Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 21 Jan 1975

Vol. 277 No. 4

Private Members' Business. - Fota Island Acquisition: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that moneys should be provided out of public funds towards the acquisition of Fota Island so that its amenities can be preserved for the public.

This motion was introduced on the Order Paper several weeks ago, some time before Christmas, and it was before the date when tenders were to be submitted for the purchase of Fota Island, otherwise known as the Smith-Barry estate, and as it is for legal purposes. The final date for receiving tenders has long since passed, but fortunately it is not yet too late to save this very valuable amenity for the public. I understand that the trustees of the Smith-Barry estate, who were very well disposed to its being acquired for public purposes, are still open and willing to receive tenders or amended tenders.

Apart from its high amenity value, Fota Island is of great historical interest as well. The name Barry was associated with Fota for several centuries, probably even going back to Norman times when the first Barry was de Barry, and he fought many battles with the McCarthys, Princes of Munster. There is on the island an old Barry Castle from which it might be assumed that many of these battles were started. Therefore, the estate goes back to Norman times and the subsequent Earl of Barrymore was obviously descended from the original Norman Barry. The Earl of Barrymore was created an earl in 1627, and the first earl gave Fota to his youngest son. That was at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and it was the youngest son who, it is presumed, built Fota House and developed the estate, particularly the wonderful arboretum on the estate.

We can assume that the original house, which has been extended since and now, I believe, is one of the best known regency-type houses in the country, dates back to the early 1700s, and I think the same can be said of the garden in which the arboretum is to be found. My source for this is mainly the book published by the Georgian Society, edited by Desmond Guinness and William Ryan, entitled Ireland's Houses and Castles, and I want to quote an extract from the account of Fota in that book:

The other great pride of Fota is the garden where, on account of the mild climate engendered by the surrounding salt water, the most astonishing collection of semitropical trees and rare shrubs is able to flourish. The specimens have grown to such exceptional height that dendrologists the world over are familiar with the botanical achievements of Fota.

I do not think I need say any more about the need to preserve such a desirable amenity, such an historical piece of property as Fota, as well as it can be preserved, for the public. The whole estate, I understand, runs to about 780 acres, of which about 400 acres would be suitable and, I understand, are available for agricultural land. There is, in fact, a group of farmers in the area who are looking for that land, who need that land for better development of their own farming enterprises and who, I believe, could be accommodated by whoever would ultimately purchase the estate.

A rather sad coincidence is that the last owner, the Honourable Dorothy Bell died only last week, having been predeceased by her husband by some two years or so. Mrs. Bell and her husband were most generous and public-spirited in making the grounds of Fota available for many public purposes, including charity fetes, scouting activities and so on. There are, however, some beneficial owners, some of them who are minors, and therefore the trustees of the Smith-Barry estate are naturally anxious, in fact are bound by their trust, to procure the best possible price for the young beneficial owners, the minors, in this case. However, I know that the trustees and, indeed, the beneficial owners are more than anxious to continue the policy of Major Bell and his wife, the Honourable Mrs. Bell, in making the land available as much as possible for the public, and are desirous that the land should be acquired under public ownership and as a public amenity.

The sale was to take place some months ago, and there was a terminal date for the submission of tenders. The tenders were, in fact, submitted, but before that the Cork County Council and the Cork Corporation jointly made efforts to engage the State in the acquisition of Fota. They felt at the time they would not have the resources themselves, either separately or jointly, to purchase the estate. The Minister for Finance received a joint deputation at which it was urged upon him that this property should be purchased by the State and preserved as a public amenity. Unfortunately, the Minister did not see his way to contribute in any way to the purchase of the estate, and so the two local authorities, the Cork County Council and the Cork Corporation, made a joint bid for the property. That bid was considered with, I understand, at least two, if not more, private bids from other sources. I am not in a position to say what the bids were. I have been given an indication of what the local authorities bid was, but there were at least two other bids which may or may not have exceeded the bid made by the local authorities; in fact it is likely that they did exceed it.

However, as I said, the trustees of the beneficial owners are anxious that the property, if at all possible, should be acquired for public purposes. As far as I know, they are still in contact with the local authorities to see whether a suitable arrangement can be arrived at. I believe the difference between the offer made by the joint local authorities and the sum likely to be accepted by the trustees is not a big difference and I believe only a little more money would ensure that this most desirable property would be preserved for the public.

The title is freehold and the property has been designated by Cork County Council as a high amenity area. Quite recently the county council passed a resolution requesting the county manager to draw up an amenity order and a tree preservation order. It is most unlikely—indeed, it is reasonably certain—that no matter who buys the property it will never be developed for industrial or commercial purposes. That is poor consolation to the residents in the area and to people generally who would like to see this property preserved, not only as an amenity area but as an amenity area to which the public would have access.

The Minister might now reconsider his attitude. I am sure he has access to the details of the kind of money required to effect the purchase. As I have indicated, as far as I know it would not be a great sum, but it would be a tremendous investment by the State. Even though I have no mandate or brief from the local authority I go so far as to say that the property should be purchased on a three-way basis. Obviously the corporation and the county council have worked out their joint liability in respect of the bid they have made and I believe it would be possible for them to come to an agreement with the Minister and the Government in their making the extra contribution that would secure the purchase of this valuable property and ensure its subsequent availability to the public. If there were such a three-way contribution I suggest that, without any great burden on the State, there could be a three-way control, management and maintenance. The house is an excellent example of Regency architecture and the region itself is known world wide.

On the last occasion I raised this matter I mentioned that there was a precedent for the Government to intervene in an undertaking such as this. I raised this when the Estimates were being passed en bloc on the last day of the sitting of the Dáil before the Christmas recess. It was relevant to the Estimate of the Minister for Lands, who was in the House at the time, because he had put a stop order on the sale of the property pending investigation by the Land Commission as to whether it could be acquired for the relief of congestion. The Minister for Lands did not give me a very clear indication then as to what his attitude was. I did not get from him any disposition towards meeting the case put to him by the local authorities and by Deputies.

I said there were precedents and I readily acknowledge now that they are not directly in point. The most recent is the purchase by the State of St. Enda's Admittedly it had more immediate and direct historical associations with the evolution of the Irish State, as we now know it, but nevertheless there was a danger at one time that that property might pass into private hands. Deputy Haughey is in the House; he was Minister for Finance at the time and he received the approval of the Government to advancing the moneys necessary to purchase St. Enda's. It is now being developed by the Office of Public Works, solely by the Office of Public Works and solely by the Exchequer, without any contribution from either Dublin Corporation or Dublin County Council. That monetary obligation would not exist in this case. Another precedent was the contribution made to the purchase initially of the site of the old burnt-out Cork Opera House. It, too, was in danger of passing into private hands. There was need to preserve it as an amenity and the State made a grant to meet the loan available, which matched to some extent voluntary contributions made. When I say "voluntary contributions", there were ordinary and debenture shares taken up by people anxious to see the Opera House preserved. I cannot remember exactly whether it was a grant or a loan Cork Corporation made available.

There are other precedents. I do not want to introduce any acrimony into this debate and I say, somewhat diffidently, that if this property were available in its present form in the vicinity of Dublin the State would not neglect the opportunity of acquiring it for the public purposes.

Hear, hear.

Because it is an estate far removed from Dublin it is believed by people in the area that the Government have less interest in it. That is the belief that is held. It is one in which I find it difficult not to share. I shall not put the case any further. The trustees are still in contact with the local authorities. Even though the final date for the receipt of tenders has passed they are continuing negotiations in the hope that a reasonable offer, which they can accept in their capacity as trustees, for the benefit of their principals will be made. This will not go on forever and there may be only a couple of weeks left in which the offer will be available. I would therefore urge the Parliamentary Secretary to take action quickly, even on the basis I have suggested—a three-way divide of the purchase price with Cork County Council and Cork Corporation and, if necessary, a three-way divide of the cost of maintenance and care of this most valuable amenity to ensure it will be preserved in the spirit in which it was occupied by the Smith Barry family up to the time it was finally vacated, which was only last week, when the Honourable Mrs. Bell died. She was a direct descendant of the Barrymores to whom I have referred.

I have listened very attentively to Deputy Lynch putting his case for Fota Island. Over the past few months the Minister for Finance and his officials and I and some of my officials have met various deputations from Cork. The desire to have this area made an amenity area is a very laudable one. Apart from Deputies, I believe that every association and organisation has also come and asked us to purchase Fota Island. I have never been there myself but I have studied the brochure. As Deputy Lynch said, there are 780 acres involved and the region is known all over the world.

What Cork Deputies do not seem to realise is that help can be given only to certain designated areas. There seems to be some misapprehension, some doubt, about the type of parks that can be helped by the Exchequer. We have only one park in Ireland which reaches the international standard for national parks, that is, the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park. Negotiations are almost finalised for the taking over of Glenveagh Park in County Donegal. Then we will have two. This is the crunch for the Cork representatives: Fota would not be a national park. It could not be a national park. It can be a local amenity. The deputation stated that they wanted to preserve Fota for the people of the city and county of Cork. That is a very laudable desire but it is a bit selfish, in my opinion.

No one said that.

Mr. Kenny

The deputation said they wished to see Fota preserved for Cork city and county and preserved for the local people as an amenity comparable to the Phoenix Park in Dublin. That was the theme of the deputation's case.

May I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that that is some civil servant's note of what took place. It might reflect somebody's contribution.

Mr. Kenny

I want to say how glad I was that Deputy Lynch mentioned the fact that successive Governments only saw the horizon at Lucan and Leixlip and places like that. It is a worthy effort on the part of Cork people to try to get this amenity but it is a local amenity. That is where it falls down. It is not a national amenity.

What is a national amenity?

Mr. Kenny

I will tell the Deputy.

May we hear the Parliamentary Secretary without interruption?

Mr. Kenny

Fota Island as a whole does not meet the criteria suggested by international conventions for defining a national park. For the benefit of Deputy Crowley this is what a national park means.

There is only one in the country.

Mr. Kenny

Two now. A national park is a relatively large area where one or several ecosystems are not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation, where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitants are of special scientific, educative and recreative interest, or which contains a natural landscape of great beauty; secondly where the highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate as soon as possible exploitation or occupation in the whole area, and to enforce effectively the respect of ecological, geomorphological or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment; thirdly where visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educative, cultural and recreative purposes. Fota Island fulfils only one of those factors.

Who laid that down? Our Government are not bound by that.

Mr. Kenny

This was laid down by the tenth General Assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Did we adopt that?

Mr. Kenny

This is where the difference lies between the taking over by the State of Fota Island and the giving to the State of the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park. The arboretum of Fota Island has worldwide renown. It is, of course, artificial. Remember this, and this is one more objection. Plans to locate heavy industries in Cork Harbour put the future of the arboretum at risk. These industries will probably give rise to a high level of pollution which may destroy the arboretum if international experience is any guideline. This island, a beautiful place, is situated on the River Lee but there is an expectation that some heavy industry will be established on the opposite side at Marina Point. If that happens, Fota is gone.

There is such a thing as planning permission to establish an industry.

Mr. Kenny

I do not know so much about planning permission down there. In the past five or six years, people have said: "Industry is coming along. There will be no pollution." In reality there is always pollution—for instance, the latest one in Bantry Bay. I am not citing that as an argument against anything. If Cork is to expand it has got to expand not only in houses but also in industry——

That is drawing a long bow.

There is much greater pollution in other parts of the country than there is in Bantry Bay.

Mr. Kenny

——and Fota Island will be wiped off the map. I understand that it would be a very desireable amenity for Cork city and county.

Have the Government any say in the establishment of a national park anywhere in the country?

Mr. Kenny

Of course they have.

Why is the Parliamentary Secretary quoting some international conference then?

Mr. Kenny

Those are the criteria.

To have it registered as being of international standard.

Mr. Kenny

We have only two here.

We have only one registered.

Mr. Kenny

We will have two. We will have another one registered within the year. The fact of the matter is that Fota Island with its arable land with its house and arboretum is only a local amenity.

That could be said about any park.

Mr. Kenny

We must stick to our priorities when resources are limited. As far as I know, Fota Island is well down on the list of priorities. That is why the Minister for Finance did not accede to the wishes of the joint committee who came before him.

The Parliamentary Secretary is on the weakest case he ever presented to this House.

Mr. Kenny

I am not.

Is St. Enda's a national park?

Mr. Kenny

It is.

By the Parliamentary Secretary's standards?

Mr. Kenny

St. Enda's is different because it has an historical background, and so has Derrynane. As against that, when Merrion Square Park was taken over, it was taken over by Dublin Corporation. When the beaches at Brittas were taken over, they were taken over jointly by the local authorities and they paid for this amenity themselves. Phoenix Park has been there for a very long time. St. Enda's is a unique historical park and that is why the Government stepped in to take it over. I do not think a comparable case can be made by citing the Abbey, the Cork Opera House and places like that. I know that it was with reluctance and regret that the Department of Finance had to reject the application of the joint committee for some financial help. We can give all the necessary help and advice both from the Department of Lands, from the Office of Public Works and the Department of Finance. The only thing lacking is finance.

What about your moral support? You might as well throw that in.

Mr. Kenny

If 400 acres are taken and allocated among farmers in the area—I am sure there are congested areas there as elsewhere—what remains would not be sufficient to accommodate the people as a local amenity with golf links and so on. If the joint authorities purchase the island they will probably have to leave it as an entity. If you take away 400 from 980 acres it leaves very little as an amenity park for Cork city which is developing every week.

It is 780 acres, not 980.

Mr. Kenny


Why not give half to the farmers and keep the rest?

Mr. Kenny

Would they not then augment the money put up by the two——

Let the Land Commission take it.

Mr. Kenny

The Land Commission will not take it over but they will give all sorts of expertise and help.

The kind of sympathy you get at the wake house door.

Mr. Kenny

I do not know about that but the Cork people have made a wonderful case and yet it is a futile case because priorities must be maintained. The Minister for Finance has given his decision and I do not know that pleadings will change it. All the facts of the case have not been brought out into the open. I think another body is interested.

No, I gave all the facts that are generally known. There is no question of keeping anything in the dark. Some private tenders were made and that is as far as it goes.

Mr. Kenny

The objections of the Office of Public Works are contained in a letter which I have here which says:

When a deputation representing local interests met the Minister for Finance and his Parliamentary Secretary on 5th June, 1974, great emphasis was laid on the pressing need for increased recreation facilities for the people of Cork City and County and it was argued that Fota Island offered an outstanding opportunity of providing a wide range of such facilities. The Committee's report does not indicate what range of activities the local authorities should provide or what areas should be allocated for this purpose. The committee recommends that those portions of the island suitable for agricultural use comprising of 300/ 400 acres should be disposed of to local farmers. This would materially alter the landscape and attraction of the area and would appear to leave little land available for general park uses such as playing fields, golf course, et cetera.

The committee also recommends that Fota House and Gardens, including the Arboretum, should be presented to the State for public benefit and enjoyment and cities the cases of Muckross and Kilkenny in support of a State role in their management. We would not regard Fota as being in any way comparable with Muckross which is a national park of outstanding quality or with Kilkenny Castle which was taken into State care because of its special historic significance.... The Arboretum attached to Fota in its present state is recognised as being of exceptional merit with a very fine collection of exotic trees but before taking such a property into its custody the State would have to be reasonably confident that it was in a position to guarantee its preservation. In this connection it must be stated that the Island without its Arboretum and other tree plantations would have little topographical interests. The Cork County Council, as the planning authority for the area, would be in a better position than a state organisation to help preserve the valuable tree collection in question. In view, however, of the trend towards the development of the River Lee estuary as a major industrial area, including industries which posed serious threats to the natural environment, we do not think that the preservation of the Fota Arboretum up to its present standard will prove to be a feasible proposition.

Surely that is a clinical appraisal by a civil servant—

Mr. Kenny

It is, but not by a civil servant.

But political will is a matter for the Government.

Mr. Kenny

It is but these are the facts. If the State bought Fota and after a few years the arboretum was destroyed what would be the outcome? Anybody who buys Fota is taking a chance because in the next 20 or 30 years, with the development of Cork, you are bound to have some heavy industries that will pollute the atmosphere and it would only take one day or a human error to wipe out the arboretum.

We could all be wiped out—

Mr. Kenny

You will not be wiped out and Deputy Crowley knows that as well as I do.

Does the Parliamentary Secretary know that the prevailing winds are all in favour of Fota in relation to proposed industrial development?

Mr. Kenny

That is a futile argument : winds change. One cannot say where the heavy industry would be located and it might be in a place where the winds would blow smack into Fota Island. In the present circumstances I do not believe the Department of Finance would risk putting money into the purchase of Fota.

It would not cost much.

Mr. Kenny

I know that, but it is the scarcity of money.

Would the Parliamentary Secretary agree that it would be a State security?

Mr. Kenny

Security for what?

The Parliamentary Secretary is using his imagination as to what will happen there.

Mr. Kenny

No, I am only using experience——

Could I put a proposition to the Parliamentary Secretary? If everything he envisages happens and the State put some money into the project and the trees are wiped out, would there not be very valuable industrial land there for which you could get plenty of money?

Mr. Kenny

That is another aspect of the matter but the purpose for which Fota would be purchased would be lost to the people of Cork. You cannot have it both ways.

You can in this instance.

Mr. Kenny

No. First, it is not a national park. Secondly, anybody who puts money into preserving Fota as a natural amenity——

You can make it a national park.

Mr. Kenny

No. It is not big enough. Did I not state the difference between a national park and let us say, a city park?

A national park is registered with the International Union but we have many that are not registered.

Mr. Kenny

It is with reluctance that the Government reject the offer. I trust, with their talents and advocacy, those involved in this effort will be able to persuade the Department of Finance to help them buy Fota.

That is what we are at. The Parliamentary Secretary is representing the Department of Finance.

Mr. Kenny

Those involved in this effort have made a valiant attempt. I saw the letters and read the names of the associations involved and I reached the conclusion that it was a remarkable feat of organisation. However, if the same organisation was provided to obtain the money by public subscription I bet a million pounds could be raised within a few months.

Would the Government give us a loan?

Mr. Kenny

I do not know about that.

That is the point.

Mr. Kenny

If the group involved continued to use the same organisation to carry out a nationwide campaign to save Fota I bet their efforts would be successful.

The Parliamentary Secretary has already stated that this was a local project, not a national one.

The Parliamentary Secretary spelled gloom and doom and gave us the impression that it would not exist within a short time.

Mr. Kenny

I merely stated that if a heavy industry was located near there with the prevailing wind the arboretum would be wiped out within two hours.

That industry is not there.

Mr. Kenny

But it might be there.

The Parliamentary Secretary should remember that Cork County Council are the planning authority for the area and they will plan accordingly.

Deputies will be afforded an opportunity of contributing to this debate. There is a time limit and, consequently, interruptions are not in order.

Mr. Kenny

Surely the Deputies can see how accidents happen and should learn from experience. Nobody ever gave a greater guarantee that there would not be any oil spillages here and there but they are still occurring. We only know about some of them. The rest could be minor spillages but they occur. No matter what guarantee is given human error, or something like that, could result in the wiping out of one of the best and most beautiful areas on the River Lee. It is with regret, and reluctance, that I must reiterate what the Minister for Finance said, that he does not want to be involved in the purchase of the island.

Is that the only excuse the Parliamentary Secretary is offering?

Mr. Kenny

I cannot tell the Deputy that.

The Parliamentary Secretary is putting a lot of emphasis on this now.

Mr. Kenny

I shall allow another Member to put a stronger case, if that is possible. The object of putting a case here is to obtain a revision of the decision made by the Minister for Finance. Finance is what is needed in this case but the Department will give those concerned every help bar finance.

I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary has been put in the position he now finds himself. I was on the deputations he has referred to and I felt that if the Parliamentary Secretary was Minister for Finance we would not be in this predicament and we would not have this problem.

Mr. Kenny

That is soft-soaping.

It is possible that I am treating him more fairly than he deserves but that is the way I felt after going on the deputations. I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary's heart is not in this case because he is a better exponent of a good cause than he has shown himself to be tonight. To my mind it proves the point that where there is a will there is a way. Some members of the deputation spoke from a local point of view, but once it was stated by the Minister, or his advisers, that it was purely a local amenity and not a national one it was stressed by several members of the deputation, myself included, that it was a national amenity. It may not fulfil the requirements of a national park but it is a national amenity.

The history of the Government, and the Department of Finance, in this matter is not a creditable one. If a decision had been made at the beginning to the effect that they would not give us any assistance, financial or otherwise, at least we could have then launched a campaign to save Fota. When the first deputation was received they were told that the Department would not help unless there was an agreed plan. We were told that if we came up with an agreed plan the Department would then see what assistance could be given. At that stage, and for two years, An Taisce and similar bodies publicised the value of this holding.

I never anticipated that the Government would not help in a big way whoever would be engaged in the purchase of Fota. When we went on the second deputation we put forward the suggestion that Cork Corporation and the county council would put up two-thirds if the State put up one-third of the cost but this was turned down. We then suggested that the corporation and the county council should buy Fota and that the State should maintain the arboretum and the house but this was turned down without question. When we suggested that the corporation and the county council buy Fota with money loaned by the Government this was also turned down. We were told that Fota could be bought if it was money raised but that it was not to be taken from the Local Loans Fund.

Nobody knew better than the Minister for Finance how hard it is to raise money within the country and I wonder, for that reason, where he thought the two bodies referred to would go to obtain any to purchase Fota. The bodies concerned, however, bid for Fota in the hope that the State would help in the maintenance of the island thereafter. The Parliamentary Secretary posed the hypothetical question, what would happen to the arboretum, and the property, in years to come in the event of pollution. If that defeatist attitude is taken about everything why are we trying to preserve worthwhile places? Why are we doing this if the first thing we say is that something might happen? We could have a nuclear war tomorrow and we would all be wiped out.

I accept that pollution is a danger but we have the Anti-Pollution Bill to guard against such eventualities. We have what are described as the best minds in the State agitating about how to avoid pollution but yet the Parliamentary Secretary tells us that the arboretum might be wiped out within two years because of pollution from heavy industry.

Mr. Kenny

I am entitled to my opinion.

I am not denying that there is a case in what the Parliamentary Secretary has said but there is a case for any supposition anybody wants to make. The case I should like to make is completely different. For many years people in high places have been deploring vandalism, the delinquency of youth and all the evils of the age, glib talk with tongue in cheek, but when it comes to rectifying matters nobody is willing to take a little liberty with the law.

Fota contains more than 700 acres and has an arboretum which is educational and which will come under all kinds of scrutiny by educationalists. There is nothing better in Europe, we are told on the best authority, and that is worth considering. Fota consists of acres of woodland and landscape gardens. There are acres of ground suitable for outdoor recreation or walks; 300 acres or more suitable for division among local farmers, who have been agitating for it for years and who are quite willing to pay for what they might receive. Even taking all of that into account, the State does not seem to be able to see its way to say: "Look, we will loan you the money and you can pay it back at whatever rate is decided by the Minister for Finance." It is obvious that there is no will so to do.

I respect what the Parliamentary Secretary said and what was written in the various documents from which he read. But those are merely guidelines. Rules should never be allowed to hinder, particularly when it is for the benefit of the people. I would remind Deputies that Cork, as the second city of the State and the largest county, is entitled to its amenities. Nobody living in Cork would believe that it would be enjoyed only by the locals, because in Cork we have attractions that bring people from all over Europe annually. This would be just such another attraction, an attraction which would be well maintained.

Were the Parliamentary Secretary or the Government worried about atmospheric pollution of the arboretum or anything else, they would step in and take complete control, appointing the county council, the corporation, or both to act with them as guardians of the property so as to ensure that it is preserved for the benefit of everybody. They should not be trying to find a excuse for not paying a paltry £250,000. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary is not Minister for Finance because, if he were, I have not the slightest doubt but that he would meet this case. There must be Cork and Munster people in the Government benches who can testify to the fact that what I say is true. I do not want to make any political capital out of this. If the case were being made about somewhere in Galway, Donegal or Mayo, I hope I would be just as anxious as I am about this one, because I feel such cases should not be treated by rules taken from a guidebook but rather on their merits.

I cannot overemphasise the fact that if this opportunity is not availed of we will never have such a chance again. If this opportunity is missed this Government and the Minister for Finance will be blamed by the people, not alone of Cork city and county, not alone of Munster, but by the people of Ireland and indeed of Europe for having allowed this chance go by of acquiring this island as State property.

The motion before the House reads:

That Dáil Éireann is of opinion that moneys should be provided out of public funds towards the acquisition of Fota Island so that its amenities can be preserved for the public.

It is quite clear and needs no definition. The motion does not state the amount of money to be involved in the acquisition of Fota Island so that its amenities can be preserved for the nation, not merely for the people of the locality, the townland, the parish, the city or the county. This Smith Barry estate of 780 acres coming on the market affords the State a unique opportunity for its acquisition. It is in a beautiful setting; it is very good agricultural land; we all know of the arboretum, the exotic and rare plants and shrubs to be found there. There is also a large deposit of gravel and sand on the island.

This motion simply asks the State to give some funds towards the acquisition of Fota island. We did not even ask, as we should have, that the State purchase it in toto, to safeguard and run it, after disposing of some of it to local farmers. The joint committee of the Corporation and county council did not at any time in their deliberations, of which I am aware, mention that it should be confined to the people of Cork city and county. I was not a member of the deputation and I am not discussing what was said then.

How far out of Cork is it?

Soon it will be no distance out of Cork, the way Cork is expanding. It is only a few miles.

There is a train right to the door step.

Order, please. Deputy Meaney without interruption.

Deputy P. Belton has decried benefits to the small farmers of the west and he would now decry these amenities for Cork.

And give half of it to the farmers.

That is a disgraceful attitude to adopt, totally irresponsible. Dublin is not Ireland.


The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned here some ancient rule or regulation which prevents them from making it a national park.

I wish to disassociate myself from Deputy P. Belton's parochial or insular remarks.

I should like to disassociate myself from many a thing Deputy Haughey did, but particularly the arms case.

We should take no notice of little gas bags.


Deputy Haughey brought honour to the country, unlike Deputy P. Belton.

He did, up in the Bridewell.

Will Deputy P. Belton and Deputy Crowley please desist from any further interruptions?

I am telling the Parliamentary Secretary what was discussed at the joint meeting of Cork Corporation and County Council. I am not discussing the deputation; I was not on it. I am referring the Parliamentary Secretary to the motion before us. Could an Act of Parliament not render it possible to make a national park there of, say, 400 acres? Did it not happen in 1957?

Perhaps the Deputy would address his remarks through the Chair and thereby avoid unnecessary interruption.

Had we not similar circumstances with regard to another property some time around 1957 when a Bill had to be passed by this House to enable the State take it over?

Mr. Kenny

I do not remember it.

A former Deputy in Cork County Council—Deputy O'Sullivan over there knows him—I think it was Deputy D. J. O'Sullivan who quoted it, fair play to him, in Cork County Council. He said he was Parliamentary Secretary at the time; that a Bill had to be passed in the Dáil to bring about the position whereby the State could acquire that property.

Mr. Kenny

What property was that?

Garnish Island. I know the Parliamentary Secretary is a decent man, of excellent ability and we are great friends. But it is not he himself who is speaking tonight.

Mr. Kenny

Who is speaking, so?

He offered us everything except finance. I shall repeat again that it is the very same sort of thing one gets at the wake house door: one gets the hand shakes, the sympathy and the soft soap—have a drink inside and we will be all friends afterwards.

This motion has been put down here to ask the State to intervene. We on the joint committee of Cork Corporation and county council feel it completely wrong that any of this money should be levied on the rates of the county. Why should those ratepayers have to provide the finance with which to purchase that property when we hope and expect that the gates would be open to mankind? As the previous speaker said, we talk about youth, juvenile delinqency; we talk about people living together in built-up areas. Cork city is spreading very fast. Within a very short time it will be merely a few minutes by bus, train or car—there is a rail stop there—to that island, where people can walk around, enjoy the scenery, the shrubs, and view the large house, which could be converted into anything—a museum or anything else. But where will the finance come from?

Mr. Kenny

Exactly, that is the crunch. Where is the finance coming from?

I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary has said it. Are the ratepayers to pay for it? We say the finance should come from central funds.

Mr. Kenny

The joint committee intimated that they wanted a national park as an amenity for the people of Cork city and county. That is where they made the mistake. One cannot do that.

Is that the sole reason for turning it down.

Mr. Kenny

It is one of them.

May I point out again that this is the motion we are discussing:

That Dáil Éireann if of opinion that moneys should be provided out of public funds towards the acquisition of Fota Island so that its amenities can be preserved for the public.

I must ask that Deputy Meaney be heard without interruption. Deputy Meaney. There is a time limit on this debate.

I have asked why the imposition should be on the rates. Our county manager who has put a lot of effort into this matter, together with the city manager and other members of the corporation, are trying to find ways and means of raising the finance that would allow them acquire this unique estate but the bogey is money.

Mr. Kenny


It is accepted that if the estate is acquired by the State some of the land will be allotted to local farmers. In this regard there is a long history that I shall not go into here except to say that these farmers have special rights to some of that land. They have made their case in a reasonable way. They are living on what can be termed as uneconomic holdings. What they have asked for should be accepted as being very reasonable. They are prepared to pay for the land but the Land Commission should act on their behalf. If this estate were in the west of Ireland or any place other than where it is I am convinced that the Parliamentary Secretary would be the first man to approach the Land Commission in regard to having it acquired. We are asking the State to acquire this estate of between 400 and 450 acres but if I have ever heard a silly argument it is the one put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary regarding pollution from the hypothetical heavy industry across the harbour. Cork County Council, the planning authority responsible, have not given permission for any such industry. The Parliamentary Secretary was talking of something that might happen in the future.

Mr. Kenny

That is right.

Any planning application for industry in the area would have to come before Cork County Council and surely they and the corporation who have fought so hard so that the State might acquire this estate will not allow the establishment of a heavy industry so near to the island that with a change of wind all vegetation on the island would be killed. This excuse is not good enough.

There are thousands of people living within a few miles radius of this estate. For these as for the rest of us the day is gone when for a few pounds they could fill the tanks of their cars and drive out into the country. This estate can be reached easily by train so that for, perhaps, 10p the people living nearby could avail of the rail service to and from the island. Are we not supposed to be trying to preserve our natural amenities? Fota Island has been designated by Cork County Council as a special area for preservation. Indeed, we are making moves to preserve it further as an amenity area. We understand from the county manager that our tender is only third in line but that the trustees who are disposed favourably to the State acquiring the island have kept the sale open but what happens when they read the papers tomorrow morning? They will see that the last effort has failed, that the State is not interested. It may happen that some speculator whose name is not on the list will acquire the island and do with it as he wishes. For instance, how could he be prevented from pulling down the rare trees on the estate or from ploughing up the walks which, incidentally, are in good condition? The responsibility for what may happen to this estate must rest with the Department of Finance.

The Parliamentary Secretary's statement regarding the possibility of pollution as a result of any future industrial development is bad in so far as the area is concerned in that people will be frightened at the thought of any such situation occurring.

Mr. Kenny

The Deputy must understand that any heavy industry or any development such as that at Bantry Bay can lead to pollution and that in any such projects there is room for human error as has been witnessed twice recently in respect of Bantry Bay. The beaches in the area are now polluted.

There will hardly be an oil terminal on Fota.

The Chair is concerned with the encroachment on the Deputy's time.

Surely Cork County Council will decide as to what industry should be allowed in the area.

Mr. Kenny

If the Deputy reflects on what has been the experience in other countries as well as in our own, he will realise the danger of pollution in areas where there is heavy industry. He has only to go to Arklow to see what I mean.

There is an oil-fired electricity generating station on the banks of the Lee and on the wrong side of the prevailing wind but the rows of trees along the Marina in Cork have been flourishing for the past 20 years.

Deputy Meaney.

The second excuse related to the setting of international standards. Can we not, by an Act of Parliament, decide that the money to purchase Fota be provided? That is the purpose of this motion and if it is merely a matter of the wording being incorrect, let the civil servants concerned alter it so that the money can be provided and the island preserved.

Mr. Kenny

Many money Bills can be brought before the House but the effort would be futile if the money were not available.

I appeal to the Government to purchase this estate on behalf of the nation. The Parliamentary Secretary has not presented a plausible case for not doing so. There is nothing in our legislation to prevent the money being provided. Let it be said, after we have gone, that it was in 1975 that Dáil Éireann voted the money for the acquisition of this unique amenity.

I wish to add my voice to that of the previous speakers and to support this motion. The Parliamentary Secretary usually puts forward his arguments very strongly and has his brief well prepared but, unfortunately, this evening has been an exception. The reason for this is that he is not convinced of the argument contained in his brief. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that the case being put forward from this side of the House is unanswerable and that the argument that Fota would be an amenity area for Cork alone is unsustainable. Otherwise, the same thing might be said of Garnish which is visited each year by about 70,000 people of which, I would venture to say 75 per cent are not Cork people. The proof can be ascertained from other amenities in the area. Of course, the real argument and the real reason the Government are not allocating money to an amenity in Cork is because 11 Members are Dublin based and Dublin living. They do not give a damn about the rest of the country. The rest of the country does not exist outside Dublin in their minds and eyes.

The Parliamentary Secretary put forward arguments about the danger of killing the amenities about which we are talking. There may be some validity in those arguments. If all the industrialisation he predicts takes place in a haphazard and unplanned way then fall-out will destroy vegetation. If he believes this will happen, he should bring in much stronger legislation to protect the country from this severe pollution. By making that statement he is admitting that the existing legislation is not strong enough to cover that eventuality.

Mr. Kenny

I did not say that.

No, the Parliamentary Secretary did not say that directly but that is in essence what he said.

Mr. Kenny

I did not imply it either.

The implication was there when he said that the Cork County Council, through its planning committees, will not be doing their job.

Mr. Kenny

They are the planning authority.

The Parliamentary Secretary is saying that, although they are the planning authority, they will not be doing their job. Of course, they will; they will ensure that such an event does not occur. The arguments put forward in relation to the local amenities and the danger of pollution cannot be sustained.

Assuming the Government have no money for Fota, I suggest that they might agree if the local authorities could borrow or get the money by some other means to repay the money borrowed to the local authorities when they have it. The people and the local authority of Cork feel so strongly about Fota that they are prepared to explore any avenue to preserve this amenity.

A lot of pious platitudes are preached by Government Ministers about the lounge bar society, the number of alcoholics here, the number of juvenile delinquents and so on. If we are serious in our concern, we should try to provide counter attractions. We should try to re-educate these people to the true value of life. The provision of an amenity such as Fota is, in my opinion, a true value.

I am very disappointed at the attitude of the Government because I know that Members of the Government party feel exactly as we do. Unfortunately, because they are in Government, they are not in a position to forcibly put forward their arguments. All the people, not alone in Cork but everyone concerned about the future, is behind the purchase of Fota. As Deputy Meaney said, people will judge us harshly in years to come if we do not avail of this opportunity which may never come again. Shakespeare said there was a tide in the affairs of men and this is the tide as far as we are concerned. If we do not take it at the flood we could find ourselves in very muddy waters.

I will counter the argument that this is just an amenity for the people of Cork. CIE are operating cheap rail fares throughout the country. For a very small sum there could be rail excursions from any area to view Fota Island.

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to very seriously reconsider his decision and put forward more cogent arguments. The arguments he has already put forward—and I know they are not his own because he read them from his brief—have no validity. Will he ask his Minister to reconsider the case and try to work out some formula by which Fota does not pass away from the people?

I was amazed at the Parliamentary Secretary's definition of a national park. Over 100 years ago the idea of a national park was first formulated by people exploring the wilds of the American West. It took the American Congress years to establish their first national park at Yellowstone.

We have many parks which would not qualify for the United Nations listings. Some of our national parks are the responsibility of the Office of Public Works, some forest parks are the responsibility of the Department of Lands and local public parks are the responsibility of local authorities.

What precise advantage follows from being listed as a national park as outlined by the Parliamentary Secretary? Is there any advantage?

Mr. Kenny

No. The State is given absolute jurisdiction over a national park. It is the property of the State.

Does anything follow from being listed as a national park with this international organisation?

Mr. Kenny

No. It means that it is internationally recognised as a national park. The United Nations have a list of national parks all over the world. That is the only advantage.

These criteria were laid down when the United Nations decided to list the major national parks—they cannot list all the national parks throughout the world —and for Ireland only Bourne Vincent Memorial Park is on the list at the moment.

What good does it do to be on this list?

Botanists and others intersted in nature often plan their holidays and visit various national parks. People from abroad wishing to visit national parks in America or, even, East Africa, could include our national park on their itinerary. I understand many people spend their holidays visiting different parks to see and study the flora and fauna and get some idea of the heritage and culture of the country they are visiting. It worries me that the Parliamentary Secretary would suggest that our other parks, just because they are not listed by the United Nations, are not national parks at all. Of course, they are national parks.

Mr. Kenny

Which ones?

To suggest that the Phoenix Park is an amenity for the people of Dublin is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Kenny

I think Dublin people regard it as such—an amenity for the Dublin people.

It is an amenity for the people of Ireland and for visitors. I know people from the centre of the Continent who will come here within the next month or two to see the birth of the new deer up there. The planting and laying out of the People's Gardens is of interest and people come from overseas to inspect this park and to walk around, even where the grounds are laid out for sport.

Mr. Kenny

The percentage is very small.

That is not the point. It is there as an amenity for the people of the world. They will not and they cannot be charged for getting into it under our own rules in relation to national parks. There could be a great circuit there for car racing and so on but the people who organise those things cannot charge for admission under our rules. To think of the Phoenix Park as an amenity for the people of Dublin only is absolutely crazy. I know it will not qualify for inclusion in the United Nations index but it is a fine park and a park of which we can be proud.

On the other hand, there is the small national park like St. Enda's. When the question of St. Enda's came up there was not the slighest opposition from any Member of this House to the purchase. That was bought as a result of the political will of the then Minister for Finance and the support of all Members of this House. Part of it is being developed as a sporting amenity area and the flora is being protected, preserved and restored as far as possible. The then Minister for Finance listened to a proposition put to him and decided to act on it. The same applies to Derrynane. The political will was there, the decision was made and the house was bought as a museum and the gardens and surrounding area developed as a park. That park, indeed, includes a caravan park. The same can be said of Kilkenny Castle. The State did not just buy Kilkenny Castle. It bought a park as well. It is small park but quite a fine one. I think already a nature trail is being provided there. That cannot be said to be just for the people of Kilkenny. One might as well say the Beer Festival is just a local fair. It is an international function with singers and dancers from all over the world. The Kilkenny national park is a great amenity.

I believe that when such an obvious amenity as Fota Island becomes available if it is outside the power of the local authority to pay the State has an obligation to assist if not to take it over completely. If reports of the State's attitude in this case get abroad the nation will be held up to ridicule. Some time ago we had a similar case, that of the Doneraile estate. The Department of Lands were interested in it for planting and for land division. The Government of the day had to adjudicate on the question of which Department was most suitable to take charge of the estate. The then Minister for Lands and myself, as Parliamentary Secretary, went down with our chief advisers and inspected the estate. The idea was put forward that, perhaps, part of it might be a national park and the other part handed over to the Department of Lands but the advice from both Departments was that we should not divide the estate. An agreement was eventually reached, and I hope it is being honoured, that the Department of Lands would take it over, that the walks and gardens, the flora and unusual plants, would be preserved by them as an amenity and that part of the estate would be used for planting and another part for division. The important thing to me was that the unusual trees and plants and the layout of the main lawn should be preserved. Once I got agreement on that I had no objection to the Department of Lands taking responsibility because I have seen some of the very fine work they have done on their forest parks and I know they will do a good job on this one.

The suggestion has been made that if the Office of Public Works, for financial or other reasons, are precluded from taking over Fota the example of the Doneraile estate should be followed and they should work out between themselves and the Minister for Lands some reasonable solution so that at least the house, gardens and arboretum will be preserved. That is a very reasonable suggestion.

Deputy Meaney said that if it takes an Act of the Oireachtas, and I am not sure it does, all that is needed is the political will of the Minister. Right down the history of this State when a matter of this kind came before the House no Minister has ever been opposed by any section in this House from taking over and preserving amenities of this kind. When the initiative came from the Government it was never opposed. This time we are asking the Government to take the initiative and it must be quite clear to them that it will not be opposed.

Deputy Belton referred to the Phoenix Park and the distance of Fota from Cork. The Phoenix Park was once on the outskirts of Dublin but now it is almost in the centre of the greater Dublin area. There was great pollution in the UK and they brought in a Clean Air Act which has met with great success. Japan has now realised that their fauna is being destroyed by pollution with their vast industrial expansion and they are rapidly removing this severe pollution.

There is technological information available to us now that will eliminate practically all danger so far as pollution is concerned. What the Parliamentary Secretary apparently did not consider is that, when one looks at the central Rhineland area, the central industrial belt in Europe, one can see the pollution there and have cause for concern even though there are nice parks, trees and flora in that area. At the end of the war, when Europe was devastated, any local authorities or planning authorities that existed were not concerned with that aspect. They were concerned only with getting the countries back to life again, getting people to work, bringing in money and food and helping them to survive.

Debate adjourned.