Deputy O'Kennedy gave me notice of his intention to raise a matter on the Adjournment.
Adjournment Debate: ECSC Assistance.
First of all, I want to express my regret that the Minister for Local Government may have been taken somewhat by surprise by the fact that this matter was being raised on the Adjournment this afternoon. While he may have been taken by surprise in the circumstances which I hope to outline, I feel that there was due notice of my concern in this matter. I want to refer to the fact that on Thursday, 14th March, the Order Paper shows Question No. 77, where I had a question down in precisely the same terms as one which appears on Thursday, 21st March, to the Minister for Local Government. The difference was that on the former occasion it referred to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It stated.
To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of applications, if any, submitted by the Government since 15th March, 1973, for assistance from the funds of the European Coal and Steel Community; the amount sought in these applications; and the amount allocated.
Subsequently, on communication with your office, at the request of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I agreed that the question could be transferred to the Minister for Local Government on the understanding that I would still be allowed to raise the question of the applications made by the Government. As the Minister for Local Government came in to deal with the matter I think I could fairly assume he was in fact authorised to deal, on behalf of the Government, with my question.
In the course of the reply which the Minister gave to me on 21st March, 1974, he told me that one application was submitted to the European Economic Commission in the appropriate period. When I asked the Minister— and I think this is very important—in a supplementary question: "What is the total sum sought by the Government apart from what the Minister himself sought? "The Minister replied: "I am sorry. That is a separate question and I would not have that information." My question was directly and clearly: "What applications, if any, have been submitted by the Government for assistance, the amounts sought, and the amounts allocated."
The Minister did refer to one application submitted from his own Department—and it may well be the extent of the Minister's knowledge of the applications submitted to the European Coal and Steel Community—but if one is to judge from the Minister's reply and to take it directly, it was the only application submitted by this Government to the European Coal and Steel Community since 15th March, 1973. If I could refer to the general nature of the funds or the criteria for assistance out of these funds, which was the purpose of my question, I think the House will realise that it is altogether wider than the Minister seemed to envisage in his reply.
The following programmes qualify for assistance from the funds by way of loan from the European Coal and Steel Community: first, programmes concerned directly with coal or steel production. The European Coal and Steel Community finances investment in the true sense of the word and does not contribute to the liquid assets or the working capital requirements. Applications for loans under this head may be made directly by enterprises to the Commission of the European Communities. That deals directly with coal or steel production. Secondly, works and installations which contribute directly and primarily to increasing production, reducing the production costs or facilitating the marketing of products within its jurisdiction. It goes on, as far as I can understand from my own notes on this matter, to indicate that this category includes loans to finance harbour installations for transhipment of raw material for the iron and steel industry or power plants which use Community coal. Again, applications in this area may be submitted directly to the Commission by the concern involved.
The next subhead which qualifies for assistance from the funds are programmes for redevelopment and reconversion which are designed to facilitate the creation of new and economically sound activities capable of re-absorbing redundant or about to be made redundant workers into productive employment, either as a result of the introduction of new technical processes or equipment, or as a result of fundamental changes in market conditions for the coal or the steel industry.
It goes on to say, from the information I have been able to get, that projects of the kind assisted under this last head in recent years are spread over a large number of sectors of the economy, such as vehicle and vehicle accessory construction, chemicals, non-ferrous metals, technical power plants, rubber, steel, mechanical construction, paper and printing industries. The final subhead is the only subhead which apparently our Government were aware of, if one is to judge from the Minister's reply, that is, housing for coal and steel workers in respect of which the Minister has told me that in the period since March, 1973, we had a loan of £208,335 sanctioned.
It is not for me to do the Government's job in this direction, but having regard to the subheads I have referred to it is fairly obvious, for instance in relation to harbour installations or activities at harbours for the shipment of coal or steel material, that there are many harbours in this country and many activities in those harbours which would qualify for assistance from the fund at very low interest, as the Minister has succeeded in acquiring in his Department. I need not outline the number of these harbours but I could mention one that I am particularly aware of which is engaged directly in this type of work, that is, Foynes Harbour in County Limerick. This harbour engages in transhipping minerals which would qualify in this area, and any works proposed to be undertaken by way of development or extension or reconstruction in that harbour should and would qualify for that assistance.
I might refer to the redevelopment and reconversion programmes. Here I am merely giving examples. We have had in the last 12 months and before that a clear example in one area of workers being made redundant in the coal sector. I am referring especially to Ballingarry in County Tipperary. Since we became members of the European Community—and this Government have been in office effectively during all the period of our membership—there has been great concern expressed in that area for the development and the promotion of industry to re-employ the workers who have become redundant. It was designated a special assistance area by the last Government and we have been led to believe that since the present Government have come into office projects are under way.
The Deputy will appreciate that many of the matters to which he is referring would seem to me not the responsibility of the Minister who is present in the House.
They would nonetheless be the responsibility of the Government, to whom the question was referred.
The Minister for Local Government is dealing with this matter and we ought not to apportion to him things which are not strictly within his responsibility.
As I said already, the question was originally submitted to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
These are matters which are the responsibility of Ministers of other Departments.
If the Minister for Foreign Affairs was not aware of any application—and my belief is that no application apart from the one submitted by the Minister here has been submitted—it is a very serious indictment of the Government's failure, to use their own words, to maximise our benefits as members of the European Community.
I might give an indication of how serious that failure is. This is a matter of major national concern at a time when great anxiety is being expressed about the European Regional Fund and the European Social Fund. What is there available for us according to established criteria has not been notified to the Irish public or to the concerns that would be affected by them. The total lendings in 1972 to each of the then six member nations were: Germany, 71.9 million units of account: France, 63.240 million; Italy, 25.73 million; Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands between them, 27.63 million. The total lendings to each of those countries up to the end of December, 1972, were: Germany, 602.86 million units of account; France, 273 million; Italy, 224 million; Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, 203.94 million.
Beside that we now put the Irish qualification for 1973, which represents 500,000 units of account. I do not think I need to add anything further than to rely on those figures and to say that, whatever is the responsibility of the Minister at present in the House, it is clear that the Government have lamentably failed to notify the Irish public of their rights in regard to these funds. I hope in the future these resources that are available will be availed of as of right.
The question which was put down to me by Deputy O'Kennedy on 21st March last was specific. It was:
To ask the Minister for Local Government the number of applications, if any, submitted by the Government since 15th March, 1973, for assistance from the funds of the European Coal and Steel Community; the amounts sought in these applications; and the amounts allocated.
The Standing Order of this House which is relevant here states:
Questions addressed to a member of the Government must relate to public affairs connected with his Department or to matters of administration for which he is officially responsible.
Deputy O'Kennedy said he had a discussion with somebody about whether the Department of Foreign Affairs would take a question and that is was agreed, between whom I do not know——
I did not have a discussion.
It appears there was a discussion as a result of which it was agreed—I do not know between whom —that the question should be put to me. I told Deputy O'Kennedy when I was replying the last day that I would reply to questions put to me appertaining to my Department. That I did and that I propose to continue to do. If Deputy O'Kennedy wants to get replies from other Ministers he has a way of doing so. To put down a question and then to say, as Deputy O'Kennedy did at 2.30 on this Thursday afternoon, that he would raise the question on the Adjournment——
The Minister had notice of it from last week.
Deputy O'Kennedy knows very well that if somebody states on a Thursday that he proposes to raise a question he is given the option of raising it but he usually raises it on the following Tuesday. Deputy O'Kennedy did not raise it on Tuesday or Wednesday: he waited until Thursday afternoon at 2.30. He was perfectly entitled to do that but is it not rather unfair that this type of arrangement should be made? Deputy O'Kennedy and I are friends and I do not propose to have an argument with him, but I do not think I was treated fairly in this matter and I hope it will not become an established precedent in the House that a question that it was hoped would cause embarrassment——
I assure the Minister it was not done to cause personal embarrassment to him. I mentioned it this day week. The Minister is aware that there were two very important questions on the Adjournment on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. It is for that reason that I decided to raise mine on Thursday.
Deputy O'Kennedy must not have considered his question very important, then. I am suggesting that the ploy was that at 2.30 this afternoon this question would be raised so that if the Minister for Local Government attempted to answer for another Minister he would have to chase around to try to get information, and being unable to find it at such very short notice——
That is an unjustifiable assumption. I could have left my notice to raise the matter until 3.30 p.m. and would still have qualified.
On 21st March, I informed Deputy O'Kennedy in reply to Question No. 58 that the application had been lodged with the EEC Commission for loan assistance for the housing of coal and steel workers. The amount sought was a loan of £153,800 at 1 per cent and a loan of £159,880 at 7½ per cent approximately. A loan of £208,335 at 1 per cent was sanctioned by the Commission on 20th December, 1973. The loan will be used to assist in the provision of approximately 90 new houses and the modernisation of a further 100 existing houses occupied by coal and steel workers.
On the date on which I gave that reply officers of my Department and of the National Building Agency had discussions with representatives of the European Coal and Steel Community and the EEC Commission which clarified doubts in regard to certain aspects of the financial assistance and resulted in appreciable progress with the consideration of our application.
In the course of supplementary questions arising out of my reply, Deputy O'Kennedy asked what were the criteria to qualify for assistance out of the fund. In the case of housing the criteria are that the persons benefiting must be in need of rehousing and must be engaged in the coal or steel industries. The houses constructed must be of a good modern standard, but of reasonable cost.
In the course of further supplementary questions, Deputy O'Kennedy endeavoured to broaden the scope of the information sought. My advice to him at the time was that I had dealt as fully as I could with the housing aspects and that if he was interested in the functions appropriate to any other Minister, the obvious course for him was to table a question for the other Minister. I can only repeat that advice.
It was indicated to me that the Minister for Local Government was the Minister concerned.
The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 2nd April, 1974.