Deputy Keaveney was in possession. The Deputy has ten minutes remaining.
Private Members' Business. - EU Funding for Border Counties: Motion (Resumed).
I wish to share my time with Deputy Ellis.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The slashing of the peace and reconciliation budget by £78 million is a terrible blow to the Border counties. I cannot understand how any Irish politician could justify that, particularly when the peace process is at such a critical stage. We need a Minister for the Border counties and a commitment to a region that knows it has been forgotten.
Those of us who live in the Border region and who see the effects of 25 years of trouble and strife on our communities welcome this debate. When the peace process first began two years ago everyone asked why it had not been initiated 25 years earlier. Why had so many lives to be sacrificed and businesses closed in the name of the troubles?
The European Union and others were prepared to make funds available for Border counties and when Jacques Delors announced the package for the Border region people thought money would be pumped into the area to address the problems that arose over 25 years ago. We expected a programme to be put in place that would have long-term benefits for the entire region. The peace and reconciliation programme promised much but needed some fine tuning which the Government was unwilling to carry out. Border counties were allocated only 20 per cent of the funds from this programme; under the previous international fund we would have received 25 per cent.
The reason given for the decrease in funding was the decline in population in Border counties. That was a clear indication that there was an urgent need to provide funds in that area to help rejuvenate it and that a higher rate of funding was needed. The final straw came, however, when the budget committee of the European Parliament initiated a programme which cut the funding by £78 million. That is an enormous amount of money to such a small community. The money was needed to rejuvenate the entire region.
It is obvious to everyone the way the Border region has suffered. The breakdown of the peace process has affected the tourism figures for the region; they have decreased drastically this year. My colleagues in the House who live closer to the Border than I know that the number of foreign tourists in the area has dropped considerably. The proposal to reduce this funding was ill-advised. The MEP from this jurisdiction who supported it has few ties with Northern Ireland and represents the greater Dublin area.
If the idea behind this move was to take money from the Border region and allocate it elsewhere, I hope the commitment given in the House last week by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to rectify the position will be adhered to. We hold the Presidency of the EU and it is our responsibility to ensure we get fair and equal distribution of moneys due to this country.
The peace and reconciliation programme needs some fine tuning. It should have wider scope and capital projects should receive a considerable amount of the funding. The reason the moneys have not been drawn down is because it takes time to document all the various projects under so many headings.
There is a need for capital expenditure in Border areas. Many communities could improve their areas if they were given the necessary funding. I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage, to ask our colleagues in Europe to implement the necessary changes that will allow capital projects benefit from the funding. I welcome the fact that some of the Government MEPs decided to abstain from the vote on this proposal but they should have voted against it in the budget committee.
When we consider the decline in population on both sides of the Border, it is obvious there is need for rejuvenation and that will only be possible when the necessary funds are provided from a number of sources. The IFI on the Southern side will contribute 25 per cent with the Northern side contributing 75 per cent but such funds, in addition to the funding from the peace and reconciliation programme, are not sufficient.
In recent times the Government has withdrawn funds earmarked for Border regions. Why is the Cork tunnel project considered suitable for INTERREG funding when some of the roads or infrastructural projects in the Border region are not?
And Sligo Airport.
Sligo is included.
Sligo is not a Border county.
It was included in the Border region. Deputy McGahon lives closer to the Border than any Deputy in this House; if he goes out his back door he is almost in Northern Ireland. Sligo Town is only 20 miles from the Border and if a town such as Drogheda qualifies in the same region, then Sligo should be eligible for inclusion.
The Deputy can quote scripture to suit himself.
Nobody is better at that than Deputy McGahon. He can write the script and rewrite it as it suits him on occasions.
It is important that we ensure that the decision of the EU budget committee is overturned. That funding is needed in the Border region. Without it, many projects will not go ahead because local communities will be unable to come up with the necessary contribution. There should be total agreement among Members of this House, particularly those from the Border region, that this decision should be reversed by fair or foul means.
We must address this problem in a positive way. There is little point in bemoaning the loss of funds. The funds are available and it is the responsibility of all Members and the MEPs who represent us, to ensure that these moneys are returned at the earliest possible date. There is little point in people trying to put schemes in place if they do not know if funding will be available in 12 months' time.
There is total agreement in the House that the decision of the budget committee needs to be overturned. It can be overturned if there is sufficient political will on all sides. We are not here to score political points. We are demanding money for the region that has been allocated to it. It is up to us, with our European counterparts, to ensure this decision is reversed sooner rather than later because people must not be allowed to feel they are wasting their time preparing projects which will be eligible for funding under the peace and reconciliation fund. There is also a need, in view of the decline in population on the Southern side of the Border, to increase the allocation.
The Border region has suffered due to the troubles and we want the slim hope for peace to be built on by bringing communities back into viable employment.
I wish to reply to points my colleague made about County Louth. I do not know about Sligo, but I know a bit about County Louth because I am its representative here and on two local authorities. During the terms of office of the last two Governments, particularly this Government, County Louth has received more funding for roads, sewerage and water than it ever got in the history of the State. This year alone we were allocated by my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Brendan Howlin, £87 million for sewerage and water and some £10 million for roadworks. A further £60 million is in the pipeline for motorways.
Now we know where our money went.
My colleagues, Deputies McGahon and Ahern, the Acting Chairman and myself are looking after County Louth very well with a good Labour Minister to provide the funding.
The Deputy's colleague in Sligo-Leitrim has been neglected.
As the only Oireachtas Member of the Cross-Border Regional Authority, I was very much involved in discussions over a period of a year and a half with community representatives and local councillors from the Border area in drawing up plans for the spending of that money. I proposed at one of the meetings that it should be channelled through the local authorities in the Border area. However, this was not to be because we had no say on the matter. Decisions on the distribution of the money were taken at EU level. We strongly protested about that when funding was first announced. There was no disagreement on it among the representatives of the communities involved but the local authority representatives were substantially outvoted.
I am pleased to have the chance to address the House on this issue. As a representative of a Border county, it is of great concern to me and to those of us who live and work in the Border area and see the damage that is being done to our county and to the whole Border region by the violence in Northern Ireland. That was not created by this House nor by any party in this House. It was created by people who seem to have no interest in the development of the Border area but are instead intent on continuing the violence in Northern Ireland that has caused the problems we have been facing for 25 years. Those of us who have to live in the area know that better than anybody else.
There seems to be confusion among the members of the Fianna Fáil Party on a number of issues relating to EU funding for cross-Border activities. Contrary to the impression created by Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, there will be no real reduction in the amount of money available to the Border counties under the Peace and Reconciliation Fund. I have no doubt that moneys up to the amount originally promised will be made available to the fund when it can be properly availed of.
Why did the Deputy's party vote against it?
Part of the problem has been lack of submissions for moneys by local authorities and other organisations in the Border region. If I had more time I would explain that in greater detail. I have no doubt that this money will be available. It is a poor reflection on the Deputy that he, of all members of the European Parliament, does not understand European budgetary techniques. This is not the first time this has happened. We have never suffered financially. Funds were made available if and when they were required. That will be the case this time also. What is amazing is that when all of this was being discussed in the European Parliament there was only one Fianna Fáil member present.
There were three.
It must also be taken into account that the existence of this fund has nothing to do with Fianna Fáil representation in the European Parliament. They are the largest party here, and the largest party representing us in the European Parliament, but they have little say because the group they belong to is a total nonentity and has no say in the distribution of funding.
That is not correct.
This package was put together by the Socialist group led by Jacques Delors. The main player in the negotiations was John Hume, who is a member of the Socialist group to which the Irish Labour Party is affiliated and in which it plays a major role at every level both within the Parliament and at the Council of Europe.
It would appear also that quite a number of Deputies in the Border area are totally confused on this issue. There is no doubt that the moneys will be made available for the programme as set down for the regional authority. Nobody indicated last night where moneys will not be available for projects put forward under the proposed programme. We also have to take into consideration that we get moneys for areas along the Border in the Republic where the same does not apply to Northern Ireland, and we are not going to begrudge the people of Northern Ireland their share of any available funds. What we are trying to do is unite the people, not divide them. If we start to haggle about the distribution of EU funding it will do the people with whom we are trying to unite in Northern Ireland no good.
This type of debate does not help. We should, as Deputy McDaid did last night, collectively condemn the violence created by the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland which is the root cause of this problem and not put the blame on Jacques Delors, John Hume and others who have put this funding together to benefit the whole region, North and South. Fifteen per cent of the moneys available will be for cross-Border projects. In some parishes along the Border, schoolchildren living within five miles of each other have never played together or met each other. We are trying to encourage integration, cross-Border activity and the co-funding of programmes jointly funded by the Republic and Northern Ireland with EU assistance.
That stipulation makes it even more difficult to draw down money. There should not be such a stipulation.
I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy, but I understand there is a sharing arrangement.
I am taking ten minutes and I am sharing the remainder of my time with Deputies Eric Byrne, Crawford, McGahon, Boylan and Harte.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
It is a pity we do not have more time. As a member of the Border regional committee I was familiar with all the discussions that took place. I assure Deputies on the other side that the moneys promised under this programme will be forthcoming when the work is done.
I am always bemused when Fianna Fáil table motions which stress the absolute necessity to draw down the maximum amount of EU funding available as this is the party which almost single-handedly tried to shrink the Euro quids——
Would the Deputy disagree with that?
——on its various ill-fated trips to Edinburgh and Brussels when the last round of EU funding was being negotiated — the hole in the bag trick.
The Deputy is wasting time.
With our partners in Government, Democratic Left believes in speaking the truth and telling it as it is. The special European Union programme for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, like all EU programmes, is dependent on a number of strictly defined conditions being observed. The primary conditions, for which Fianna Fáil has scant regard when drawing up its submission for EU funding, are——
Is the Deputy still against the EU Act?
——social inclusion and local consultation. A special task force established for the European Commission engaged in a broad process of consultation in Northern Ireland and the Border counties concluded that, where possible, the programme should be implemented through local delivery mechanisms and that the intermediary funding bodies be funded directly by the Commission to ensure maximum independence. The difficulties which have been experienced are largely due to this devolution requirement, a requirement which presupposed the development of innovative mechanisms in the Border counties and in Northern Ireland.
It was only in February this year that the relevant bodies were fully up and running. Since then they have been actively implementing measures provided for and they should be congratulated. A sum of £33.7 million has been delivered through these devolved mechanisms. That amounts to over 70 per cent of the funding allocated to the Border counties.
Is the Deputy aware that only £1.5 million has been used to date and that there is——
Deputy Byrne to continue without interruption.
As I have only five minutes I do not wish to enter into debate with Deputy McDaid. That programme is working well and any teething problems experienced with the new devolved mechanisms are more than compensated for by the new impetus which has been given to the concept of local democracy. I hope the mechanisms which were developed, including the county council led task forces operating in each of the six Border counties, will serve as models for the future administration of EU funds. Deputy McDaid and his Fianna Fáil colleagues who tabled this motion are well aware of the facts as I outlined them. They and the people in the Border counties know that this Government is fully committed to the economic and infrastructural development of the Border counties.
In view of the importance of EU funding to the economic development of the Border counties, the European Parliament budget committee's decision to reduce next year's funding of the peace and reconciliation fund is inexplicable. I have every confidence that the Government will exert maximum pressure in the appropriate quarters to have the funding proposed by the Council of Ministers restored. We will not bamboozle the electorate. We will not emulate Fianna Fáil's attempt to massage the EU figures when in Government or engage in the type of scaremongering tactics adopted by Fianna Fáil in Opposition.
Considerable funds are available for the Border region from INTERREG, IFI, the peace initiative, etc. I said in Opposition and in Government that there is a serious problem because of the plethora of organisations. Every effort should be made to rationalise them and ensure they work properly.
I listened to some of the greatest rubbish over the past two days regarding what different Governments have done for the Border region. The national plan was supposed to draw down £8.8 billion which was in the bag in Edinburgh. We were assured the N2 would be included for some of those funds. Monaghan County Council called a special meeting to discuss how the plans could be drawn up quickly to get the money. Plans have been drawn up for the Carrickmacross by-pass, the Castleblayney by-pass and we are in the process of drawing up plans for a by-pass for Monaghan town which is choked with traffic. There was supposed to be a road from Belfast to Dublin to Rosslare as well as a railway line. There was a commitment in the national plan to the Dublin-Longford-Sligo road to get to Derry. I ask the Government to ensure in the interim review that money is found for the N3 which goes through Cavan. With the peace initiative that is necessary if we are to get industry and proper business into the Border region. Infrastructure is very important. I support the idea of bringing all the bodies together with a view to obtaining the maximum benefit. An all party group representing Monaghan county is meeting the Minister for Enterprise and Employment in an effort to encourage him to bring much needed employment to Monaghan county. I want to see the maximum draw-down. I deplore the decision of the European committee to try to cut the peace initiative but I am satisfied the Taoiseach and the Government will do what has to be done to have it rectified.
The Minister said last night that he was pleased to be given the opportunity to put on the record the Government's commitment to the development of the Border counties.
I am not sure I agree with the commitment of any Government over the past 26 years to the Border counties. Every Deputy from a Border county, irrespective of party allegiance, would share my view if they had the honesty to get up and say it. I am pointing the finger of neglect at the Border counties, particularly at County Louth, at all the successive Governments over the past 27 years, my own included.
I do not share the euphoria of my good friend, Deputy Bell, at the £87 million which came to our county this year for sewerage schemes and roads. We have been on the hind teat in terms of any allocation from the Department of Finance for the past 30 years. We have been waiting a long time for that money. I regret Deputy Bell lost the European election on a photo finish. If he had not I have no doubt he would have played a vital role in influencing the socialist bloc in the European Parliament to continue with the much needed money to this country.
I have never been ambivalent in relation to the IRA. I do not recognise Sinn Féin, it is a nonsense and a joke. There have been many pious expressions of hope that the peace will resume in the North. I condemn Mr. Adams, the man I have dubbed the Irish Dr. Josef Mengele, for the position he has adopted in regard to the resumption of violence in the North — I believe he knows everything about it. He has endangered the lives of people and is guilty, by association, of causing the deaths of hundreds of people. He has also placed at risk the lives of people living in Border towns and the metropolis. Through his actions, he has endangered the continued flow of money from Europe.
As I have repeatedly done in recent years, I wish to voice my disapproval at the unfair allocation of funds — 80 per cent — to the North. This El Dorado or economic promised land has been bolstered by British funding for many years — last year the figure was £3.5 billion — while counties on the southern side of the Border have been hung out to dry and neglected by successive Governments in the spurious belief that if the counties along the Border were declared designated areas counties in the south and west would not like it. Any rational Deputy will accept that the southern Border counties have been allowed to wither almost to the point of extinction in recent years.
The policies of begrudgery are evident in the House and at Government and Civil Service level. The tame acceptance by the Government of this very unfair allocation of funding is wrong and should have been opposed. The EU perception of the North as economically deprived is erroneous. This perception is understandably shared by people in America and Europe. Nobody would deny that the people of the Six Counties have lived through a nightmare for many years but their economy has been bolstered by compensatory money given to them by the British Government. The southern Border counties have received no compensatory funding and it is time the Government realised that these counties are close to extinction.
Last night Deputy McDaid referred to the damage caused to the tourism industry in County Donegal, which I regard as my second home. However, that county benefits from the tourism industry, much of which is hidden from the Minister for Finance. My town of Dundalk, the largest town in Ireland, does not have a tourism industry and is dependent on an industrial base. Louth, the smallest county, never got a fair deal from any Government. I ask the Government to accept that the allocation of funding is totally wrong from an economic point of view and to take steps during the intervening period to level the playing pitch.
I support the Government's commitment to the Border region. The best way of measuring this commitment is by what is happening in one's county. One can refer to the Border region in global terms and the effects of violence and ask whether the Government's policies are being realised on the ground, but the only way of measuring people's confidence in the Government is by the results. In County Cavan there was a 30 per cent increase in 1995 over 1994 in the number of planning applications for private houses, small factories and farm buildings, and a further increase is on the cards this year. This shows that the people of that county have confidence in the Government and its policies.
This restoration of confidence has been brought about by the appointment of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for the Border region and the necessary programme of works. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, for taking the time to visit the county councils in the southern Border counties where he met public representatives and answered questions. This was a worthwhile exercise in that the information was made available to the people. Unlike other regions, counties Cavan and Donegal recorded an increase in population in the last census. This is another indication that confidence has been restored by the Government.
The great possibilities for development in the Border counties have been impeded by the resumption of violence. I join with Deputy McDaid in calling on the IRA to stop the violence now. This organisation which has no mandate and serves no useful purpose should depart the scene immediately so that honest decent people, North and South, can get on with their lives in peace. Until last year some people in County Cavan had not even travelled as far as Enniskillen, which is 15 miles across the Border, because they were afraid they might end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, during the peace last year many people from the North travelled South and vice verse. If the members of the IRA regard themselves as Irish patriots then they should leave the scene immediately so that ordinary people can live their lives in peace. This will lead to further benefits.
I could be patronising or party political but instead I will be honest. I have been a Member of the House for 36 years and it does not matter a damn what party is in Government. An imaginary line has been drawn across the country somewhere around Drogheda and the areas north of it have been neglected. While the depression in southern Border counties can be blamed on the troubles in the North this House is also to blame.
Deputy McDaid seems to think that Fianna Fáil has all the answers but I wish to remind him that there was no Border between the North and South during the first ten years of partition. It was Fianna Fáil which erected the Border between the North and South and continued to build tariff barriers until such time as the entire Border was closed down by the Customs. Since the removal of these barriers there has been greater interplay between the North and South. This gives us an idea of the kind of country we could have had if Fianna Fáil had not blindly erected a Border between the North and South in an anti-British way.
If ever a Deputy was disillusioned with the policies on Border areas I am. I could pay tribute to various Ministers for doing their best but I cannot go that road. Instead I must be honest and say that this House has contributed in a major way to the difficulties in Border areas. The public does not realise that we erected a sterling partition between the North and South. Successive Ministers for Finance on budget day took decisions without any reference to their effects on the North or on businesses in Border areas. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have been guilty of that. We should admit our mistakes and try to effect change. The Government while it is trying to do its best, is no better or no worse than its predecessors. I would like to speak further on this matter but unfortunately I do not have the time. I have paid much attention to the cross-Border principle and believed from the day I entered politics, that the solution to the Irish problem lies in economics rather than talking politics. At last that message is getting through. I am sorry so many years of my life and the lives of other Deputies have been lost on the misguided policies of Ministers of all parties.
Last weekend at my clinic in Donegal I spoke to a Protestant lady who read a speech I made and wanted to know why other people do not see the problems of the North as I see them. She wondered whether the southern states constitute a different nation, whether people see things differently in the southern counties. There are many Deputies here from the Border areas. Can we identify entirely with the southern part of this island or have we an identification with the North with which we have not come to terms and which we have discovered only recently? Dublin Governments cannot understand our attitude let alone the attitude of the North. I am speaking very frankly and harshly, but I would fail in my duty if I did not. Unless we understand the ethos of the northern people, Catholic and Protestant, unless we admit that this House has been as much to blame for the economic problems of Border counties as have the troubles in the North, we will not solve our difficulties. That message must get through to every party, including those in Government. The parties in Opposition should admit that when they were in Government they did not do much better. When talking recently to a Donegal Fianna Fáil politician, who shall remain nameless, he said that while we do not often agree he agreed with me on that matter.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Mattie Brennan and Quill.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I am glad of the opportunity to contribute on this very important matter, which has been debated at length within the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party and at all levels of our organisation. The 25 years of the troubles did untold damage to the Border region, and my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan suffered enormously. Following the cessation of violence in the autumn of 1994, every public representative and statutory and voluntary body called for a concerted Border areas investment programme. Such a programme is the least that is needed to try to undo some of the damage that was inflicted on our area.
From the autumn of 1994 it has been readily accepted that the climate of peace would be strengthened enormously if the Government addressed the major infrastructural deficiencies in the southern Border counties. A focused approach is needed to ensure investment programmes are co-ordinated and that funding from INTERREG II or the Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation is additional rather than substitutional. The European Union recognises that the National Development Plan which was finalised before the cessation of violence needs to be refocused following the developments of autumn 1994. I emphasise that the economy of the southern Border counties has suffered enormously due to the political problems from 1969 to 1994. A major infrastructural programme and a determined approach is urgently required to build on the natural strength of the area.
The poor condition of the regional and county roads in the Cavan-Monaghan area has been well documented. In recent years some progress has been made in easing those problems, but a much greater investment programme is needed to provide decent access to people's homes and to places of work. Alongside the difficulties with regional county roads, we have a very poor network of national roads. The major employers, predominantly the agricultural co-operative societies in County Cavan, are sited on regional roads, with the result that colossal, heavy traffic uses those roads. Those arteries are not up to the standard needed to transport goods at an efficient pace, to markets, ports and airports. Some of the main north-south and north-west routes traverse Cavan on roads that are of regional status. A number of routes leading from parts of the North to Sligo and Athlone are inadequate. They may have been adequate for the volume of traffic 20 to 30 years ago, but today they are a major impediment to industrial development. An adequate investment programme in our main roads is essential if we are to attract inward investment and give existing businesses the facilities they need to get their products to the marketplace in adequate time, with the lowest transport costs possible.
The negligible level of inward investment to counties such as Cavan has been mentioned on numerous occasions. Job creation has been confined to the initiative of local industry and business. We are fortunate that many leading enterprises have been established by local people providing very worthwhile employment and based predominately on the natural strengths of the area. I instance in particular the success of the agri-food sector. The last foreign industry established in County Cavan was in 1977. There has been substantial inward investment in Ireland in recent years, but unfortunately our region has not secured any of those projects.
On a number of occasions I raised the need to provide an advance factory in County Cavan, with the most up-to-date facilities. I requested the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Forfás and the IDA to give this request urgent and favourable consideration. Progress has been made in that a decision in principle has been given to provide such facilities. I call on the Minister to ensure that construction of this factory will begin in early 1997. The facilities in such a factory should be geared specifically towards the food industry, with which the region has particular association. Many of the statutory bodies in County Cavan have put forward proposals on the need to establish an information technology centre, and such industrial infrastructure is needed if we are to attract the necessary inward investment to the county.
Indigenous industry such as the food industry must be a leading instrument in regenerating the Border economy. The Government should provide research and development centres throughout the country, aimed specifically at increasing the added value of our farm products and thereby creating much needed employment. With the great American and European interest in this country since the change in political fortunes in 1994, opportunities exist for the proper matchmaker programmes and links between industry abroad and in our region. Such links with major international firms would be of enormous benefit to the much smaller enterprises on which our region depends for employment.
I questioned the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht on Question Time and in debate on his Department's Estimates on the need to progress the Erne navigation project. I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, is here because I questioned him on this matter previously. This project would make the Erne navigable southwards from Belturbet to Killykeen Forest Park, Killeshandra and Loch Gowna. The preliminary engineering report on the project demonstrated that there are no unforeseen obstacles to carrying out this work. I had hoped the project would be included under the current Structural Funds programme, INTERREG II or the Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. It would be of major benefit to the tourism industry in counties Cavan and Fermanagh and would complement the restored Ballyconnell-Ballinamore canal, which has been an outstanding success. It is a credit to the Government that made the decision to restore that waterway.
Funding is coming on stream under various programmes for small projects. At the end of these programmes we need to have in place projects that will act as a catalyst for other developments and enterprises. A few pounds spent here and there will contribute practically nothing to the necessary regeneration of the Border economy. Imaginative proposals need to be implemented. We can all readily identify projects in each of our constituencies that the Government should support. It should support projects that will act as a catalyst for other developments and enterprises. Unless the funding available is spent in that manner we will have lost a golden opportunity to contribute to the much needed regeneration and rebuilding of the Border economy which has suffered so much.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to the motion. The Labour and Socialist group members of the EU budget committee voted to cut by £78 million the moneys available under the peace and reconciliation programme for the Border counties to help the victims of the violence of the past 25 years. No area has suffered more than the Border counties, Sligo and Leitrim in particular, because of the lack of industry and tourism facilities. Although not geographically a Border county, Sligo was included in the programme by the former Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, because of its proximity to the North. The County Fermanagh border is just over 20 miles from Sligo town.
I wish to refer to a report on the 1996 census presented by the county manager to Sligo County Council last Monday. At 55,645, the population of County Sligo as a whole has increased. The increase in the population of the borough of Sligo, that is, Sligo town, can be attributed to the decision of the former Minister for Finance, Ray MacSharry, to decentralise the pensions section of the Department of Social Welfare to the town to which many multinational and other industries have also been attracted.
The population of the areas I represent in south Sligo, particularly those adjacent to counties Roscommon and Leitrim, continues to fall. The rate of decline in some townlands is considered serious. The decrease in population in the townland of Kilshalvey is 9.7 per cent; Kilmactranny, 7.5 per cent and Killaraght, 6.66 per cent. This is an issue which will have to be addressed not alone by Sligo County Council but also by this House and the Minister for Enterprise and Employment in particular.
Since taking office the Government has failed to attract industry to any part of County Sligo, including Sligo town. When the Taoiseach was Minister for Industry and Commerce we had in County Sligo one of the greatest factories in the west, Gowna Wood Industry, GWI. I worked for 11 years in that company which manufactured all types of joinery and at one stage employed over 300 workers. It has since been succeeded by Munster Joinery. Instead of giving it the £150,000 it needed to keep the factory open the then Minister decided the company was not viable. This resulted in its closure and over 150 workers being put on the dole.
One of the last tasks the former Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, performed before leaving office was to sanction the establishment of the Masonite plant in County Leitrim. This is now a show case plant which will employ 500 workers when it commences operations. I estimate that a further 300 jobs will be created in downstream industries. If Deputy Reynolds had been allowed to continue in office he might have succeeded in attracting a similar industry to south County Sligo and north County Leitrim.
I pay tribute to Deputy Reynolds for the great work he has done in the pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland. It is time the Government spoke to everyone, including Sinn Féin.
Why has the Government failed to attract industry to the Border counties? Wonderful work could be done if the £78 million were made available.
As an afterthought, the Taoiseach appointed a Minister of State with special responsibility for western development. Although he has visited the Border counties to which his brief extends he is not doing enough.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Conveney, for making funds available for the drainage of rivers in Border counties. Our county roads are in a desperate condition while our national primary and national secondary roads need to be improved to attract industry to the region.
I thank Deputy Pat Cope Gallagher who is due to speak later for keeping us informed about what is happening in the European Parliament. Some of the money could be used to fund the development of Sligo airport, an issue I raised in the House in the past week, and to improve the Dublin-Sligo railway line.
Ever since the foundation of the State the counties immediately south of the Border have suffered severely. The imposition of an artificial political border had the effect of stunting and stultifying normal economic growth and social development. Many times over the past 50 years, particularly during the years when there was a sizeable differential between the purchasing value of the punt and sterling, businesses south of the Border were almost wiped out. Mercifully, that is not the case nowadays. The punt is much stronger than it was in the years of which I speak.
To compound the problems, the violence of the past 25 years played havoc with communities south of the Border as well as communities in the Six Counties of Ulster. When peace was declared there were great grounds for optimism and people believed the damage done could quickly be undone. Fuelling that optimism was the decision by the European Commission in 1994 to create a special task force to look at ways of giving special practical assistance to Northern Ireland and to the Border counties. It seemed as if that task force would provide the blood transfusion necessary to regenerate the economic and social life of the Border counties.
Any attempt by the EU budgetary committee to cut £78 million from the fund for peace and reconciliation must be strongly resisted by all parties in this House. There is an onus on the Government to ensure that moneys promised are forthcoming because communities in these areas pin their hopes on receiving such money. Without it, their future is bleak. There is also an onus on the communities in the Border areas to develop the type of projects which will attract such money and will have long-term beneficial effects on the economic and social life of the region. There is an onus on the Government to provide communities in these areas with all the information necessary so that they will know what programmes are available. They should be given advice on how to develop viable projects and basic information on how to make successful applications for funding. There are too many quangos and bodies doing the same thing, but nobody is moving the agenda forward. That cannot be allowed to continue.
I am told the Welsh are much better at developing projects and programmes for INTERREG funding than we are. They are more businesslike in developing their projects and cutting through red tape and bureaucracy. The Border counties must get their act together in this regard and move quickly to ensure that funding is available and is well spent on essential infrastructural and other projects to enable them to attain their full economic and social potential. There is a huge difference between the condition of the roads in Northern Ireland and those in the Border counties, which needs to be addressed. Job creating projects must be set up and the economy must be revitalised so that the effect of the troubles of the past 25 years can be eliminated and normal growth can be restored.
It is fundamentally important for peace to become the norm in Northern Ireland. It should not be the remit of any paramilitary group to give or to withhold peace. Peace is the essential precondition for proper growth both north and south of the Border which will enable normal cross-Border trade to recommence.
As regards the difference between our taxation system and that in Northern Ireland, it costs 50 per cent more for an employer in Dundalk to put an extra £1 in the pocket of an employee than it costs ten miles up the road in Newry. That is a huge difference which must be remedied. We live on a small island so anything which benefits one section of the island benefits us all.
I was a little surprised when I heard Deputy McGahon say that Deputies from other parts of the country are not interested in this issue. That is not the case. There is sympathy and understanding for the plight of Border counties, particularly in the past 25 years. The creation of the Border had a stultifying effect on trade and economic growth. We now have an opportunity to put that right.
I appeal to the Government to assure the House that the £78 million will be forthcoming. Such assurance will enable the Border communities to develop their projects so that they will be eligible for funding. I hope that will be the recipe to transform the economy of the Border regions.
I want to respond to Deputy Mattie Brennan's point about Deputy Reynolds. Deputy Reynolds's contribution to the peace process does not need any praise because it is well acknowledged everywhere. He spoke to Sinn Féin during a total cessation of violence by the IRA. The Taoiseach would be only too pleased to do the same were the IRA to restore the ceasefire and make it permanent, as I and every other politician has appealed to it to do. It is important to respond to the Deputy's point that the Taoiseach should speak to Sinn Féin as Deputy Reynolds did.
Because it falls to me during the EU Presidency to chair the Budget Council of Ministers, I want to concentrate on the proposed reduction by the EU budget committee of Parliament of moneys earmarked in the draft budget to support the Northern Ireland peace programme in 1997. I want to make the position clear about the EU budget process and where responsibilities lie.
The EU budget procedure is complex and long drawn out. It is different from a budget process as we understand it. The budgetary authority is shared between the Council of Ministers and Parliament under Article 203 of the Treaty. This Article establishes the respective powers of Council, that is the Ministers, and Parliament and of the Commission in conducting the procedure.
From a legal standpoint, there are two critical points in the budgetary procedure. First is the adoption of the draft budget by the Council of Ministers — generally in July — which marks the formal opening of the budget procedure. Second is the final adoption of the budget after Parliament's second reading which closes the procedure, generally in the month of December. It is a process which goes on for approximately six months. The Parliament has the final say over the amounts to be included for what is termed nonobligatory expenditure, which includes the special peace programme for Ireland. I do not want any doubt to be cast over who is responsible for this — it is the responsibility of Parliament. That does not mean this Government cannot do anything about it.
Last July the Council of Ministers adopted the draft budget for 1997. This included commitment appropriations of 159.9 million ECU in line with the Commission proposal for the Northern Ireland peace programme in 1997. The draft budget for 1997 is currently with the European Parliament for what is known as its first reading. During that process, the Parliament's committee on budgets has proposed that the Northern Ireland peace programme commitment be cut by 100 million ECU which people have referred to correctly here as approximately £78 million. Parliament is due to vote on the draft budget at its plenary session next week. I hope and have some reason to believe that they will either reject this proposal or it will be withdrawn by the budget committee before any vote is taken. In the course of the budget deliberations I am scheduled to meet with both the Parliament's budget committee and the Parliament itself next Monday and Tuesday and will do everything in my power to convince them not to proceed with this proposed cut. I shall also be on the telephone tomorrow to speak with the chairman of the budget committee on the same issue. I assure the House the Government is pursuing this matter on several fronts at the highest level to ensure that resources for this programme are safeguarded.
The Government sees this programme as a political imperative which must be safeguarded at least for the following three reasons. First, this EU initiative represents a most important signal in political terms. This is particularly so at this time when the political process is at a critical and delicate stage. Second, the commitment of the European Union to the programme has been a constant support and encouragement to those who believe in the Northern Ireland peace process and it would be tragic if this were to be undermined in any way. Third, the relatively slow rate of expenditure in the early stages of the programme, which has been given as one of the main reasons for the budget committee's proposed cut, reflects the care taken to put in place appropriate local structures in the communities affected to ensure an optimum outturn for the programme. Expenditure is markedly increasing in recent months and I firmly believe that the full amount of the appropriation will be required in 1997. I appeal for the full support of this House in the Government's efforts to retain in full the funding necessary for this peace programme. That support should include utilising whatever influence the respective parties have with their political groupings in the EU Parliament. I am happy to see a member of the European Parliament here who I am sure will tell us something about that process and how he sees it from the grouping he represents and works with. If we all work together we can have the proposed cuts restored in full. I accept the Government has a heavy responsibility and I assure the House that the Government at different levels, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and my own level to a lesser extent, will be doing everything in its power, in the days ahead in particular, to ensure that this process is reversed. There are a number of stages in the process but I am anxious we nip this in the bud and be in a position to report back with better news about this issue as early as next week.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Pat Gallagher.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The much talked of Task Force Document on Funding Arrangements for the Border Regions was eagerly awaited by those of us who consistently sought the setting up of a structure to co-ordinate the various funds. We have many different funds — INTERREG, operational programmes, the peace and reconciliation fund and various other funds. We have about ten administrative agencies and eight Government Departments, including the Taoiseach's. This document is a compilation of funding figures and sources of grants and there is no thought about strategy or serious recommendations. I would hazard that it cost much more to produce than a document I supplied to community groups, county councils and schools informing them of the different grants available, the projects that could be grant aided etc. which I suggest is a more informative document than this. It is a great disappointment.
The yardstick by which progress is measured in any constituency is the level of employment. Despite the various funds available, unemployment in County Monaghan in the 18 month period from November 1994 to April 1996 increased by 12 per cent. That was before the collapse in the past few weeks of a large factory employing 100 people in the pig industry. In meetings with Forbairt in November 1995, it was accepted that industrial infrastructure and factory space were required in the Border region. I was informed that food industries could be secured if factory space was available. A few months later, when the IDA compiled a programme for the Border region, it decided to locate factories and industrial parks in four counties but none in County Monaghan. It was a huge blow to that area that it was not included on that list. There is no funding available in the Border region for industrial infrastructure in the southern counties. In Northern Ireland they allocated £2 million of their 80 per cent to factory ventures, but we could not do similarly on our side.
The Minister mentioned the decision of the European Parliament to support an amendment to cut the £125 million for peace and reconciliation by £78 million. It is a complete reversal of thinking at EU level and of the European Commission and the Council of Ministers who have always favoured the retention of that funding. The Minister said it was important to get it right. However, there have been delaying tactics. The Government Departments delayed completely. The Minister of State was appointed as a result of a question of mine asking for the setting up of some structure to co-ordinate the various funding and agencies. He was allocated this task. This is the document this Minister has sent out. That is the seriousness with which Border funding and development and cross-Border infrastructural development is handled. Activities of community groups and local authorities are curtailed in most locations by the lack of matching funding. It must be 75, 50 or 25 per cent. It is practically impossible for local authorities or community groups to obtain the 25 per cent, let alone the maximum, from the funding agencies.
When speaking in Ballyconnell last year, Mr. Carlo Trojan indicated that no project would fail through lack of matching funds and that he would ensure a package of matching funding from other measures would be made available. Unfortunately that has not happened and many projects have been halted for the lack of additional funding. This is one of the disappointments.
There has also been a serious lack of effort by State agencies to develop cross-Border schemes. This was shown in recent months in a report from the EU audit committee, which was critical of the lack of truly cross-Border projects. There were stand alone projects on each side of the Border but the idea behind INTERREG and the peace and reconciliation fund—which has 15 per cent funding for this purpose—is that the projects would be cross-Border projects which would be truly beneficial and involve communities from both sides. The audit committee report stated that the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell canal scheme was a truly cross-Border project and that it would demand that projects receiving INTERREG II funding would be truly cross-Border.
(Donegal South-West): Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom buíochas a chur in iúil don Teachta Leonard as an am seo a thabhairt dom. Tá áthas orm an deis seo a fháil páirt a glacadh sa díospóireacht tábhachta seo i dtaobh infheistíocht sna chontae cois Teoireann.
This is a particularly timely motion, as unemployment and depopulation of the Border counties continues despite national economic good fortune. It comes at a time when the budget committee of the European Parliament has voted to slash £78 million from the funding to support the programme for peace and reconciliation and when the threadbare commitment of this Government to the Border counties has become apparent to all. We did not have to wait two years to see this—it became apparent on the night the Government was announced and during the subsequent days, when no Deputy from any of the Border counties, from Louth to Donegal, was appointed as Minister. That is no reflection on the fine Deputies in those counties, in particular Deputies McGinley and Harte from my own county. We did not first realise it today, we knew it then but we gave the Government a chance.
Unemployment in the Border counties ranges from 14 per cent in Leitrim to 24 per cent in parts of Donegal. This is further compounded by the ongoing outflow of our talented young people. The peace process gave new hope and possibilities to the Border counties but so far this potential has not been realised.
I attended last year's Washington conference on encouraging investment in Ireland in the wake of the peace process. I presented Senator George Mitchell with a report outlining good reasons why American companies should invest in the Border region. I pointed out that, at that time, less than 20 American companies out of a total of 400 operating in Ireland, were based in the region. The position has not improved one iota since then, due to Government inaction.
One incident more than any other illustrates this Government's indifference to the Border counties. At the Washington conference there was a great sense of hope that real economic regeneration of the region lay ahead. However, in his address to the prestigious gathering the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Bruton, made but one fleeting reference to the Border counties. That was the sum total of his interest and nothing has changed since then. There is no commitment from that Minister or this Government.
Reference has been made by all sides to serious matters which have arisen in Brussels. These have direct implications for Northern Ireland and the Border counties. The powerful budget committee of the European Parliament voted by 18 to five, with nine abstentions, to slash the peace and reconciliation fund by 100 million ECUs or £78 million. This cut was proposed by the Labour Party's colleagues in Europe, the Socialist Group, and was stoutly defended by Labour's sole MEP. It was made in the full knowledge that the EU currently does not have the resources to compensate for the loss of this money. Members of this House and MEPs can speak of financial perspectives but I refer them to the Florence and Dublin Summits, where no decision was taken on funding. All these actions illustrate to the people of the Border counties how unwilling the Labour Party is to defend their interest.
The Fine Gael member of this committee, even though he shares the constituency of Connacht-Ulster with me, did not oppose the cut and merely abstained. The same MEP accused me of being mischievous in the position I took. Does anyone expect me, as an MEP for the Border counties of Connacht-Ulster, to stand idly by while the Socialist Group and other MEPs are prepared to slash this fund, which was provided after a commitment given by Mr. Jacques Delors that Europe would respond in a positive and practical fashion? The European Parliament unanimously agreed to this fund but now certain groups are prepared to slash it—so much for their interest and practical and positive commitment to Northern Ireland.
In response to Deputy Bell, anyone who listened to the factual explanation given by the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, will notice the wide gulf between their two positions. Deputy Bell accused me of political mischief but it is his colleague in the European Parliament who is being mischievous. I ask him to elaborate on his charge that local authorities are not drawing down enough funding and are too slow. We all know the reasons for that—it is a new fund, there is no precedent for it and new structures must be established to disperse these funds, therefore it took some time after the green light was given in July last year. The Minister of State and Commissioner Wulf-Mathies have suggested there will be sufficient applications to draw down all the money.
This has been a remarkable display by all the Government parties at a time when Ireland holds the EU Presidency. They either actively oppose funding like Labour or sat on the fence as Fine Gael did. Were it not for the vigilance of Fianna Fáil MEPs and our group, the Union for Europe, this might never have come to public attention. I have been accused by many of highlighting the matter. If I am to be elected to this House or the European Parliament, so long as there is breath in my body I will defend the public interest and I am not prepared to ignore matters such as this. I give a strong commitment that our group in the European Parliament will remain vigilant and will defend the interests of the people of the Border counties at all times. The Tánaiste has strong ties with the Socialist Group and has lavishly entertained its leaders in recent times. I urge him to remonstrate with his colleagues and urge them to reverse their decision in next Thursday's vote in the Parliament.
I note with some irony yesterday's plea by the Minister of State, Deputy Carey, that the Parliament reverse its decision. The Government should have ensured that matters never reached this critical stage in the first place. With my colleagues in Fianna Fáil and the Union for Europe, I will do everything in my power to ensure the cut is reversed.
Is that a promise or a threat?
It is more than the Taoiseach did.
(Donegal South-West): The Commissioner for Regional Affairs, Ms Monika Wulf-Mathies, has rightly criticised this cut and described those who supported it as lacking solidarity with the victims of violence in Ireland. I hope to have an opportunity to discuss this and other issues with the Commissioner when she visits the north-west tomorrow. I give her credit for her commitment to the Border region.
The National Development Plan must be restructured in order to ensure that the Border counties and the west of Ireland receive a fair and equitable share of funding. I wish the Minister of State well in his deliberations with the chairman of the budget committee, who stated at the European budgetary meeting that Ireland did not fight hardest on this issue. That is the charge I am placing before the Government. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Coveney, will take the opportunity to raise this matter with him and ensure that this is reversed. Over the next couple of days I will use all my contacts with other Members who are also Members of the European Parliament, including Deputy Hyland, with a view to ensuring that we achieve that.
I know there have been telephone calls today between the Taoiseach and the Christian Democrats and between the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Socialists, and I hope there will be contacts tomorrow between the Minister of State and Mr. Samlend. I wish the Minister of State well in his deliberations, but let nobody accuse me of being mischievous because I represent the people who elected me. I call on Deputies from the Border regions, for all of whom I have so much respect, to vote with us on this motion.
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- Allen, Bernard.
- Barry, Peter.
- Bell, Michael.
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