Adjournment Debate. - EC Aid for County Cavan.

I should like to thank the Chair for permitting me to raise this important matter on the Adjournment and to thank the Minister for Finance for attending the debate. My question related to the grant of £800,000 which Cavan County Council expected to receive this year from the ERDF Border Gas Pipeline Fund designated for the Border region. To date that grant has not been paid and there is great concern among the officials and members of Cavan County Council about the delay in doing that. Work commenced on the strength of the promise to pay that grant, which was indicated to us at our January estimates meeting. In the mid-eighties it was proposed to bring Kinsale gas to Belfast and our Government, the Northern Ireland authorities, the British Government and the EC got involved in the programme. A fund of £24.5 million was established; but, unfortunately, the proposal fell by the wayside when the British Government pulled out and the fund lay dormant.

In late 1987 it came to my attention that the fund could be used for road improvements or projects related to tourism in the Border region. I tabled a question to the Minister for Finance on 3 May 1988 and asked him the amount of money made available for tourism related projects from the EC fund originally designated for the gas pipeline from Dublin to Belfast, the projects which will be undertaken with this money and their location, and to include allocations for county roads as important tourist related projects. In a further question I asked the Minister for Finance the counties which will qualify. In the course of his reply the Minister said:

Approximately £8 million in ERDF aid is earmarked for tourism under the programme for the Border areas of Ireland. The counties concerned are: Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth.

The submissions received from local authorities in connection with this programme greatly exceeded what could be funded with the amount available. The local authorities concerned were therefore invited to identify priority projects. The revised submissions which have been received are now being examined with a view to drawing together a coherent set of projects which enhances the tourism potential of the area as a whole. This will include both directly tourism-related amenities and county roads which provide access for tourists.

At our estimates meeting in January last year I was delighted to hear that the Minister, and the then Minister for Tourism and Transport, had notified the council that they would receive £750,000 from the fund. That money was more than welcome and was spent on a road from Killeshandra to Crossdoney taking in the Killykeen Forest Park, the focal point for the tourism related project. The forest park is an outstanding development that was undertaken by the former Deputy for my constituency, Mr. Tom Fitzpatrick, when he was Minister for Lands, but the roads to it were in such a disgraceful condition that the tourists were reluctant to use the facilities to the full. Indeed, local people were reluctant to use the roads. The project proved to be an excellent success and the council were highly commended.

At the time we were informed that the project would last between two and three years and that we could look forward to a further contribution in 1990. At our estimates meeting in January, a meeting that was long drawn out and at which we failed to strike a rate, it was indicated that a further £800,000 would be made available. That represented the second contribution under the gas pipeline fund. However, that money has not been paid, although on the strength of the commitment the council prepared a programme. In fact, it was hoped that the council would benefit to the tune of £1 million. In my view we are entitled to the additional money because of the six Border counties. I do not know how Sligo was classified as a Border county. Cavan and Monaghan have greater road problems than any other county in the country. That has been accepted by the Departments of Finance and the Environment.

What about my own county?

The Minister looked after his own county quite well and I congratulate him for doing that.

Not well enough, they tell me.

I do not think the fund should have been divided in six equal parts. In my view Cavan and Monaghan were entitled to more than Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim or Louth. In fact, Louth benefited enormously from many EC projects. We are entitled to a minimum of £1 million this year. On 4 July I tabled a question to the Minister in relation to the fund and he indicated that he was looking at a further balance of the original sum of £24.5 million of the remaining £5 million. There is confusion there but I am not talking about the balance of £5 million, which to me represents a second phase of the £24.5 million allocated for various projects. I am talking about the second phase of the first instalment of £8 million, not the first phase of the second instalment of £5 million. There is confusion in the Minister's Department about that.

It appears that the Minister has not decided what he intends doing with the balance of £5 million that was left aside to bring a gas pipeline from Louth to Sligo. To be honest, I do not see any benefit in that for the immediate Border region. The project should be abandoned and the money used for the improvements of roads and infrastructure that would help to develop the tourism industry in that region. Will the Minister give me an indication that he will clear up the confusion about the £800,000 we understood we would be receiving from the fund? If he cannot do so, he will have to explain what happened to this money. Was it siphoned off for some other project? There is no doubt in my mind that that money is available. I cannot stand idly by while my county is being denied this badly needed grant——

The Deputy might now bring his speech to a close.

——at a time when we are undertaking a major programme of road improvements which has the full support of the people of County Cavan and those who visit it.

I hope I will be able to clear up some of the confusion. I have been advised that the council have received all moneys due to them for 1988. I also understand that they have received an advance of the money due to them for 1989, even though the final amount has not been finalised. As the money becomes available from the ERDF fund, they will receive what is owed to them.

In relation to the sum of money, £5 million, to which the Deputy referred, which has yet to be allocated, a feasibility study was carried out by Bord Gáis on the basis that 50 per cent of the cost would be recouped from Brussels. As the Deputy is aware, under the new Structural Fund regulations and the Community support framework, it is possible to obtain between 70 per cent and 75 per cent for such a project if the Commission decide to grant aid it. We have had many meetings with the Commission and informed them of the results of the feasibility study. However, we were asked to have a number of further questions examined in a further study, taking into account the higher level of grant available, to see if this would alter the picture. As I said, the money has not yet been allocated and we are pressing the Commission to have the matter finalised.

The matter may be complicated by the new programmes being put together by the Commission, Comprising of what are termed unallocated resources. One of these programmes will be known as INTERREG. We have held discussions with the Commission to see if they would be willing to grant aid a project to pipe gas from a gas field in the United Kingdom to here under another of the programmes. Such a pipeline could present us with a number of opportunities if such a project were to be grant aided. We do not know yet whether it will be, as the matter has not been finalised with the Commission.

The Deputy also made reference to tourism projects, but these may be grant aided under many other programmes. We then come to the cross Border programme, comprising unallocated funds, or, to put it more simply, additional structural funds. Some of my officials are in Brussels today to try to finalise what is known as the peripherality programme.

When the expenditure accounts for 1989 under the ERDF are finalised some money will be due to Cavan County Council. I am not aware of what the exact figure will be, but I think I have brought the Deputy right up to date about the position in relation to the sum of £5 million. I hope there will be no misunderstanding about this matter. The Deputy expressed the view tonight that this money could best be spent on a gas pipeline; but we fail to see, given 50 per cent aid, what economic benefits would accrue as a result. Nevertheless, we were obliged to carry out a feasibility study. It is our view, which is shared by local authorities in the Border region, that the money would best be spent on other projects. In view of this, some of the local authorities — including, I think, Cavan County Council — have suggested projects to be grant aided once the allocation is finalised. As the sum to be allocated has not yet been finalised, the projects submitted remain to be considered. I hope that this has cleared the matter up for the Deputy.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 13 July 1990.