asked the Minister for Finance the amount of the European Regional Fund which has been spent in Kerry; the amount for the past five years; and the portion of the total spent on industrial development.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - European Regional Fund.
As I indicated in my reply to the Deputy on 28 February 1985 it is not altogether meaningful to speak of receipts from the European Regional Development Fund being spent in a particular area. Receipts from the Fund are paid to the Exchequer as partial reimbursement of expenditure already made through the Public Capital Programme on projects approved for Regional Fund aid and are used to increase the overall level of resources available for further regional development through the Public Capital Programme. Since the Fund was set up in 1975 a total of about £IR14 million has been allocated from the Fund in respect of expenditure in County Kerry under the Public Capital Programme. The amounts for 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1984 were IR£0.903 million, IR£0.671 million, IR£1.818 million, IR£2.150 million and IR£5.795 million respectively. The portion of the total since 1975 allocated for industrial development was IR£3.121 million.
The Minister referred correctly to the practice having been that the Regional Fund moneys are utilised in ease of the Exchequer. Would he not agree with me that that is entirely a wrong principle, one to which the Commission objects very strongly in both our case and the case of other countries? Will he not agree that these moneys would be far better utilised if they were spent through agencies here rather than being channelled into the Exchequer in ease of Exchequer difficulties and used by the Exchequer to reduce its liabilities to areas like County Kerry and elsewhere throughout the country?
No. The short answer is that I would not agree to any of that. The funds are not, as Deputy Lenihan alleges, being used by the Exchequer to ease its own liabilities to Kerry or anywhere else. The resources available from the Regional Fund increase the total amount available in this country for regional development purposes. I do not agree that the system we use is a bad one. Numbers of my predecessors, including Deputy Fitzgerald who is sitting over there, took the same view. I do not detect anything in the record that suggests that Deputy Fitzgerald was agitating for a different way of doing things while he held the office which I now have the honour to hold.
The Minister did not look through the record very carefully.
On the final part of Deputy Lenihan's question, let me point out that it is a condition of Regional Fund aid that part of the funding for the project in question be made available by the national Exchequer of the recipient country so that in any case there has to be an input from the recipient country. The process Deputy Lenihan is suggesting we adopt would complicate things unnecessarily and probably — a very distinct probability — would reduce the efficiency of the planning of the Public Capital Programme.
Would the Minister not agree, as outlined in his document published the other day — the receipts document for the first half of this year — that including a line relating to the European Development Fund under Exchequer receipts merely amounts to a simple transfer grant from the Community to the Exchequer and bears no relationship whatever to what should be a regional development policy?
No, I do not agree. It seems inevitable and properly in keeping with the most elementary principles of a country if the Exchequer receives funding that that be properly recorded in that table but, of course, the Deputy is looking at the other side of the table which shows how the moneys are expended from the Exchequer. The fact that receipts from the ERF are included in that table in that manner has no bearing and makes no comment on the way in which the policy works.
Is it not a simple transfer of the regional development——
If the Deputies will have a quick look at the question they will see that it refers to the expenditure of moneys in County Kerry.
The Minister is broadening it.
The Minister provoked me——
I will have to get the Minister and the rest of you back to County Kerry.
The Minister provoked me into asking a question.
I am sorry, I cannot allow the question to be broadened into a wide general discussion on the expenditure of EC funds.
I will confine it to Kerry. The sentiments expressed by my colleague are so right. I appreciate that the Minister has no local authority experience, that he is not a member of a local authority, but will he accept from me that the principle as operated by the Minister for Finance be it himself or any predecessor and the Department of Finance, is not in the best interests of the infrastructural development of counties like Kerry, simply because the authority best equipped to handle that development is the local authority, in this case the Kerry County Council? Rather than what is happening at present with basically the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance keeping reins on the development, will he not accept that the infrastructural needs of counties like Kerry, far removed from the centre, are far greater than the infrastructural needs of the immediate Dublin area? Will he not accept that there is a need to change the system which has continued since the Regional Fund was first introduced?
I cannot agree with the view being taken today by Deputy Fitzgerald, a view he did not take in an earlier office he held.
I would ask the Minister to prove that.
It is one of my regrets that at the moment — and I expect for quite some time — I am statute barred from experience of local authorities, but then life is long and God is good and one never knows what might happen. I do not agree that the most appropriate way of handling these funds would be in the manner suggested by Deputy Fitzgerald.
The Commission would disagree.
The Commission carry out their own lobbying and we will discuss everything constructively with the Commission. It is not the case that local authorities have a comprehensive role or would be given a comprehensive role under the Government's very constructive decentralisation proposals, and even less under the rag of a proposal that came out from the Opposition, in the generation and carrying through of the kind of projects which are covered by the Regional Development Fund. In many cases the local authority do not have a direct function in that matter so it would be totally inappropriate to carry out that suggestion. Neither is it the case, as Deputy Fitzgerald was trying to claim, that the system of allocating Regional Fund moneys and accounting for them amounts to the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance keeping reins on development. In the nature of the fund regulation, with which I am sure the Deputy is fully familiar, the projects have to conform to a certain number of criteria laid down by Council regulation, with which we have agreed.
But not by the Department of Finance.
Bluster is no answer to proper analysis. Our experience up to now has been that in every year we have had more than enough qualifying projects in order to be able to take up our total entitlement from the Regional Development Fund. It is not a case of projects being reined in. We have more projects than are required to take up our total entitlement. It is a question of ensuring that our own action through the Public Capital Programme gives the maximum support and uses our entitlement from the Regional Fund to the maximum benefit.
I am calling Deputy Jimmy Leonard and then moving to the next question.
Would the Minister not agree that there is a restriction on many projects which do not qualify on the criteria laid down? It is about time that the Minister examined the criteria used so that there will be a spread between projects submitted by individuals, communities or groupings and those which have been examined and approved by the Department of Finance. We had several laudable projects which would have given great benefit and required very little Exchequer input. It has been accepted by European Parliament officials who came here that projects from individuals and communities should be examined.
If the Deputies opposite are going to start off with this old claptrap about Ministers for Finance and the Department of Finance, they might as well forget about it and go home because they are only obstructing the giving of a proper answer to Deputy Leonard. It is not true that there are projects which have been turned down and which would have benefited from assistance from the Regional Fund with very little input from the Exchequer. It is a condition of qualification for assistance from the Regional Fund that there be a substantial Exchequer contribution from the recipient country. There is no case where it can be said that projects have not been assisted from the Regional Fund although they would not have cost the Exchequer money. That cannot happen under the regulations. Given the fact that we always have enough projects to use up our total entitlement, if we were to switch from one project to another or bring in a project which had not been foreseen for participation, the result would be that a similar project would be pushed out. As long as we produce enough projects to use up our total entitlement from the Regional Fund, it does not particularly matter which projects are in and which projects are out for the purpose of the Regional Fund.
It matters for the counties we represent.
It does matter whether those projects are in the Public Capital Programme. That programme is bigger each year by the amount we receive from the European Regional Development Fund.
May I ask a very short question.
I am sorry, Deputy, I have discretion on this. I must have regard to the other people who were lucky enough to draw questions. There is no use in their drawing questions if they are to be obliterated.