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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Dec 1997

Vol. 484 No. 1

Ceisteanna—Questions. - NESC Studies.

Donal Carey


2 Mr. D. Carey asked the Taoiseach the number of studies being undertaken by NESC during 1997. [21007/97]

The NESC is currently undertaking three studies. These are: a study of settlement patterns in Ireland; an examination of the level of investment in Ireland and its implications for the sustainability of growth; and the development of a set of indicators to benchmark progress in relation to Partnership 2000.

Both the settlement patterns study and the investment study have been completed. The settlement patterns study will be published before the end of the year while the investment study will be published early in 1998. The work in relation to benchmarking Partnership 2000 will continue over the life of the partnership.

The council launched the new NESC Research Series at a seminar in Dublin Castle on Thursday, 27 November. The series is based on work done by the council which is considered to be a potential contribution to the wider public debate but on which the council has not adopted a position. This series will allow the council to make a contribution to public policy discussions in areas where definitive conclusions by the council are not appropriate. The first three papers in this series focus on clusters in three separate Irish industries and copies have been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. The report on settlement patterns is the most important report for the west, particularly given the extent of depopulation there. Will the Taoiseach outline the Government's plans on spatial development? Is he concerned about the depopulation of the west and the provision of public services there? Will he indicate how much money has been set aside for that purpose?

The settlement patterns report will be published prior to Christmas. The matter raised by the Deputy is a separate question. The Government has plans and policies for urban development and urban renewal, not only in the agriculture sphere but in all matters relating to rural Ireland. We are seeking to generate activity, investment and opportunities. We are conscious of the proposals by Commissioner Franz Fischler and others to seek means of developing not only agriculture but off-farm incomes and other incentives, and the Government is committed to that.

The opportunity the Taoiseach gave to the Secretary General of his Department shows how photogenic he is——

A question, please.

I compliment him on the recent launch of the NESC report. If the Taoiseach is serious about the study of settlement patterns, he would have taken this initiative in time for the consolidation of Leader work and urban and local development, but that was not done. There are no plans——

A question, please. The time for questions is limited.

My question is in what I am saying. You are not listening to me, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, you are interrupting me. Will I start again?

Question Time is limited and, for the benefit of Members, it is important to elicit as much information as possible.

This is my fourth time to put down this question to the Taoiseach. I am sure you are trying to be helpful, but it is disingenuous of you to interrupt me when my thoughts are flowing. The previous Taoiseach appointed a Minister with responsibility for depopulation of the west, and a study of settlement patterns has a major role in this regard, as pointed out in the NESC report. Yesterday I pointed out to the Taoiseach the valuable work being done in terms of rural renewal.

I am reluctant to interrupt the Deputy's flow of thought, but it is inappropriate for Members to make statements during Question Time. For the benefit of Members, we want to get answers to as many questions as possible. The Deputy should ask a brief supplementary question.

Is the Taoiseach aware of the meaning of settlement patterns and spatial development?

The Deputy mentioned the Leader programmes. A meeting took place yesterday between officials of the Leader programmes and the Minister with responsibility for rural development and rural renewal, Deputy Davern. The report to which the Deputy referred, Population Distribution and Economic Development: Trends and Policy Implications has been completed and will be published before the end of the year. That useful report was drawn up as a result of a Government request and recommendations in the council's study on new approaches to rural development to examine patterns of population settlement. In its study, the council emphasised that any examination of patterns of population change must be viewed on the basis of the principles of economic and social equity, in other words, we should focus on policy implications for rural Ireland.

The report's objective is to outline the general patterns and trends in population distribution since l950. Those patterns and trends were considered in terms of how they were subject to the influence of public policy, particularly economic policy, over that period and in terms of their implications for public policy and public service provision in the future. This includes services such as health, education and transport in rural Ireland. The key question posed relates to how public policy can effectively achieve a sustained high level of national economic and social development with a relatively dispersed distribution of benefits. The report will be useful in the debate on rural development and rural regeneration, to which I am very committed.

When the report is published by the NESC, what Department or Minister will have responsibility for implementing its recommendations?

Responsibility for the agriculture side of rural development, and more particularly for aspects of rural renewal, will rest with the Minister of State, Deputy Davern. As the debate does not deal exclusively with agriculture, a debate took place on whether the matter should come under the remit of the Department of Agriculture and Food. We have been forming a section in that Department to deal with the matter. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Franz Fischler's proposals are geared towards agriculture and related issues. It makes sense, therefore, that the Department of Agriculture and Food should deal primarily with the matter.

I call Question No. 3.

May I ask a supplementary?

No, Deputy we are moving to Question No. 3. We have spent ten minutes on this question.

The Chair is being very partial.

I am not. Three supplementary questions have been asked on this question and Deputy Carey asked two of them. I am being impartial for the benefit of Members.

The Chair should ask the bishops of the west if I am partial.