Pat the Cope Gallagher TD warns Tuesday's Budget could spell trouble for Gaeltacht areas
Brexit was putting the future of the Gaeltacht businesses and rural communities in real jeopardy as Údarás na Gaeltachta was not getting equal funding to cope with the challenges coming if a no-deal situation develops at the end of the month
Leas Cheann Comhairle, Pat the Cope Gallagher TD has also claimed the treatment of Údarás na Gaeltachta by various Governments since 2010 has been nothing short of a national scandal.
In a robust and no holds barred statement on Sunday night, the Dungloe-based deputy warned that unless the Government the prioritised Gaeltacht development in Tuesday's Budget, the future for Údarás na Gaeltachta looked bleak.
Deputy Gallagher claimed the present situation whereby Údarás the only agency charged by Government to be responsible for and in sole charge of job creation and economic development in Gaeltacht areas has seen its current and capital budgets more than halved while at the same time its responsibilities expanded, while been starved of additional resources, staffing or extra funding.
He added that Údarás na Gaeltachta at present support and sustain over 7,700 jobs within the Gaeltacht areas, run various programmes from community development to community employment programmes, in addition to preforming the functions of Local Enterprise Offices in Gaeltacht areas - notwithstanding the functions of the various Plean Teanga (language planning) in the Gaeltacht communities,
"The Gaeltacht areas have a population of 100,716 according to the 2011 census, with most of the population divided over Gaeltacht areas in Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Waterford and Meath,
"Údarás na Gaeltachta is the sole development and job creation agency in Gaeltacht areas. It has the remit for sustaining and creating jobs in the most remote and isolated areas in all of Ireland.
"The purpose and function of Údarás is essential for the long-term sustainable development of our Gaeltacht areas, but for Udaras to carry out their function properly they must be funded accordingly, as opposed the present situation where they are grossly underfunded," added Deputy Gallagher.
He claimed current funding levels were farcical.
"Údarás are hamstrung from the outset and curtailed by lack of funding from central Government while at the same additional demands are being placed on it by various Government action plans and national strategies.
"The present situation within Údarás is at near breaking point. The current budget of in 2019 in real terms is just a megre €5 million per annum. All regional offices, costs of staffing and the entire budget for job creation must be taken from that budget.
"The lack of an appropriate level budget for attracting and marketing Gaeltacht areas for job creation is having serious impacts on how the Údarás targets and projections can be achieved," he said.
He pointed out that in 2009 the Údarás current budget was €14m but the current budget for 2019 was only €9.5m.
"Priority is been given to IDA and Enterprise Ireland who year on year have experienced budget growths of 9% to 15 % per annum but Údarás is a similar agency to them albeit covering Gaeltacht areas but no budget increases are afforded to them.
"It is now time that the present Government align Údarás with the other job creation agencies within the Department of Enterprise in terms of future funding and support. This can be achieved while at the same time maintaining the cultural and language importance of the Údarás.
"It is not conceivable or just any longer, that these agencies are being treated differently, they all preform the exact same functions and responsibility stated Pat the Cope.
A similar situation exists in capital budget terms within Údarás, he said.
"The 2009 capital budget was €25m, whereas the 2019 budget is only €9m. This is case in point where budgets have been cut to unsustainable levels over time and without budgets being restored, the impossible is being asked of the Údarás at present.
"The staffing level of Údarás is also cut from a staff of 156 in 2008 to present day levels of 88 people only whereas the previous Government may well have decided to keep the Údarás as a development and job creation agency, it has effectively over time destroyed its ability to compete and function as an employment agency on a kin to IDA or Enterprise Ireland despite all three having the exact same responsibility and function," he claimed.
He also pointed out that Údarás backed businesses and employers with 10 employees or more had contributed over €800 m to the national exchequer, with 60% of that being exported.
"That is also contributing €150 m payroll to local communities and a return to the national exchequer of a nett €77 m in taxes alone. Therefore, funding of Údarás is a massive nett contributor to the national exchequer and is the only possible way of the sustainable development and providing for the long-term future of our most rural communities.
"Unless real and substantial funding is made available for the Údarás, the targets set by both Government and by Údarás themselves for employment creation simply will not happen and the further threats of Brexit and global uncertainty will only add to the challenges facing this state agency.
"In recent media reports, the Government are prioritising Brexit proofing businesses and jobs. That is the correct course of action but unfortunately with Údarás not being directly under the Department of Enterprise, it does not seem to be getting the same priority nor funding envelope, " he said.
He warned: "Budget 2020 is a critical crossroads for Údarás na Gaeltachta and by extension our rural communities in Gaeltacht areas. Unless we see real commitment and proper increases in our funding of this state agency, we are staring into uncertain times for our Gaeltacht areas.
"Million of additional resources given to Department of Enterprise thus far for Brexit proofing strategies but none have filtered to Budget 2020 is a critical crossroads for Údarás na Gaeltachta.
"Budget 2020 must prioritise Gaeltacht development, must begin a transformation of bringing Údarás into mainstream employment and development funding opportunities, it must create a hybrid model whereby employment initiatives in Údarás are supported directly from the same funding opportunities as IDA and Enterprise Ireland while at the same time recognising the uniqueness of our Gaeltacht and linguistic responsibilities of Údarás and our Gaeltacht communities.
"In short Údarás must be put on a level playing field with other agencies otherwise we are treating Gaeltacht citizens as lesser priorities and that will not be tolerated," he said.