I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. Just 12 months ago, the Minister for Finance, in his Budget Statement, announced the mid-Shannon tax incentive scheme to support tourism in the area. The announcement was welcomed. Over previous years I and many other public representatives from the mid-Shannon area had asked the previous Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, to extend the pilot scheme for the upper Shannon region to the mid-Shannon region. The pilot scheme was a major benefit for the upper Shannon and we hope the proposed new scheme will benefit tourism interests in the mid-Shannon area, particularly around Lough Derg.
Despite the fact that the scheme was announced 12 months ago and was included in the Finance Act 2007, nothing tangible has been done to indicate that it can get going. Many people are waiting to invest in the development of the tourism industry in the area. Over the years it was neglected for development by what was then known as Bord Fáilte. All the resources went to the west, south and south west. There was little provision for the development of the tourism industry in the midland area, which borders the Minister for Finance's constituency.
The scheme can be commenced by ministerial order so there should be no delay as further legislation is not necessary. However, it cannot be commenced until the relevant guidelines have been drawn up and agreed. We have been told for the last six months that the guidelines are in the final stages of preparation. The scheme must be approved by the European Commission but we do not know if it has been sent to Europe for approval. Will the Minister of State indicate if it has? Will the Minister of State also let the people who are interested in the scheme know if the certification board has been established? Who will be on the board? What interest groups will be represented on it?
Areas in the vicinity of Lough Derg and the mid-Shannon region are covered by the scheme. The broadest possible range of projects should be included in it. Marinas and other water-based facilities are to benefit from it as well as land-based projects such as horse riding and other tourist attractions. These have not been developed to a great extent in the mid-Shannon area. There are many other major projects possible in the area. There are, for example, no interpretative centres in the entire Shannon basin but there is a proposal with State agencies involving Portumna Forest Park. It was due to be developed with the help of Coillte and Tourism Ireland but there is a lack of funding. I hope that project will get immediate approval.
Portumna Castle should also be completed. For three years not a penny has been spent on the completion of Portumna Castle, aside from on obvious maintenance. It is a major attraction in Portumna. The Office of Public Works spent €237,000 on it in the three years 2000-03 but nothing since then, despite the availability of resources. I hope that project will be included in the scheme.
Will the Minister of State indicate whether a board has been established, if the scheme has been sent to the European Commission for approval and if the guidelines and application forms are available? We were told last year that it was a three-year scheme. We do not know if the three years date from its inclusion in the Finance Act or if the clock has yet to start ticking. I hope the Minister of State will clearly outline the position in his reply.