Ceisteanna — Questions. - Western Development Funding.

Bertie Ahern

Question:

7 Mr. B. Ahern asked the Taoiseach the reason for the increase in funding for western development in 1997 from £2 million to £5 million. [24529/96]

As published in the 1997 Book of Estimates, the allocation in the Vote of the Department of the Taoiseach in respect of western development amounts to £4,910,000. This figure comprises £2 million as start up capital for a new western investment fund; £300,000 in respect of the cost of establishing the new Western Development Commission; £1,750,000 for the development of priority access and infrastructural projects on the offshore islands; £250,000 in respect of the continued commitment to rural renewal initiatives; and £610,000 for the provision of all-year-round ferry services to the Aran Islands. The increase in the 1997 allocation for western development is further evidence of the Government's continued commitment to the future of rural communities, particularly in the western region and on the offshore islands.

In spite of little help from the Government, my efforts all year to get money for offshore islands have had some success. We raised questions practically every week on behalf of those who briefed us from the islands. However, the administration has received almost as much as the islands, judging by the figures mentioned. Will the Minister of State indicate how many jobs will be created as a result of the funding increase? Has that calculation been made?

I do not have an estimate of the total number of jobs but the administration of the Western Development Commission will be small, comprising one chief executive officer, one company secretary, one projects officer, three development officers and two clerical staff. I expect it will substantially increase the employment opportunities in the region. The Government response to the key recommendations of the action plan for western development, prepared by the Bartlett partnership board, has been substantial. A major commitment has been made to a western investment fund with £25 million made available from the Exchequer over six years towards a total potential fund of £100 million. If that total is realised it will mean a substantial amount of funding for the region. Even though money is available for the islands I assure Deputy Ahern that neither Usher's Island nor Islandbridge received any of this money.

Disgraceful.

Will the Minister of State say when an announcement will be made about the location of the headquarters of the Western Development Commission? Does he agree that, because it is the headquarters of the temporary board, because of its geographical location and its other advantages, Sligo would be the ideal location?

The Deputy is a plant.

It should be Galway.

What about Dublin South-Central, the Minister's constituency?

This matter is under examination. A number of locations have been examined, none of which is in Dublin South-Central, regrettably. An announcement will be made in the near future.

Will the Minister indicate what locations have been considered for the headquarters? The all-year-round ferry service to one offshore island of County Galway is under threat as from 31 December. Will the Minister give a commitment that the required financial assistance will be made available to ensure a 52 week service is maintained to Inishbofin?

My colleague, the Minister of State responsible for western development, will do everything in his power to meet the necessary transport and access requirements of Inishbofin. As to the other question, I am not in a position to tell the Deputy the exact locations which have been examined. A number are being considered at arm's length as regards cost-effectiveness and other matters. I will try to discover what areas have been examined and will communicate with the Deputy.

The significant increase — of the order of 150 per cent — in the allocation is welcome news for the west, particularly the inhabited islands under the jurisdiction of Comhdháil na nOileán. I am sure the Western Development Commission will be located somewhere in the west but what of its membership — will they be elected or selected; what is the likely number of members and when is it expected to be operational?

I do not have information on the membership of the commission. Its objective will be to complement and add value to the activities of the State agencies, particularly the regional and local authorities which currently operate in the western region. The commission will promote economic and social development and the interests of the people in the region. It will also achieve this in collaboration with the existing statutory and community-based agencies working in the region. In the pursuit of this central function the terms of reference of the commission will include the following: to prepare a strategic plan for the region and to set out annual objectives to be pursued in the context of the plan; to promote and manage the western investment fund in accordance with the arrangements to be settled with the Department of the Taoiseach; and to develop close working relations with regional and local authorities and with the various agencies engaged in local development with the region. There will be close liaison between all the agencies and the new commission.

What plans are there to make sure this investment fund will not go to areas in the west which are already growing rapidly, but will be directed towards those with the least capital currently available and with the greatest decline in population? Does the Minister agree that the biggest danger is that money will go where it is already going and not to where it is most needed?

I agree with the sentiment of Deputy Ó Cuív's question. The idea is that this will be a substantial additional fund for the area. I hope the activities carried out by my colleague, the Minister of State responsible for western development, and me in my capacity as Minister of State responsible for local development, will combine to make this additional money as effective as possible, and to target it disproportionately at those areas not currently receiving funding to give them an opportunity to develop adequately.

All the announcements lately in regard to job creation are in respect of the eastern region, Cork or Limerick; none of the jobs came to Mayo. Will the Minister of State give priority to placing the commission in Mayo, preferably Ballina?

Perhaps the Deputy should table another question.

I understand the Deputy's wish to have the commission located in his constituency. I am not in a position to say where it will be located, that decision will be taken on the basis of what is the most effective location. I assure the Deputy that Mayo will be getting its share of the jobs, particularly through the local development programme to which funding has and is being made available.