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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 May 1996

Vol. 465 No. 4

Supplementary Estimates 1996. - Vote 42: Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Revised Estimate).

I move:

Go ndeonófar suim forlíontach suim nach mó ná £40,459,000 chun íochta an mhuirir a thiocfaidh chun bheith iníochta i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31u lá de Nollaig, 1996 le haghaidh tuarastail agus costais Oifig an Aire Ealaíon, Cultúir agus Gaeltachta, le haghaidh seirbhísí áirithe a riarann an Oifig sin, lena n-áiritear deontais le haghaidh tithe agus ildeontais-i-gcabhair.

Is cúis sásaimh dom an Meastachán Forlíontach seo a thabhairt os comhair na Dála. Is é atá i gceist san aistriú cistíochta seo ó Vóta Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí go dtí Vóta mo Roinne-se — aistriú a bhfuil aontú na Dála á lorg agam na leith — ná an chéim dheiridh san atheagrú riaracháin atá ar siúl i ndáil le cúrsaí oidhreachta.

The heritage services of the Office of Public Works have grown rapidly in recent years. While the Office of Public Works had responsibility for national monuments, the Shannon Navigation, Phoenix Park and St. Stephen's Green from the last century, these were regarded as peripheral to its main functions until about 1970 when a unit with a distinct conservation role was established. The unit was called the National Parks and Monuments Service.

In 1986, with the enactment of the Canals Act and the transfer of the Grand and Royal Canals from CIE to the Office of Public Works, a new waterways service was created to deal with the management of the canals and the Shannon Navigation.

In 1987 the wildlife service was transferred from the Department of Tourism, Fisheries and Forestry to the Office of Public Works and shortly afterwards the National Parks and Wildlife Service was created. We, therefore, now have three arms to the heritage service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service dealing with the natural heritage, National Monuments and Historic Properties dealing with the built heritage and the waterways service dealing with inland waterways.

These three services constitute a large administrative unit with a total staff of the order of 1,000 full-time and 250 seasonal personnel and a total gross budget of the order of £49,000,000 per annum. As Deputies are aware these services have produced magnificent practical work. Deputies on all sides of the House have paid tribute to that work and I would like to pay tribute to the personnel involved.

However, it was not until the establishment of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht at the beginning of 1993 that the question of ministerial responsibility for heritage policy was addressed. The position at that stage was that statutory responsibility was divided in a most confusing manner between the Minister for Finance and the Commissioners of Public Works. For instance, in the cases of wildlife and the Botanic Gardens total responsibility was vested in the Minister for Finance. In other cases, particularly waterways and national monuments, responsibility rested in the main with the Commissioners with some responsibility being reserved to the Minister for Finance while in other cases, such as the Phoenix Park, the Commissioners had responsibilities but were subject to the general directions of the Minister for Finance. To complete the picture of statutory confusion I must mention Páirc Náisiúnta An Bhlascaoid Mhóir for which the Commissioners of Public Works had general responsibility but who required the consent of the Minister for the Gaeltacht for certain actions. The powers of the Minister for the Gaeltacht are now, of course, included in the statutory powers of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht agus ceapaim féin go bhfuil an Ghaeltacht aitheanta, mar sin, mar bhunchloch oidhreacht ár dtíre.

The establishment of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht provided the opportunity of addressing the confusion and integrating policies for the heritage with those for analogous functions which had been brought together in the new Department. On 9 February 1993 the then Government agreed that the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht be assigned responsibility for the formulation and development of future policy in relation to inland waterways, national parks and wildlife and national monuments and historic properties. On foot of that decision, a heritage policy unit was established in my Department staffed by personnel transferred from the Office of Public Works.

Following discussion which I had with the then Minister of State at the Department of Finance on the process for determining how the Government decision could best be implemented, a joint proposal was submitted to Government who agreed it on 2 June 1993 and who also decided to set up a working group consisting of officials of my Department and of the Office of Public Works to identify the policy matters proper to the Department and to recommend working arrangements whereby the Government decision would be implemented in practice.

The working group produced two alternative sets of arrangements, neither of which, unfortunately, was acceptable to all concerned. In November 1993 the Government decided to appoint a larger interdepartmental group which included representatives of the Department of Finance and of the Attorney General but this too failed to come up with an acceptable solution. The fundamental difficulty lay in the fact that the Commissioners were vested with certain statutory functions which were difficult to reconcile with my responsibility for policy which had no statutory base and while I was prepared to work within these constraints others saw serious practical difficulties in any such arrangement.

Against this background the policy agreement for A Government of Renewal provided in December 1994 that the Office of Public Works would be restructured on a phased basis, including, inter alia, the transfer of appropriate functions to my Department. In particular, it provided for the transfer of the responsibilities of the Minister for Finance in relation to heritage to me and this was effected by means of statutory instruments on 20 December 1994 and 2 March 1995. It also provided for the amendment of the Heritage Bill which was then before the Oireachtas by stating that the functions of the Commissioners under legislation relating to heritage should be performed by them subject to the general directions in writing of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht of the day. The Heritage Bill with this amendment became law in April 1995.

While the new arrangements which followed from these statutory changes were an improvement, there still remained a disjointed and complex division of responsibilities which produced practical difficulties despite the efforts of all concerned to make them work effectively. In the circumstances the Minister for Finance and I agreed that it was necessary to remove the ambiguity which was inherent in the existing arrangements to establish an optimum structure for the management of the heritage. On 19 September 1995 the Government decided to transfer to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht by Government order, in accordance with section 9 of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, 1924, the statutory powers of the Commissioners of Public Works under specified heritage legislation.

Deputies will be aware that the policy agreement A Government of Renewal also provided that consideration be given to the creation of an inland waterways authority which would have responsibility for effective North-South arrangements for the management of all navigable waterways on the island. The Government, accordingly, set up a high level interdepartmental steering group to prepare the implementation of the transfer of functions from the Office of Public Works to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and to consider the question of an inland waterways authority.

The group's report has been received and presented to Government. Two Statutory Instruments were made on 12 March 1996. The principal order, S.I. No. 61 of 1996, transferred the statutory functions of the Commissioners of Public Works in relation to the heritage to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The other order, S.I. No. 62 of 1996, transferred from the Minister for Finance to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht certain powers under the Shannon Navigation Act, 1990, which had been omitted from the earlier transfer order of 2 March 1995.

With regard to inland waterways, the group recommended that any organisational arrangements adopted for the management of inland waterways should facilitate the conversion of such organisation into a statutory waterways authority with minimal disruption and drafted a scheme of a Bill to give effect to its recommendations. I hope to introduce such a Bill in the House in due course.

The North-South dimension will have to be a matter for discussion between the political heads of the relevant Departments, North and South. In the meantime the group recommended that, pending such developments, the precursor waterways organisation should form part of the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

The Supplementary Estimate, which I am placing before the House for its approval, is to enable funds to be transferred from the Vote for the Office of Public Works to my Department's Vote for the new heritage service being established within the Department as recommended by the steering group. I am satisfied these arrangements will not only remove the ambiguity to which I referred, but will give a clearer sense of identity and sharper focus to the Heritage Service staff and provide an integrated framework for the formulation of heritage policy and its implementation. Nil aon amhras orm go mbeidh na struchtúir nua a ndearna mé tagairt dóibh cúpla nóiméad ó shin éifeachtach, soiléir agus solúbtha chomh maith amach anseo.

This is the final stage in the reorganisation of the administrative arrangements for the heritage. The first step was the setting up of a Heritage Policy Unit in my Department; the second was the appointment of a statutory Heritage Council following the enactment of the Heritage Act, 1995, and the third is the establishment of the Heritage Service within my Department.

The Heritage Council has the task of providing independent advice and assistance to voluntary organisations, local authorities and private individuals on heritage issues and will prepare, for my consideration, policies and priorities on the heritage. It also has a role in regard to the protection of heritage buildings in public ownership.

It is useful to reflect on the elements of a heritage strategy and where they fit in. I have described the Heritage Council with its much stronger role as statutory, but it will be able to liaise with the groups mentioned. The Heritage Policy Unit formulates and develops policy and legislation, whether on the basis of recommendations from the council or any other source or as necessity and European Union requirements demand. The Heritage Service will be responsible for the management of heritage properties in State care and, generally, for the implementation of legislation and policy on the heritage, apart from those areas within the executive function of the council. These three units will provide a co-ordinated approach to the heritage which will ensure there is a structured system of policy formulation and a clear identity and focus to the implementation of heritage policy.

The Supplementary Estimate I am presenting for the approval of the House is for a net total of £40,459,000 in respect of the Heritage Service being transferred to my Department following the Government Order of 12 March 1996. It is, in effect, the pro rata amount for the period 13 March to 31 December 1996 of the provision in Vote 10, Office of Public Works, for heritage services in the current year.

A total of £5,613,000 is required for the administration budget, that is, subheads A1 to A7. This represents the salaries and associated costs of approximately 250 staff for the period in question.

Subhead Q — miscellaneous services at visitor centres — for which £130,000 is sought is the cost of providing certain services at visitor centres for which charges are made. There is a contra provision in Appropriations-in-Aid of £157,000. Subhead R1 — maintenance and supplies — for which £130,000 is sought is for the maintenance of various visitor centres. Subhead R2 — Heritage Service publications — for which £186,000 is sought is for the cost of producing various guide books, published inventories, etc. I compliment the Heritage Service on the great quality and diversity of its publications. Several new site booklets will be published this year, including guides for Glenveagh National Park, Céide Fields, Corlea Bog, the Boyne Valley, Dublin Castle, Phoenix Park, Glendalough and Ormond Castle. In addition, new information leaflets, posters and post cards are planned.

A guide or information service will be provided this year at 54 heritage sites throughout the country where approximately two million visitors are expected. This operation provides full-time employment for 26 staff and seasonal employment for about 250.

A sum of £6,933,000 is required for subhead S — National Parks and Wildlife Service. This includes £3,678,000 for capital services and £3,315,000 for current services.

The ongoing work of the National Parks and Wildlife Service includes the conservation of five national parks and 76 nature reserves. Management plans for four national parks are being prepared i.e. Burren, Wicklow Mountains, Connemara and Glenveagh and seven nature reserves. The draft management plan for the Burren has been completed and I have sought the views of the public on its proposals.

A study has been carried out on a proposed national park in north-west Mayo which I hope to launch very shortly. A study is also being conducted on a future strategy for Doneraile Park. I hope that this, too, will be completed in the near future.

More than £2,000,000 is being provided for the acquisition of lands of special ecological importance and £500,000 for the midlands raised bog restoration programme.

A sum of £8,941,000 is required for subhead T — inland waterways — of which £4,740,000 is capital and £4,201,000 is current.

There are a number of projects being undertaken on the Shannon Navigation, including the extension of navigation on the River Suck to Ballinsaloe, on the Boyle River to the town of Boyle and to Sarsfield Lock in Limerick. I recently opened the extension of the navigation to Lough Allen. On the Shannon-Erne waterway, which has been a great success additional moorings are proposed for Keshkerrigan.

Work is proceeding on the Grand Canal where the new sealock gates at Ringsend were recently completed. The corridor study task force under the chairmanship of Senator Pat Magner is working hard at revitalising the Dublin stretch of the canal. It is receiving great co-operation from the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland which recently held a very successful rally in Dublin. This partnership between the State, voluntary and community groups has blossomed. This is welcome.

A sum of £886,000 is being provided for works on the Royal Canal in the current year as part of the project for the complete restoration of the navigation from Dublin to the Shannon. I expect that work will commence this year on the Tralee Ship Canal and the marina in the Claddagh Basin in Galway.

A sum of £771,000 is required under subhead U for conservation works funded from the national lottery. Of this, £271,000 is for the final payments on the new museum which I recently opened at Kilmainham Gaol. I congratulate the curator, Pat Cooke, and the team who assisted him in this magnificent project. The remaining £500,000 is to meet the commitment made to contribute towards the cost of restoring the telescope and associated works at Birr Castle.

In subhead V, £20,361,000 is sought for national monuments and historic properties of which £10,701,000 is capital and £9,660,000 is current expenditure. Capital works are being undertaken at almost 40 sites throughout the country. Many of these are EU aided projects. The largest project is the Boyne Visitor Centre due to be opened next year. Extensive works are also being done at Trim Castle, Rathfarnham Castle and at Castletown, County Kildare. Conservation work will continue at various national monuments and historic parks, most of it done by the direct labour staff who have, over the years, built up an enviable reputation for the quality of their work. I paid tribute to it when I first became a Member of the Seanad more than 25 years ago and I do so again today. It is admired by everybody.

Work will continue on the archaeological and architectural inventories. This is an essential prerequisite to the process of providing protection to our built heritage. Very good progress has been made in recent years on the archaeological inventory and there is a sites and monuments record now for every county. It is important however that fieldwork should continue to provide definitive descriptions and records of all visible monuments. These records form the basis for the system of protection which is provided under section 12 of the National Monuments (Amendment) Act, 1994.

The architectural inventory is being reviewed by the interdepartmental committee which the Minister for the Environment and I established last year to look at this issue and the question of providing statutory protection to listed buildings. I hope to receive the report of that committee in the next month or so.

These various subheads come to a gross total of £43,125,000. There are offsetting Appropriations-in-Aid of £2,666,000 which is made up for the most part of receipts at various heritage centres.

This brings to an end a very long process in the arrangement and strengthening of the heritage services. Legislation is one matter but administrative structures are another. Much depends on the co-operation of the public whose heritage it is. I hope the arrangements will be seen to be successful. What we are doing today is almost pro forma, transferring moneys voted to the Office of Public Works to the Department which will be in charge of providing the services.

Dá réir sin, molaim an Meastachán Forlíontach seo d'oll-shuim £40,459,000 don Teach agus tá súil agam go nglacfaidh an Teach leis.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate this issue today. There was an attempt to transfer some of the powers of the Office of Public Works to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht without debate and it is only due to the efforts of the Fianna Fáil Party that this debate is taking place. The Office of Public Works is the State manager of heritage and the debate on the funding of heritage is the first opportunity to discuss heritage policy. We in this House have been starved of the opportunity to discuss the issue of heritage. Since the Minister took office he has attempted to control heritage in such a way that the Office of Public Works had to fight to retain its management function. When Fianna Fáil was in power the Minister had control over policy but not management. It was during this Government the battle lines were drawn and the Minister resolved to bring the Office of Public Works to its knees. Some view his treatment of the Office of Public Works as a vendetta against those who had the audacity to oppose his view.

Morale in the Office of Public Works is at an all time low. Those interested and committed to heritage look on in dismay as the Minister is interested in any acquisition to soothe his empire-building mentality. The Minister insists on dragging the Office of Public Works into the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht without forward planning or vision for the future. The proposal to bring the Office of Public Works under the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht would be fine if it was in the context of a well researched, thought-out plan. Instead what we are faced with today is the worst of all worlds, where the heritage divisions of State are being separated from their natural partners.

What the Minister is proposing is a fractured heritage service. Most heritage functions are now with the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, but some core services such as engineering, arterial drainage, property management and archaeological services remain within the Office of Public Works under the Department of Finance. These specialist elements, which are so necessary for the promotion of our heritage, will no longer be available to provide an integrated approach to heritage management as heretofore. If we take the example of our inland waterways, the engineering and arterial drainage sections, which are vital, will no longer come under the same Department. There will be the ludicrous position where the Office of Public Works will be under the same roof as the sections which have been transferred to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, but they will no longer be able to consult each other. That will lead to the employment of consultants, creating further financial burdens.

Who said so?

In regard to inland waterways there is a need for a co-ordinated strategy. A number of studies have been carried out on the Grand Canal, Royal Canal and Ulster Canal, but there is not an overall plan. Funding is offered on a piecemeal basis to various projects. Although there is a plethora of local authority and tourism organisations, an overall strategy is needed for the Shannon as there is no authority with responsibility for it.

We have not been told the terms of reference of the interdepartmental committee. The only reference to it this morning was to its failure to come up with an overall approach that would appease the Minister with regard to the transfer of further powers to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. We need a full and proper debate on State management of heritage as the Minister has no overall strategy and seems to act only on the spur of the moment. There is much confusion and lack of cohesion in the Government's approach to heritage. The Minister seems to have no overall grasp of what is possible and what he can deliver on.

This morning the Minister took the opportunity to outline the tremendous work the Office of Public Works has done in the past and is continuing to do. I will refer to some of the projects that deserve mention in a debate such as this. We are all aware of the refurbishment in Dublin Castle, of which the nation can be proud. That project was instigated under Mr. Haughey as Taoiseach. We also welcome the major project for the National Museum which commenced in Collins Barracks, again with the support of the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charlie Haughey, and the Minister for Finance of the day, Deputy Bertie Ahern. Delays are now evident with regard to staffing and are threatening that project.

There was no proposal for Collins Barracks. I proposed it to the Government of which the Deputy's party was a member.

If the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance at the time did not agree to that proposal——

Deputy Reynolds was Taoiseach at the time.

Let us deal with the facts.

Let us give credit where it is due. Deputy Reynolds was Taoiseach at the time, not Mr. Haughey.

It is a question of credit.

No, it is not.

This is a bit like the saying, "we are all equal but some are more equal than others". The Minister does not seem to mind giving credit to others as long as the major portion of that credit goes to himself.

The Deputy left out Deputy Reynolds.

The Deputy to continue, without interruption.

We will not forget Deputy Reynolds.

The Deputy forgot about him.

I am delighted to say that in this and many other projects, such as the film industry——

He is very helpful.

He was very helpful.

Acting Chairman

Is that relevant to the subject we are debating?

With great respect to the Chair, if the Minister heckles and interrupts me I should have the opportunity to reply.

I am sorry.

Acting Chairman

The Deputy to continue, without interruption.

It is important to note some of the other proposals that have been put forward. The Royal Hospital in Kilmainham is a wonderful asset to this nation. Many conferences have been held there and our European partners have had an opportunity — no doubt they will have a similar opportunity during our Presidency — to hold meetings in that palatial building. The restoration of the Royal Hospital was instigated under a Fianna Fáil Administration by the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey.

We all rejoice in the work that has been carried out by the Office of Public Works in the Botanic Gardens. Although the Minister will try to claim credit for this also, it is important to note that it was the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Bertie Ahern, who sanctioned the improvement works there. The Minister will acknowledge it is no accident that the Botanic Gardens are of great interest to Deputy Bertie Ahern; they are not too far from his political base. The Office of Public Works has also carried out great work on Kilkenny Castle.

I made reference earlier to the importance of the canals. The Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal is a great success and provides an opportunity for people from the North and the South to get together. Again, it was Deputy Bertie Ahern who commissioned the study on the canals.

In comparing the work carried out by the Office of Public Works over the years to the Minister's achievements, one is first reminded of his goal in attempting to make the grand gesture in regard to the artefacts from the Armada. The Minister would also like to claim credit for the setting up of the Heritage Council but it is well known that former Taoisigh, Charles Haughey and Deputy Albert Reynolds, always intended that council to have a statutory basis.

The Monuments Act, 1995 was used by the Minister to transfer power to himself without doing any real homework or having a strategy for the overall approach to the question of monuments. The problems of the National Library, for example, are well documented. I took the opportunity of raising the serious issues with regard to lack of funding for the National Library in a recent debate in this House.

Despite the importance of legislation in this area, none has been forthcoming. Where is the legislation promised for some time by the Minister on national parks and heritage areas? Where is the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill which was promised on many occasions? We have been told it will be published this autumn and I encourage the Minister to ensure it is, if not beforehand.

Has the Minister complied with EU directives pertaining to his Department? The proposed National Cultural Institutions (Indemnities and Miscellanous Provisions) Bill has caused great disquiet among the professional staff of the National Museum and the National Library who do not view it as helpful to the heritage. We were promised that legislation this session and I hope we will have an opportunity to debate it and pass it before the summer recess.

Where is the Government's response to the Green Paper on Broadcasting? I realise this matter is not for debate now but I raise it to highlight the fact that while the Minister has responsibility for the whole area of broadcasting, he does not have any strategy. We were promised broadcasting legislation and we are told a White Paper will be published in the autumn. I welcome that as it is long overdue. We were told the Minister wanted to examine the submissions following the publication of the Green Paper. I agree with that procedure. The whole purpose of publishing a Green Paper is to allow for discussion and proposals to emanate from that discussion. We have had sufficient time for that discussion and yet there has been no movement on a broadcasting policy from the Government.

The Minister likes to regard the film industry as his own special interest. He has presided over and agreed to changes undermining section 35. Regardless of what the Minister might say in public about section 35, it is obvious he recognises that confusion and uncertainty abound because of the recent changes in that section. This has been demonstrated by his recent absence due to his foray into Hollywood. Such behaviour reminds me of the phrase, "rescuing defeat from victory". The Minister eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of section 35, which was put in motion by Fianna Fáil, but due to the actions of his Government he is desperately trying to cling on as that bandwagon careers at great speed downhill.

That is a fair bit of revisionism.

I make these points to highlight the fact that the Minister seems incapable of drawing up a plan and following it through calmly and decisively. That applies to all areas within his remit, including broadcasting. That plan has not emerged from the Minister's office although, to be fair to the Minister, he introduced the arts plan. The Minister will readily acknowledge that the publication of this plan was due to the excellent work and commitment of the Arts Council. The arts plan was announced by the Minister with great fanfare but, unfortunately, he did not keep his side of the bargain with regard to funding. As a result, the three year arts plan has become a five year arts plan.

The Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht is small with approximately 70 employees compared to almost 800 employees in the Office of Public Works which includes the National Parks and Wildlife Service, national monuments, historic properties, inland waterways, arterial drainage, etc. Is this a case of David trying to tame Goliath? If so, Goliath seems to be the good guy.

The piecemeal transfer of part of the Office of Public Works to the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, which we are witnessing today, is the worst of both worlds. Fianna Fáil believes that all sections of the Office of Public Works should be under one umbrella in one Department and that the Minister should have secured this for the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. In the view of the party I represent it is not sufficient to say that this may well be on the way in future years. What we need is a co-ordinated policy to help the whole area of heritage which, as the Minister stated, "will not only remove the ambiguity to which I referred, but give a clearer sense of identity and sharper focus to the Heritage Service staff and provide an integrated framework for the formulation of heritage policy and its implementation". I agree with the Minister but, unfortunately, that has not been seen through. What has been expressed here is an aspiration but we need more than well meaning aspirations. The entire Office of Public Works should have been incorporated under one umbrella which would not only have been for the betterment of the delivery of a heritage service but would have helped to rebuild the flagging morale within the Office of Public Works.

In voting on this Estimate, Fianna Fáil wishes to underline the fact that we are not against the allocation of funds for heritage within the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. We are protesting at what the Minister is doing regarding the State management of our heritage. Unfortunately, the action we are witnessing today is not a brave new dawn, as the Minister would like to portray, but a sad and messy end to a private battle he began on assuming office.

I welcome this debate on heritage matters and support the Estimate. In matters of public policy and procedures in respect of heritage what has happened to date does not reflect on any side of the House. In matters of conserving and preserving our heritage we lag far behind other European countries. A journey along the Irish coastline, beginning in the west, continuing along the coast of Donegal and on to the coast of north Antrim illustrates the difference between the two jurisdictions on this island and the attitude of the two jurisdictions to matters of heritage. Travelling along the Donegal coast one's eyes are offended by the unregulated use of caravan and camping sites, abandoned cars and ad hoc and haphazard developments of every kind. When one crosses the Border into Northern Ireland and tours the spectacularly beautiful Antrim coast, at different parts of the journey one will see signs stating: “This is a designated area protected on your behalf by the National Trust”. On that coast one will not find development of any kind on the sea side of the road, no unplanned or haphazard development and no unregulated caravan parks. I make that point because it is useful at the start of any debate on heritage matters to take our debate from where we now are and where we would like to go.

There is much emphasis these days on cross-Border development and there is much the Republic could learn from Northern Ireland. I am sure there is much Northern Ireland could also learn from the Republic but in terms of heritage there is much we could learn from the way Northern Ireland and our neighbouring island manage and maintain their heritage and how the National Trust operates successfully on behalf of the citizens in protecting and preserving the heritage for this and future generations. We have a long way to go in this country. If we acknowledge that with a certain amount of honesty and humility at the beginning of this debate, we might begin to put legislation, procedures and practices in place. There is no doubt we need better legislation. This country is crying out for proper conservation legislation which seeks to preserve and protect our built environment.

I have drafted a conservation Bill on behalf of my party which I will present in the Dáil at the first available opportunity. I will ask the Minister for his co-operation in taking what I believe to be the correct and proper principles of conservation and bringing it into law. We need to bring together all the different agencies and groups, State and voluntary, charged with looking after the environment and our heritage here. In the Republic we need an independent body, the equivalent of the National Trust in Northern Ireland, to act on behalf of the State and its citizens as a custodian of our heritage to protect and promote better management and better procedures in the protection and preservation of our heritage. As Deputy de Valera said — and I agree — too many groupings are charged with looking after what is essentially the same thing on a very small island.

Just a week ago, the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, the spokesperson on the Environment and I completed the Waste Management Bill. One of the items which is being addressed under the terms of that Bill is the question of abandoned cars and the damage inflicted on some of the most scenic parts by unauthorised dumping of every kind. I ask the Minister to take on board the fact that too many different groups and agencies are involved when what we need is strong legislation to be enforced and implemented regionally. As the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, is present I will address part of my contribution to his area of responsibility. In respect of the built environment and the manner in which public housing is maintained, some of the worst custodians are the local authorities.

I am in the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications.

Perhaps the Minister would put his energy behind the implementation of my suggestion. Some of the bodies which have inflicted the greatest destruction on our built environment are local authorities. Temple Bar Properties — a modern concept — is a recently appointed State agency. Its main aim was conservation, preservation and urban renewal which would not result in destructive demolition. Let us look at what it did.

An excellent job.

I trust the Chair will ensure that the procedures of the House are upheld. If the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Energy and Communications wishes to comment, the procedure is that he can do so at the end of the debate. Many demolitions and gutting of good buildings, elements of which ought to have been preserved and conserved, took place under the auspices of Temple Bar Properties Limited. I am deeply disappointed that this was done by a body so recently appointed which was charged specifically with conservation. Nothing better illustrates my point than the attitude of Temple Bar Properties to the Temple Bar pub — the company wanted to pull it down to put up a modern office block.

In the past week, Dublin Corporation gave permission to build a hotel in College Green. If there is one place which should be a "Grade 1", three star conservation area it is College Green, because of its magnificence, beauty, ambience and integrity, the architectural merits of its buildings and their historical associations; yet we have no law which would designate and protect it as a conservation area. The local authority decision was reduced to two options for the site, building either an hotel or an office block. Nothing better illustrates the lack of proper conservation law than this recent decision. I have finalised the drafting of a conservation Bill and will look for Government support to enact it.

We are only nibbling at the edges today. We are discussing an Estimate of £40 million for heritage business and I freely acknowledge that fine heritage projects have been planned and executed in the last few years, which is to the credit of those who designed, promoted and now manage them. Glenveagh Park, the Céide Fields and a number of other sites are gems but they have been developed on an ad hoc, once-off basis. We do not have an overall integrated approach to the preservation and protection of our heritage. That will only come when legislation is in place and local authorities and all those charged with preserving and protecting our environment, built and otherwise, enforce the legislation in their areas.

At present, matters are far too haphazard. If the built environment is a priority for a county manager, it is well maintained. The way Kilkenny city is managed is a credit to the manager and the priority of the elected members. That is a case where heritage matters are well safeguarded; I will not mention other local authorities for which these issues are not priorities. There must be a national policy, a national body and a national trust.

I am pleased the Minister has returned to the House because I have a question for him, although he may tell me to put it down for Question Time next month. One topical story today is that the ownership of the Lusitania has been determined finally and beyond doubt in the law courts.

The ownership of the vessel?

Yes, the ownership of the vessel was awarded to Mr. Bemis yesterday by court order. It was decreed that he was the sole and exclusive owner of the rights, title and interest of the Lusitania and of the hull, tackle, appurtenances, engines and apparel, so that has been determined beyond “yea” or “nay”. What action does the Minister now propose the Government should take to assert Ireland's claim to some of the contents of the wreck, particularly the exclusive right to the paintings alleged to be on board?

I mentioned the built environment. There is legislation to protect canals and waterways, which is welcome; however, as I said in a previous debate, I am not happy that there is any procedure to protect our railways. What steps has the Minister taken in relation to the points I previously made? Railways are major heritage items and an important part of our social history. The artefacts and architecture of railways, such as lovely bridges and embankments, are fine examples of Irish craftsmanship from the last century. Will the Minister consider railways, when putting in place a more integrated and comprehensive approach to the items which make up our precious heritage?

Young people must be educated in the importance of our heritage. If they intellectually or emotionally believed this heritage was theirs, they would insist that adults should put better procedures in place to protect it and they would play a stronger part in protecting it. Any attempt to downgrade the teaching of history in our formal education system or to reduce the quality and nature of the history taught would, apart from many other implications, diminish what we in this House want to do in propagating a better understanding and awareness of and appreciation for heritage. It is important that we be prepared to make any sacrifice, monetary or otherwise, to preserve our heritage and pass it on as our most important asset, apart from our young people; and we cannot possibly have a debate on heritage without stressing the need to educate young people about the fundamental importance of their heritage. This cannot be done in a serious or sustained manner if history is to be downgraded in our education system. Will the Minister make that point to the Government so that history remains a priority?

I pay tribute to the good deeds of the Board of Works down the years. Many projects it has brought to fruition are the jewels in our crown. The time has now come to streamline and co-ordinate the agencies whose remit is to protect, preserve and promote our heritage. We must have a much more co-ordinated national approach.

In the recent past, anybody who had a good idea in the middle of the night to boost the fortunes of an underdeveloped locality decided to build a heritage centre for the area. A number of heritage centres were built around the country, some of which are extremely good because they are well designed and well stocked and have added greatly to our heritage library. However, others are mediocre. We need a stronger, national overall policy. We need fewer heritage centres and the ones which exist should be better planned, executed, staffed and managed. I have visited a number of them because I am interested in these matters and the material they stock might be equally well stocked in the local branch library. We should plan future heritage centres with a broader perspective to ensure they are worthwhile and will stand the test of time for the next generation.

Preservation of our heritage is very important from the point of view of our national identity and self-respect, and the spirit of the nation. Our greatest wealth is our people, particularly our young people. I would be happy to hand over the country to the next generation if they were imbued with a sense of national pride and self-respect. People must be anchored to something and must be rooted in their heritage and past if they are to live in this complex, consumer society where all sorts of demands are made on their hearts and minds, particularly through the media, every day. It is important for young people to be rooted in their past and anchored in their traditions, from which they can then move on. It is essential for the well-being of the people of a nation that they know who they are, where they are going and how to shape a decent, human environment for themselves and their children in this technological age where human values are often devalued.

I place great importance on this debate and this Estimate, which I support. More time and attention needs to be given to this drive to conserve, promote, protect and propagate our heritage. The environment shapes our young people's attitudes, values and sense of personal dignity and self-respect when they leave the womb. We have taken it for granted for far too long. This should be the subject of strong all-party conviction and we must unite all our resources to protect and promote our heritage.

As I said at the outset, it was a matter of shame and embarrassment for me last summer and the previous summer to drive from the coast of the Irish Republic — with its carelessness about unauthorised dumping, abandoned cars, unregulated caravan and camping sites, and houses scattered all over the place — to Northern Ireland where I saw how they regulate these matters and the great work done by the National Trust. I would give my eyes to have a similar approach taken at every level in this country. If I had the resources, I would take busloads of young people to see how beautifully the Antrim coast is preserved and protected and what a gem it is, and to see what can be done when people have their priorities in order. When the State has its priorities in order, it can demand and command respect from its citizens. With due respect to Members, we have a long way to go before we bring the Republic up to that standard. However, I suggest we begin and then accelerate the journey. I support this Estimate.

It is nice to see that the Minister has quite a bit of money to spend on the arts and culture. However, I wish we had more money to spend on the matters to which Deputy Quill referred, as well as many other activities which need attention.

I have repeatedly asked questions in the House, as the Minister is aware, about the wildlife aspect of his Department and the scandalous understaffing of that section. We probably take our environment, wildlife and heritage for granted because there is so much of it. As a result, we are making some drastic mistakes. Every day we lose part of our heritage because we do not have sufficient gardeners to look after it. Species of wildlife are disappearing — being obliterated — because there are not sufficient staff to protect endangered species. In Britain and Northern Ireland they keep guard over the nests of endangered bird species to ensure they can breed and are not destroyed. A classic example of this is the golden eagle in Scotland where people have been imprisoned and heavily fined for interfering with the nests of such birds or shooting them.

We seem to assume we can destroy everything around us with impunity, which is a disgrace. I read yesterday in a national newspaper that the remains of an historic castle outside Ennis. County Clare, which is in Deputy de Valera's constituency, disappeared overnight. People do that because they know they can get away with it. If there is any possibility of a conservation order being placed on a building such as an old castle, they rush in and destroy it before the order can be placed upon it. I do not wish to be argumentative or abuse the Minister. However, he does not have, or is not providing, the resources to stop that type of activity. I have never seen anybody brought to justice for destroying our heritage or endangered species of wildlife. Our indifference is alarming and dreadful. It was brought home forcibly to me three months ago when a deputation from the game councils of Ireland attended the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and pleaded for something to be done to stop continental visitors from shooting the remaining woodcock and snipe before they are eliminated. I understand they took a High Court action against the Minister recently on this issue. They have been driven to this by despair because nothing is happening.

Approximately 50 per cent of County Waterford is mountainous. It has two major mountain ranges, the Comeragh Mountains, which stretch approximately 25 miles from Dungarvan to Clonmel, and the Knockmealdown Mountains, which border County Tipperary on the western end of the county. In addition, there are many hilly regions, such as the Drumhills. However, there is only one wildlife ranger to cover the county. It would be a joke if it were not so serious. The ranger does an excellent job but he cannot possibly be expected to oversee, guard and preserve the wildlife within the county. It would probably take a couple of dozen people to do it effectively.

The Minister has not got the money or the resources to do what is necessary to protect our heritage and wildlife. In addition, we do not have the will to address this issue. For example, the law enforcement agencies do not have the will to prosecute people who destroy our heritage, culture and wildlife because it is considered a way of life to shoot birds and animals regardless of whether they are endangered. This lack of will must be addressed. The wildlife rangers have an impossible job. Even with the best will in the world they cannot do anything like what is needed to protect our culture, heritage and wildlife.

As we keep a census of people a census of every species of bird and animal is kept in Britain and Northern Ireland. They know how many robins and swans there are, while we have no records — only educated or uneducated guesses.

Some species are not only endangered but have disappeared. We know about the corncrake because he makes a din like a soccer fan with a rattler. However, the birds or animals which do not make such a noise disappear, with nobody knowing anything about it. Weed warblers, crested wrens, the many lovely birds which were so plentiful years ago are rarely, if ever, seen. There are huge areas of the country where common birds such as skylarks no longer exist.

In view of the noise of the corncrake — he practically creates a political lobby because of the cracking sound he makes — and the emotions the bird has caused, efforts have been made at preservation in the Shannon valley, where they now exist because of natural reserves. They also exist in north County Donegal, where I heard them in recent times — by-elections educate one in many ways. Indeed, north County Donegal and north County Mayo are the only two places where they still naturally exist.

The Minister mentioned in his report that there are 76 nature reserves throughout the country. This is a step in the right direction. However, they are needed everywhere. I appeal to him to get more money for more staff. I know many young people who have a love of our way of life and the country scene who would be delighted to work in the wildlife service and to help protect and save our heritage. We are not giving them an opportunity to help. Perhaps some FÁS schemes could be directed to this area. Is it not worth trying? It has not been done because we do not care sufficiently.

There are many species which are in danger of extinction. Approximately 100 years ago the mountains and lands of this country carried a huge quantity of wildlife. Yet in 1996, with all our modern devices, with EU Structural Funds and funding from the Exchequer, we have much less wildlife and we are busily trying to extinguish what we have left.

One hundred years ago the mountain ranges teemed with birds such as woodcock, woodhens, partridges, grouse and widgeons. However, today one could walk a mountain range for hours on end without seeing one such species. Their natural habitat and feeding places have been destroyed by the over population of such mountain ranges with sheep. They depended for their feeding on the heather, buds and flowers available at this time of the year and through the summer, but their food is now being devoured by sheep. People recognise that areas of mountain have been grazed to the earth. Wildlife cannot exist in those circumstances.

Under the REP scheme people are being paid to stop intensive farming. I ask the Minister to consult the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Minister for the Environment. The name of the Department of the Environment is an abuse of the English language. It is, rather, the Department of the destruction of the environment. The word "environment" is misused and abused. We must put life back into our hills and mountains. The Minister should initiate a programme to reintroduce the species that have become extinct here. They probably still exist in Scotland where they have been protected. We should not be concerned merely with preserving the small number of endangered species that are here. Most people believe the pheasant is a native Irish bird. It was brought here from China, I think, at the beginning of the century. Therefore, we could reintroduce the species that have been eliminated. People trap-snare and put birdlime on branches to cage goldfinch, yellowhammer or any sweet singing bird, but nobody is prosecuted.

I know the Minister is concerned about this matter. I would not bother talking to any of the other Ministers about this because I know they do not give a damn about wildlife or heritage. The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht has a major streak of humanity which I am sure everyone recognises. I am not buttering him up to get a concession, this is a reality. If he does not do something about this matter, who will? While his tenure of office lasts — he is worth at least another year — I plead with him to introduce a programme to protect wildlife species, to appoint more wildlife rangers to protect the endangered species, to reintroduce those that have become extinct and stop tourists from shooting swans, songbirds and other wildlife species. Pine martens, which exist in only small sections of the country, should be reintroduced all over the country. Priceless species, that are on the verge of extinction, should be protected and, if necessary, reintroduced.

We adhere to extraordinary double standards in terms of habitats. The European Union pays people large sums of money not to cultivate the best land in the country, it is called setaside. On the other hand, we allow people to destroy the natural habitats of a large quantity of wildlife. There is no control over the draining of wetlands. The habitats of duck, snipe, quail and so on are being destroyed and, consequently, they become extinct. Glens which are full of shrubs, blackberry bushes and so on are being reclaimed even though they are the natural habitats of dozens of birds and animals. We pay people not to cultivate the best land but allow them — even give them grants — to reclaim bad land which is the natural habitat of large numbers of wildlife species. That is ridiculous, duplicity and contradictory and I ask the Minister to refer to this in his reply. Why do we allow the destruction of marshes, slobs, boggy lands, glens and undergrowth? Could European money not be put to better use?

It is with great hesitation that I inform the Deputy his time is almost exhausted.

The Chair is enjoying this because it is also happening in the Cooley Mountains. Time does not allow me refer to Dungarvan and Lismore Castles. Lismore Castle and its grounds should be preserved as a natural park.

We are now in the middle of the bird nesting season. The public was not informed that it was one month late this year. There is not a proper information service on those matters, but the birds know it has been cold and wet for the past six months and we are only beginning to see them now. However, that means nothing to county councils and individuals who are cutting fences and hedges all over the country. Irrespective of their rarity, nobody is concerned about protecting nesting birds or breeding animals.

It is time we adopted a caring attitude towards wildlife and a will to protect it. While I have considerable confidence in the present Minister that will is not present in high places. If he does not do something about the matter, nothing will be done about it in the foreseeable future.

This is a sad day. The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht may have a commitment to heritage but it is regrettable that we are witnessing the total destruction and demise of the oldest State agency in the nation. No office has consistently served us with greater distinction or made a greater contribution to development than the Office of Public Works. I speak as one who understood the work of that office long before I became a Member of the House 14 years ago and as the State's first Minister of State with responsibility for heritage affairs who served two terms in the Office of Public Works. The quality of the administration and the professionals and the complexity of the operations of the Office of Public Works have not been equalled by any other Department. Having served for eight years as a Minister of State in six different Departments, I can say without doubt that I never experienced the commitment, co-operation or quality of people I met in the Office of Public Works.

I have great respect for the Minister but he destroyed the Office of Public Works by sleight of hand. Members will recall that when dealing with a Bill here last year he put through a composite motion which was not included in the initial legislation. He and his officials were advised by the administration of the House that the motion had to be put through to remove the powers of the Office of Public Works. Were it not for the alertness of our spokesperson, Deputy Síle de Valera, it would have gone through without notice. As matters stood, we had little opportunity to debate it; we did our best in the few minutes available and voted on it, but the Government succeeded in taking more powers from the Office of Public Works.

Under the Constitution every State agency with commissioners has explicit powers. These agencies include the Revenue Commissioners, the Commissioners of Public Works the Commissioners of Charitable Bequests, etc. If this legislation, which the Minister has brought forward to destroy the Office of Public Works, was tested in the courts it would be found to be unconstitutional.

Why is it necessary to make such drastic changes? It is because this Government, in putting together a hastily prepared programme, felt that creating a new Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht would signal to the nation that the Labour Party was the be all and end all of modern Irish politics and would write a new chapter in the history of Irish political life. A very intelligent man from the west of Ireland, a Clareman by birth, a Galwayman by election, was appointed Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. When he went into office he found himself in a big room, with a big chair, a big desk, a small number of staff and a very vague brief. He was advised by his new staff, many of whom were pilfered from the Office of Public Works, that it was time he built an empire around himself. As a partner in that Government Fianna Fáil was anxious to ensure we would not see the demise of the Office of Public Works. Our party leader was Minister for Finance and the Public Service. He and our Chief Whip, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and I were involved in negotiations to find a formula that would keep the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, and their cohorts in the Labour Party happy. The Labour Party had another agenda which I will not dwell on today but, when political history has been analysed, that agenda will be exposed for what it was, short-term political expediency at the expense of the national interest, not just in this situation but in others. Slowly but surely the Office of Public Works, which served Governments, Taoisigh, Ministers for Finance and Cabinets, has been denuded of its powers and deprived of the opportunity to serve this country as it traditionally did.

All that is left to the Office of Public Works, now that all the powers encoded in the document before us have been taken away, is to manage the State property portfolio which it did with great distinction for many years despite difficulties caused by the indecision of Departments and other State agencies. For example, Government Departments and State agencies often told the Office of Public Works, 12 months in advance, they wanted so many square feet of office space in a particular place at a particular time to deliver a service and, a month before they were due to occupy the premises, indicated either that they did not need it or they did not need so much. In those circumstances the Office of Public Works had to carry the can when the Comptroller and Auditor General exposed a shortfall, and it was the Office of Public Works that was left with egg on its face, not those who were responsible for making the decisions, often at huge cost to the Exchequer.

I want the Minister to outline clearly why he brought forward this motion transferring certain powers from the Office of Public Works to himself, and why a Government that is supposed to be transparent, open and accountable failed to respond positively to a question put by Deputy Bertie Ahern and me asking if a Government decision had been taken. We were denied the information that the Government took a decision some months ago on this issue, even though it was well known. I want to know when the decision was taken, what submission the Minister made at Cabinet to get that decision, the basis for the decision and why this House was not informed at that time.

I admire the work at the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I admire the work of the Minister in many facets of his job. We have shared many interests in the past. We were members of the same union where his contributions were intelligent and colourful — we did not always agree, but we agreed to differ. The Government's inconsistency and that of the Minister, and the negative attitude towards the Office of Public Works have never before been seen in parliamentary or political history. The Office of Public Works has been the guardian of our heritage for a century and a half. It has done tremendous work and brought us into modern times with massive investment in difficult times, and has restored some of our finest heritage sites to an internationally recognised standard. Why do we have to destroy the ability of the Office of Public Works to manage these areas as they were managed in the past? Why can the responsibility for such matters not be left where it was? What is the Government's agenda? There are three powerful commissioners with a constitutional, legal and administrative role to play. What will be their future role? This House is entitled to know today before this decision is taken.

The Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, the first Minister in the history of the State to hold that position, should concentrate on developing arts, culture and the Gaeltacht and let the Office of Public Works get on with its job. Those who succeeded Deputy Dempsey and me in the Office of Public Works have not been fortunate. They have been sacked, dismissed, shafted or moved sideways, transferred or demoted.

That sounds like Albert Reynolds.

Deputy Reynolds's record will not be forgotten. Political history will value his contribution to this nation where others failed. The tragedy is that Deputy Bradford's party conspired with others to ensure his removal from office. When political history is written Deputy Reynolds' contribution will stand out as a beacon.

That is an outrageous statement.

I do not see what relevance Deputy Reynolds's record has to anything we are discussing today. My point is that the Minister has an Ghaeltacht in a choinne. Tá dualgas air an Ghaeltacht a leathnú agus a láidriú, airgead agus áiseanna a chur ar fáil agus saothrú ar son mhuintir na Gaeltachta. Tá scóip iontach aige an cultúr agus an ealaín a chur ar aghaidh. Níl aon ghá le bheith ag obair in aghaidh oidhreacht ár dtíre in Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí.

Why must the national parks, wildlife and inland waterways services be transferred since, as the record will show, the power and investment already exist? In 1987 the Government in which my party participated, in co-operation with the Office of Public Works, published a national heritage development plan which included all waterways and heritage properties. We co-operated with Bord Fáilte and the then Department of Tourism and Trade in devising that major plan, incorporated in the National Development plan, agreed by Brussels, which included massive investment in heritage tourism.

Finding himself in a Department bereft of ideas and commitments — having observed the very successful operations of the Office of Public Works to date, the Minister wants to pretend that, within his term of office, he did this, that and the other, endeavouring unfairly to pull them under his departmental umbrella.

We need only look at the circumstances surrounding the proposed interpretative centres in Mullaghmore, Luggala and the Boyne Valley to perceive the hypocrisy and inconsistency of the Cabinet's decisions. Because the Taoiseach comes from County Meath and the Boyne Valley is located in his constituency, the interpretative centre there is saved. It is all right to proceed with that development despite the objections of Lord Henry Mountcharles and others.

When responsible for the Office of Public Works, I was deeply involved in all those decisions and had the finest professional advice nationwide available to me. I examined them all in great detail. The wine connoisseurs of this country were not able to inveigle me into changing my decision to proceed with such investment; international stars flown in were unable to influence me in denying the people of Wicklow their rightful investment entitlement. There was nothing wrong with our proposal to locate an interpretative centre in Luggala in the middle of a commercial forest, acquired from Coillte Teo, the State forestry organisation. It was to be developed in the heart of Wicklow, with investment in tourism facilities there, not only for locals but for one-third of our population living in the capital, who could make daily evening visits in summer time and at weekends all year round in addition to visits by tourists to that and other centres in County Wicklow. Because it did not suit certain influential people, a disgraceful decision was taken not to proceed with that development.

Again, in the case of the proposed interpretative centre at Mullaghmore, several agendas were being played. I cannot understand how the Minister, a Clareman, could have denied the people of the county of his birth the proposed investment there. I met all the objectors on numerous occasions, once for four hours in a location close to the Minister's own city. I outlined our proposals, gave a firm commitment on the additional investment and a third option, all of which was agreed. Yet the following day I read a headline in The Irish Times:“Minister admits major mistake”. I did not admit a mistake. What happened was that, although I had been prepared to meet those objectors face to face for four hours, our discussion was manipulated and leaked to the press in an effort to convey a different story.

In addition there was the recent report of Brady, Shipman and Martin confirming that the Office of Public Works had been right, that the funds were being invested in the right place, which should have ensured that the development went ahead. The tragedy is that taxpayer's money has been wasted on a site in the heart of the Burren, when investment was badly needed. Purists, lefties and commercial interests objected, and others were brought in to object, which resulted in the professionals in the Office of Public Works and the people of Clare, who wanted the centre, all being reneged on by a democratically-elected Government, particularly by a Clareman, the Minister who took that decision. It was indeed a sad day; something that should never have happened. I hope the Minister will review his decision and give the go-ahead for the centre because he has let down his countymen and wasted taxpayer's money. All reports show conclusive evidence that the centre should have been built.

The Boyne Valley is another beautiful region. One need only compare any of the centres built by the Office of Public Works — an example is Glenveagh Park — to realise the professionalism of its personnel. If that development was proposed today and given the go-ahead, would there be the same objectors? Would development of the Connemara National Park have gone ahead today if we had heeded all those objectors? There is a beautiful one in Kerry — Ionad na Blaisceidí, one of the most beautiful developments nationwide, in a region of great natural beauty, with tremendous heritage, cultural and tourism potential without any facilities or amenities. While we invested in facilities there a part of Clare and its people that did not have such facilities was denied them. Since the west Clare region had commercial facilities and opportunities, it was important that we did not overkill through encouraging mass tourism to that area. It was important to strike a balance, providing appropriate facilities to attract tourists to other regions of that county. If not in the lifetime of this Government, I hope that development at Mullaghmore will go ahead.

I pay tribute to the Commissioners of Public Works with whom I worked. I understand that, for the first time in the history of the State, a former chairman of the Office of Public Works, a young man with tremendous leadership ability, was transferred to another public service office and was the first such chairman of a State agency not to receive a letter of commendation on his work from the Minister in office.

I must correct the record immediately. That is not true.

I am delighted to hear that because, if ever anyone gave tremendous positive leadership, it was he, on which I congratulate him.

I wrote to him immediately on his moving to another office.

I accept that and I am delighted. I cannot understand why this agenda is being played; it is beyond comprehension——

As the Deputy knows, there were many agendas.

Perhaps but we had only one, which was to preserve our national heritage. I note that Deputy Bradford is present — indeed it is not the first time that a Government whose members comprised members of the Fine Gael Party took such a silly decision vis-à-vis the Office of Public Works. On one occasion the Government led by Dr. Garrett FitzGerald took a decision about a section of the Office of Public Works on a Friday and confirmed it should remain under the aegis of that office as pressure had been exerted over the weekend. The Cabinet changed its decision the following Tuesday and decided to leave the section, which must deliver a nationwide service, within the Office of Public Works but is accountable to another Government Department. I am talking of experts involved in school buildings, originally the responsibility of the Office of Public Works, still based in the Office of Public Works, acting for that office, but accountable to the Department of Education.

The Deputy's party was in power for eight years and did nothing about it. He should wake up.

It was the most ludicrous decision ever taken. My party's record is one of innovation, leadership and delivery. It does not work to an agenda merely to change a decision of a former Government.

Deputy Treacy said it was a wrong decision. Why did his party not change it since it had eight years in which to do so?

I did say it was a wrong decision and remains such. I am making the point that we respected the democratic decision taken by a former Government. It was a silly decision, leaving personnel in the Office of Public Works in a vacuum, working for one Department and accountable to another. They are still endeavouring to deliver that nationwide service. They should have been transferred directly to another State agency.

The Minister has no comprehension of the contribution of the Office of Public Works to this nation over the past 150 years. He is now attempting to take kudos for that expertise and success created and delivered over very many years by a team of experts, under tremendous political leadership. He is attempting to do so, finding himself in a Department with a very narrow agenda that could not deliver to the satisfaction of the Minister and others.

What is the future role of the three Commissioners of the Office of Public Works and their staff? Is the Minister aware of their low morale nationwide? Public service personnel generally are very agitated, not only within the Office of Public Works but in many other Departments, because of the attitude of the Government to them. I want the Minister to reassure the House and the electorate that the role of the Office of Public Works over very many years will continue.

This welcome debate on heritage is very relevant. However, I am disturbed that after 18 months in Opposition, the Fianna Fáil Party is still in such a negative mood and has failed to come to grips with the fact that a different party is in Government. Anything done by this Government seems to them to be totally wrong. I was interested to hear Deputy Noel Treacy putting the blame for the fall of the previous Government on the Fine Gael Party.

Read your party leader's contribution of November 1994.

The then Opposition were in awe of what was happening on the Government benches — the confusion, things changing by the hour.

We have a proud heritage and must ensure it is maintained in a way that will not damage business or interfere with jobs and prosperity. The tremendous work on the Ballinamore canal from west Cavan to Leitrim has been of immense benefit to tourism and is a tribute to those involved with the project for years.

Some of the people involved in that project want to promote the restoration of the Ulster canal. I have no problem with that, and it will certainly be of benefit to Clones and towns across the Border. However, progress on that project is being blamed for the failure to go ahead with the Monaghan by-pass. People approaching the town from the Donegal-Armagh end have to wait for up to half an hour because there is no by-pass. Whereas heritage is important, common sense must come into play.

I understand approximately £750,000 has been allocated for a study of the Ulster canal. Will the Minister give serious consideration to running the canal at the outer edges of Monaghan town starting for the Clones side of the town and heading left as it approaches the town? If this does not happen this vibrant business town will be left in total chaos. I understand it would cost £2 million to construct the bypass without allowing the passage of the canal through the St. Davnet's complex to impinge on it, but it would cost at least £4.5 million to reroute the canal in the future. The National Roads Authority is clearly not prepared to do that and wants to bring the by-pass a few miles outside the town. If at all possible I want the canal to be reopened but that must not interfere with the needs of the town and the people who use the M2 motorway from Donegal to Dublin.

At the time the national plan was formulated the M2 motorway stopped at the Border. Money was allocated to the Broomfield stretch outside Castleblayney. Very few of those who travel from Monaghan to Donegal or Derry use the route proposed to the EU, that is via Longford, Sligo, Bundoran. We want to ensure that the proposals for the canal go ahead without hampering progress.

Tremendous efforts have been made in recent years to preserve important buildings. Local groups with the assistance of FÁS and local authorities have undertaken preservation work on important local buildings. The restoration of the market house in Bailieborough is an example of how old structures can be utilised for the benefit of the area. In my village of Newbliss, a local group worked with FÁS and did tremendous work on the market house. In one section of the county council the market house was a listed building whereas another section sent out a letter to the FÁS group seeking to have it demolished because it was in poor structural order. Thankfully, the group were able to preserve it.

Annaghmakerrig House was left to the nation by the late Sir John Guthrie. The Office of Public Works and the Heritage Council are very much involved and it plays a major role in our promotion of the arts in County Monaghan. A former Member for Cavan-Monaghan, Mr. John Wilson, serves on the board. Annaghmakerrig House has a major role to play in bringing people from all over the world to our area. I want to ensure it is financed and looked after in the future. The old Lesley estate of Glasslough and Rossmore Park are local amenities. The Senator Billy Fox Memorial Park in Shercock is very dear to me and to my party. It commemorates the late Senator Billy Fox who died in the troubles. This was under the control of Coillte before Coillte became a commercial State body. I would like to see somebody take full responsibility for the park so that responsibility for it does not rest with a small number of local people. Coillte has been very helpful in the past 12 months but prior to its involvement the park was left almost derelict. It has now been brought back to life and is a very useful tourism amenity.

The Heritage Council has the task of providing independent advice and assistance to voluntary organisations, local authorities and private individuals on heritage issues. That is important. The allocation of a small amount of money would assist groups in helping to preserve church buildings. Those groups do not have access to central funds. They care for beautiful and expensive buildings. In Monaghan town the Church of Ireland building is of great importance from a heritage point of view. The small group of people who preserve it make efforts to keep the spire and building in good condition. Such groups should be given an allocation, no necessarily a large amount, but a small amount on an ongoing basis, perhaps once every five or ten years, to assist them in the upkeep of such buildings. Such money would not only assist church groups involved but the local areas concerned.

Why is there such a major reaction to change? If this Government did not make changes to improve some areas, I am sure the Opposition would be critical, and that would be right. We should not object to change for the sake of it. Old bodies worked well. I have worked closely with the Office of Public Works. It was suggested it should restore old schools. It does restore them and I pay tribute to its efforts to restore buildings that have been neglected for many years. It did excellent work on restoring the local agricultural office in Ballybay. However, it does not mean that some areas cannot and should not be changed if there is a good reason for making changes. The Minister has good reason to ensure that our heritage is preserved in the best possible way. I have no problem supporting this Estimate in the knowledge that the Minister will take account of what we are saying and will do his best to ensure our heritage is perceived.

REPS is of great benefit to rural areas. When farmers are under severe pressure as a result of the beef crisis, it is important that funds under that scheme flow into rural Ireland. That scheme will help to address some of the issues raised by Deputy Deasy, but that must be done properly. REPS constitutes a sizeable amount of funding and assists farmers in rural areas. It is not merely a handout, such funds must be used in a properly structured fashion. If farmers are asked under a farm plan to make changes to assist in preserving our heritage for the future, they should do so. Those who suggest that REPS represents £5,000 of easy money and that nothing needs to be done are not being helpful. Almost as many applications to participate in that scheme are being received on a monthly basis as were received altogether in 1994. That scheme has a major role to play in protecting our heritage, but it must be well administered and adhered to. That scheme together with the heritage council and the areas for which the Minister has responsibility can do much to preserve our national heritage structure, improve the quality of life of our people and the appearance of the countryside.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss the Minister's stewardship of the areas for which he has responsibility. When introducing the Supplementary Estimate and endeavouring to convey to the House the perceived progress that has been made, the Minister said that the working group had produced two alternative sets of arrangements, neither of which was acceptable to all concerned. The Government then decided in November 1993 to appoint a larger interdepartmental group which included representatives of the Department of Finance and the Attorney General, but this also failed to come up with an acceptable solution. There have been three attempts to achieve what the Minister has dressed up in a rather confused presentation of what he is endeavouring to do.

It is generally accepted that the concept of attention to detail and co-ordination of work is most desirable, particularly in addressing the waterways issue. The former ownership of the canals by CIÉ was a dated issue that needed to be addressed. The Minister has been given additional responsibilities. Power has been taken from the various Departments, scrambled and given to the Minister. Two working groups and an interdepartmental group could not come up with an intelligent and acceptable solution. It follows that a political attempt is being made to put a structure together that was studied three times and not considered to be effective or workable. The Office of Public Works should have been given extra powers. The grouping of arts, heritage and culture makes sense, but upgrading the waterways requires engineering expertise. The Office of Public Works had such expertise and granting it additional powers to co-ordinate work would have made a good deal more sense.

What has been decided is before the House, it will be passed and will come into effect. We must consider how it will improve the present position. The two canals and the river Liffey run through my constituency. All three waterways are in urgent need of attention and investment. They are excellent amenities, very much underutilised and close to large urban areas. I was at the Grand Canal when the Minister launched a co-operation project with his counterpart running the inland waterways in the United Kingdom. Having heard the presentations we learned of the work approved by Governments and appropriate agencies in the UK and mainland Europe to convert waterways from their traditional role as a commercial route into amenities. I welcome any changes that will upgrade our network of waterways.

The first major recognition of the potential of our waterways was highlighted when the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, launched the opening of the Ballyconnell link achieved through the co-operation of the ESB. Everybody recognises it is an excellent facility.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.