear mo Roinn féin, an Roinn Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil, Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí agus Údarás na Gaeltachta, aontaíodh tabhairt faoi ionad cuairteoirí a fhorbairt gar don teach agus bunaíodh grúpa idir Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí agus Údarás na Gaeltachta chun an tionscnamh a chur chun cinn. Is í an aidhm atá leis an gcomhoibriú seo ná maoiniú a aimsiú don fhorbairt, an obair ar an talamh a bhainistiú agus socruithe a dhéanamh chun ant-ionad a bhainistiú nuair a bheidh sé tógtha. Tááthas orm a rá go bhfuil an tionscnamh tugtha chuig staid réamhphleanála ag an ngrúpa seo le sonraíochtaí iomlána do na foirgnimh molta agus d'fheistiú na bhfoirgneamh ina dhiaidh sin. San áireamh sa tionscnamh, tááiseanna éagsúla ar nós ionad cuairteoirí nua-thógtha, cosán léirmhínithe agus, ar ndóigh, an teach stairiúil féin.

Tá i gceist go mbeidh an t-ionad mar lárphointe cultúrtha i gConamara do chuairteoirí idirnáisiúnta agus náisiúnta agus go gcuirfidh sé feabhas mór ar áiseanna do chuairteoirí sa réigiún i gcoitinne. Tabharfaidh an t-ionad léargas do chuairteoirí ar thábhacht na Gaeilge don náisiún i súile an Phiarsaigh agus ar thábhacht chultúr na Gaeltachta agus an tírdhreach morthimpeall i gConamara mar thobar ár n-oidhreachta. Cuirfidh an t-ionad scéal an Phiarsaigh i láthair an chuairteora trí léargas a thabhairt ar na nithe dúchasacha a tharraing go Ros Muc é an chéad lá riamh. Tugann suíomh Teach an Phiarsaigh i nGaeltacht Chonamara, atá ar cheann de na ceantair Ghaeltachta is láidre ó thaobh labhairt na teanga de, deis don chuairteoir blaiseadh a fháil dár dteanga agus dár gcultúr atá chomh lárnach dár bhféiniúlacht sa lá atá inniu ann is a bhí le linn ré an Phiarsaigh.

Cruthaíonn an éagsulacht a bhain le saol an Phiarsaigh go leor deiseanna dóibh siúd atá i mbun an tionscnaimh seo an t-ionad a fhorbairt, bunaithe ar iliomad téamaíéagsúla. I mease na dtéamaí sin, tá an Piarsach mar scríbhneoir polaitiúil agus cruthaitheach, mar oideachasóir, mar réabhlóidí agus mar ghníomhaí ar son na Gaeilge, chomh maith le téamaí níos leithne maidir leis an nGaeilge agus cultúr na Gaeltachta gan trácht ar stair Ros Muc agus Chonamara. Níl aon amhras ach go gcruthóidh an fhorbairt seo deiseanna iontacha, ni hamháin do phobal Ros Muc, ach do phobal an réigiúin chomh maith. Is cinnte go dtabharfaidh an fhorbairt seo luach suntasach breise turasóireachta agus cultúrtha don réigiún, go háirithe ó thaobh na turasóireachta cultúrtha de. Tabharfaidh sé deis don turasóir blaiseadh a fháil ar na nithe a thug inspioráid don Phiarsach ina chuid scríbhneoireachta — an tírdhreach sceirdiúil, an talamh portaigh, na lochanna, na sléibhte agus an fharraige, gan trácht ar theanga agus ar chultúr na ndaoine.

Tuigtear dom go bhfuil dul chun cinn maith déanta go dáta maidir le forbairt an ionaid. Tá iarratas chun an togra a mhaoiniú le Fáilte Éireann faoi láthair agus táthar ag súil le cinneadh maidir leis an iarratas seo am éigin i lár na bliana seo. Máéiríonn leis an togra tacaíocht a fháil faoin gclár maoinithe caipitil de chuid Fáilte Éireann, tosófar láithreach ar an bpróiseas pleanála agus ar phróisis gaolmhara. Meastar go bhféadfadh an t-ionad ioncam measta de suas go €4 mhilliún sa bhliain a ghiniúint, bunaithe ar 60,000 cuairteoir chuig an ionad. Meastar freisin go bhféadfadh cuairteoirí eachtrannacha idir €1.4 milliún agus €2.3 milliún a chaitheamh in Éirinn in aghaidh na bliana, ag eascairt go díreach ón tionscnamh seo. Ach gach rud ag dul ar aghaidh mar atá beartaithe agus, ag brath ar mhaoiniú a bheith ar fail, bheifí ag súil go dtosófaí ar an obair thógála go luath in 2014 le clár tógála measta de 20 mí. Ag brath ar na cuinsí uile, d'fhéadfadh an t-ionad a bheith réidh do chomóradh an chéid ar Éiri Amach na Cásca 1916.

Sílim go bhfuil sé oiriúnach ar fad an leacht a bheith ann. An dualgas atá orainn go léir ná gurb amhlaidh a bheidh sé faoin bhliain 2016. Gabhaim buíochas arís leis an Seanadóir as an ábhar seo a ardú. Tá mé cinnte go gcoinneoidh sé i dteagmháil liom faoin ábhar.

Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. Cuireann a fhreagra ríméad orm mar bhí go leor daoine den tuairim go raibh an togra seo marbh. Is breá a cloisteáíl go mbeidh sé ag tarlú. Tá ríméad orm faoi sin agus tréaslaím leis an Aire Stáit as an bhfreagra. Táimid ag súil go mór le seo. Tá ceist bheag amháin agam. An bhfuil an tAire Stáit in ann léargas a thabhairt dúinn ar chén sórt buiséad tógála atá leis agus ar chén príomh tiománaí a bheidh i gceannas ar an togra. Cé acu de na heagrais, an dá Roinn, Údarás na Gaeltachta nó Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí a bheidh ag tiomáint an togra chun cinn, sa chaoi gur féidir linn brú leanúnach a choinneáil orthu?

Mar adúirt mé tá baint ag mo Roinn, Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí, Údarás na Gaeltachta agus Fáilte Éireann le seo. Tá an rud á phlé i láthair na huaire. Ag an bpointe seo, nílimid ag an bpointe, chomh fada agus is eol dom, go bhfuil costais measta, ach táimid ag súil go mbeidh siad sin ar fáil i lár na bliana.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have a simple question with regard to a stocking issue for those who had horses previously and want to get back into the industry under the disadvantaged areas scheme. I will listen to the Minister of State's reply.

I thank Senator Daly. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, who is unable to be here.

In order to make the necessary savings under the 2012 disadvantaged areas scheme, DAS, in view of the reduction in budgeted expenditure from €220 million to €190 million, technical adjustments must be made to the scheme's criteria. These changes will ensure that aid payments are focused on farmers whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in DAS areas and who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the scheme, which are defined in the governing EU legislation as follows: to ensure continued agricultural land use and thereby contribute to the maintenance of a viable rural community; to maintain the countryside; and to maintain and promote sustainable farming systems, taking particular account of environmental protection measures. However, rather than simply applying an across-the-board cut to the rates payable or reducing the maximum payable area as a means to achieving these savings, the Minister decided that real efforts should be made to focus the scheme on those farmers who are most actively contributing to achieving the aims of the scheme. Making technical adjustments to the scheme criteria ensures that the aid payment is focused on farmers whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in less favoured areas and who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the scheme.

Any analysis of the scheme must take into account the impact of the various enterprises on the local economy. As is clearly evident, the main benefits arise from beef rearing, dairying and sheep breeding enterprises. There are an increasing number of applicants under the scheme who have discontinued livestock — that is, cattle or sheep — farming but continue to benefit from aid under the scheme by grazing some horses on their land.

It is widely recognised that the disadvantaged areas scheme is a very important one for the country, especially from an economic perspective, as it contributes to the support of in excess of 100,000 farm families. Therefore, in proposing the changes in question the intention is to better focus the scheme which is to the benefit of the majority of those farming in areas with recognised constraints, while at the same time attempting to cater for those genuinely prevented from achieving the revised minimums.

With the intention of targeting those farmers farming exclusively in disadvantaged areas, it is suggested farmers whose holdings consist of land situated in both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged areas are in a better farming position than those farming exclusively in disadvantaged areas. Therefore, it is proposed that where some of an applicant's declared land is disadvantaged and his or her main holding is in a non-disadvantaged area, a digressive rate of aid will be payable under the scheme. This digressive payment does not affect applicants whose main holding is in a disadvantaged area. This proposal is regarded as fair in that the greater proportion of less favoured areas land in the holding, the greater the payment.

In so far as the specific changes concerning the eligibility of horses for inclusion in the stocking density are concerned, while horses in general will no longer be automatically eligible for inclusion in the stocking density calculation, on the basis of the contribution equine breeding enterprises make to the local economy, horses on such enterprises will continue to be eligible. In consultation with the relevant stakeholders, equine breeding enterprises have been defined as follows: an applicant must, in the first instance, be an equine breeder and have bred a foal, from a mare registered on the applicant's holding in 2011, in either 2009, 2010 or 2011 which was registered in a stud book approved by my Department and with pedigree recorded; the premises of all who meet this criterion must be registered with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in accordance with SI 8 of 2012, Diseases of Animals Act 1966 (Registration of Horse Premises) Order 2012.

Where these criteria are met, the following equines will be eligible for inclusion in the stocking density calculation for the 2012 scheme: all equines aged from one to five years, aged using the date 1 January and registered in the name of the applicant and maintained on his or her holding; breeding mares, registered as having been on the applicant's holding in 2011, that have bred an appropriately registered foal in either 2009, 2010 or 2011. I am, however, particularly mindful that any proposed change in the scheme's qualifying criteria, regardless of how focused and targeted the aim, will result in anomalies, because of which specific provision will be made for those farmers who may find that their stocking rates are lower than are now required. Specifically, I have directed that a formal procedure be put in place to cater for all who consider that their inability to meet the proposed revised scheme requirements is due to force majeure or exceptional circumstances. Those affected will be invited to outline such details to my Department and each case will then be considered on its merits. With specific regard to the proposed stocking provisions, where individuals can show that their inability to meet the revised requirements is due to their participation in a recognised environmental programme, for example, the necessary allowance will be made. Consideration will also be given to new entrants to farming.

As the disadvantaged areas scheme is co-funded by the European Union under the rural development programme for the period 2007 to 2013, it is necessary to obtain the agreement of the European Commission to any proposed change. Departmental officials have been involved in ongoing discussions with Commission officials in this regard and a decision is awaited. It should be noted that the proposed criteria may be subject to some changes following the conclusion of the discussions with the Commission. Pending a response from the Commission, it was considered necessary and desirable to advise farmers formally of the proposed changes, given the imminent closing date for applications. To alert farmers, the terms and conditions were posted on my Department's website, a press notice was published in the farming press and terms and conditions booklets were issued to each landowner whose farm was wholly or partially classified as disadvantaged.

Defence Forces Personnel

I welcome the Minister of State. I had hoped the Minister for Defence would be present, but since I was in the Minister of State's position in the past, I welcome him out of courtesy. He took the trouble to come to the House.

Concern has been expressed in Athlone and surrounding areas about the future of the 4th Western Brigade's headquarters located at Custume Barracks. There is no question about the barracks because it is the headquarters for the troops who came from Longford in Mullingar, but there is concern as the headquarters of the western command has been at that location since the foundation of the State. It is the headquarters for the engineers, signal, medical corps, ordnance corps, training depot, 4th cavalry squadron, military police and other elements of the Defence Forces. People are concerned and worried about the future and rumours abound. The matter was brought to my attention by the former Minister Ms Mary O'Rourke and Councillor Aengus O'Rourke who are resident in Athlone. They have been very much associated with the barracks in their careers, as were Ms O'Rourke's brother, Brian, and father, Paddy. There is a very close connection between the O'Rourke and Lenihan families and the work of the Irish Army in Athlone. I ask the Minister of State, on behalf of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter, to allay the fears of people in the area and hope he will do so.

The Minister of State, as Chief Whip, should consider that, at the launch of the air ambulance service in Custume Barracks in Athlone on Monday, all non-Government-affiliated Members and councillors were excluded. We have a particular interest in the air ambulance service which is to be used for patients in Roscommon, Portiuncula and Mullingar hospitals and surrounding areas in dealing with emergencies. It would have been appropriate to invite those who were excluded. Extending invitations used to be the procedure, as I know having served in three or four Departments. I would not even have considered not inviting elected public representatives in an area to an event I was hosting. I am sure the Minister of State is of the same view. It is appropriate that he bear this in mind. The boycott of public representatives last Monday was unprecedented and I regret it very much, as do many colleagues of the Minister. The Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, was present at the event. I am not sure who sent the invitation, but I understand it came from the Defence Forces and the Minister in charge. If the Minister for Defence was present, I would be in a position to challenge him directly on this matter and he might have been able to clarify the position. I know it is not part of the Minister of State's brief because he is dealing specifically with the 4th Western Brigade's headquarters. It is appropriate that certain protocols be followed. There is a precedent for the procedures we operated when in government.

I am glad the Senator has a very good working relationship with the former Senator, Deputy and Minister Mary O'Rourke. I understand she has a very good relationship with former Members of this House in her constituency. It is very important that the Senator maintain his relationship with former Senator Donie Cassidy also.

I can understand the Senator's fears and will try to allay them. I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Defence who is unable to be present as he has another engagement.

Arising from the comprehensive review of expenditure, the Government decided to maintain the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500. This represents a reduction in the authorised strength ceiling and will contribute to the delivery of sustainable savings in the coming years. It is the Government's intention that the Defence Forces will retain the capacity to fulfil all of the assigned roles to the greatest extent possible. A three-brigade structure was introduced originally in the 1990s when the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force was revised to approximately 11,500 personnel. It was retained when the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force was reduced to 10,500 as part of the White Paper on Defence in 2000. However, it is no longer viable to retain a three-brigade structure within a revised Permanent Defence Force strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel. Accordingly, in response to the revised strength ceiling of 9,500, a major reorganisation of the Defence Forces, including the Reserve Defence Force, has been initiated. It will encompass a reduction in the number of Armybrigades from three to two.

The primary focus of the reorganisation is to free up the maximum number of military personnel from administrative and support tasks. This will include a reduction in the number of brigade headquarters from three to two, in line with the reduction in the number of brigades. In short, the reorganisation is about maintaining operational outputs and capabilities to best effect within a reduced strength ceiling. I can confirm that the process will not require further barracks closures. This task is a significant undertaking and there is a range of issues that must be considered. However, the primary focus will be the maintenance of operational outputs and capabilities. My colleague, the Minister for Defence, has asked the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence to bring forward detailed proposals for his consideration. They will include proposals regarding territorial areas of responsibility and the location of brigade headquarters. They will also include proposals relating to the Reserve Defence Force which is currently organised along similar lines to the Permanent Defence Force. This work is under way and the Minister is being kept informed of progress.

I am aware that there will be differing views on the best way to reorganise the Defence Forces and that this will evoke passionate debate, as the Senator outlined. I am also aware that there will be differing viewpoints and interests, including those which are concerned about local impacts. However, as the Senator will appreciate, in advance of the receipt and consideration of the proposals from the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General, the Minister will not be in a position to comment on speculation surrounding the reorganisation. He does not intend to pre-empt the outcome of the work of the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General and limit their scope in bringing forward recommendations. I note the Senator has stated there was speculation in the area. I can assure him that we are at an early stage of the reorganisation and that idle speculation will not do the Defence Forces any good.

The Defence Forces organisation has an enviable track record of reform and modernisation. During the last decade, when public service expenditure and employment levels increased, defence expenditure declined in real terms, while personnel numbers decreased. During this period Defence Forces' capabilities were also progressively improved and the Defence Forces have become partners of choice in international peace support operations. The Defence Forces continue to deliver a broad range of operational outputs on a day-to-day basis, many of which are not to the forefront of the public's awareness.

The level of resources available to the Government in the coming years will present further difficulties and challenges and every part of the public service will have to continue to deliver greater efficiencies. The preservation of the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel is a clear recognition by the Government of the significant modernisation achieved by the Defence Forces organisation during the past decade. It is great that there are such high numbers applying to the Permanent Defence Force for entry to the Naval Service, the Air Corps or as cadets. Thousands have applied and there is a huge job of work to be done by the Defence Forces in recruiting the best possible people to serve in the Army. However, it is vital that we continue to strive for further improvements. The reorganisation of the Defence Forces is an integral element of this reform and will ensure the Defence Forces will maximise their operational outputs with a reduced resources envelope. The Minister looks forward to working closely with the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General in furthering the reorganisation and the broader reform agenda.

I assure the Senator that there was never an intention to show discourtesy to him personally or any member of the Opposition when the invitations were issued for the event held in Athlone barracks on Monday last. It is a matter of genuine regret if the Senator thought otherwise. He is mistaken about the established practice in issuing invitations. In the past representatives of all parties were invited to a limited number of formal events, but it has become more usual for invitations to attend ministerial events to be issued to Government representatives. This practice was followed by the Senator's party when he was in government, although perhaps not by him personally. As an Opposition Deputy, I was often aware of an official ministerial visit to my constituency of Wexford for an event which I did not receive an invitation to attend. I emphasise that I am not complaining about this. I am merely pointing out that it was the practice of other parties when in government. That said, I am glad to have the opportunity to confirm that no personal discourtesy was intended. I assure the Senator that I will convey his concerns to other Ministers.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. I am sure this will mark the commencement of a major campaign in Athlone and surrounding areas to ensure the 4thBrigade is not removed from Custume Barracks.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 24 May 2012.