Campaigners still concerned about Údarás future

The spokesperson for a campaigning Gaeltacht group said yesterday that they are still concerned that the government is not backing its stated support for Údarás na Gaeltachta and the Irish language with funding.

The spokesperson for a campaigning Gaeltacht group said yesterday that they are still concerned that the government is not backing its stated support for Údarás na Gaeltachta and the Irish language with funding.

The Údarás budget for 2012, released after Friday’s meeting of the Údarás board, reported an €18.8 million capital and current expenditure budget, down 4 percent from last year. The estimated capital budget of €12 million, with €6 million from the exchequer and €6 million from Údarás own resources, is virtually unchanged from last year.

But the Gaeltacht authority’s capital budget for 2011 was cut from €15 million in 2010 to €6 million this year, with an additional €6.2 million in capital spending coming from Údarás own resources.

Éamonn Mac Niallais, spokesperson for the campaigning group Guth na Gaeltachta, said the group welcomed the maintenance of this year’s capital spending levels.

“It has been reduced drastically over the years, but at least seems to have stabilised somewhat,” Mr. Mac Niallais said. But he said the group was concerned about a report from the government’s Central Expenditure Evaluation Unit, published last Tuesday, that recommended abolishing Údarás and putting their functions under Enterprise Ireland, a proposal that had been discussed before.

Mr. Mac Niallais said that when Dinny McGinley, minister of state for the Gaeltacht, made a speech in the summer in support of Údarás, “we thought that would be the end of it, but it’s surfaced again.

“It shows there are still people within the civil service who want Údarás abolished,” Mr. Mc Niallais said. “It’s as simple as that. That is a huge concern to us.”

The Gaeltacht campaigner also expressed concerns that while Minister of State McGinley had also spoken of the importance of appointing a permanent chief executive during his remarks in the summer, this has not yet happened. Seán Ó Labhraí was appointed as acting chief executive at the start of the year to succeed Pádraig Ó hAoláin, who retired.

At Friday’s board meeting members discussed the process of appointing a chief executive and suggested the appointment would take place early in 2012. They also discussed the importance of maintaining a democratic board and the possibility of holding Údarás elections at the same time as local elections or a public referendum, to reduce the cost. The board also agreed to propose that the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga should remain in the Gaeltacht with its duties unchanged.

Liam Ó Cuinneagáin, chairperson of Údarás, said after Friday’s lengthy meeting that Minister of State McGinley had heard board members’ concerns. He said the minister of state “listened to us and accepts that we do make a difference in the communities in which we exist.”

The board also concluded that the decision earlier this year to retain Údarás enterprise functions signalled a vote of confidence in the authority and its work in job creation as well as its role in the implementation of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language in the Gaeltacht.

But Mr. Mac Niallais said funding for community bodies has been reduced by 10 percent this year and there are still questions surrounding the funding model for Gaeltacht bodies. He said the work of the community organisations is “going to be vital to any kind of language regeneration or community regeneration for that matter.”

Guth na Gaeltachta has consistently supported the 20-year strategy and Mr. Mac Niallais acknowledged that the government has expressed support for the strategy. “But the system fails to follow up,” he said.