Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Joe O’Reilly: I join you, a Chathaoirligh, in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, to the House. As a fellow county man, I am delighted to congratulate him on his appointment to senior ministerial office and wish him continued success in that role.
I take the opportunity to welcome to the Visitors Gallery Mr. Seamus O’Reilly, county commissioner of Scouting Ireland in County Cavan, and Mr. Johnny Hancock, county programme co-ordinator of Scouting Ireland for Cavan-Monaghan.
With regard to the substantive issue, in 1997 Castle Saunderson was acquired by Scouting Ireland. The castle is on a 103 acre site on the Cavan-Fermanagh border. It is ideal for the proposed scouting project, which was to establish a cross-Border and national recreation centre for young people from throughout the country, North and South, which will hopefully still happen. Such a facility is lacking in the region. There is no such facility north of a line from Galway to Athlone to Dublin.
Between 1999 and 2005 Scouting Ireland pursued a number of avenues of funding for the project. Some funding was secured from outside Ireland and some came from within. In 1998 Government support was promised by the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, when he visited the site, which is a critical point. I urge the Minister to give practical and immediate effect to that promise.
The site secured full planning permission from Cavan County Council in 2005. Due to the difficulty for Scouting Ireland in securing matching funding and other conditions, it had to re-evaluate the project. Currently, a working group of Scouting Ireland national personnel and Cavan-Monaghan scout personnel are examining all aspects with regard to continuing this landmark youth project in an area deprived of youth facilities. This facility will not only be utilised by Irish young people but will be a cross-Border peace and reconciliation centre.
Scouting Ireland is the largest youth organisation on this island, and one that is truly non-denominational, non-sectarian, non-sexist. I am happy to say my two elder sons benefit hugely from their involvement in Scouting Ireland and I understand the son of my colleague from Cavan, Senator Diarmuid Wilson, is a member of the cubs group with Mr. Hancock. I am sure Senator Wilson would also endorse the value of Scouting Ireland.
Senator Joe O’Reilly: This project and the working group promoting it should have the full support of Government. I urge the Minister to authorise and facilitate grant aid and direct funding, whatever mechanisms must be triggered and whatever budget the project must come under. I am confident the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, will be proactive, as he is in the wider children’s area, and will support the project. I urge the Government to grant the funding.
As a recent member of Cavan County Council, I am aware the council is proactively in favour of the project and will support it in a substantial way. It has obvious health implications for children nationally and is of huge consequence for all who participate. It is also of great consequence for tourism and is a great educational opportunity for children. The project deserves direct grant aid and departmental support from the Minister’s Department and other Departments that deal with peace and reconciliation funding. No stone should be left unturned in supporting the project.
We should salute the voluntarism and the wonderful work done by those who lead Scouting Ireland, some of whom are present in the Visitors Gallery, and the great efforts of the quiet volunteers throughout Ireland. We should give them the backing they require for what could be a landmark project and a major initiative for children in the Minister of State’s constituency. It is a golden opportunity to give effect to a project of tremendous cross-Border significance for all of us, particularly children. I hope we can leave this House today with a commitment from the Minister of State. I would love to bring back that news to the young people of my county.
Deputy Brendan Smith: I thank Senator Joe O’Reilly for raising this important issue. I congratulate the Senator on his recent election to the Seanad and wish him many terms of success in the Upper House, particularly as I am very happy in the other House.
I am dealing with this issue on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Seamus Brennan, who is unavoidably absent. The funding available to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism is for clearly identifiable programmes relating to sport, arts, culture and tourism. Under the national lottery-funded sports capital programme operated by my Department, grants are awarded to sports clubs and organisations and to voluntary and community groups for the development of sports and recreational facilities. This programme is the primary means of financing the sports infrastructure of the country and is administered on an annual basis. A total of €675 million has been allocated in sports capital grants to more than 6,700 sports projects since 1998, which has been of enormous benefit for the development of sport. I know Senator O’Reilly will join Senator Wilson and me in recognising the important contribution the sports capital programme has made in our native county of Cavan as well as in our constituency of Cavan-Monaghan.
I must stress that the focus of the programme is the development of sports facilities. The Castle Saunderson project is the proposed establishment of a permanent national scouting jamboree site and it has a very small sports element, being primarily a youth facility. An application on behalf of the project was submitted under the 2002 sports capital programme but was unsuccessful because of the very minor sports element in a project which at the time was costed at more than €8 million. The former Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy James McDaid, met with Scouting Ireland, the promoters of this ambitious project, and explained that the project was not one that was suitable for consideration for funding under the programme. In addition, Scouting Ireland has not submitted a subsequent application for the project to the programme since 2002. Therefore, the current Minister, Deputy Seamus Brennan, must regretfully inform the Senator that the position has not changed and he is unable to offer any assistance towards the project as it falls outside the nature of projects for which funding is provided by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism.
With regard to cross-Border funding, in February 2006 the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy John O’Donoghue, contacted the Minister for Finance regarding possible sources of funding for the project from the Department of Finance. The Minister for Finance advised that the project may be able to apply for funding under the EU-funded PEACE II cross-Border programme. The Minister for Finance further advised that another programme, PEACE III, will cover the 2007 to 2013 programming period. In the course of a Dáil Adjournment debate on 28 February 2006 the Castle Saunderson project was advised to contact the Special EU Programmes Body in Belfast for further information on the PEACE programmes. That body has informed the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism that no application has been made by the Castle Saunderson project. The Senator will appreciate that the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism has no role in the development of the Castle Saunderson project and it would not be appropriate for the Minister to make an application to the above programme on its behalf. It obviously would be for the project promoters to submit an application.
I understand from the Department of Education and Science, which has responsibility for youth affairs, that the project promoters made contact with that Department in mid-February 2006, when correspondence was received via the Department of the Taoiseach. However, the Department of Education and Science also informed me that no funds are available in that Department for funding of capital works of this level. The project was advised of this via the Dáil Adjournment debate last year.
Furthermore, the Department of Education and Science has recently confirmed that it received a memorandum in late February 2006 which indicated that the board of directors of the Castle Saunderson project had drafted a resolution that the project would discontinue on the basis that it was unable to secure the necessary matching funding in the given timeframe. The resolution also suggested that the estate would be sold in order to discharge all remaining debts and to refund donations. This resolution was passed by the national management committee of Scouting Ireland. It would appear, therefore, on the basis of this information that the issue referred to by the Senator is no longer current.
I understand from my contacts that the Scouting Ireland movement may have made a more recent decision to reactivate the project. Over the years Senator Wilson and I, with my colleague, Deputy Rory O’Hanlon, have met various people interested in advancing the project, which has obvious merit. The suggestion made by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, through the then Minister, Deputy John O’Donoghue, that the matter be pursued with the Special EU Programmes Body is obviously the correct approach. As these programmes have not yet been finalised, the matter should be pursued with the body if Scouting Ireland is reactivating the proposal.
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