Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am very pleased to introduce to the House the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2017, which will establish the new Department of Rural and Community Development. This Bill has just one purpose, to establish the new Department, confer a name upon the Department and to provide for a Minister who will be in charge of the Department. It is important to note that the Bill does not confer any functions on the Department. The new Department's functions are still being finalised and these will be transferred at the earliest opportunity following the enactment of the Bill.

The establishment of the new Department underscores the Government's commitment to rural and community development. It reflects the priority the Government places on both and, importantly, ensures that efforts across all elements of the Government to support rural Ireland and to develop vibrant rural and urban communities will achieve the maximum impact. This will be a key focus for me as Minister for Rural and Community Development. To this end, the Department of Rural and Community Development will deliver on the Government's commitment to bring greater co-ordination to all the work of the Government that affects rural areas and the development of vibrant sustainable communities, both rural and urban. It will guarantee a priority focus on rural and community matters, ensuring that tailored policy approaches are developed that will have a real and lasting impact for rural and urban communities alike.

The new Department will work closely with other Departments that have a role in supporting the twin objectives of rural and community development, be it the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which reaches into rural areas through its many policies and programmes that support farming and fishing communities, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which is key to facilitating job creation in the regions through its support for enterprises, from start-ups to multinational companies, the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and others which work closely with disadvantaged communities to improve their social inclusion, education and job prospects.

The action plan for rural development provides a whole-of-Government framework to support rural development through practical actions, with clear timeframes, for delivery by named Departments and agencies. The action plan will form the basis of the work of the rural development division of the new Department. As the Minister for Rural and Community Development, I will continue to work tirelessly with other Departments, public bodies and stakeholders to deliver on the actions in the plan.

We have had many debates over the past 12 months in this House and Oireachtas committees about rural areas. While we may have had differing views from time to time on matters of detail in these debates, no Deputy or Senator believes that supporting rural areas is a bad thing.

I see the talent and potential of rural Ireland every day. I see how the people of rural Ireland have adapted and changed with the times. Rural Ireland in the 21st century is modern, dynamic and creative, and is an important part of our identity and our economy. It is my job to help realise that potential. As Minister for Rural and Community Development, I will work with my ministerial colleagues to bring more job opportunities and better services to the people of rural Ireland.

Rural Ireland is a diverse and varied place. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting rural Ireland. That said, there are many examples of very successful approaches that can be captured and copied throughout the country. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo is a fine example of this and has led to huge interest in other greenway projects around the country, while the emergence of new enterprise clusters in areas such as agri-tech in the west also point the way forward for creating high-value-added jobs. I want to change the narrative around rural Ireland. I want to build on the positives. I see and meet many exceptional business people and many exceptional rural communities. The establishment of the new Department of Rural and Community Development provides an unprecedented opportunity to build on the work the Government commenced last year, to work in partnership with business leaders and communities and to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of the people who live and work in rural Ireland.

All this, of course, will be complemented by the work of the community development division in the new Department. To move forward and grow as a country, we need strong and vibrant communities. Strong communities are the glue that hold our society together and enrich our lives. The framework policy for local and community development in Ireland is a critical piece of work in this regard. It sets out national priorities and a framework for a cross-Government approach to improving engagement between national and local government and local communities in the planning, delivery and evaluation of policies and interventions that affect them. It focuses on tackling poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion. It seeks to provide better ways of working with communities to identify local priorities and develop local solutions to address these, with the aim of securing positive impacts on jobs, gender equality, poverty, rural communities and people with disabilities.

Delivering on the commitments in the policy will be a key priority of mine and the new Department, working in partnership with other Departments, State agencies and a range of key community development, local development and community and voluntary sector stakeholders. Developing a strong relationship with local government will also be critical given the significant role local authorities and the newly established local community development committees, LCDCs, will have in translating the policy into local actions and approaches. By working together locally and nationally, we can identify better ways to provide more effective services for those who need them most. We can plan in a way that involves communities in identifying their own needs and priorities, that co-ordinates what we do and, most importantly, that delivers real outcomes for all involved.

A strong relationship with local government and the new local governance structures will also be important in terms of programme delivery. LCDCs have a role in the new Department’s Leader programme in many rural areas as well as responsibility for delivering the Department’s social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP, at local level. SICAP is the country’s primary social inclusion intervention and, as such, I am keen to support its ongoing development, to work closely with those managing its delivery and to ensure it continues to support those who need it most. The new SICAP, which will be rolled out in 2018, will also be complemented by the new communities facilities scheme and the new RAPID programme, which will provide capital funding for projects that seek to enhance communities, address disadvantage and improve social cohesion at a local level.

The contribution of the community and voluntary sector to the well-being of our nation should never be taken for granted. If there is anything all public representatives have in common, it is their awareness and direct experience of the vital impact voluntary work has at community level. A key focus of the new Department, therefore, will be to raise awareness of the contribution the community and voluntary sector gives nationally, while developing and strengthening policy approaches and existing supports that will grow the sector in years to come.

The establishment of the new Department of Rural and Community Development will strengthen delivery of the Government’s commitments to rural Ireland and its communities. The primary function of the Department will be to support local communities and to ensure rural areas, market towns and villages can develop and thrive. The Department’s role in leading the action plan for rural development and the framework policy for local and community development in Ireland will bring an added impetus to the local and economic development of rural Ireland and will improve the lives of those living in disadvantaged communities nationwide. I am enthused by the potential for the Department to achieve real progress for rural Ireland and our communities. I look forward to finalising as soon as possible the transfer of functions order which will set out in further detail the role of the Department. I commend the Bill to the House.

That was a great example of a cliché-laden speech with no substance. The way the Department of Rural and Community Development is being set up is abysmal. We need a lot more detail from the Minister as to what is intended. Let us strip away all the fine talk and all the ráiméis in the Minister's speech that says nothing and is just a collection of wild statements with no substance and find out what he is doing. We are being asked to approve the setting up of a Department the functions of which we do not know. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

Let us look at the obvious. If we only transfer over the functions of regional and rural affairs that are in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs at the moment, a budget of €79 million transfers over with that. If we transfer over the community affairs section of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, a budget of €80 million goes with that. That would give the Department about €160 million. If we look at the gross Estimates, even the Department of the Taoiseach, which is not a conventional Department because it is an administrative Department, does not have line functions and, therefore, does not have a significant budget, would have a bigger budget than this new Department. The Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has a budget of €368 million, making it by far the smallest Department, given the other Departments are spending very large sums. The Minister has not told us what this Department is going to do or if it is only going to continue on those functions. If that is all the Minister is getting, to be quite honest, it is more about show than substance. It is more about gaisce than really doing anything for rural Ireland.

It seems to me the Government is trying to get this through before the summer because it wants to avoid the debate about what should be the powers of the Minister for Rural and Community Development. Let us look at what was previously within the former Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that is not going into the new Department. Responsibility for the North-South bodies, which include Waterways Ireland, which is predominantly a rural agency North and South, was in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Responsibility for the rural social scheme was in that Department.

Responsibility for the Gaeltacht, all of which is rural - was in the then Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Responsibility for the islands - and there are no urban islands with a population on them - was in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It had a budget of around €380 million at the time. It also had other functions and I believed there were other aspects that should have been in that Department.

It seems to me that the Minister is losing the battle. He is losing the battle because the Departments defend the citadel against any change in any transfer of function. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, had some big ideas but he was quickly brought to heel. Is the Minister getting responsibility for the rural social scheme, for example? Is he getting the Tús scheme, which was set up subsequently by me when I was the Minister for Social Protection? Will the Minister get responsibility for farm assist, which by its very definition is a purely rural function? Will the Minister get responsibility for rural transport? Will he be given responsibility for decentralisation? We had the farcical situation at the coiste na Gaeilge last night of the Office for Public Works outlining the absolutely fantastic rents it pays here in Dublin when there are empty sites down the country for which plenty of civil servants, particularly the middle and lower ranks, are only bursting their guts and who could then be promoted into the senior positions in those rural locations. Is the headquarters of the Minister's Department to be here in the city or will it be in some rural location? In short, what is this Department about?

I read the Minister's speech and there is nothing really to read in it. It is all nice words such as "ensures that efforts". The Minister and I know - I would not like to embarrass him too much today - that he was supposed to be the Minister of State for rural development. He had all these functions already. He and I know that the famous rural action plan is the greatest piece of codology that was ever written around this place. They went around every Department and listed out everything they were doing that had any connection with rural Ireland - we know they have the odd health centre, school, road and sewerage and water scheme and all those other things in rural Ireland - and they put it all into the plan. Everything that every Department was doing with a rural aspect was put in this plan, but nothing else was. I am forgetting that there was something else; there was the famous promise that is not provided for in the budget, for €20 million for some vague scheme towards the back end of this year. That was what the whole plan was about. There are pages and pages of it and that is all we get out of the plan.

Between now and the end of this debate - I believe the debate will go on for a long time, a lot longer than he had anticipated - the Minister had better start spelling it out. More importantly the Minister with the purse strings who brought in the Bill did not even bother turning up today. Even though it is his Bill, the guy who ultimately decides, in reality, who gets what out of the State's kitty, is not even here. I think this tells us everything.

Every day, every week and every month material is sent to Members about spatial strategy. It is clear that the Government, of which the Minister is a part, intends to publish a spatial strategy that would put all of the money into a small number of urban areas. It is quite a ridiculous approach, despite anything that any of these so-called experts tell us. The experts, however, do not often have to live with their folly. The experts tell us to push people into the cities because we need international competitive cities. We need an internationally competitive country, not internationally competitive cities. If the country is competitive then the cities will be competitive too. The Minister is telling me that in Galway we need a whole lot more people, when we cannot get housing for the people who are already there. We cannot accommodate them and we have no way of accommodating them over the next five years with this Government's plans. We are not building any houses either private or public. The Minister is telling people to go to Galway but there is no road in or out of the city and it has some of worst traffic jams in the State. Has the Minister ever tried to get into the city coming from Westport any time between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.? Has the Minister ever tried, without using the ministerially-privileged bus lanes, to get out of the city any time from 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.? Yet he wants to push a whole lot more people in to that city and leave the small schools all over rural Ireland such as those in Achill and Newport? He knew there was a population issue. The health centres are underutilised and the sports clubs are looking for players. What a waste of resources.

Has the Minister ever thought of the human outcome? We are always told that cities are successful. Parts of cities are successful. I can name some very successful companies and people in this town but we must remember the masses of people who are forced to live in the most deprived communities in our land. We must remember those people whose chance of getting a third level education is about 20% and those who live in communities rife with drugs. Does the Minister want to put more people into those communities? Does he want more people to suffer?

We need to know what the Minister's plan is with regard to the Government's spatial strategy. The Minister will wind up with a few little pretty schemes and the big boys and girls will go off to play. They will make the big decisions with the Minister who could not face us in the Chamber today and who did not want to be challenged about the big plans for investment in the State. These plans will put all of the money - as the Minister and I both know - in towards the cities and yet the Minister wants us to sign off on this Bill and say that he is a great guy because he got a titular Department with no money, no functions, no power and no input. He will have no influence in the big decisions. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, however, will be able to boast that he set up the dedicated Department of rural affairs. To be honest, there was a Department with that function. I saw a press release saying this was the first Department of rural affairs. I had to laugh. I also saw in the newspapers recently a piece that seemed to say that the Minister had set up the CLÁR programme. I have heard of the rewriting of history-----

The Deputy is good at that.

I never did that. I set up the CLÁR programme, the Minister did not.

I never said that I did.

The Minister should read what he said in the Irish Independent last week.

We reopened what Deputy Ó Cuív had closed.

Deputies will please go through the Chair.

That is wrong on two counts. The Minister, Deputy Ring, did say it and I did not close it. If the Minister was to check the Department Estimate of the year that I was in the Department in 2010, he will find that there was a substantial amount of money for the CLÁR programme.

I did not close it and the Minister did not set it up. The reality is there was previously a Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs - which, in its final iteration included the equality remit - set up by a Fianna Fáil Government. Fianna Fáil set up the CLÁR programme and the rural recreation scheme. I proposed the development of the greenway along the line from Westport to Achill - I have the newspaper cutting in that regard from the year in question. Fianna Fáil also set up the rural social scheme and many other schemes. When Fine Gael came into government in 2011, it demolished the then Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

I am glad that there has been a Pauline conversion and that the latter-day saint, the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, has realised that Fianna Fáil was right to have a Department of Rural and Community Development. However, the Government should have had the guts to include within its remit responsibility for the Gaeltacht and the islands, which are certainly not urban: they are geographic entities. The Government has not even had the good grace to spell out the functions of this Department. This could be a long day and it could be a long week. The Minister owes it to us to spell out the functions of this Department. Will it make a significant difference or is it a fig leaf to cover the nakedness of the Government in terms of investment in rural Ireland?

Ba mhaith liom focal a rá faoin leasú atá curtha isteach againn ar an mBille. Creideann muidne gur cheart go mbeadh freagracht na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileáin curtha faoin Roinn seo. Ní bheadh aon ghá ag an Taoiseach na hAirí atá ceaptha aige don Roinn a athrú mar tá mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Seán Kyne, ag déanamh jab foirfe mar Aire Stáit le freagracht as an nGaeltacht. Ba é an tAire Stáit ab fhearr a bhí againn ó 2011. Má ghlacann an Teach leis an leasú atáimid ag moladh, agus má ghlacann an Taoiseach le toil an Tí, beifear in ann cúraimí na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileáin a aistriú go dtí an Roinn agus beifear in ann, gan aon dua agus gan teacht ar ais go dtí an Teach, tosú le Roinn a chur le chéile go mbeadh substaint ag baint leis. Ná habair liomsa go bhfuil sé ciallmhar go mbeadh Roinn Forbartha Tuaithe agus Pobail atá ag plé le forbairt fisiciúil na Gaeltachta agus na n-oileáin agus go mbeadh Roinn eile ag plé le forbairt na gceantar tuaithe. Níl aon chiall leis. Tá a fhios ag an Aire nach bhfuil aon chiall leis.

Ar ndóigh, má bhíonn cearc á roinnt ní rabhthas sásta scaoileadh leis. Nuair a thángthas ag iarraidh cumhachtaí don Aire, fuarthas amach nach raibh an Roinn sásta géilleadh, mar is maith leis na Ranna Stáit an méid a bhfuil acu a choinneáil. Is iomaí sárú a bhí agam mar Aire le státseirbhísigh as Ranna éagsúla. Deirim i gcónaí go gcaithfidh sé bheith curtha ina gcloigne nach raibh 15 rialtas ann, nó 16 rialtas mar is é sin an méid Ranna Stáit a bheas againn. Níl 16 rialtas againn. Níl ann ach Rialtas amháin de réir an Bhunreachta. Tá dualgas, ní hamháin ar na hAirí, ach ar na Ranna Stáit ar fad agus ar na comhlachtaí atá ag obair fúthu tuiscint chuile lá go bhfuil dualgas iomlán orthu feidhmiú mar aonad ar leasa an náisiúin. Sin rud nach dtarlaíonn. Cuireann na Ranna Stáit a spéiseanna roimh leas an phobail. Mar sin, beidh orainn smaoineamh go doimhin sula dtabharfaimid tacaíocht don mBille seo. Le cúnamh Dé, beidh deis ag an Aire inniu athmhachnamh a dhéanamh ar an gcur chuige seo. Beidh deis ag an Aire nó ag duine éigin ón Rialtas teacht ar ais go dtí an Teach agus a rá linn céard a bheas ar bun ag an Roinn seo. Beidh muid in ann breithiúnas a dhéanamh nuair a dhéanann an Rialtas é sin.

This is the third manifestation of this Department in just over a year. In May 2016, the Government announced the addition of the regional and rural responsibilities to the existing Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in response, I imagine, to the critical level of debate in the 2016 election on the need for the Government to elevate address of the crisis that was developing in rural and regional Ireland. The problem with that particular exercise, with which the Minister may agree, although not publicly, is that it was in the main a cosmetic exercise in that the necessary powers or budgets were not transferred to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to allow it to do the work which its title claimed it would do. For example, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, retained control over broadband and all the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs could do was put in place a few people in certain local authorities to identify if there were any small problems they could iron out. Also, responsibility for spatial planning remained with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, and his Department. Spatial planning should be at the centre of regional development. Regional development should not be the responsibility of one particular Department and spatial planning the responsibility of another Department. As I said, the fact that the budgets were transferred made it difficult for the new Department to carry out its work.

For Members on this side of the House, this was extremely disappointing. There is serious economic damage being done in this country. The chasm that exists between parts of this island, economically, demographically and socio-economically, is incredible. I believe there has been an over-concentration of population and economic activity in a very small space on the east coast and a damaging emptying of population on the west coast. Counties such as Mayo and Donegal have experienced population decreases during the inter-census period of 2011 to 2016. In many other counties there were minute marginal increases in population while the population on the east coast increased massively. As we know, Dublin is growing out of kilter. As I have said previously, we are in serious danger of developing a city-state island - a city surrounded by a national park. That is how stark this is.

The Minister makes the good point on a regular basis that people should not be negative towards rural areas or regional areas but we also should not censor ourselves with regard to identifying problems. If we do that, we will not be able to draw attention to problems and have them addressed. There is a rake of problems in regional and rural areas. The main problem is that the location of decent jobs is on the east coast. Teagasc has produced a very good report on this issue, in which it indicates that young families with young children need two incomes to survive and, as the only place where they can get those two incomes is on the eastern corridor, they are, in general, moving towards the east. What does this do? It creates radical problems for infrastructural spend.

It means that new schools have to be built on the east coast while schools are emptying on the west coast. There is no capital investment logic for that. It means that important services on the west coast have to be closed, and then opened up on the east coast. One of members of the senior management team of An Post informed the committee of which I am Chairman that 500 post offices in this State are unsustainable. In large part, that is a reflection of what is happening with the shift to the east coast. Unemployment is currently three times higher in the Border regions than is the case in Dublin. In certain parts of the west, broadband speeds are 36 times slower than in the centre of Dublin.

The north-west region is without a rail line or a motorway. Gaining access to the north west is very difficult for those in business. Businesses are very simple entities. A business will set up in a space where it can attract customers, communicate with those customers and transport its product or service to them. If it cannot do that, it will locate elsewhere. We know that the demographic changes in the south west to which I referred mean that Balbriggan - on the east coast - has the youngest population in the country and that Killarney has the oldest. Demographic profiles are changing as young couples move. The change has been shocking. I covered the enterprise brief on behalf of my party in the previous Dáil. In the five-year lifetime of that Dáil under the previous Fine Gael Government, IDA Ireland pumped 60% of all foreign direct investment, FDI, into Dublin and Cork. In 2010 and 2011, the figure was as low as 20% of FDI going outside the Dublin and Cork regions.

This is not anti-Dublin bias. I want to see Dublin become an international city of renown and to be able to compete internationally. The fact is, however, that the more Dublin expands without planning, the more difficult it becomes for people living and working in Dublin. We all know that it is very difficult for individuals to get to their places of work during rush hour. We have heard much about the baptism ban but, in fact, there is a building barrier in this country because the Government is not building the necessary schools. People find it very difficult to get their children into schools. Water shortages are happening in Dublin at the moment. We are increasingly told that the headroom in respect of water is very small in Dublin, which means that this Government is seeking to take water from the Parteen basin along the Shannon in the mid-west region and bring it to Dublin. The logic, again, should be that the Government should look at developing Limerick and similar cities in a regional capacity so that they would be able to allow for infrastructure to be used more evenly.

One of the most disappointing items of information to emerge at meetings of my committee in the past year was that relating to the Western Development Commission. In his new role in this Department, I hope the Minister will focus his attention on this matter because the Western Development Commission is a very useful organisation, so much so that my own party examined the possibility of replicating its structure in other regions. Mr. Paddy McGuinness was the chairman of the Western Development Commission. He is a friend of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. He was given the job of being the chairman of that commission. He came before the committee and - this is on the record of the committee - that the Western Development Commission has had its budget and its level of staffing slashed. Considerable funding which was assigned to the Western Development Commission was put in a capital budget space, even though the need was for a current rather than a capital spend. It was mind-blowing. The Western Development Commission was given money that it could not spend, which is incredible, and it still cannot spend it. As a result, many organisations that work with the Western Development Commission are being held up with regard to investment due to this particular spend.

Mr. McGuinness has said that the position of CEO in the Western Development Commission has been vacant for five years. It is incredible that this is the case. There has been no board in the Western Development Commission since February of this year, which means that it is rudderless. The latter means that community organisations cannot get the necessary funding and are being left in limbo. Mr. McGuinness went further than that. He said that the Western Development Commission was hamstrung, oppressed and hampered by the Department and that the only time the Department ever took an interest in the commission was on the issue of its governance. That must make the Minister's blood boil. It makes my blood boil to realise that we have a functional, decent organisation operating in one of the most disadvantaged parts of our country and that it is materially discriminated against and worked against by the Department. The latter is creating a blockage in the context of the development which would naturally and organically happen in that part of the country.

The other issue about which I am concerned in respect of the Department is the fact that the word "Regional" has been deleted from its title. The Minister may say that he is going to keep an eye on regional development and that is going to be a task of his Department - and a greater task for the other Departments as well - but we know that the titles of Departments reflect their priorities. If a particular objective is not set out in the title of a Department, the opportunity of giving that objective priority is missed. Those involved in the arts logically become annoyed when the word "Arts" is left out of a Department's name. Those in Gaeltacht areas logically become annoyed when its name is left out. The word "Regional" has been deleted from the name of the Minister's Department. I think that is a mistake. Rural areas are more regional in their location, but there are rural areas in County Meath, which is also in the greater Dublin area. The two issues are not mutually exclusive.

In addition to my concerns regarding the changes in their titles, I also have a difficulty with the lack of work that happens in these Departments. Rural and regional areas are experiencing a crisis in the context of broadband. Mr. Dermot Ahern, a former Fianna Fáil Deputy, was the first to promise the provision of broadband services throughout the whole State. He promised that in 2004. Mr. Noel Dempsey, another former Deputy and a county colleague of mine, promised that every house in the State would have broadband by 2010. Deputy Eamon Ryan from the Green Party promised that we would have broadband for all by 2012 and, in 2014, the Fine Gael led Government stated that the entire country would have broadband by 2020. In 2016, that target was stretched out further to 2022. Now the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, has admitted that the plan may not actually be completed by that date and has started to suggest a target date of 2024. We can have all the name changes and departmental changes that we like, but if we do not have the implementation of key policy such as that relating to broadband, we are going to find it very difficult. This is horizon politics. Each of those particular politicians to whom I refer stated that the sunny day when rural Ireland would have broadband was on the horizon. However, the problem is that as we get closer to those dates, the horizon shifts out farther and that sunny date becomes more and more difficult to reach.

Agriculture is obviously a major concern for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and, I hope, for the new Department for which the Minister will have responsibility. The problem is - Teagasc reflected this as well - the really shocking figure that only 37% of farmers in this State are economically viable. It is mind-blowing that 63% of farmers currently operating in this State are not independently economically viable.

I ask the Minister to focus on the Leader programme. Our committee held public meetings in Bailieborough and Athboy. People came to us from Cavan, Monaghan, Westmeath and Meath and told us that only one or two people in those counties had been approved for Leader funding in the past year. There were 18 separate steps from start to finish for a particular business to achieve. If one was to purposefully design the most bureaucratic nightmare for a small business - and a small business in a rural area would not have experience with bureaucracy and would be averse to it - and to stop individuals in it from doing anything, one would design a way of having 18 steps before it could get the necessary funding to allow those people to do their particular jobs.

Change is good and necessary but I worry that in the new manifestation of the Minister's Department, we will see more change management. Anyone involved in organisational management will say that if one keeps changing the structure of an organisation, more energy goes into managing that change than achieving the organisation's objectives. The HSE is rife with this. Each time there is a new Minister for Health, he or she wants to change the structures and management becomes sucked into a black hole of managing that change. The patients, whom one would hope are the HSE's objective, are left towards the end.

There is also a question of a departmental turf war which the Minister is long enough in politics to be able to identify. Deputy Ó Cuív identified a major gap in this legislation in that we do not know the exact responsibilities and functions this new Department will have. I wish the Minister all the luck in the world in ensuring the necessary tools for regional, spatial and rural development come under his Department because all the other Ministers, and their staff, will fight tooth and nail to prevent that happening. We saw that in the previous Government. We want a real Department, not just an edifice with nothing behind it.

The Department will need a certain level of investment, and the type of control the Minister has on his budget is important. This country has the second lowest capital infrastructural spend in the EU. Romania beats us to the last position. We are hearing a lot of talk about a rainy day fund. If the Minister had a house with a massive mortgage and its roof was blown off, would the Minister fix the roof and pay down the mortgage or would he decide to put his money into a rainy day fund and leave himself without a roof and with a massive mortgage? It is logical to tackle the infrastructural problem with the house and, when that was complete, to pay off some of the debt, after which one might put a few bob aside for a rainy day fund. The idea of creating a rainy day fund when there are massive infrastructural gaps in this country is nonsense. One cannot travel to the north west by rail or by motorway. There is no broadband three miles outside Navan. I am sure that is also the case three miles outside Westport. When we do not have these things, the money needs to be directed into their provision. Capital spend is not a waste of money. It is money that makes money. That is its logic. I ask the Minister to look at that issue.

The Government must consider the all-Ireland context in which we live. In January 2016, I carried out a report on the all-Ireland economy during which I interviewed around 100 organisations, including the Confederation of British Industry, the unions and the Ulster farmers. Everyone I spoke to felt that if we planned, funded and delivered together, we would have more efficient and better services for everyone on the island, whether they be cancer services in Altnagelvin hospital or an air ambulance based out of Enniskillen for the north west or Daisy Hill Hospital which serves people in the north east. Most experts in this area to whom I spoke said that the all-Ireland economy had fallen off the agenda. After the Good Friday Agreement, it had been the great new hope, but nothing but lip service was paid to it between 2011 and 2016. The Minister is a decent man and I believe if he had the opportunity to do something about this, he would. That is why I tabled an amendment to include "all-Ireland" in the name of the Department because we cannot continue to develop the island spatially on a Twenty-six Counties or Six Counties basis.

It happened before. During the 1970s the unionist government in the North decided to build a motorway to Newry and then decided to extend it to Warrenpoint, which is a beautiful, small sea village on the coast of County Down. It did not want to build it to Dublin. It took until 2007 to build that motorway going to Dundalk, Drogheda and on to Dublin. Look at the economic energy which has been generated from that Belfast-Dublin corridor. The money the DUP secured from the Tories is largely designated for the three north-eastern counties of the Six Counties. We must ensure all the Departments are aligned. The Minister needs to speak to his private secretary and every member of staff in the Department and tell them nothing can happen in the Department regarding regional and rural planning unless we are consulting our colleagues across the Border. That economic corridor between Letterkenny and Dundalk is one of the most deprived in the State. If the Minister does not use the name I suggested in my amendment, some level of regional, rural and all-island development should be included which would set out the new dispensation for this island in a radical new way. It would say we are not going to plan with our backs to each other and to our own cost. It is a major opportunity to save money on the island while increasing services and should be taken. I wish the Minister luck in his new role.

I am delighted to be here to speak on behalf of the Labour Party on the establishment of this important portfolio. Unlike others, I will not play party political games. My party and I believe that rather than playing party political games around the establishment of this important Department, we should focus on having it established quam celerrime and ensure the maximum number of functions fall under its remit, especially those pertinent to the lives and economy of rural Ireland. I congratulate and support Deputy Ring's appointment as Minister for rural affairs primarily. I am delighted that the rural part of this has primacy and is prominent in the title of the Ministry. I give my unequivocal support because it is important that issues of rural concern are given the priority status they deserve because they have been overlooked for a long time, although not by politicians.

During the 1990s, I lodged a significant document with the then Deputy Séamus Pattison in Kilkenny, whom the Minister will know well. I spoke about the centrality of post offices and the CAP. The media has been so lazy in announcing the promises of some people that one would think that rural issues had only been brought to the attention of this House in the past five years. They have been known here for at least the past 25 years that I have been a Member, and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will know that parties have always emphasised issues relevant to rural Ireland. I come from a very rural area and I would not be allowed to forget where I come from if I did not articulate and espouse the importance of rural issues and the people who live in my area.

I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Labour Party regarding the establishment of this important Ministry which deals particularly with issues of rural preservation, regeneration and revitalisation. No one will know more about this than the Minister himself. I recall when he was elected to the House in 1994 or 1995.

That is right.

That is what got him elected. The people did not forget that the Minister spoke for them and espoused their cause. Rural-proofing of decisions would ensure rural Ireland was not sidelined or overlooked. All we are looking for is our just desserts. We are not looking for any more than that. It is an important principle to be treated equitably and fairly, and all we seek is the fair play to which we are entitled.

The cause is not one to which I have come in recent times but one which has underlined the Labour Party philosophy which I developed and articulated during the 1990s. It is our party policy. As a party we are unequivocal and passionate about ensuring economic growth in every part of Ireland in order that families can continue to live, work and raise their children in rural areas and play a central and important role in their communities. We need a real and effective charter for rural Ireland that clearly identifies key issues to better support rural areas. There must be active participation in rural development initiatives which have been developed by communities, not by bureaucrats. They are the people whom the Minister has to rule out. He Minister can develop these things himself. He does not need any consultant to tell him what is wrong with rural Ireland.

That said, we need not talk about what is wrong. There are huge opportunities in rural Ireland. Let us be positive about where we live. We cannot always be using the béal bocht. We must say that we are here and are looking for that to which we are justly entitled. When we get it, we will show the rest of them a clean pair of heels, as they say down our way. Let us get on with it. We do not want solutions that are generalised, idealistic or theoretical coming from the mouths of bureaucrats. The Minister must cut them out at the pass and, if he does so, he will do a good job.

It has to be done using a bottom-up approach to support economic and community development and with stronger action to keep family farms and rural enterprises alive. We have to address structural issues such as the age and gender profile of the agricultural sector and the rural community generally. Agriculture is not the only active industry in rural Ireland but it is the backbone of the rural economy and we have to ensure better co-ordination between local enterprise offices and local authorities to support local enterprise projects and minimise the red tape that is strangling initiatives. We made proposals in this regard during the election campaign but nobody wanted to discuss them. We have had our fill of glossy reports and we want real, effective and substantial resources. We do not want to receive a pittance, which amounts to a few bob being thrown at long-standing issues while rural communities die.

There has been significant depopulation and we face significant challenges in rural areas, including inadequate infrastructure, about which the Minister will be well aware. The N4 is an important route running from Bunbrosna through Edgeworthstown and Newtownforbes to the north west. He knows better than anybody that this route has to be developed to ensure the people of Donegal, Sligo and the north west get a fair bite of the cherry. The N5 is equally important and the Minister fought hard for the road improvements around Strokestown and so on but inadequate infrastructure elsewhere on the road has to be addressed. There are threats to the rural fabric, including shops, pubs, petrol stations, retail, newsagents, shops and the post office. I have referred previously to what we can do regarding post offices by allocating the provision of banking services to them. However, I will never join a march or a protest over rural shops or anything else because the first thing rural people do is they pass the rural shop and they do not go into it. They hive off to Mullingar or Longford to the large shops such as Aldi and forget about the rural shops. It is all right at 10 p.m. to go to them when someone needs a pint of milk and none of the large shops is open. Rural people can save rural Ireland if they shop in rural Ireland and spend in rural Ireland, send their children to schools in rural Ireland and attend the local churches and support their local clubs. We have it in our own power to do that and all we need is the Minister to give us additional resources to give us a push along the way. We are not here with a begging bowl mentality or with the béal bocht. We are working in co-operation and collectively with the Minister to get this through. There are threats to rural schools because of the decline in population which I see in my own area of Ballynacargy. We used to have a huge young population but that has declined. Sports teams are also threatened. In addition, there is a threat to GP services - 40% of the GPs in County Longford will reach retirement age in the next seven years, and 30% in County Westmeath. The problem is trying to get young GPs to replace them. A proper GP contract will have to be brought forward, which recognises the costs associated with providing these services in rural Ireland because, after all, we also suffer from poor health in rural Ireland; it is not just an urban Ireland phenomenon.

If the Minister grabs the ball, accepts honestly the position of rural Ireland and its deficits, secures additional resources and realises this requires a whole-of-government approach, he will find that rural people will rise to the challenge and opportunities will manifest themselves. Let us contribute to a narrative of positivity and inculcate a sense that we are in this with him. He will not be left on his own; we will be there. The greatest curse for rural dwellers is the level and nature of bureaucracy. The dead hand is always around to impede people who get off their behinds to do something. Stupid and ineffective regulations that might well apply to a large enterprise and undertaking are often applied with greater diligence to a small shop or a two-person enterprise that is trying to establish itself and get off the ground. It is easy for environmental health officers to drop by a local rural shop and not like the colour of the paint or something. That has to stop. It is hard for businesses to survive. Rather than applying the full panoply of planning laws to young entrepreneurs and innovators, we should establish a system of licensing even for a time-limited period in order that someone could pay a licence fee of €500 instead of €8,000 in planning costs to see how he or she gets on.

The tax system, which is created by politicians, although probably dreamt up by bureaucrats, totally disregards the energy and efforts of people in establishing a business. There should be a recognition of how important SMEs are to rural Ireland where they provide 300,000 jobs. The only recognition they have is that they correctly pay their taxes, as they should, but they are effectively tax collectors on behalf of the State. Surely the 12.5% corporation tax rate could be applied to start-ups and small business for three or four years. A sunset clause could be applied in order that the rate would not apply forever. The rate should be available to small businesses. If it is good enough for FDI and the big announcements, it has to be good enough for Johnny in Ballynacargy or Milltown, or Rathowen, Edgeworthstown, Legan, Abbeyshrule or Kinnegad. Let us be innovative and give them incentives. This is the way to do it.

Banking annoys me. Rural people are being crucified by the banks and they are being disregarded. Something has to be done about the way they are treating small businesses. They are basically now an inconvenience and nuisance. The banks are axing face-to-face counter services. All people will get is the option of self-service machines to lodge and withdraw cash. Some banks might provide a morning service but everything is being done to disadvantage individuals and small businesses trying to go about their business by effectively running cash-free banks. I raised the need to implement the commitment in the programme for Government to investigate the establishment of a public banking network in Ireland with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Minister when he was Minister of State at that Department and I hope the establishment of such a network, which would have a special significance for rural Ireland, will fall within his remit. I appreciate he is familiar with this important concept and the offer of free invaluable external expertise and resources to help such a network get off the ground. The Labour Party and I are wholeheartedly in favour of this concept, which fits in neatly with our philosophy. Banks such as the Sparkassen savings banks in Germany are the backbone of funding SMEs. They proved their worth during the recession when, unlike other banks, they kept credit flowing to entrepreneurs. A number of positive developments for a public bank system in this State have been identified. It would be not for profit and be restricted to lending in the regional economy; it would fill the gap following the demise of the building societies and enterprises formerly served by the ACC and ICC; both the post offices and credit unions could earn additional income from selling public bank services across the counter; and it would provide a suitable vehicle for the European Investment Bank to lend funds to SMEs.

As Deputy Tóibín said, the BMW region has suffered from a slower recovery, infrastructural deficits and the withdrawal of banks. I recall 30 years ago many bank and building society branches playing an important role in community development and community life in general. Branches were staffed by people rooted in the community who knew its strengths and weaknesses, knew the customers and their needs and concerns and had a stake in a local, vibrant economy. With the demise of building societies and the withdrawal of bank branches and human intelligence through the axing of counter services, the knowledge of business in the BMW region has been replaced with algorithms and remote banking with no interest or stake in the community. A dedicated public bank network would fill this void and would support enterprise and jobs in the regions. That is what we need. It would ensure a bank and service committed to the local community, ensuring SMEs and the agricultural sector would have a dependable source of credit and communities would benefit as the not-for-profit model would not only support enterprises and job creation but the surplus would be reinvested in worthy regional projects. The Minister could take this on board. He will face lots of opposition with more people telling him why he should not do it than do it but I know him from old and the more these people oppose him, the better he likes it. I wish him well because he must oppose them.

Another issue that will affect rural Ireland is the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, CETA. The Labour Party is very much in favour of free trade and our positivity towards it has been expounded by our party leader, Deputy Howlin, in the House. Trade leads to commerce, industrial activity, jobs, incomes and prosperity but we must be vigilant in overseeing and scrutinising trade agreements at the macro level. I do not have sufficient time to highlight my concerns about CETA and how it has been advanced to this stage where the negotiations have been completed and the text of the agreement fixed and finalised without a proper debate in the Oireachtas before the Government agreed to the conclusion of the negotiations last October on which services or sectors we wish to protect in Ireland from the effects of the agreement.

It is not only politicians who are raising these concerns. The view is shared by organisations as diverse as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association and the Environmental Pillar. NGOs, business organisations and a range of civil society organisations came together last week in a major press conference to highlight their opposition to the CETA deal and their concerns. Their opposition was not to trade. That is an important point. However, there was firm and united opposition to the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement as the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau, arrived.

Obviously, there were great photo shoots with the Taoiseach and everything else, but the Taoiseach needs to be wary. That is why I do not want this to land on top of the Minister some day. He might wonder why no one did anything or why no one shouted stop. A colleague from his area, John Healy, used to say that no one shouted stop. I believe that in the Minister we have someone in this area who has fine vocal cords. If John Healy were here now, he would say we have someone whom we believe will shout stop. That is why I am such a strong advocate and supporter of the Minister personally, and I always will be.

I want to highlight two points in the context of the debate on issues for rural Ireland. The Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Kyne, will be aware of these because he is from an agricultural background and has degrees and so on. He is well-up on this area. Only 5% of Canadian farmers produce nearly 50% of total Canadian food output. That is the scale of operator that Irish farmers will be competing against. In 2015, a Teagasc report estimated that 63% of Irish farms are already not economically viable. Of course, without the CAP payments they would not be.

Another major worry is Brexit. An amount of between €10 billion and €12 billion will be lost from the CAP budget. This corresponds to perhaps a 5% to 10% impact. That is going to be significant and it is another issue that has to be considered in this area.

There will be an increase in competition from these massive industrial-scale Canadian operations. That is what concerns me. That will always be to the detriment of the small farm holder or anyone else. Other EU trade agreements are being negotiated. This will have a devastating impact on small Irish farmers in particular. Consequently, it will have a knock-on effect on the fabric of rural society in Ireland. The shops, pubs and communities of rural Ireland are held together by these farms and these rural projects. I have already alluded to this.

Pressure for intensification will alter the character of the landscape and the patchwork system of fields that is so important to biodiversity. It will affect the hundreds of thousands of jobs reliant directly and indirectly on our landscape through our tourism industry. This will apply nowhere more than the Minister's area of Westport. The Minister and the area have had great success with the cycleway and everything else. Well done to the Minister in that regard. Westport is a vibrant thriving town, and long may it continue. I have visited it and I intend to visit it again over the summer. In fairness, people who criticise the Minister can only look at that.

I only wish we had something similar, although we have a greenway in Mullingar that runs from the Meath border through to Longford. It is excellent. I remember some people were not so positive. I remember when the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, gave us €950,000 to bring it from Coolnahay right through to the Longford border. The amount of people who utilise it is significant. There should be some grants to help people establish little tea houses and so on along the canal. Waterways Ireland should look at that. The body should help, assist and grant aid people to establish such facilities. I note Clare and Paddy Crinnigan do a great job in Coolnahay of providing teas and a stop-off there. They are excellent. They have Christmas lighting and so on and people come from hundreds of miles around to look at it. Well done to them. George Lloyd was a great help to them as well. It is critical to support and supplement the livelihood of those in rural Ireland in the tourism industry.

The effect of the financial exposure from the CETA investment court system will be significant. The system allows for businesses to sue governments outside our courts for damages for vast amounts. Earlier this year, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation admitted it had not even done a cost-benefit analysis on this. It did not do the analysis before the Government supported and signed the agreement at the European Council last October.

We have not even got over one bailout. Now we are going to be hit by something that I believe has the potential to be even bigger. When the Exchequer gets squeezed, we know how rural Ireland suffers because it is the poor relation. We want to ensure the pot we are entitled to is not squeezed further. Whatever about adding to the pot, we do not want the Exchequer to take the view that, once a squeeze comes, it should grab the money from CEDRA or the Leader programme or reduce the associated funding. We do not want another blank cheque for big business that the citizens of this State will have to foot the bill for. That is what concerns me about CETA.

The loss of sovereignty is a problem. Authority will pass from the Irish courts to an arbitration court outside the Irish jurisdiction for disputes between governments and mulitnationals. At a recent meeting in the European Parliament office in Dublin, a senior counsel and Queen's counsel who is a constitutional lawyer stated that, under the Constitution, the Government does not have authority to transfer power from the Irish courts to an arbitration court outside the country. Furthermore, he said that to do so would contravene a number of articles of the Constitution.

Throughout Europe there is widespread condemnation of the investment court system. Canadian subsidiaries of US-headquartered mulitnationals will be able to use CETA to sue European governments. There was a debate in the Seanad on this and Senator Alice-Mary Higgins said it could serve as a back door for more than 40,000 US companies. This is especially worrying for Europeans as US corporations dominate the Canadian economy. The legality of this is being questioned by the Association of European Administrative Judges, German magistrates and various professors of law in various counties as well by legal scholars.

We have to be vigilant. I have plenty of hope. I believe the Minister is the person to inspire that hope. I have no doubt that if we give the Minister the backing he deserves, we will get to a point where rural Ireland will get its fair share and will be on a level playing field. That is all we want.

The Minister was already supposed to have responsibility, as a Minister of State, for rural affairs. Unfortunately, it seems to have been a rather empty Ministry as there have been no changes to rural Ireland. I appreciate and respect the Minister, and he knows I do. Anything I am saying is not about the Minister personally, because I know the type of worker he is and the reputation he has for being not just a good representative but an excellent one. I acknowledge that.

The Minister knows the obsession I have about the divide between urban and rural Ireland. I have said it consistently since I came to this House. Many people think the world stops at the Red Cow roundabout. Many officials working in Dublin think that. They think there is nothing outside the Pale.

I will always acknowledge when good things happen. I acknowledge that the programme for Government uses the word "rural" 74 times. It was not in the previous programme for Government. That is why the Government fell spectacularly at the most recent general election. It was because of its lack of interest in rural Ireland. I am not blaming the Minister for that. The Minister was probably one of the people in the Government who were fighting for rural Ireland, if we want to tell the truth about it. When the previous Government thought it was a good idea to do away with our town councils, I imagine the Minister did not agree with that decision.

The urban-rural divide still exists and it is only getting bigger. We have problems with rural transport, centralisation and ambulance services. Who in his right mind could ever defend or try to say that it was a good idea to centralise our ambulance controls and take away the local knowledge we have in County Kerry when it comes to managing our ambulances and our ambulance service? Who thought it was a good idea to set up the service here in Dublin in a disused fire station? There was total chaos for the first number of months. When a call went in from a certain townland in County Kerry, the first ambulance that was sent out was to the same townland in Cork. The people were wondering why they were waiting for an ambulance. This is what we get out of centralisation. This is what happens.

Some genius thought it was a good idea to centralise the processing of medical cards and take it away from our local inspectors. In many cases, those local inspectors had such local knowledge that when an application came in for a medical card, the person working in the office knew the family involved and knew whether it was a serious case or a not so serious case. We lost all that local knowledge. I am fearful and I want to put it on the record of the House today, because I work a great deal with our social welfare inspectors and I have tremendous respect for them, as does the Minister and any proper Member. They work with the Department of Social Protection in our communities. They are a great group of people who have local knowledge. I am fearful for the future of what I term that set-up. I am fearful that it too will be centralised. The Minister might ask what would make me say that. Is the trend not going that way in recent years? Why would the Department not do it?

If we were to go down that road, the local knowledge would be lost along with the person who knows the family background and situations and the personal difficulties which people might be having in their lives whether through illness, accidents or tragedies. The local community officers are part of the bedrock of our communities because they live in the communities and are steeped in the local activities, whether it is the local GAA club or children going to the local school. It is terribly important to retain the network of knowledge which we have.

On broadband, how can we stand over a situation in rural Ireland where not only do we have inadequate broadband, but we do not actually have a mobile phone service? There are places in the county which I represent where there was excellent mobile phone coverage before. Now there is no coverage. They are complete blank spots. The Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, knows well that I recognise and appreciate the good work he is doing, but these are basic requirements which we have. We cannot expect jobs to come to rural areas when there is not adequate infrastructure such as broadband and other basics.

We have to look at business rates in rural Ireland. People are being rated out of business. As the Minister knows, there is a trawl going on in this country. I am always mindful to say I have a small shop on the side of the road in case anybody would say that I have a conflict of interest. I have been paying rates for 30 years and I have no problem doing so, provided the rates are not so extraordinary that they would force a person out of business. The Minister knows there is a review ongoing at present and that many people who own service stations have seen their rates increase by enormous figures such as 20%, 30% or 40%. That is unsustainable. I have been dealing with people around the country who have come to me about this issue and who have said that it will put them out of business.

On the closure of post offices, I was the first person to ever stand in this House and say that it was my honest opinion that 700 or 800 post offices could close. I was challenged at the time by people in the media who thought that it was ridiculous and wondered how I could say such a thing. Well, it is happening. It is happening under our noses. I told my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group yesterday of one person who came up for review. The review meant that their income decreased by €18,000. How could any person in business sustain an €18,000 cut in their basic income? It is beyond belief. It cannot happen. I want to put on the record that this idea of the Government closing our post offices is false. No such thing happens. I own a small post office. The Government will not close my post office. The person who will close it is myself. The reason I would be forced to do so is a lack of Government intervention.

I am not standing here on behalf of postmasters saying that we want money from the the Minister, Deputy Ring, or from the Minister, Deputy Naughten, or from the Government. We do not want a handout. We want the Government to hand us work. We want it to keep our offices busy. That is what we are seeking. We want footfall to go through. This is a common-sense approach. We do not have the begging bowl out. We are not saying the Government must help us or we will be destroyed. That is not the case. We want the Government to proactively engage in helping. A Private Members' motion was brought before this House and was unanimously supported. If the thrust of that motion was to be implemented it would save our rural post office network. We have 1,140 post offices. If we do not act we will lose 700 or 800 of them. To prove the point, 10,000 post offices were lost in England through inaction. They were going to be lost in New Zealand but were not because action was taken in time. Community banking was brought in, which saved the post offices.

Rural Ireland is dying and is being allowed to die. The only things which are sustaining rural Ireland are the poor farmers who are struggling and trying to keep their gates opening and closing, and the people involved in tourism. There are great people, of whom I am terribly proud, running small guesthouses and hotels, little shops or little pubs and who are working tremendously hard. There is no such thing as a minimum wage. They might have no wage. They are only just barely managing to pay to their way, to pay their bills and to keep the door open. There is nothing fancy about their lifestyles. There are just continuing to do what their parents and grandparents did, which was to keep the door of the pub, shop or hotel open. We have to commend those people who provide great service to our tourism sector.

All the fancy plans in the world are great to look at, as are the lovely photographs, but money talks. We must have serious investment in rural Ireland. Rural Ireland will continue to decline. The Government should get serious about it. We want the Minister for rural and community development to invest, to be proactive and to look at things we have asked him to do. They are sensible and practical things. If I was to prioritise one issue it would be the issue of the post offices. I know it might not now be under the direct responsibility of the Minister but I know he will work with the Minister, Deputy Naughten, in that regard. They can be saved and to do so would show that the Government will be proactive, that it will not let the ball slip and that it will ensure that the great service which has been provided by postmasters and postmistresses over the years will continue into the future. If we lose it, it will be gone forever and we will be sorry forever. We will not be able to bring them back.

While we are talking about rural Ireland and about Kerry, where I come from, I will say what I said one of the first times I spoke in the House. I firmly believe that we will not get fair play in Kerry until the Red Cow is moved out to Bull Rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I believe we will not get fair play until that time. The Minister has departed but the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, is here and I am sure he will interact and will tell the Minister what we say here. What is going to be the difference between the Minister holding the rural and community development brief and the Minister holding the rural affairs brief? How will this change better serve the people in rural Kerry? What parts of the programme will the Minister be in charge of? The farm assist scheme is a vital way of helping small farmers in rural Ireland. Will that be part of the Minister's brief? The rural social scheme is also very important for farmers who have little to do and little income. That scheme helps such farmers greatly if they can get on it. Will that be part of the Minister's brief?

What budget will the Minister have? When we were upstairs in the Department of the Taoiseach a year and a few months ago discussing the programme for Government, I asked the then Minister, Deputy Noonan, whether additional money would be provided if there was a new department for rural affairs. He said there would not be and that it would have to come from the other Departments. I am glad the Minister, Deputy Ring, has returned. Will he get more money for rural Ireland? I take this opportunity to compliment Deputy Noonan and thank him for the great work he did for the people of Ireland. Perhaps one of the routes he took in respect of one aspect was not so successful, but overall I thank him for his great service to the country and to the people. How strong will the Minister, Deputy Ring be on getting money for rural Ireland? I know that he is a forceful man. I ask him to fight tooth and nail for the people in rural areas. He is from a rural county himself. Many Ministers seem to forget that when they come up to Dublin. I hope the Minister does not.

Since I came up here I have been asking the Minister about the local improvement schemes. First he told me that the local authorities could spend money on the local improvement schemes. One cannot spend money one does not have. Until the Minister gets money for the local authorities they cannot proceed with the local improvement schemes.

As I have said, people in rural areas such as Kerry are as much entitled to roads to their doors as people in Dublin 4. The Department would like to say that those are private roads. They are no such thing. There are no gates across them. They are public rights of way in the same manner as the small, third-class roads that were taken in charge. These roads to people's doors were omitted and should have been taken in charge by local authorities. Those people should get funding. They are paying motor tax and property tax and most have their own water and pumps or, if they do not, are on group water schemes. They make no hullabaloo about this and are costing the State nothing in that regard. However, they are entitled to good roads to their doors.

I ask the Minister, Deputy Ring, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, if they will be supporting the Road Traffic (Fixed Penalty – Drink Driving) Bill 2017 proposed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, which will isolate people in rural Ireland even more than they are already. God almighty, people can currently go to their local pub and have a pint and a glass and take an hour or an hour and a half to do so and talk to whoever is left in those places. That is their only outlet. Is the Government going to deprive those people in rural Ireland of that? The Minister and Minister of State are from rural constituencies. Will they further affect and hurt people in rural Ireland? If they do so, they will not be serving the people who elected them. I know the areas from which the Deputies come. They must consider their position in that regard, take a stand and ensure that people in rural Ireland will not be not hurt further. Those people are entitled to travel and to have a social outlet. If that is taken from them, they will be looking at the four walls.

Will the Minister, Deputy Ring, be in charge of the Leader programme? There has been no Leader programme since 2013. The Minister should seriously consider its reinstatement because the development companies that divvied out that fund over 25 years did a great job. It was a bottom-up approach. It is now coming from county managers and directors of services who do not honestly understand the value of rural communities. Something has to be done about that. The summer recess is approaching but many small entrepreneurs are awaiting funding.

One must have regard to the great work done by Tidy Towns committees, most of which operate on an entirely voluntary basis. Many of Ireland's little villages would have fallen asunder long ago if it were not for those committees painting facades and the fronts of houses and making places look a little bit better and more enticing to visit or revisit.

There are many things wrong in respect of planning. As I have said on several occasions, planning in rural areas is again becoming a problem. For several years, things rolled along evenly enough but there are now problems such as a situation where five families cannot obtain planning permission for access to the national secondary road between Killarney and Barraduff because the Taoiseach, when he was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2012, signed something that gave the Department the right to disallow access to that road. I ask any Member going to Killarney to pay attention to that issue. It is a mile before the Lissivigeen roundabout and there is at least a mile of straight road where those five people were coming out using existing accesses but they were refused planning permission. That is not fair. The Government is talking about providing housing. Those people were not looking for anything for free but just wanted planning permission to build their houses. There are now designations by the local authority that planning permission cannot be granted in respect of areas under urban pressure. That could be fine but maybe it is not so fine because people have a democratic right to build houses in the same way as anyone else. Local people in an area affected by urban generated pressure can buy a site and get permission to build 300 yards from the place they were born and brought up in. A person with a landholding can do so, but a person buying a site next door cannot. Those issues need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. There is a Bill to allow unfinished developments be completed. There are people with one house who are in the same position. Will they be included in that Bill? If they are not, it is totally unfair and undemocratic.

The repair-and-lease scheme will not help people in some villages because it does not apply to areas where there is no demand or pressure for social housing. The scheme should be expanded to allow people, especially those in rural areas, to take advantage of it. All the houses that are on the Department's list as being vacant are vacant but one cannot live in them until they are done up.

I took my eye off the clock. The Deputy should conclude.

The home improvement scheme only helps PAYE workers. It does not apply to sole traders, ordinary individuals working in private companies, etc. That is an imbalance which should be rectified.

I call Deputy Fitzmaurice.

I could go on for a long time.

I ask the Minister, Deputy Ring, not to forget the people in rural areas who elected him and his party colleagues. They are also entitled to fair play.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I wish the Minister, Deputy Ring, the best of luck in his new Department. He comes from rural Ireland. He needs all guns blazing and every Department working with him. He will need plenty of armour because he is taking on a difficult portfolio. No Member should say that it is going to be simple. Rural Ireland has some great aspects but there are other areas and issues that have been neglected for many years. If Members want to bring a balance to all regions, which I know is the aim of the Minister, we need to ensure that this is done right. Rushing through a Bill without giving the Minister fair play is not sufficient. He must have everything he requires to deal with this in the proper way. Clear answers are not being received to the questions that Members ask the Department regarding what is happening with rural affairs. It is like a plane without wings at an airport that is trying to take off. The Department needs to ensure that everything is right before take-off.

The Department with the second-lowest budget receives nearly twice that proposed for the Minister's Department, which has been allocated approximately €170 million. The budget for the Department of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is approximately €360 or €370 million. That would not do anything for a Department.

Other Deputies have looked for a ray of hope to be sent to the people of rural Ireland in recent weeks. I am sure the Minister is trying or has tried to do that. That ray of hope could be that the people of rural Ireland will have one of their own fighting for them. I give the Minister one thing - if he gets the money, he will be good at delivering and giving those people the ray of hope they deserve.

In my opinion, the first step to bring hope to people is by putting that Department into the heart of rural Ireland, not saying, as we hear day in day out, "Sure, everything is in Dublin. What can you do?" I believe that would be the first signal of intent. The Minister might disagree but I believe that is the first step we should have taken.

The furthest part away from Dublin is the islands and from my understanding, the Minister does not have control of the running of the islands. They are rural Ireland, they are people and they matter as well. Whoever is blocking this, the Minister should be able to pick á la carte whatever is required. Rural Ireland is made up of nearly a full Government of 14 different Departments the decisions the Minister makes and over which he has power will determine the way forward.

We saw yesterday evening - I saw pictures of the Minister - welcome news about entrepreneurship in the BMW region. When one goes right through local areas, even if it is a community in a small area where, be it for the football team, the Tidy Towns or a charity, people on winter nights gather together planning different events to make their communities better, there is a desire among those people to improve their area, village, province and country. These people do it voluntarily day in, day out and we need to ensure that rewards are given.

The first question I would have is whether the Minister, Deputy Ring, has control over rural social schemes, RSS, or the community employment, CE, schemes? Has the Minister control over ensuring services for entrepreneurs? I note he spoke of the LEOs yesterday evening and a lot of work has been done. However, for any young person starting off, there are still a lot of hurdles to jump. As I stated earlier, when people raise money in the local area, one will hear someone asking what the area has but there may be someone who is making concrete stakes or someone doing hire work or there may be a shopkeeper. The amount of donations given and the willingness to make areas better are unbelievable and that is great. We need to start helping those people. I welcome that regeneration is starting. However, in small towns, for example, we need to think outside the box. Should we, for example, take the VAT off if one paints the outside of one's house or business in a town. I have seen a few towns over the past few weeks where people got together and, in the evenings and at weekends, went round and tidied everything up. They got paint, and even painted the poles for the lights in the town. One can see what they have done when one drives through that. It regenerates. To put it simply, it makes a place look good. The more of such activity that is encouraged the better, but one has to give an incentive. I believe a Minister for rural affairs should be able to tell a Minister for Finance that the Department will give an incentive for everyone to do up the front of their shops or paint them and will give the VAT off. I am aware that under EU law the Minister cannot just make that willy-nilly, but he can give a rebate on it. That is quite allowable.

No one knows better than the Minister, Deputy Ring, - I have been down in Westport at Allergan - that one great legacy we have heading to the west is the road from Dublin to Galway. In fairness, it is a terrific road. In a few months, another wing of that will have been added on, which will be a significant help. However, heading to Deputy Ring's own country, when one goes past Mullingar and the road starts to narrow, it is that bit tougher to encourage investment, as we all are trying to do. If one is behind a 35x tractor while trying to get to Castlebar fairly quickly, and there is only a single lane with traffic coming against one, to put it simply one will be stuck for a while. This is one issue that I believe will ignite both the South of Ireland and the Northern part, as well as Donegal. There are good things happening as well, such as that the A5 will be completed down to Aughnacloy, but we should be looking at a spur from there onto the M1. We need infrastructure down along the west coast and the Minister is well familiar with the western corridor route of road infrastructure. Funnily, this is not in what Deputies would refer to as "my constituency". Part of it is, but it is for all of the people in an area. These are matters that need to be teased out.

The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, seated beside the Minister, is from an area where a road is badly needed but people are objecting and trying to block progress, which is intolerable. People out in Connemara are entitled to a good road the same as if there is one beside me or anybody else. These people seem to make a business out of objecting to the likes of this. The port at Galway port also needs deepening.

There is much that can be done but the Minister must have the power to overrule another Department if there is stuff going on that is blocking progress. No doubt the Minister will have all the ideas in his head. The Minister will deliver if the paperwork and the blocks on the road are taken out of his way but, unfortunately, we do not seem to be able to cut through the likes of this red tape that is blocking progress in different parts of the country.

The banking sector was touched on earlier. I read today in a newspaper article that we have bailed them out for €60 billion and they do not even think it worthwhile now to put a face in front of us within their branches. We met Bank of Ireland a few weeks ago and put proposals to it, and asked why it always goes out with a negative story. We asked why, for example, the bank does not go to the credit union in a town and say, "If we cannot deliver this service, we will team up with you.", and give them X amount in the year and bring out a story that together they would deliver this service, rather than merely willy-nilly state that they would cut the service out. The bank did that without even having a bit of regard for those with small businesses who have gone through a hard recession, have driven on after it or given employment. It is not that these people are millionaires or anything. They are just surviving and have, maybe, changed some of their business to ensure that they kept a service going in an area. As I said to the banks that day, if one takes only 4% or 5% out of a town and tells them to head off to the urban area to get their change or that if they want to look at someone behind a counter, they will have to go to the urban area and if those customers start doing any bit of shopping in that urban area, the 4% or 5% could sound the death knell of the smaller towns.

The Minister will be well familiar with and has put work into the post office set up and new ideas are coming on stream. They need to come on stream. What I would always say is it is grand talking about it but we have to use them as well and ensure that we send letters or whatever. Pressure will come on them down the road.

Unfortunately, according to media reports, the broadband situation seems to be deteriorating. There will be a briefing on Thursday and let us see how that goes.

The bid to host the Rugby World Cup is great and everyone across the political divide agrees with it. I wonder whether the Minister will get involved. It is great to see what has been done with Croke Park. We also have the Aviva Stadium, Thomond Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which is a fine stadium, and Semple Stadium. The west of Ireland needs a focal point of one good stadium, where we could host Ed Sheeran if we wanted, or a rugby, Gaelic or soccer match. We must come together to ensure this happens for the west of Ireland, which deserves it. We have plenty of bed spaces. We should ensure that matches are distributed evenly. We could even have conference centre in the stadium. Let us be equal to everybody else.

The Minister needs to have a say in the Common Agriculture Policy, CAP. I do not agree with an oil sheikh getting €150,000 and fellows in Aughagower, Glenamaddy or Strokestown getting €3,000 or €4,000, just because the guy was lucky in 2000, 2001 or 2002 and killed a lot of cattle and had a lot of punches in the bullocks' ears at the time. I know it will become more environmental, but the Minister will need to have a say in its distribution. The CAP budget will be affected by approximately €100 million because of Brexit, but we are not watching the big problem that may be coming down the line, which is what the eastern bloc countries will fight to try to get.

There is still plenty in the kitty. As the Minister knows, the family farm is crucial to the local community. It is the small farmer who buys a bag of nuts, a loaf of bread, a pound of ham and a pair of Wellington boots in the shop. The general hardware shop in rural areas is very important and helps to create a few jobs. We are losing farms at present and there is no point in saying we are not. According to the statistics that came out last week, the age profile of farmers in general along the west coast is higher than in other parts. If we do not ensure the next round of the CAP is fair to the family farm, the Minister will have an awful job on his hands.

At present, there is a lot of pressure with regard to forestry. I cannot understand why a farmer has to seek planning permission but that the land involved can be sold to someone else. Every time trees are planted on a farm, it means a family leaves the area. I know we need a certain amount of trees, but it should be equal in all parts of the country. If we sow five acres in one section of the country there should be five acres in another section of the country, and it should not be tilted towards losing a lot of people in one section of the country.

There is land in Limerick and surrounding areas that is designated for the protection of hen harriers. Farmers in those areas cannot plant trees or farm their land because they cannot clean drains or use mowers. Something has been put on their land which is affecting them. There was also destocking of hills. That is fair enough if they had to be destocked for the environment. The problem now, however, is that if someone previously had 100 or 500 sheep but this has reduced to 40, the 40 sheep will not eat every blade of grass and they will go for the sweetest bit. Then an inspector will come out and state that 20% of the area was not grazed and the farmer will lose the payment.

These are the pressures. Many good things are also happening and it is not all doom and gloom. Every day people fight tooth and nail, and there is no better place to live than rural Ireland. We have freedom, fresh air and, above all, people have their own independence no matter where they go in their area.

The Minister needs to put the boot in and get more for rural areas. I know he would have more of a workload and that there would probably be more pressure on him as a result. However, I rate the Minister as someone who would never be afraid of a challenge or pressure. He needs to ensure that he gets control of more stuff. The Minister needs to keep an eye on county councils for the simple reason that the budget has been reduced by up to 40% since 2008 or 2009. We need to keep the roads and infrastructure in good shape because they are crucial to development. The Minister was involved in the Wild Atlantic Way, which has been a huge success. Entrepreneurship is part of it and what people have done in an area to drive it on. People took risks and showed example. Will the Minister fight tooth and nail? The islands should be a no-brainer. The Minister should have the final say on a lot of stuff. This would make it better because, in fairness, he understands the position.

I wish the Minister well. He has certainly rattled the can for the west of Ireland down through the years and he delivered for his own area of Westport and for County Mayo in general.

And Roscommon.

He will have to deliver more now in Roscommon. I am delighted he got the position and I wish him well. I also wish the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, well.

There is a plethora of difficulties, as the Minister well knows, with regard to the west of Ireland. I and my party are of the opinion we must seriously look at the Department being decentralised to the west. The west, as a region, needs to have this Department in it and working out of the locality. It cannot be done out of Dublin.

At present, we have a withdrawal of counter services in banks, which is causing huge difficulties throughout the region. We also have an issue with roads. The Minister knows the N5 as he travels up and down it most days, as do I. The state of it is appalling. We have a complete lack of jobs. The programme for Government refers to balanced regional development. The Minister knows this is not happening. Where are the jobs in Roscommon or Galway? I admit the Government is doing a bit better in Mayo, but the jobs are not coming to counties such as mine and people are leaving. People speak about the unemployment figures reducing in our county. People are getting work, but they are getting it outside the county. They travel to Galway, Dublin or wherever they must go but there are no jobs in the county.

There is a situation with regard to the equalisation fund and local authorities. This is a massive issue. Recently, I spoke to the CEO of Galway County Council. There are difficulties at present regarding the council's finances, the need to balance the books and the amount of money it must give to the equalisation fund. The Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, knows this well. It is not an acceptable situation.

We must also look at the demise of the ESB and Bord na Móna. For years they gave a great deal of employment in particular localities but the goalposts have changed and a lot of the traditional work has gone. Fewer people are employed in my county by the ESB and Bord na Móna. We must also look at the position regarding Tús, SOLAS and rural social schemes. Much work needs to be done with these schemes. They are not satisfactory as matters stand. They were previously very beneficial to particular areas.

Revaluation is a huge issue, particularly for rural Ireland. The revaluation of property is causing consternation for many small businesses.

Many of them will close unless this matter is tackled by the Government. We can also talk about the rail services, post offices and planning. I was delighted to see the Minister address the planning issue in a comprehensive manner recently in the farming news section of the Irish Independent. I hope he will use his good offices to do something about rural planning. We all accept that there must guidelines and regulations, but the regulations have now gone over the top. It is virtually impossible to get planning permission in rural Ireland.

Debate adjourned.