Seanad Éireann - Volume 186 - 01 May, 2007

Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007: Second Stage.

  Labhrás Ó Murchú: I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

  Mr. Leyden: I welcome the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, and thank him for com[2205]ing to the House to progress this Bill. I wish him every success in the near future.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: Cúis áthais dom an deis seo a fháil chun an Bille um Ghnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta (Forálacha Ilghnéitheacha) 2007 a chur i bhur láthair. Is é bunchuspóir an Bhille ná bonn comhtháite reachtúil a chinntiú don raon leathan feidhmeanna agus dualgas a thagann faoi mo choimirce mar Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta. Dá réir sin, féachann an Bille le mandáid reachtúil níos soiléire a dhaingniú do na feidhmeanna uile a aistríodh ar bhonn ionstraimí reachtúla nó orduithe aistriú feidhmeanna, mar aon leis na cláracha nua a tionscnaíodh ó bunaíodh mo Roinnse i Meitheamh 2002.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to present the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 for the consideration of the House and to outline its main provisions. I thank Members for agreeing to take all Stages of the Bill today. This Bill is a very short one, with a total of nine sections, and Members will note that many of the provisions reflected in the Bill are primarily of a technical nature.

The main purpose of the Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2007 is to confirm and secure an integrated statutory basis for the broad range of functions and responsibilities of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Essentially, this Bill aims to secure a more coherent statutory mandate for functions previously transferred to the Minister by way of statutory instrument-transfer of functions orders, along with new programmes introduced since the establishment of my Department in June 2002.

This statutory mandate, if established, can provide a firmer basis from which any or all of these functions can operate, or transfer to such Departments as a future Government may determine. In addition to this, a number of technical amendments to existing legislation are proposed in this Bill. Key aspects and objectives of the Bill, including the technical amendments to existing legislation, are to confirm the powers, functions and responsibilities of the Minister; to provide for the inclusion, in the Third Schedule in the Freedom of Information Act 1997, of section 18 of the Western Development Commission Act 1998; to amend section 8(5) of the Western Development Commission Act 1998, raising to €1 million the limit of financial or other material aid to enterprises or projects, which the WDC can provide without the consent of the Minister; to amend section 2(4) of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003 in respect of transport services for islands students and sections 3(1)(b) and 3(1)(c) of that Act in respect of clarifying the Minister’s remit in respect of specified functions [2206]in respect of new aerodromes and ancillary facilities connected with the provision of air services between the islands and the mainland; and to repeal the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts 1949 to 2002.

The main purpose of this is to confirm and to secure an integrated statutory basis for the broad range of functions and responsibilities coming within the remit of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Provisions in this regard are reflected in section 2 which sets out a range of functions that are, and are deemed always to have been functions of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Members will note that the range of functions outlined includes, community development; voluntary activity and philanthropy; rural development; co-ordination of the national drugs strategy; the Irish language, including the co-ordination of policy in this regard; the development of the Gaeltacht and the islands; and North-South co-operation within the ambit of these functions, including matters in relation to Ulster Scots heritage, culture and language.

This provision is without prejudice to the generality of any other provision of this Act or of any other enactment conferring functions on the Minister. In other words, the provision in this Bill does not affect any other existing statutory provisions in relation to the functions of the Minister. In addition, the Bill provides for powers to develop, implement, maintain, expand or terminate any scheme that, in the Minister’s opinion, supports or promotes the functions set out in the Bill.

It should be noted that, while providing a coherent statutory basis for the functions, powers and responsibilities of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, section 2 does not seek to limit or assume in any way the powers, functions and responsibilities of other Ministers or State agencies or bodies.

As Members will be aware, I have responsibility for the area of rural development and one of the bodies falling within the ambit of my Department is the Western Development Commission, otherwise known as the WDC. This commission was established under the Western Development Commission Act 1998 to promote the economic and social development of the western region. This Act requires that direct assistance provided by the commission shall be in the form of the purchase of shares in share capital and the provision of loans, but excluding grant aid. The WDC is unique among State agencies in that it provides such venture capital by means of its own investment vehicle, the western investment fund.

Section 8(5) of the WDC Act provides that, “Financial or other material aid provided to enterprises or projects by the Commission shall be in such form and subject to such terms and conditions as may be determined from time to time, at such times as may be specified by the [2207]Minister, by the commission with the consent of the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance and the amount thereof, in the case of any particular enterprise or project, shall not exceed £250,000 or €317,434, without the consent in writing of the Minister”. This Bill provides in section 4 for the raising to €1 million of the limit for financial or other material aid to enterprises or projects, which the WDC can provide without seeking the formal consent of the Minister. The figure of £250,000, which was provided for in the 1998 legislation, was set down at a time when fewer projects were being approved for funding by the WDC. Given inflation and the increasing number of projects being funded by the WDC that now exceed the £250,000 value, it is my view that the proposed new limit will provide for a more efficient and streamlined project approval process.

It is time we got rid of all these odd figures relating to punt figures and changed to more friendly euro figures.

  Mr. Coghlan: The Minister is absolutely right.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I thank the Senator.

The Bill provides in section 3 for the inclusion in the Third Schedule in the Freedom of Information Act 1997 of section 18 of the Western Development Commission Act 1998. The effect is that this provision, which relates to a prohibition on the unauthorised disclosure of confidential information, can no longer be cited as grounds for refusing access to records sought under the Freedom of Information Acts.

I am also taking the opportunity in the Bill to make a number of technical amendments to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003

The amendment of section 2 of the 2003 Act will enable my Department to pay subsidies in respect of travel by island students to second level schools on the mainland, which are outside the radius of 120 km of the terminus in respect of which provision is currently made. This will enable my Department to address issues that have arisen in respect of students on Inishbofin. My Department had been subsidising, as part of the Inishbofin subsidised ferry service, a bus service on Sunday and Friday afternoons between Cleggan Pier and St. Jarlath’s College, Tuam, which is within the aforementioned 120 km radius of Cleggan. In the past couple of years, however, St. Jarlath’s has ceased taking first year boarders. This means students from Inishbofin now attend Garbally College, Ballinasloe, instead. This has created a difficulty in that Garbally lies outside the 120 km radius of Cleggan, thus prohibiting payment of a subsidy in respect of the bus service to that location. I should add that it would be only in exceptional circumstances such as this that my Department would be required to use the provision proposed in the Bill. Any regulations made [2208]in respect of such cases would be following consultation with the Minister for Education and Science, and with the consent of the Ministers for Finance and Transport.

I am also providing for the amendment of section 3 of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Act 2003. This will clarify the Minister’s remit in respect of specified functions relating to both existing and new aerodromes and ancillary facilities connected with the provision of air services between the islands and the mainland. My Department recently took legal advice on the use of the words “any such” in sections 3(1)(b) and (c) in the 2003 Act and the advice was that this wording could be deemed to restrict the Minister to performing these functions solely in respect of existing aerodromes acquired in accordance with section 3(1)(a) of the 2003 Act.

The Bill also provides for the repeal of the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts 1949 to 2002, following the transfer of the State shareholding in the former commercial State body, Arramara Teoranta, to Údarás na Gaeltachta with effect from 16 October 2006. That decision should have been made years ago because we have an industrial authority which holds the shares. There should not have been a separate State authority for this small seaweed factory. Alginate Industries (Ireland) Limited was established in 1947 as a company limited by shares and changed its name to Arramara Teoranta by certificate in 1955. The principal activity of the company is to produce seaweed meal for use in the alginate industry. The State’s involvement arose from the acquisition of shares in the company, as provided for in the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts, over a period from 1949 to 2002.

In 2006, Government decided to transfer its shareholding in Arramara Teoranta, which is located in the Connemara Gaeltacht at Cill Chiaráin, to Údarás na Gaeltachta, the State body with responsibility for the overall economic development of the Gaeltacht. It is within this context that the repeal of the Arramara Teoranta (Acquisition of Shares) Acts 1949 to 2002 is proposed.

It is my view that the transfer of Arramara Teoranta to Údarás na Gaeltachta has been positive for the body. Arramara’s seaweed business is a good fit with the focus of Údarás na Gaeltachta upon indigenous and natural resources in the Gaeltacht. As a result of this action, Údarás now holds the entire shareholding of the company and its stewardship will offer scope for expansion of the existing business into more value added products. In the longer term, this move will achieve optimum coherence in respect of State investment in industry in the Gaeltacht, in addition to greater flexibility in regard to the development and future of Arramara.

In addition, therefore, to facilitating a number of amendments to existing legislation, the legislat[2209]ive proposals I am presenting here today will provide a firm and more coherent statutory basis for the wide-ranging functions and responsibilities currently assigned to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I thank all those with whom I have worked with in the past five years in respect of these functions. In particular, I thank Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas for their support and assistance over that period.

Molaim an Bille don Seanad agus beidh mé lán-sásta, ar ndóigh, tuilleadh eolais a sholáthar feadh mo chumais maidir le gné ar bith de na forálacha. I commend the Bill to the House and I look forward to the Senators’ contributions to the debate on its provisions.

  Mr. Coghlan: I welcome the Minister. As I understand it, the Bill is a technical measure designed to tidy up matters. I support all of the objectives laid out in the explanatory memorandum and by the Minister. Today is the penultimate day of this Seanad. This Bill has been initiated in the Seanad. It cannot go to the Dáil because that House has been dissolved. Therefore, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs could be accused of engaging in a cosmetic exercise. Am I correct in my interpretation of these affairs? If we pass the Bill, it will die, in effect, because the Dáil has been dissolved. The legislation will have to be reinstated in the next Dáil or Seanad. I do not suggest that we cannot consider the Bill, but we cannot send it on to the Dáil.

I welcome what the Minister has said about the necessity, as outlined in the Bill, for a statutory instrument to be introduced to transfer certain functions. The nature of such a transfer may be laid out in the Bill. It may be determined by the Minister or his successor in office as he or she deems fit. The Bill relates to various powers and functions.

I was particularly interested in what the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, said about the Western Development Commission Act 1998. He alluded to the possibility that greater use will be made of certain powers and functions at a future stage. He spoke about what will flow from that. He mentioned the provision of better air services between the islands and the mainland. That is something to which we all subscribe. We wish the Minister or his successor well in ensuring that such services are rolled out more effectively.

I accept there is a need to secure an integrated statutory basis for certain ministerial functions. The measures being taken in that regard are welcome. I accept the Minister’s statement that the Bill does not affect any existing authority, functions or powers. It is basically an add-on and a tidy-up. The Bill is acceptable for the reasons which have been outlined by the Minister. I hope it will streamline things as it is intended to do. We welcome the improvements which will be made to the project approval process. I am glad that cer[2210]tain records will be freed up under freedom of information.

When the Minister mentioned Inishbofin, I thought of my beloved Innisfallen, which is in the middle of Killarney’s lake of learning. A botanical survey of Innisfallen, which is a wonderful project, is under way. We might learn something about the medicinal properties of the herbs which were used by the monks on that island in years gone by. I welcome the Minister’s proposal to solve the problems associated with the distances between Inishbofin, Cleggan Pier and Garbally College.

I welcome the proposal to deal with a State policy I have always believed to be stupid. We accept that Departments cannot own shares in commercial undertakings. In this regard, the proposal to bring Arramara Teoranta under the aegis of Údarás na Gaeltachta is sensible. I agree with the Minister that it should have been done years ago. The State needs to have fewer intermediaries when it deals with development bodies to pursue its objectives. Otherwise it can be bedevilled by them. In the past, some State bodies were prohibited by law from owning shares in what were their subsidiaries, in effect, creating all manner of complications. Bearing in mind the circumstances with which the Civil Service and other bodies must deal, human nature is such that turf wars break out very easily. One gets bogged down and can be held up for years.

I very much welcome the proposal. I have examples of problems in this area with which I had to deal in previous careers. Anything that can be done to deal with the issue more directly and to streamline procedures is to be welcomed. This does not relate to the Bill, but I am sure the Minister will forgive my mentioning Dingle-Daingean Uí Chúis. We are in the dying days of this Administration and Oireachtas, and perhaps the Minister might do that for which the people of the area have been clamouring and revoke that accursed order.

  Labhrás Ó Murchú: Fáiltím roimh an Aire agus an cur síos a thug sé dúinn ar an Bhille, a bhí thar a bheith soiléir. Tuigimid uilig go bhfuil riachtanas dlí leis an reachtaíocht seo. Ó bheith ag éisteacht leis an Aire, is féidir liom a rá nach bhfuil aon amhras ormsa. Tríd is tríd, is rud bunúsach é seo ó thaobh cúrsaí teicniúla de. Tá sé tábhachtach freisin, áfach, go ndéanfaí é.

In welcoming the Minister to the House, I thank him for the explanation of the Bill he has provided. It is also quite evident that we must respond to the legal advice of the Office of the Attorney General. Incidentally, it also underlines the very comprehensive nature of the Minister’s portfolio. Many of the headings provided are in themselves comprehensive — community development and voluntary activity; rural development; co-ordination of the national drugs strategy; the Irish language, including co-ordination of policy in that regard; and the develop[2211]ment of the Gaeltacht and the islands. North-South co-operation within the ambit of those functions includes matters relating to Ulster-Scots heritage, culture and language. In 2002 we were dealing essentially with statutory instruments, and it is clear from the comprehensive nature of the portfolio that it was important to provide an integrated statutory basis for all those areas.

I compliment the Minister and his Department on the manner in which they have fulfilled that role, even in the absence of such a basis. Let us take the islands as an example. There was a time when we were very much afraid for them, and we often recall the exodus from the Blasket Islands. It was extremely sad that it happened, and one saw an entire heritage sidelined.

Under the Minister’s tenure, one has seen new life coming in. That is very important, first of all from the perspective of human rights, but also from that of the islands’ heritage and the contribution that they can make to tourism. I am glad to see them receive special mention. Whether we are dealing with students or householders, if we feel there is a need to ensure people there have the same rights as those on the mainland, it is important that they be safeguarded.

I was also glad to hear Senator Coghlan speak on the Bill. It is evident that there are no political footballs here, and the Senator put it very well when he said we would all welcome a Bill such as this. It is much better to deal with it now than to encounter a legal trip-wire at a later stage. There was near unanimity in this House on the Official Languages Act 2003 and on according working status to Irish in the EU. We have had excellent debates in the House, spearheaded by the Minister. Even if there were no other element to the portfolio, as was the case years ago, when one had Roinn na Gaeltachta, it would be all-embracing. There is much good news, and that is why there is a welcome for any legislation that underpins and copperfastens what is already happening. My spirits are raised when I see that, at long last, we are taking Irish seriously, and that every effort will be made to ensure the excellent goodwill in that regard is capitalised on. I do not have any doubt that will happen in the future.

It is logical to deal with community and rural development together. I have always considered it the best possible value for money if people are prepared to do things for themselves but require some assistance from the State, whether it is a case of the county manager or the Department interacting with a community. Under the Minister’s guidance, these two areas have genuinely been energised. People who have been involved, largely on a voluntary basis, feel they are getting recognition.

Fáiltím roimh an Bhille, agus tá ceist curtha ag Senator Coghlan on what happens to the Bill next. I am sure the Minister will respond to that.

On an aside regarding Daingean Uí Chúis, we have had some great discussions on this matter. [2212] No area has got more publicity from a tourism point of view than Daingean Uí Chúis has got from that debate, to such an extent that The New York Times rang me to discuss what was happening. I have been told that over Easter, Daingean Uí Chúis was packed to the rafters. It is people——

  Mr. Ryan: None of them thought they were in County Offaly either.

  Mr. Coghlan: Unfortunately, the signs are still wrong.

  Labhrás Ó Murchú: ——like Senator Coghlan and others who have put so much effort into this campaign. They can take a bow for their persistence on this issue. However, it is probably time to move on.

  Mr. Coghlan: Much credit must go to Senator O’Toole as well.

  Mr. Ryan: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire, cé go gcaithfidh mé a rá, cosúil leis an Seanadóir Ó Cochláin, nach bhfuil a fhios agam go díreach cad ina thaobh go bhfuil an Bille seo á chur tríd an Seanad gan aon Dáil a bheith ann chun rud ar bith a dhéanamh leis.

Is breá liom focail ar nós “integration” agus “coherence” a fheiscint, mar tá siad ar bharr an liosta maidir le riarachán poiblí a bheith eagraithe i gceart. Is annamh a dhéantar é sin, agus is annamh a tharlaíonn sé go bhfuil integration agus coherence ann. Is minic go mbíonn deighiltí ann. Níl mé ag cur aon lochta ar Aire faoi leith, ach go háirithe ar an Aire atá sa Teach tráthnóna inniu, ná ar aon Rialtas faoi leith. Ba é ceann de na deacrachtaí i gcónaí le riarachán poiblí, áfach, ná go mbíodh rudaí roinnte.

I am pleased the Minister is making an attempt to introduce some coherence in this area. However, I question whether it is logical to group the functions listed, namely, community development, voluntary activity and philanthropy, rural development and co-ordination of the national drugs strategy, etc. That said, we will take the Bill as it is.

I am intrigued whether the Minister may have been acting without a proper legislative base up to now. I do not suggest any personal impropriety but was it the case that somebody realised late on that issues arose in regard to the legislative basis for many of the Minister’s functions?

I love to see references to Arramara Teoranta and seaweed. When I was a student chemical engineer, I always had visions of the country developing ways to optimise and maximise the revenue from seaweed and I pursued a few tentative research papers on this issue. Seaweed is apparently a far more lucrative product now than it was 20 years ago, as many of the materials extracted from it are regarded as high demand. I hope Údarás na Gaeltachta is seriously pursuing [2213]the maximisation of added value. We do not want a small-scale version of the export of either ore or beef on the hoof if there is a possibility of developing the product further. It is worth remembering we have the technical and other skills of a sophisticated pharmaceutical industry with a workforce that has skills and ways of looking at things that might have been unknown previously. Perhaps Údarás na Gaeltachta could contact the various academic centres involved in issues concerning extraction, processing, etc., with a view to ensuring opportunities are not being missed.

I have a slightly changed view of bodies such as the Western Development Commission. This country is so small that it should not matter whether one is in Clifden or Dublin. I am a little concerned that pursuing issues such as that of the Western Development Commission, to whose objectives I subscribe passionately, is psychologically marginalising one part of the country. For many in the United States, Galway would nearly be considered within commuting distance of Dublin. Americans do not talk in terms of miles but in terms of hours and in this regard Galway is two and a half hours from Dublin, assuming the existence of a decent road. This is commuting distance in many big countries and it is most assuredly not indicative of peripherality.

However, we are in danger of institutionalising a perception of distance in respect of a place that is no distance away at all. We are therefore talking ourselves into issues that do not exist. There should be no reason pertaining to geographical location alone why an investor should choose to invest in Dublin rather than in Galway, Cork, Sligo, Tralee or Letterkenny. The US Chamber of Commerce, in its very thoughtful submission to the Government on the national development plan, said everywhere in the country should not be any more than two hours from an international airport, either by road or rail. I do not object to the Bill at all.

In terms of coherence, integration and good governance, the idea that four Ministers would be involved in a decision to provide a subsidised bus service between Cleggan and Ballinasloe is not good. If we cannot give a member of the Cabinet discretion to make such a decision without having to consult, by law, the Minister for Education and Science, and having to obtain the permission of the Ministers for Finance and Transport, we are not proceeding in the most desirable way. This is simply a matter of extending an existing bus service. I will not start a row over this but it makes no sense for a member of the Government, with senior collective responsibility, to require the agreement of three others on something so trivial. If the Minister makes a mess of the matter, let it be made in public such that we can deal with it. For God’s sake, let us get real.

Níl mé ag cur brú ar an Aire aon athrú a dhéanamh ar ainm baile ar bith taobh istigh den Ghaeltacht. Tá cead ag daoine pé ainm is maith leo a [2214]thabhairt ar áit. Is é an rud is measa ná go bhfuil daoine áirithe taréis comharthaí bóithre i gCorca Dhuibhne a lofa le aimneacha scríofa i mBéarla. Is cuma liom faoi Béarla nó Ghaeilge, ach ní dhéanann sé aon mhaitheas do dhearcadh na dturasóirí rudaí scríofa ar comharthaí bóithre, srl., a fheiscint nuair a thagann siad go ceann des na cheantair is álainne sa domhain. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Ó Murchú, tá sé in am dúinn bogadh ar aghaidh, agus feicimid cad a tharlóidh. Tá sé soiléir, de réir na pobalbhreitheanna a tháinig amach taréis an reifrinn i nDaingean Uí Chúis, nár dhein an cinneadh seo mórán difríochta i meon an phobail. Is beag duine a d’aithrigh a vóta i dtreo duine a bhí go láidir ar thaobh amháin nó thaobh eile den argóint seo. B’fhéidir go bhfuil sé in am dúinn ciúiniú agus ligint do mhuintir Dhaingean Uí Chúis agus Corca Dhuibhne pé airgead gur féidir leo a dhéanamh as a dtionscal turasóireachta a dhéanamh, in ionad a bheith ag cur isteach orthu le raiméis mar seo.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: Níl mé chun dul isteach go mion i ngach rud atá ráite. The Senators probably would have guessed that, no more than themselves, although perhaps I am the exception here, it was not most convenient for me personally to come here today, but I felt an obligation to the Seanad. This was published as a Seanad Bill. When we published it and when it was ordered for today, it was done in the expectation that the Dáil would be sitting this week as well and it was ordered for the Dáil later this week.

There is no incredible urgency. There is nothing to our knowledge that we are doing that requires the legislation as such. The genesis of the legislation is that a routine review was carried out to ensure that there was no doubt whatsoever of the powers of the Minister to carry out all the functions and it was decided, to leave no doubt, that this Bill is needed, but there is nothing of any urgent nature about it. I understand that in the event that there is no change of functions the Bill will continue on its journey and be brought to the Dáil in the next session. It was ordered as a Seanad Bill and unless the Seanad cancelled today’s proceedings, I had to attend. I hope that people would understand that. It was not that we were pressing. On the other hand, I am more than happy to be here because the Seanad does continue once the Dáil is dissolved and the Seanad had business to do. There was business on the Seanad’s Order Paper.

  Mr. Ryan: Shortly, the Minister might be here often.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: That could be true. I was here before. I am philosophical about politics and if I lose my seat, I might wind up here again.

  Mr. Coghlan: It is unlikely he will be here.

[2215]  Éamon Ó Cuív: On the other issues raised, I thank the Senators for their support for the Bill. Arramara Teoranta was a State body. It amazes me why, when set up as a multipurpose development agency, Údarás — or Gaeltarra Éireann before it — was not automatically given the shares and told to get on with the job.

In Arramara Teoranta we had a 1950s industry being run in a 1950s style for processing seaweed in the most basic way and providing a basic meal. The factory really reminds one of the 1950s, even given the money spent on it in the past two years.

I am pleased with what the Senators had to say. By transferring to Údarás, which has a good record of developing industries given its entire involvement in marine and other areas, it would have the wherewithal within its structures to aggressively look at the possibilities of fully exploiting seaweed on the west coast. As Senator Ryan stated, there are now unlimited possibilities due to the nature of the demand for specialist products, and particularly organic products. I hope it would open a window.

I used often cite one example. There was a good saw mill, Cong Sawmills, near my home in the 1950s. It belonged to the forestry authorities and then Coillte, which kept upgrading it to levels which were 20 years behind the times. On the other hand, I was involved in setting up a small saw mill that was only a little embryonic project when we started it, with one small debarking machine. Of course, at one stage it came to critical mass and we arranged with Connaght Gold and a private individual to take it over. It now provides 200 jobs and Cong Sawmills is closed. On the one hand, I was afraid that what happened Cong Sawmills would happen in the case of seaweed. On the other hand, I saw the other possibility. I still see that possibility and I believe Údarás is the correct vehicle. I hope that the opportunity will be grasped.

On the debate on the issue of An Daingean-Dingle, it is Dingle in English and An Daingean in Irish. An Daingean is what the local people say. That was the only reason that An Seabhac and his colleagues chose An Daingean — it is what the Gaeltacht people use.

I am flexible on the issue. I want to put three points on record. First, I offered in October 2005 that if Kerry County Council asked me to revisit whether it be An Daingean and Daingean Uí Chúis, I would ask the placenames commission to do so and I would favourably look on that request, as I did recently in the case of Dún versus Dún Bleisce.

Second, on the issue of rescinding the order, any time this was offered I was given a firm thumbs down by both the people of Dingle and the county council. They did not want the order rescinded because the effect would be that there would be only one official name, that is Dingle, [2216]and there would be no official Irish name. Quite correctly, they refused that. For that good reason, that was never asked. I agree and support them in not asking, but the door was open. I said that if they wanted to ask for that it would be churlish of me to refuse.

Regarding the one request they made, I understand there is no legal basis to provide for it. Therefore, the question is whether we should change the law but there are two snags or overriding factors to doing that. The majority of the people of the Gaeltacht are proud of their Irish language placenames. Údarás na Gaeltachta, as the elected body which represents the people of the Gaeltacht, twice endorsed by an overwhelming majority, including as late as last November, that provision of the languages Act. A second point is that in regard to the order for 2,300 odd names, there was a complaint in respect of only one name. One would be reluctant to introduce a Bill to amend the Act — one would have to engage in major public consultation prior to doing so — in such a way that one would change it for the 2,300 names in favour of the request in terms of one name. That is the snag in that regard.

I continue to work to resolve the problem. I have worked with colleagues in that respect and will continue to do so. The placename Dingle is still legally usable for every private and public purpose with the exception of the three exclusions that have been mentioned frequently. I hope we can find a solution to the problem. I have been actively working with colleagues in that regard and I will continue to do so. The tourist issue continues to arise. If there is a problem concerning tourists, further discussion should take place on that issue.

I wish to point out an interesting fact. When I was a child Inis Oírr was known as Inishere, Inis Meáin as Inishmann and so on. It is interesting that all the ferry companies, which are commercial operators, now use the Irish language names, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr and some 250,000 tourists make it to the Aran Islands every year. Therefore, there are reasons for deep reflection. It takes calmness and reflection to resolve this issue and I will continue to work with the people of Kerry to try to resolve it.

  Mr. Coghlan: It would be helpful if even the signage could be bilingual.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: We will see what we can do.

Question put and agreed to.

  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When it is proposed to take the next Stage?

  Labhrás Ó Murchú: Now.

[2217]  An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.