The second page of the report lists the objectives of the Government's socioeconomic activity. They turn out to be a list of what probably every Government in the history of the State has included in its priorities and they apply to the country. It does not state that the six counties immediately south of the Border must be treated as an area for special and urgent action for the very reasons outlined in the opening paragraph I quoted. We did not ask to be placed alongside a totally unnatural border which carved up our hinterland. I remind the House that Donegal is surrounded by the Atlantic on one side and the Border on the other and during the worst episodes of the troubles many Donegal people felt that they had only one safe access to and from the county by way of the bridge at Ballyshannon. It was rather like a drawbridge across the moat of an ancient castle. That is a fair representation of the sense of isolation from Dublin that is often felt in that part of this State. It is an unfortunate fact that there was always a "beyond the pale" attitude among many civil servants and politicians when they became ensconced in the corridors of power. People in the six Border counties that are the subject of this debate consider that they often suffer from that attitude and I am sure people in the other five counties, with the possible exception of Leitrim, will forgive me if I stress the unique position of Donegal in this regard. For example, if a petrol station across the Border in Strabane had been blown up during the troubles it would have built up twice the level of business it had previously in a period when there was twice the level of unemployment because of the pride of the British Government, but a petrol station across the Border in Donegal would have closed down. My colleagues representing Border areas will agree that many towns along the Border became ghost towns as a result of the troubles.
My colleagues from the other Border constituencies will undoubtedly inform the House about specific problems that relate to their areas. I will refer to some of the shortcomings as they affect Donegal, but I would also like to mention one or two matters which involve the region. Less than a week ago we became aware of quite an extraordinary episode in the European Parliament when its budget committee voted by 18 votes to five, with nine abstentions, to slash this year's allocation of the peace and reconciliation fund from a proposed £125 million to £47 million. I was glad that the three voting members of the group to which Fianna Fáil belongs voted against the amendment tabled by the socialist group. What was even more extraordinary was the remark by the president of the budget committee, Mr. Samland, that the Irish Presidency had not pressed the issue against the amendment. I find that hard to credit and I ask the Minister to clarify this position. I would also like justification from the Tánaiste and the Labour MEP for the remarks made on RTE radio that it was acceptable that funding be diverted from the peace process if it was not being utilised. If funding is not being rapidly availed of, I am almost certain that is because of the red tape and confusion involved in the manner in which the scheme is administered. I respectfully suggest that the Minister requests the Government to advise its Members to stay silent on the North if they do not know what they are talking about. I compliment my colleague, Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP, for being so vigilant in bringing this matter to our attention and he should not be accused, as he has been by some Fine Gael politicians today, of seeking mischievous political gain. I sincerely hope that the deliberations of the task force will bring about a simplification of the whole process as promised so that the funding can be drawn down and allocated to where it is needed.
I became aware only recently of a rather bizarre event concerning the funding for the transmission of Kinsale Gas which took place some time ago. A meeting was called by Bord Gáis of all local authorities from the Border counties. The meeting apparently took place in Monaghan where representatives of the board outlined its plans for extending the pipeline from Drogheda through Cavan and Monaghan to Sligo and on to Letterkenny. A map was displayed showing the route to be followed. Naturally the various authorities gave the plan their full support and Bord Gáis went to Brussels where a fund of £1.2 billion was made available. My information is that the portion of funds intended for the extension went instead to the link-up with Scotland. Since I am always open to correction, I would welcome a statement from the Minister on whether I have been misinformed. At least one major industrialist in Donegal has cancelled a huge expansion plan because of the comparatively high cost of energy and another equally major industry in the county has decided to build a new plant close to Dublin where gas is readily available.
Because of the reasons outlined in the task force report, it goes without saying that the Border region deserves positive discrimination regarding job creation. That should include a mechanism whereby some compensatory allowance is made to counteract such disadvantages as distance and lack of access to the natural gas grid. Such positive discrimination should also include EU funding to the region at a proportionately higher level than other more developed areas.
I make no apology for repeating,ad nauseam if necessary, my demand that Donegal more than most counties deserves special attention. It is potentially one of our richest tourist areas, yet Bord Fáilte down the years has rarely promoted its attractions abroad. Last June on a Private Member's motion on tourism I said that invariably Bord Fáilte files in plane loads of travel agents from the United States for customary trips to Dublin, Galway and Killarney while the region north of a line from Dublin to Galway is seldom included. I also said that this year's Bord Fáilte European Workshop was organised for Killarney, having previously been held in Galway and Cork, and that the board's brochure on “Walking Tours in Ireland”, includes a paid advertisement from Donegal, but there was not a single mention of the county in the editorial. I mention these matters in the hope that even if the Government ignores them my colleagues in the incoming Fianna Fáil Government will pay attention. I will continue to remind them.
Towards the end of the task force report, under the heading Recommendations for the Future, the suggestions put forward comprise advice on how to complete an application form and a list of the various offices involved. Other than stating that there is an urgent need for publicity and information, there are no proposals for positive action. It is surely a case of the monkey going into labour and producing a mouse.
InThe Sunday Business Post of 28 July 1996 Aileen Hickie in a report headed “Are you looking for a job?” provided a guide for the job seeker giving details on who is recruiting, where and what types of jobs are on offer. There is nothing to offer the job seeker in the Border region. A total of 2,374 were listed, with the names of the companies involved, but not one of them relates to the region from Deputy McGahon's constituency to my area in County Donegal. On 19 July a shirt manufacturer in Newtowncunningham, County Donegal, was refused a grant by the Peace and Reconciliation Fund. The letter that issued states:
...we regret to inform you that your project has been unsuccessful on this occasion. In this case we are unable to offer you assistance but would encourage you to reconsider your application in the light of those guidelines which ADM/CPA have produced.
At the same time across the Border in Strabane £800,000 was made available to a similar factory. On 31 March 1995 IDB approved £26 million for another factory in Artigarvan. A sum of £13.5 million was made available by the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland to upgrade the Strabane water service. Castlederg, a small town along the Border in County Tyrone, received a huge cash injection from the British Government. In a short time £47.5 million was made available for projects across the Border.
In 1987 a letter from the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Barry, stated:
This lack of financial additionality is the major drawback from the Government's point of view in so far as integrated operations are concerned. It could in practice lead to a situation where the existing receipts from Structural Funds would be over concentrated in certain areas at the expense of broader national development priorities.
That statement was made by the Fine Gael-Labour Government 11 years ago. Has anything changed in the current climate? Has action been taken in terms of the proposal for cross-Border development? Has the task force even mentioned that report which was launched in October 1985? That was a lead-up to the cross-Border study launched by Charles J. Haughey and Peter Brooke in 1990. Where is that report?