Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: Thursday, 04 December 2008

Gaeltacht Quarter

4 December 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr McNarry
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
Mr Donal Moran )
Ms Colette Quinn ) The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms Linda Wilson )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I wish to draw Members’ attention to the departmental briefing on the Gaeltacht Quarter, which is contained in members’ packs. I welcome Linda Wilson, Donal Moran and Colette Quinn and invite you to make your presentation.

Ms L Wilson (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide a short update on progress on the Gaeltacht Quarter. I will briefly cover a few points about the history of the Gaeltacht Quarter development company, the Farset Way project and the capital project, An Cultúrlann.

In May 2002, the joint West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Force report made some recommendations aimed at tackling unemployment and social deprivation in west Belfast and the greater Shankill area. One of the recommendations related to the establishment of a Gaeltacht Quarter in west Belfast. The establishment of a Gaeltacht Quarter development board would develop the cultural cluster in west Belfast into a designated Gaeltacht Quarter, with its physical hub on the Falls Road, but with the Irish language at its heart. The board would steer the initiative, bringing together language, arts, crafts, creative industries, businesses and education to drive economic development, tourism and regeneration. DCAL was designated as the lead Department for the work, primarily because of its language remit.

In November 2003, a Gaeltacht Quarter shadow board was established to act as a body that would agree on the best delivery vehicle to give effect to the commitments. The shadow board was established with representation from the local community and business sector, the Department for Social Development, Invest NI and DCAL. The Department commissioned the necessary business case and economic appraisal, which enabled funding of just under £1 million, £538,000 of which was secured from the integrated development fund for the capital development or refurbishment project at An Cultúrlann.

DCAL also commissioned Clive Dutton, who is a recognised urban regeneration expert, to produce a report to examine and make recommendations on the way forward for the Gaeltacht Quarter in relation to the management and governance arrangements. A key recommendation arising from Dutton related to the establishment of a mini urban regeneration company. That led to the establishment of the Gaeltacht Quarter Development Company — An Cheathrú Gaeltachta Teo. It began operations in July 2007, and it has been allocated almost £500,000 of integrated development funding over three years.

The model of an urban regeneration company gave rise to the creation of a steering group, and that was realigned from the previous shadow board. The steering group involves representatives from central Government, local government, public services in the area and local community and business interests. The aim of the steering group is to facilitate and support the development of the Gaeltacht Quarter by providing advice and guidance to the development company, and to act as a catalyst to help to realise the concept of the Gaeltacht Quarter.

In October 2008, the development company tendered for consultants to provide key documents to enable the Gaeltacht Quarter to be developed further in line with previous recommendations. Those recommendations include a baseline study to help to understand the key linguistic and cultural aspects of the area, as well as assessing the position regarding activities such as tourism, educational and vocational activities, etc.

They also include a development plan for the quarter, which sets out the vision’s strategic objectives and priorities; a marketing plan, which is based on existing opportunities in the Gaeltacht Quarter and those that are proposed in the development plan; and a strategic and business plan for the area. Consultants have been asked to develop a bilingual two-to-five-year plan for the quarter, which should include proposals for the optimum and legal basis for An Ceathrú Gaeltachta Teo. The tender was awarded to Deloitte consultants. Work on that is under way.

For the project to be sustainable in the medium to long term, the development company must attract the interest of and substantial funding from the private sector. An additional project that has been identified as relevant to the Gaeltacht Quarter is the Farset Way project, which is an attempt to re-establish a relationship between the area and Divis Mountain. That is being progressed.

In 2006, a capital project to develop and re-establish the Irish language cultural centre at An Cultúrlann was allocated £538,000 from the integrated development fund to support the development of new exhibition space and eight new business units. In May 2005, the estimated cost of the project was £508,000. Since October 2006, the project has been progressed by a project team that involves DFP, DCAL, and a representative from the Arts Council. A design team has been appointed to finalise plans and to oversee the tender for contactors to complete capital works.

As the design has become more refined, the cost of projects has escalated significantly. Following the tender process, the most economically advantageous tender that was received was £697,700. As that figure was significantly above the available budget, the project could not proceed. Ways to enable the project to proceed are being considered. A revised business case is currently in the early stages of development. Estimated costs are around £2 million, which will require the involvement of additional funds. Several organisations have expressed interest in the enhanced project: the Department for Social Development; the International Fund for Ireland; the Northern Ireland Tourist Board; and the Arts Council — subject, of course, to normal approvals from DCAL and DFP.

Overall, the successful delivery of the Gaeltacht Quarter is relevant to delivering DCAL and wider Government objectives for economic growth, employment and regeneration, as well as delivering a key recommendation from the west Belfast/greater Shankill task force. Considerable work remains to be done. However, progress has been made to establish a Gaeltacht Quarter development company and steering group. Work that Deloitte consultants undertake to complete a baseline study and development plan is a key element of the project. We will continue to work in partnership with the development company and other key stakeholders to endeavour to progress the concept. Thank you.

Mr D Bradley:
Thank you very much for your presentation, Linda. In your briefing, you mentioned that £538,000 was allocated to the An Cultúrlann development from the integrated development fund. Is that money still available to the project?

Ms L Wilson:
In principle, yes. Of the £538,000 that was allocated, £35,000 has been spent on the design development process to date, which leaves a balance of £503,000. The IDF was wound up in March 2008. The decision was made centrally to bring the fund to an end. DCAL can confirm that it could make the funding available from its capital line until 31 March 2009. If funding is needed in 2009-10 — which is realistic, given the project’s state of play — we will try our best to make it available, subject to —

Mr D Bradley:
Is the money available to the Department?

Ms L Wilson:
We would have to try to find it in the Department’s resources.

Mr D Bradley;
Where is the money that had been allocated?

Ms L Wilson:
We had to surrender it. The IDF was an additional allocation to Departments. It was taken back.

Mr D Bradley:
So you were given money for the project, but you gave it back before the project was completed?

Ms L Wilson:
The Department had no choice. A decision was taken centrally, and the money was taken back.

Mr D Bradley:
On what basis?

Ms L Wilson:
On the basis that the integrated development fund was being wound up.

Mr D Bradley:
Surely that money was already committed to a project?

Ms L Wilson:
It was, but it was not spent within the originally anticipated timeframe. That is the key issue.

Mr D Bradley:
Therefore, the core funding — that £538,000 at the centre of the cocktail of funding from DSD, the International Fund for Ireland, NITB and the Arts Council — is now in doubt?

Ms L Wilson:
I would not go as far as saying that it is in doubt; DCAL remains committed to the project. I can firmly state that the Department will make efforts to find the money in this financial year from our capital allocation. Thereafter, we will certainly be bidding for funds from DFP.

Mr D Bradley:
Surely one of the key elements in constructing a cocktail of funding is to have the central core funding in place, and that core funding would then attract other funding, from other sources? If there is no guarantee that that funding is available, it will be very difficult to attract other sources of funding for the project.

Ms L Wilson:
The funding is available in this financial year, and the Department remains committed, in principle, to that funding. However, we are not into next year’s budget yet and I cannot pre-empt ministerial decisions or allocations. The Department will endeavour to find the funding and will lodge a bid with DFP for those funds at the next appropriate opportunity. It is very much an issue of timing.

Mr McCartney:
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. At point 14 of the briefing, you name a number of organisations that have expressed an interest in the enhanced project. Will you outline what you mean by “interest”?

Ms L Wilson:
The Department’s understanding is that DSD may contribute £255,000 to the modernisation fund for the capital project at the An Cultúrlann building. Furthermore, the IFI may contribute £607,000, and the Tourist Board £281,000.

Mr McCartney:
There was reference made to a report from Deloitte and a revised business case. Are those separate from the funding that you have outlined?

Ms L Wilson:
Yes, those are separate.

Mr McCartney:
Is there a timeline as to when they will be completed?

Ms L Wilson:
The business case is currently being worked on —

Mr Donal Moran (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
We are working very closely with An Cultúrlann and the consultants who are examining that at the moment. It is being led by DSD, so that Department is setting the time frame.

DCAL has provided substantive comments on the initial draft of the report. However, it is up to the consultants and An Cultúrlann to address those issues and then re-engage with us and the other potential sources of funding.

Mr McCartney:
Will the timeline ensure that all the moneys — such as those provided through the integrated fund — are not lost?

Mr Moran:
With the indicative timeline that the Department is currently working to, I would hope to have something on those issues by the end of January 2009.

Mr McCartney:
Obviously, I welcome the commitments made by the Department to steer the project through. Thank you.

Mr McCausland:
Is the Farset Way project being taken forward by the development company?

Ms L Wilson:
Yes.

Mr McCausland:
What stage has that project reached? I have heard it mentioned on a couple of occasions, but I have yet to see any reports on it.

Ms Colette Quinn (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
The Department will provide the Committee with a written update on the project.

Mr McCausland:
That is fine. My second question relates to the capital project at An Cultúrlann. My understanding is that the current building is owned by the Springfield Charitable Association. If an extension is built under the capital project, who would then own that?

Mr Moran:
There are a number of issues that the Department has addressed in relation to the initial business case, and one of those relates to the lease on the building. An Cultúrlann must address those issues before we move to the next stage of business case approval.

Mr McCausland:
As regards funding for the extension, no matter whatever happens to the current building, the extension would be the property of the company that owns An Cultúrlann.

Mr Moran:
I do not know the legal position.

Mr McCausland:
Can you come back to the Committee on that point? Obviously, if you are supporting the extension, you recognise the value of having cultural centres. I am comparing that with the extensive funding for An Gaeláras in Londonderry. Do you see that as confirming the value and validity of the arguments put forward by the Ulster-Scots community at a conference that you attended at Templepatrick recently, where they said that there should be several cultural centres as part of an overarching Ulster-Scots Academy? The value in tourism, cultural and social development has been acknowledged in principle for An Cultúrlann. Would the same arguments be valid in the other case?

Ms L Wilson:
An Cultúrlann is a specific project in a specific area. A similar case could be made, subject to the interest of other players, for Ulster Scots. However, how many such centres might be viable is a different question. I do not see that there is any barrier, in principle, to a similar initiative if the conditions were right and if other stakeholders were interested in providing the support.

Mr McCausland:
I was interested in the broad principles of the value of such centres for tourism, culture and social development.

Ms L Wilson:
I will be able to better answer that when I see the outcome of the Deloitte assignment, which involves a baseline study and a development and marketing plan for that area. There would be parallels and lessons to be learned.

Mr McCausland:
Deloitte has so many plans.

Ms Wilson:
Deloitte is carrying out a series of studies for the Gaeltacht Quarter, including a baseline study and a development plan.

Mr McCausland:
When will that be available?

Ms L Wilson:
It will be available between March and May 2009.

Mr McCausland:
Folk from Forbairt Feirste came to the Committee to discuss the Gaeltacht Quarter. We asked them about the difficulty that had arisen with Belfast City Council, which had been asked about the possibility of erecting Irish-language signage in the city cemetery, on the basis that it was within the Gaeltacht Quarter, and I said that the Royal Victoria Hospital and other institutions were in the same area, which had a regional, rather than a local, role. How does the Department envisage that issue being addressed?

Ms L Wilson:
The Gaeltacht Quarter is about development; its role is not to acquire or impose signage. There is no compulsion on any individual or organisation based in, or using, the Gaeltacht Quarter to communicate in oral or written Irish or to provide public signage in Irish. The Gaeltacht Quarter is very much about regeneration, and the proposal that it should be an urban regeneration company suggests an underlying principle, rather than just the cultural elements involved. It would be using the culture to deliver regeneration.

Mr McCausland:
That is certainly true for the Gaeltacht Quarter. However, the cultural centre has been there for a long time — even before the Gaeltacht Quarter appeared.

Ms L Wilson:
Yes.

Mr McCarthy:
I am a wee bit concerned about the response that you gave to Mr McCausland. We are trying to create a shared future in this place. The Gaeltacht Quarter, which is a joint West Belfast/Greater Shankill Task Force project, is open to the whole community. Mr McCausland’s question about planting something else in another area to satisfy the Ulster-Scots community would be an extension of the division that we have had in this place for far too long. Would it not be better for everyone to come together centrally, rather than to have further division to placate different sections of the community?

The Chairperson:
I presume that some of those questions are political in nature. We are dealing with a particular application or business case for a Gaeltacht Quarter.

Ms L Wilson:
That is a point for wider debate. The recommendation is merely one that the joint task force made about Gaeltacht quarter.

Mr McCarthy:
Yes, but your answer to Nelson’s question was that the Department would be prepared to support a facility somewhere else that is specifically for a particular community. I believe that we should try to embrace all our communities. I am not au fait with the joint task force, but it seems to bring in all the communities in that area.

The Chairperson:
We will leave it at that. Kieran, you have made your statement, and that is fine.

Mr K Robinson:
I will again turn to history. My grandfather lived in the area of Farset Way, and my father was born there, so I have a passing interest in it. What are the physical boundaries of the Irish-speaking quarter? There was talk about the shared vision, and I am not looking at the matter from either Nelson or Kieran’s viewpoint. However, if, as has been mentioned, Irish street signs are to appear in areas that are currently shared — areas through which many people pass to use health services, and so on — will some people feel excluded because they are not comfortable with those signs and that general ambience?

Finally, where will the Farset River corridor start? How far up the river and the hillside will it run?

Ms L Wilson:
One of the recommendations is that the precise area needed to be agreed. At the moment, we have a working definition, but we do not have an absolute, precise definition.

Mr K Robinson:
What part of the Gaeltacht Quarter would be closest to the city centre?

Ms L Wilson:
Divis Street .

The Chairperson:
Raymond, you think it is Castle Street?

Mr McCartney:
I think that Castle Street was mentioned in the presentation.

Ms L Wilson:
Mr Robinson mentioned signage.

Mr K Robinson:
Sorry — are we accepting Raymond’s definition that the nearest point is Castle Street? I think that we should be accurate.

Ms L Wilson:
I have quite a lengthy definition in front of me, but, as I said, I do not think that it is the final, agreed definition that is being used for the purposes of the study. It mentions an area bounded at the western edge by Kennedy Way and the Monagh Bypass, continuing on to the northern boundary at a line following the Upper Springfield and Springfield Roads on both sides as far as Springfield Park, and continuing on one side on the country-bound lane only until the junction of Lanark Way. It then follows the peace line to connect with the start of its eastern boundary at Divis Street/John Street boundary, and from there to a southern boundary line running from Durham Street/Grosvenor Road on one side of the road on its city-bound lane only until Grosvenor Road’s junction with the M1 motorway. It then follows the city-bound lane of the motorway as far as the junction to Kennedy Way. We might need to walk that. [Laughter.] That is the working boundary outline.

Mr K Robinson:
That is very helpful. What about the boundaries of the Farset Way project?

Ms L Wilson:
I do not have the details on that. We will cover that matter in our response. Roads signage is essentially a matter for DRD.

Mr K Robinson:
I am concerned about the shared vision aspect — the fact that if signs in Irish start to appear at some point in the future, that could cause certain people unease.

The Chairperson:
I thank members and the officials, Linda, Colette and Donal, for their attendance.

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