I will convey the suggestion to my colleagues. Ba mhaith liom i dtosach an cheist maidir le Vóta Roinne na Gaeltachta a phlé.
Is léir go bhfuil ag éirí leis an mbeartas ar ghlac an Rialtas leis an bhliain seo caite agus gur féidir linn a bheith ag súil le dul chun cinn níos mó fós i mbliana. Dá bharr sin d'fhéadfaí a rá go raibh cáinaisnéis na bliana seo níos boige ná cáinaisnéis na bliana anuraidh ach ní ion-ann é sin agus a rá nach bhfuil fadhbanna againn fós. Tá éirithe leis an Rialtas méadú mór sa leibhéal cánach a sheachaint trí dhiansmacht a choimeád ar mhéid na n-iasachtaí agus trí ghearradh siar a dhéanamh chomh fada agus ab fhéidir ar chaiteachas i gcúrsaí riaracháin. Dá thoradh sin beidh ardú níos lú ná 1 faoin gcéad sa bhliain reatha ar an gcostas maireachtála de bharr na cáinaisnéise, rud a thabharfaidh deis dúinn dul i ngleic tuilleadh leis an ráta boilscithe a bhí mar a bheadh bró muilinn timpeall orainn chomh fada sin ag creimeadh aon dul chun cinn a bhí á dhéanamh. Don chéad uair le fada tá éirithe linn tabhairt faoi réiteach a fháil ar chuid dár bhfadhbanna bunúsacha agus céimeanna dearfacha a ghlacadh lena réiteach.
Beidh áthas ar gach duine a thuigeann na fadhbanna a bhí romhainn anuraidh go bhfuil ré na n-iasachtaí — mar leigheas ar an ngátar airgid a bhí ag brú orainn — thart agus go bhfuil cúrsaí airgeadais an Stáit á gcur ar shlí a réitithe. Má éiríonn linn bonn buan seasmhach a chur faoi chúrsaí eacnamaíochta na tíre, agus tá dóchas agamsa go bhfuil dul chun cinn nach beag déanta, beifear in ann na toscaí a sholáthar a chuirfidh fostaíocht shoch-rach ar fáil de réir mar a fheabhsóidh cúrsaí — go háirithe do dhaoine óga.
Aithnítear go coitianta, ar ndóigh, an fhadhb atá ann ó thaobh na fostaíochta de, agus dá bharr sin, táthar ag iarraidh féachaint chuige go gcaithfear an t-airgead atá ar fáil ar bhealaí fiúntacha amháin d'fhonn torthaí réalaíocha a bhaint amach agus poist sheasmhacha a chruthú in ionad an t-airgead sin a bheith á chur amú ar thograí nach mbeadh inmharthana choíche. Tá beartais nua glactha freisin chun cúnamh a thabhairt do na tionscail sin a bhfuil deacrachtaí orthu faoi láthair agus le spreagadh a thabhairt do thionscail nua. Tá scéimeanna tábhachtacha ceadaithe freisin ar mhaithe leis an tionscal tógála, rud a chabhróidh go mór le fostaíocht a chur ar fáil.
Tá iarracht déanta chomh maith sa cháinaisnéis chun cúnamh a thabhairt do na daoine sin ar ioncam íseal atá ag íoc cánach: ní bheidh cáin le híoc feasta ag 15,000 de na daoine sin. Tá éirithe leis an Rialtas na liúntais chánach a ardú agus, gí beag an faoiseamh a d'hféadfaí a thabhairt, is tús maith é nach mór fáilte a chur roimhe. De réir mar a éireoidh linn smacht ceart a fháil ar chúrsaí caiteach-ais, tá dóchas ann go bhféadfar cur de réir a chéile leis an bhfaoiseamh sin ar mhaithe le lucht cánach Íoc mar a Thuillir, sé sin PAYE.
Tá soláthar déanta sa cháinaisnéis freisin le haghaidh méaduithe sna rátaí leasa shóisialaigh. Nuair a smaoinítear ar na harduithe a tugadh anuraidh agus nuair a ghlactar leis go bhfuil an ráta boilscithe á smachtú is léir go mbeidh cosaint mhaith don bhliain atá romhainn ag na daoine sin atá ag brath go mór ar an gcóras leasa shóisialaigh.
Táim sásta go mbeadh sé soiléir do dhuine ar bith a dhéanfadh scrúdú ar an gcáinaisnéis go bhfuil comharthaí dóchais le feiceáil inti do na blianta atá le teacht. Is léir nach sárófar fadhbanna na tíre mura dtuigfidh an pobal go soiléir géarchéim na faidhbe agus mura mbeidh a gcomhoibriú ar fáil lena réiteach. Táim sásta go mbeidh an comhoibriú sin le fáil agus, cé go bhfuil roghanna deacra romhainn fós, beidh forbairt agus dul chun cinn i ndán dár muintir uile má éiríonn linn tarraingt in aon iarracht amháin ar mhaithe lena chéile.
Tá beagnach £18 milliún á chur ar fáil ag an Rialtas i mbliana lena chaitheamh chun leas na Gaeltachta agus na Gaeilge a chur chun cinn. B'fhearr liomsa go mbeadh níos mó ar fáil ach, le cúrsaí airgeadais mar atá, níorbh fhéidir é sin a dhéanamh. Táim sásta áfach go mbeifear in ann dul chun cinn maith a dhéanamh ach cur chun oibre go stuama, críonna, tuisceanach.
Cuirfear breis is £11 milliún ar fáil d'Údarás na Gaeltachta i mbliana lena chaitheamh chun forbairt na Gaeltachta a chur chun cinn. Bíonn teacht isteach ag an Údarás ó fhoinsí eile chomh maith, mar shampla, ó chíosanna agus ó Chiste Sóisialta na hEorpa, rud a chiallaíonn go mbeidh níos mó ná £1 milliún le caith-eamh ag an eagraíocht gach uile mhí den bhliain 1984 ar mhaithe leis an nGaeilge agus leis an nGaeltacht. Le soláthar mar sin táimse sásta go mbeidh ar chumas an Údaráis obair mhaith a dhéanamh chun fostaíocht a chaomhnú agus a mhéadú sa Ghaeltacht.
Is cúis sásaimh dom gur cuireadh arís anuraidh leis an bhfostaíocht lánaimseartha i dtionscail a fuair cúnamh ó Ghaeltarra Éireann agus ó Údarás na Gaeltachta le cúpla bliain anuas. Tuigim gur cruthaíodh timpeall 530 post nua i rith na bliana 1983 i dtionscail faoi scáth an Údaráis agus gur cailleadh timpeall 430 post, rud a d'fhág méadú glan de thart ar 100 post. Is toradh fónta é sin ar iarrachtaí leanúnacha an Údaráis chun daoine a chur agus a choinneáil ag obair sa Ghaeltacht.
Ní beag an dul chun cinn atá déanta ag an Údarás chun an drochthionchar ón gcúlú eacnamaíochta a mhaolú. Cé go ndéanann daoine comparáid díreach idir an Údarás agus an Údarás Forbartha Tionscail, is é sin IDA, ní mar a chéile an dá chás. Forbairt tionsclaíochta amháin atá mar aidhm ag an Údarás Forbartha Tionscail ach tá cúraimí i bhfad níos leithne ar Údarás na Gaeltachta. Cé go bhfuil forbairt tionsclaíochta mar fheidhm ag an Údarás, ní foláir dó freisin aire a thabhairt do chúrsaí sóisialta agus cultúrtha. Bíonn deacrachtaí le sárú ag an Údarás chun a chuid feidhmeanna a chomhlíonadh. Mar shampla, bíonn an tÚdarás in iomaíocht le heagraíochtaí eile Stáit in iarrachtaí chun teacht ar thionscail lena mealladh chuig na ceantair Ghaeltachta agus, ar ndóigh, ní chuidíonn iargúltacht na gceantar sin leis an Údarás.
Tá ceithre bliana imithe anois ó bunaíodh an tÚdarás. Tharla athruithe suntasacha sa tréimhse ama sin agus is mithid athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar an gcaoi ar éirigh leis an Údarás a chuid oibre a chur chun cinn. Beidh struchtúr na heagraíochta le scrúdú agus réimsí freagrachta le leagan amach go soiléir. Beidh plean le réiteach, spriocanna sainiúla le socrú do gach réimse freag-rachta agus slata tomhais le ceapadh i gcaoi go bhféadfar dul chun cinn a mheas sna réimsí éagsúla. Beidh gá le comhoib-riú ó chomhaltaí agus ó fhoireann an Údaráis san obair thábhachtach seo.
Ó tharla an tÚdarás a bheith ann — agus Gaeltarra Éireann roimhe — bhí an claonadh ag áisínteachtaí náisiúnta neamhshuim a dhéanamh de na ceantair Ghaeltachta ar bhealach a thabharfadh le tuiscint nár tháinig na ceantair sin faoina gcúram. Déanfaidh mise mo dhícheall lena áiteamh ar áisínteachtaí mar sin páirt níos gníomhaí a ghlacadh, i gcomhairle leis an Údarás, i gcúrsaí na Gaeltachta.
Is Bord an-neamhchoitianta é Bord an Údaráis sa mhéid go dtoghtar formhór na gcomhaltaí agus go gceapann an tAire an chuid eile díobh. Is coincheap nua é sin agus é mar aidhm aige ionadaíocht a thabhairt do na ceantair éagsúla Ghaeltachta. Cé nach féidir locht a fháil ar an gcoincheap féin bíonn deacrachtaí áirithe le sárú ach táimse sásta gur féidir réiteach a fháil orthu má chuirtear chuige go ciallmhar agus le dea-thoil. Cé gur tharla fadhbanna áirithe toisc an tÚdarás a bheith páirteach i ngníomhaíochtaí arbh fhearr iad a sheachaint, is deimhin liom go bhféadfar dul chun cinn fiúntach a dhéanamh ach na ceachtanna cuí a fhoghlaim ón taithí go dtí seo.
D'fhéadfaí, mar shampla, ceist a chur an ceart do Bhord Stáit baint dhíreach a bheith acu le reachtáil tionscal. Cé go dtuigim na toscaí a thug ar an Údarás páirt mar sin a ghlacadh, shamhlóinn go bhféadfaí tarraingt siar de réir a chéile ó ghníomhaíochtaí mar sin.
Tá sé curtha i mo leith go bhfuilim ag iarraidh dochar a dhéanamh don Údarás i gcaoi go sroichfí an pointe nuair nach mbeadh an dara rogha ann ach eagraíocht forbartha de shaghas éigin eile a chur ina áit. Níl aon fhírinne sa líomhain sin agus go deimhin is mian liom a dhearbhú go bhfuil rún agam féachaint chuige go mbeidh an tUdarás ag feidhmiú mar eagraíocht lán-éifeachtach ar mhaithe leis an nGaeltacht agus lena muintir. Tá páirt ríthábhachtach ag an Údarás i saol na tíre seo agus go háirithe i saol sóisialta, cultúrtha agus eacnamaíochta mhuintir na Gaeltachta.
Beidh gá le toghchán arís i mbliana chun deis a thabhairt do phobal na Gaeltachta seachtar comhalta a thoghadh ag an Údarás. Ní foláir an toghchán sin a bheith ann ar an 12 Nollaig ar a dhéanaí nuair a bheidh cúig bliana imithe ón gcéad toghchán. Is é atá ar intinn agamsa faoi láthair ná toghchán a chur ar siúl i mí Dheireadh Fómhair, mas feidir.
Tá sé mar chuspóir ag na scéimeanna feabhsúcháin sa Ghaeltacht sin saoráidí breise a chur ar fáil i gceantair Ghaeltachta ina gcleachtaítear an Ghaeilge mar theanga theaghlaigh agus mar theanga phobail. Cuidíonn na scéimeanna le feabhas a chur ar bhunstruchtúr na Gaeltachta — scéimeanna uisce agus séarachais, muiroibreacha, hallaí agus coláistí Gaeilge, áiseanna chaitheamh aimsire, cúnamh do chomharchumainn agus saoráidí eile. Is cúis áthais dom go bhfuil an soláthar airgid do na scéimeanna sin méadaithe ó £1.38 milliún sa bhliain 1983 go £1.55 milliún don bhliain reatha — sin méadú de bhreis agus 12 faoin gcéad.
Tá deacrachtaí móra airgeadais ag cuid de na comharchumainn Ghaeltachta d'ainneoin na fial-chabhrach Stáit atá faighte acu. Le deis bhreise a thabhairt dóibh bhunaigh mé coiste eile i lár na bliana seo caite chun a bhfadhbanna a scrúdú: chuir na fadhbanna móra airgeadais a bhí ag brú ar chuid mhaith de na comharchumainn iontas ar an gcoiste fiú. Tá cúnamh speisialta breise tugtha do chomharchumainn áirithe ar oileáin ach faraoir níor éirigh le cuid de na comharchumainn a léiriú don choiste go bhféadfaí tarrtháil á dhéanamh orthu ar airgead réasúnta agus go mbeadh gníomhaíochtaí inmharthana ar siúl acu dá éis sin. Tá mo Roinnse agus Údarás na Gaeltachta i gcomhairle leis na comharchumainn sin faoi láthair d'fhonn deis a thabhairt dóibh a chruthú go bhféadfaí gníomhaíochtaí áirithe dá gcuid a bheadh inmharthana a tharrtháil ar chostas réasúnta.
Is é an ceann is tábhachtaí agus is cos-tasaí de na scéimeanna cultúrtha agus sóisialacha a bhíonn á reachtáil ag mo Roinnse ná scéim na bhfoghlaimeoirí Gaeilge faoina n-íoctar deontais díreach le mná tí sa Ghaeltacht a mbíonn fogh-laimeoirí aitheanta ar iostas acu. Bhí ar mo chumas an deontas sin a mhéadú go dtí £2.25 in aghaidh an lae do gach dalta sa bhliain 1982. Fiú le cúrsaí airgeadais mar atá i mbliana tá socruithe agam an deontas a mhéadú go dtí £2.50. Is minic atá ráite agam nach bhfuil sa deontas a íocann mo Roinnse ach cuid den teacht isteach a bhíonn ag dul do na mná tí i leith na bhfoghlaimeoirí: bíonn an chuid eile le fáil ó lucht na gcoláistí Gaeilge a ghearrann táillí cuí ar na tuismitheoirí. Ní beag é an cúnamh a thugann mo Roinnse faoin scéim seo — beidh £900,000 ar fáil dó i mbliana: íocann Roinn na Gaeltachta suas le £60 i leith gach dalta a fhreastalaíonn ar chúrsa Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht.
Tá dóchas agam go gcuirfear nuachtán fiúntach Gaeilge ar fáil do phobal na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta i rith na bliana seo. Lorgaíodh tairiscintí ó iarr-thóirí a mbeadh ar a gcumas nuachtán náisiúnta Gaeilge a fhoilsiú in aghaidh na seachtaine le cabhair Stáit agus is cúis áthais dom go bhfuarthas seacht dtairiscint. Tá na tairiscintí sin á scrúdú faoi láthair agus tá súil agam go mbeidh ar mo chumas cinneadh a dhéanamh fúthu go han-luath. Tá soláthar i meastacháin na bliana seo don nuachtán nua.
Faoi mar is eol don Teach tá an Plean Gníomhaíochta don Ghaeilge 1983-1986 a d'ullmhaigh Bord na Gaeilge curtha i láthair an phobail agus tá obair iontach á déanamh ó shin leis an nGaeilge a chur ar aghaidh ar bhonn náisiúnta pleanáilte mar a mholtar sa phlean sin. Tréaslaím a saothar le Bord na Gaeilge agus tig liom a dhearbhú go dtabharfaidh mé gach cabhair is féidir mar thacaíocht leis na hiarrachtaí atá ar siúl acu.
Chomh maith le Bord na Gaeilge bíonn deontais le fáil ag eagrais dheonacha Ghaeilge as Ciste na Gaeilge agus is deimhin liom go mbeidh lánchomhoibriú le fáil uathu san obair atá idir lámha ar mhaithe leis an nGaeilge.
Ba mhaith liom a lua go bhfuil an-áthas orm go bhfuil an Biúró Eorpach do Theangacha Neamhfhorleathana lonnaithe anois i mBaile Átha Cliath — an t-aon fhoras Eorpach den chinéal seo atá bunaithe sa tír seo. Táim cinnte go mbeidh ar chumas an Bhiúró obair fhiúntach a dhéanamh ar mhaithe leis na teangacha neamhfhorleathana agus is cúis áthais dom go mbeidh ar mo chumas cúnamh beag airgid a chur ar fáil i mbliana dó.
In relation to Fisheries, a significant sum of £17½ million has been provided in the Fisheries Estimate for the current year. This represents a net increase of 9 per cent over the 1983 outturn. By and large the State has, over the years, been generous in aiding the fishing industry in relation to its size and the availability of resources and the situation in the current year is similar. I would, of course, wish to provide more funds for the industry — both sea and inland — but this unfortunately is not possible in the present financial climate. Included in the Estimate is a sum of £1.3 million to cover the interest subsidy on fishing boat loans. This will enable BIM to maintain the subsidy at its existing level and with possible reductions in commercial interest rates this could mean a net reduction in repayments by fishermen. The grant-in-aid of capital development to BIM has been increased by 20 per cent as compared with the 1983 outturn and this provision will be used largely to help modernise the fleet with a view to diversification to more remunerative species and new fishing grounds.
In recent times we have heard many references to doom and gloom in the industry. The people making the criticisms give no credit for the investment by the State in the industry or the assistance in relation, for instance, to training and marketing given by my Department and BIM.
It is quite true that arrears on boat loans have increased considerably in recent years. This trend is very worrying and the reasons for the situation are very complex. It is rather significant that in all ports some boat owners in every size category are up to date with repayments while owners of similar craft are in serious difficulty in the same ports. In contrast to that the overall position in some ports, for example, Greencastle, is completely satisfactory. There is no instant solution to the problem.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that the long-awaited agreement on a Common Fisheries Policy came at a time of economic depression when demand and prices for fish are not particularly high and when the cost of inputs is relatively high, resulting in the economics of fishing not being attractive for the time being.
We have reached a situation in the industry where a change of direction is necessary. In the past it was essential to concentrate on the expansion of the fleet and the training of fishermen. Now the situation has been reached where the emphasis must be placed on research and in particular on marketing. Diversification of effort to other fish species is also desirable. It is for this reason that I await with interest the report of the Sectoral Development Committee on the industry which I expect very shortly and which I have no doubt will enable the Government to make the most appropriate plans for the future.
Improvement of fishing harbours and landing places around the coast to meet existing requirements of fishermen and to keep pace with other developments in the fisheries sector will continue to receive my full support. Such improvements are planned in such a way that the landing places in most need, having regard to the amount of fishing activity from those landing places, are given priority.
Deputies will recall the major breakthrough last year in the EEC with agreement on a revised Common Fisheries Policy which will govern the management of European fisheries for a period of 20 years at least. This agreement was brought a stage further just before Christmas when the Fisheries Council agreed final figures for quotas in respect of 1983 which left the way clear for discussions to begin on the quotas to apply in 1984. Those discusions had a successful outcome at the meeting of Fisheries Ministers on 31 January 1984, when, I am glad to say, agreement was reached on the 1984 quotas. The original proposals presented by the Commission to the Council were inadequate in a number of cases but I was able, with some difficulty, to get these raised to levels which take care of our industry's essential needs. This was particularly so with mackerel where we have 85,300 tonnes for 1984 as against 80,000 tonnes in 1983. We could do with more of this species but having regard to the stock situation the outcome this year must be regarded as satisfactory.
I can also report that pressure on the Commission succeeded in having their proposal for a tiny quota of horse mackerel dropped. The position now is that there are no national catch quotas for this species and I hope that the Irish fleet will now become actively involved in this fishery and enable me to claim a substantial part of the stock for 1985, when I am sure efforts will be made to apply for imposed quotas.
Another positive result of last week's Council meeting is that it was agreed that the EEC Commission would carry out a study of the Community's herring market which has been severely depressed of late leading to low prices and lack of demand for our herring production here. We will be participating in this study and I hope that the outcome will enable the Commission to make proposals to improve the situation considerably.
Another matter of current interest in the EEC sphere is the question of fishing by Spanish vessels in the waters of EEC member states which has been suspended since the beginning of this year because negotiations between Spain and the Commission broke down late last year. We are continuing to take a careful interest in this matter as the Spanish fishing effort has a particular impact on our fishing zone and we are pressing for further reductions in Spanish fishing for 1984. We must also ensure that our special interests are protected in the negotiations to take place over the coming years on the accession of Spain to the EEC.
I am, of course, very pleased to be able to report that the measures taken by the Government last summer to control the activities of ex-Spanish fishing vessels registered in the United Kingdom under a flag of convenience have been completely successful and that the threat of a large fleet of such vessels operating in our waters never really materialised. A lot of scepticism was expressed in some quarters at the time as to whether the measures would be adequately watertight but as they say "the proof of the pudding is in the eating". I should perhaps at this stage say that a further Bill is in course of preparation and should be before the House shortly which will, inter alia, increase the general level of fines for offences of illegal fishing in our waters.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the long-awaited agreement on a Common Fisheries Policy that I mentioned earlier should come about at a time of economic depression when demand and prices for fish are not particularly high and when the cost of inputs is relatively high resulting in the economics of fishing not being very attractive for the time being. It is, therefore, appropriate that at this stage we should take stock of our situation and try to establish what can best be done to get us through the bad times with least damage to the fabric of our fishing industry and to organise ourselves to take best advantage of the recovery when it takes place. I have referred before in this House to the Sectoral Consultative Committee for the Fishing Industry representing all sides of the industry which was set up under the aegis of the Sectoral Development Committee over a year ago. I understand from their very able chairman, whom I met recently, that this committee hope to report to their parent committee very shortly and I look forward to the considered recommendations of both committees which I have no doubt will enable us in Government to make the most appropriate plans for the future.
Mariculture is still making good progress up and down the country and following my bringing into operation late last year of the new legal framework provided for the industry under section 54 of the 1980 Fisheries Act my Department are currently making arrangements for the holding of the first public inquiries in connection with the making of appropriate designation orders under that Act.
Fish processing is an area that offers the best prospect of increased employment in the fishing industry. The Government's policy is to encourage better coordination between the primary production and the processing sectors of the fishing industry in order to enhance continuity of fish supplies which is a necessary prerequisite to increased added-value output and employment.
While the export performance of the fishing industry has been impressive in terms of total value to the economy, the export figures point to the heavy reliance on commodity exports to one or two major markets and the need to diversify into new markets and higher added-value products. Progress has been made in the past and you can rest assured that this very important area of market research and development will continue to receive my special attention.
Fishing is today extremely energy dependent. The rapidly increasing energy prices in recent years, over which we have no control, have borne heavily on the fishermen and must be expected to provoke a change of structure in the fishing fleet towards less oil intensive methods. I am glad to say that the increases in fuel prices announced in this year's budget do not apply to marine diesel oil used in fishing operations.
The central and regional fisheries boards, which were set up in October 1980, continue to work for the better conservation, protection and development of every aspect of our valuable inland fisheries. Under section 32 of the Fisheries Act, 1980, the introduction of a staff scheme for the staff of the central and regional boards is well under way. Also I am glad to say that a superannuation scheme for the staff of the central and regional boards was implemented in July 1983.
The most important aspect of our inland fisheries is our salmon fisheries. Catch figures for 1983 show that the total weight of the salmon catch by all methods was approximately 1,512 tonnes valued at approximately £6.7 million as compared with 908 tonnes valued at £3.9 million in 1982. The overall weight of our salmon catch in 1983 showed an increase of almost 67 per cent on the 1982 catch. While this increase in our salmon catch is welcome, there is no room for complacency in regard to the overall salmon stock position. Illegal salmon fishing continues to be a cause of grave concern.
I have recently had a meeting with representatives of all those engaged in salmon fishing at which views were expressed on the main salmon conservation measures at present in operation. I am having these measure reviewed in the light of the divergent views expressed by the interests represented.
While responsibility for the control of water pollution rests with the Department of the Environment, the fisheries boards continue in the forefront of the battle against water pollution in order to protect fish life. Much interest continues to centre around the problems of Lough Sheelin. The slurry transport subsidy scheme, operated by the Lough Sheelin Management Committee, is working satisfactorily and I am pleased to say that almost 44 million gallons of excess slurry have been removed from the Sheelin catchment under the scheme since its introduction in late 1980. No effort will be spared to restore Lough Sheelin to its position as one of the best natural trout fisheries in Europe.
The Salmon Research Trust of Ireland Incorporated, which is funded jointly by my Department and Messrs. Arthur Guinness, Son & Company Limited, continue their research into the biology of the salmon and the factors bearing on its future survival as a species. A grant-in-aid of £56,600 is allocated to the Trust for 1984. An amount of £130,000 is included in the Estimate to meet our contribution towards the expenses of the Foyle Fisheries Commission. The money will be used to offset the commission's estimated financial deficit in 1984. The commission's increasing deficit is due mainly to increases in expenditure on wages and salaries. I am satisfied, however, that the commission are continuing to make every effort to reduce their annual deficit. To that end, the commission have increased the licence duties payable for fishing licences in the Foyle area for 1984. I am satisfied that the commission are continuing to do everything possible to keep their annual deficit to a minimum consistent with fulfilling their obligations under the Foyle Fisheries Acts to conserve and manage the fisheries in the Foyle area.
Turning to forestry, the gross amount allocated for forestry development in the 1984 Estimates, about £47 million, is an indication of the importance which the Government attach to the development of an indigenous natural resource and also of their commitment, notwithstanding current constraints, to maintain the level of funds for forestry at the highest possible level. Despite the efforts made over the years to encourage an expansion of the private forestry, the State plantations still account for over 80 per cent of the afforestated area of the country. The total area of land held by the Forest and Wildlife Service will in the near future exceed 400,000 hectares, of which some 350,000 hectares will have been afforested. Expenditure on forestry activities is largely on goods and services within the country and the import content is low, with the result that a very positive contribution to the gross national product is made by the State afforestation programme.
The acquisition of land for planting continues to be a primary concern. After taking account of the carry-over from 1983 of £1 million, there will be some £4½ million available in the grant-in-aid for land purchase for forestry in the current year. At present the area for which price agreement has been reached with vendors stands at over 9,200 hectares — 23,000 acres — and it is expected that a substantial proportion of this land will come into the possession of the Forest and Wildlife Service in the course of the year. It is also gratifying to know that offers of land representing an aggregate area of some 12,000 hectares — 30,000 acres — are at present at various stages of investigation.
I aim to reverse as quickly as possible the unsatisfactory situation that has arisen in recent years in regard to the reserve of plantable land and thereby enable the Forest and Wildlife Service to increase and accelerate its planting programme.
I am also keenly aware of the necessity for a greater involvement in forestry by the private sector. As I mentioned earlier, the progress of private forestry to date has been disappointing despite the existence of financial assistance and a free technical advisory service.
As far as I am concerned, I regard private forestry as being generally complementary to and not in conflict with the State afforestation programme. My main reservation in this regard would relate to properties bought for private planting which could more appropriately be incorporated in existing State forests to facilitate their more efficient management. Indeed, in a country which — in terms of soil and climate — has such tremendous natural advantages for growing trees, it is a great pity that such a vast amount of land, which is marginal for agriculture but eminently suitable for forestry, is still left unplanted, especially when the incentives to which I have referred are so readily available.
I hope very soon to introduce some innovations which should lead to an expansion of the national afforestation programme through a more positive participation by private landowners.
Undoubtedly the most exciting aspect of the afforestation programme is that the results of the planting undertaken over several decades are now becoming evident as the State forests begin to mature. At the same time we should not be deluded into thinking that there is an over-abundance of timber in the country. We cannot ignore the fact that some two-thirds of the State forests are still under 20 years of age and not producing marketable produce in the form of thinnings much less the more profitable sawlog.
Nevertheless the prospects for the remaining part of the century are extremely encouraging, with the total output of timber doubling during the present decade and re-doubling to over 3 million cubic metres by the end of the nineties. The disposal and utilisation of this indigenous natural resource will provide substantial opportunities in the spheres of revenue generation, employment creation and import substitution.
There has been a good deal of criticism in recent times — much of it unjustified — about the disposal of State-owned timber and from time to time various suggestions are made for improving our marketing arrangements. A lot of the criticism is based on a misunderstanding of the situation and a lack of appreciation of the fact that timber is not a homogenous product but rather a commodity with three different elements, namely, pulpwood, small sawlog and large sawlog, each with different end uses.
The problem — especially in relation to the sawlog sector — is not so much a marketing one as a need to cater for increasing demand within a limited supply. Indeed as regards the current annual production of either sawlog or pulpwood by the Forest and Wildlife Service there is really no marketing difficulty. Sawlog production is fully committed to existing sawmills for some years ahead. As the total capacity of the mills exceeds the national sawlog supply, no sophisticated marketing strategy is needed at this juncture. Needless to say, that does not mean that we should not be looking ahead and planning for the future.
The real marketing opportunity, as I see it, lies in the area of sawnwood. With prices of imported sawnwood tending to rise steadily in recent months there is a major opportunity for the sawmill industry to consolidate and expand its market share of construction timbers. To this end, constantly higher standards of accurate dimensional sawing, drying and presentation, coupled with prudent cost production schedules and commitment to meeting specifiers' deadlines are the essential ingredients for market success. From meetings I have had with the saw-milling industry I am quite confident that the progressive mills recognise the economic opportunities for Irish timber on both home and export markets and are gearing their operations accordingly.
An inter-departmental committee, representative of the Department of Finance, the Department of Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism and my Department, are at present reviewing sale procedures to identify how best the flow of sawlog can be improved for those mills geared to achieve greater efficiency and profitability and to secure a bigger share of the vast constructional sawnwood market with its added vital dimension of import substitution.
Arising from a recent mention once again of timber being exported at £1 per ton, may I kill that ill-founded notion once and for all. On a previous occasion in this House, I have clarified this matter. I am surprised to find the subject being raised once more in certain quarters. I do not propose to go over the ground in detail but let me say categorically that these temporary exports were fully justified at the time from both the silvicultural and economic standpoints.
The £1 per ton was not the export price: it was a price paid for young thinnings standing in the forest. At the point of export, the price would have been nearer to £25 a ton. These exports were for a limited period only and provided a valuable short-term outlet for excess pulpwood at a particularly critical time in Irish forestry. They also provided many jobs in harvesting and transport as well as earning valuable foreign currency. I hope that we have now heard the last of this type of misguided and out-of-date complaint which, in my view, borders on the mischievous.
On the wood processing side, I am glad to see that production at the new MDF plant in Clonmel is well on schedule. I am very impressed by the company's market approach and I am confident that this new mill will afford a secure market for a large proportion of the thinnings from the State forests and for the residues produced by the sawmill sector, so crucial for the viability of the sawmills.
I hope that there will be an early and satisfactory resolution of the difficulties of the chipboard mill in Scarriff. My Department are co-operating actively with the IDA and the Receiver in efforts to find a purchaser with the requisite technical expertise and investment potential to operate the plant on a viable basis. As a Deputy for a western county who fully realises the basic necessity for infrastructural development, I need hardly say that I am only too well aware of the trauma caused by the closure of the factory but I do not believe that acrimonious public debate on the merits or otherwise of selective accounting figures can serve any useful purpose. Indeed I fear that it could be prejudicial to the success of current efforts to secure the basis of a viable industry in Scarriff.
I know that the House, and, in particular, Deputies from County Cork, are concerned over the failure last year of Home Grown Timber Ltd. in Fermoy. Indeed, local Deputies from all parties have quite justifiably sought to have all necessary steps taken to have it taken over and reopened as soon as possible. I can assure the House that both the Receiver and the IDA have, in the meantime, elicited quite a degree of interest in this mill. In addition, I and my Minister of State and officials of my Department have met the Receiver and several interested parties and assured them of my Department's wholehearted co-operation in the matter. While, contrary to any impression conveyed in the media, no absolute guarantee of supplies could be given in specific instances I am very hopeful that the Receiver will find a purchaser for this valuable mill which will help the employment situation in the area.
In that regard, I should like to say——