The Bill before us deals with a raft of issues, particularly on the farming side where concessions were made which I welcome. As the food industry, our largest industry, and its exports grow apace, fundamental issues face the farming community. I had discussions this morning with Teagasc and I meet others daily. The dairy industry is powering ahead. It has had a successful year but it depends on the global economic markets. There is great price volatility. Commodity prices this year turned out to be better than predicted. However, many commentators say that the tillage industry is under savage pressure. Indications were given to Guinness in the past couple of weeks that it might not be possible to grow the malting barley in Ireland to produce our internationally famous product. That is fundamental to how we view the different components of the agriculture industry.
I am a beef farmer and the margins are very tight even with the most economical base. That has huge implications for a large area of countryside, particularly the marginal areas where people continue to farm on an off-farm basis. There will be a major shift over the next ten to 15 years because while farmers continue to farm land that their parents derived a full-time income from out of pride the next generation does not have the same pride. They have off-farm income and are not returning to the land. That will lead to people leaving rural Ireland. The former Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, set up a beef forum which was a talking shop and has not delivered anything for the farming community or the beef sector. There does not seem to be a clear plan in place for how to protect this industry into the future or to protect those who are willing to get their hands dirty and comply with every single regulation imposed on them to make sure they have a world class product that they can sell in Europe, where the standards are extremely high, or in other parts of the world. My constituency colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, is away with a trade delegation this week and I wish him the very best of luck with that. He understands farming and how to protect the small farming units. Many industries in rural Ireland depend on that. The spin-off is enormous.
The pig industry and white meats have moved into huge units. Will the beef industry go the same way? We need a very clear, distinct plan. We have a product we can sell but is the margin being returned to the guy who is willing to work hard, and get his hands dirty to make sure there is a product for people to buy? That is one of the most fundamental issues facing farmers.
How is Ireland going to develop in the next ten, 15 or 20 years as we emerge from recession? The census results from 2011 and 2016 continue to show the east coast growing. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Griffin, comes from a western most part of the country. Are we losing population in those places? How will we ensure the population stays there? We need proper broadband services. There are people doing highly skilled high-tech jobs in remote parts of the country, for example, Ashgrove Engineering on the Mallow to Killarney road or Avonmore Electrical. Their products compete at the highest level in the European Union. They are far away from the ports in Dublin and on the east coast but their motors are servicing the Scottish wind energy industry and are going to the Continent. They are looking to enter markets in France and elsewhere.
There are people there with fantastic skills who are willing to work and live in those communities. In respect of rural electrification in the 1940s and 1950s and telephone wires to each house in the 1970s and the early 1980s, I was only commenting on rural electrification. We saw the storm last Monday week and the devastation it caused, but by and large the infrastructure that was put in place in the 1940s and 1950s stood the test of time. An awful lot of it withstood the gale-force winds of Storm Ophelia. It was put in with limited resources. Regarding broadband, there was a very coherent plan involving the Vodafone-ESB joint venture to use the infrastructure that is there to bring broadband and fibre-optic cable to every community, no matter how remote, every house and every business because it is fundamental. We will not be able to contain or develop the east coast and have all the industries. If we look at the local elections in 2014 and the boundary changes, we can see that extra seats were given to areas east of Mallow and the seats were taken from areas west because of the population drop. We will not be able to continue or contain the amount of development and we need to look at those places. We have Munster Joinery on the Cork-Kerry border. No planner, IDA official or official in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation or its predecessors would have ever advised anybody to set up a plant of this magnitude in a remote part near Ballydesmond and Knocknagree. In excess of 1,300 people are employed there at the moment. It is delivering all over Ireland and to Great Britain on occasion. It has also broken into the US market. It must be complimented but we must take the blinkers off.
We are going to debate the national planning framework here tomorrow before the public consultation concludes. We need to look at the resources available in rural Ireland and putting basic infrastructure into it to ensure we are looking at this as an alternative and to try to persuade young people in particular to stay in and add to their own communities. The infrastructure is there in terms of schools, social infrastructure and family networks. Young people are working and living in Dublin and have moved to where the employment is. I know families where grandparents get on the train in Mallow or maybe further west in Rathmore and go to Dublin to give a helping hand. That is fine when parents are in their late 60s or early 70s, but in ten or 15 years, will we be left with a part of the country with only aged people and no young people? If we look at places where there have been massive housing developments over the years, the people living there are all of the same age group and go through the cycle of life together. Prior to that, there was huge family support.
In respect of the national planning framework, which we will be looking at tomorrow, we must make sure that it is as easy to get planning in rural Ireland as it is in urban areas. Regardless of whether someone is in Cork or any other county, the talk will be about the same difficulties with planning. Between 2008 and 2015, when very little planning was going through, the planning regulations seemed to have been hardened, tightened or made more difficult. People are certainly willing to invest their hard-earned money in communities and build a house of their own. I have seen reasons for refusals of planning such as the applicant not being from the area or he or she had been living outside the country in Australia or elsewhere for one year between 2009 and 2010 and the total did not add up to seven years. They were building on a family landholding and their parents were living in the area. It was all documented. This stipulation regarding someone living continuously in an area is ludicrous. Regarding the regulations relating to settlements and tiny villages, a village with maybe a church, pub and a shop and possibly no detached house but houses scattered in different parts in a cluster is deemed a settlement under the planning regulations. If a person had been living in the village and wanted to move 300 yards either side of where this so-called settlement is marked out on a map, he or she could not do it because it would be deemed to be moving outside an urban area, an area which would have a church, pub, shop and school. That is ludicrous and does not show any imagination in terms of how we implement planning regulations or planning Acts. We must be very careful because every planning application costs thousands of euro. We have situations where people who went to Australia and who have been living there for eight or nine years and now want to come home are being refused because they are not at home. They want to have their planning, build their house and then come home to Ireland but they are refused because they are not physically living in Ireland. That is another ludicrous situation where planners have interpreted matters too severely. They should be more accommodating in terms of how planning permission is granted.
JobPath, which was developed by the former Department of Social Protection at the height of the recession, is certainly not working. What it is doing in practice is depriving people who are long-term on social welfare of the opportunity to go on a community employment scheme, which is much more beneficial to them. The community employment schemes have been brilliant for communities. We have community employment supervisors throughout the country who should be complimented on the pride they take in their communities, for the amount of work they do in terms of improving the environment people are living in and for engaging with and helping people on the schemes. I have seen the work they do in my area. The JobPath scheme seems to be coming up more and more as a barrier. People go onto JobPath and have one or two interviews and are then debarred from going on a community employment scheme. That must be looked at. During the height of the Celtic tiger, they talked about doing away with the community employment schemes, but those schemes must be looked at fundamentally. They talk about it as a labour activation scheme and trying to get people into the workforce. People are being taken off it at 63 and 64 years of age. They have nowhere to turn to and must be on the dole until they reach pension age. The Government and officials must accept once and for all that community employment has made a massive contribution to our society, be it in urban or rural Ireland. Whatever other schemes are there, the Government must make sure this is developed and maintained, and it must look at the applicants coming off it in their 60s to see if they can stay on the schemes and see out their time. They have enhanced a huge number of small villages and communities throughout the country and have done excellent work in urban Ireland. The question of how we develop it must be looked at very seriously.
I will address two issues in the time left to me. One is the tracker mortgages, which was debated here tonight. There is no doubt it is one of the major issues. There is no politician from any constituency who has not met couples that have been adversely affected by bank decisions over the past two or three years in terms of stifling the information on tracker mortgages. We need to be very clear and firm in how we deal with it. We need to make sure we bring this scandal once and for all to a conclusion. Deputy Michael McGrath put forward a motion tonight and he accepted the amendments tabled by the Government and Sinn Féin. There is room for greater debate. Many Members want to make sure there is proper and lengthy debate about how the scandal came about. In 2008 and 2009 the issue was that the regulations were not strong enough. They were strengthened and the Central Bank was looked at to see if it was fit for purpose. New regulations and international best practice were brought in yet this carried on after all the changes and moral outrage eight or nine years ago. The banks continued to do this and take people off tracker mortgages in the intervening years.
Former Deputy Rory O'Hanlon said to me way back that the Finance Act is like an AGM where we review where we are at and the challenges facing us as we go forward. Many families have benefitted extremely well from the family income supplement. However, for those whose employment increased for a specific part of the year, if there is evidence available that it does not represent their average yearly income, the Department should consider that and not just take a payslip that is out of synch with all the other payslips. It should review it thoroughly and properly.
The Department of Social Protection made a decision some time earlier this year that it was going to do away with the practice of sending out PRSI contribution records. Instead people have to go into the online system to get the records. The Department said it will not send out paper records any more. Many accountants, Deputies and people have been helping people who are approaching 60 or 65 years of age to get their records. The Department is saying people have to go online for this. It is retrograde. I raised it with the Taoiseach last week and I have raised it with the Minister. It has to be changed. The more information people have on their PRSI contributions and the earlier they have it, the better it is for them. The more freely available information they have, the better. The Department is obliged to make sure the citizen has top quality information. To say it is online debars people who are not familiar with computers or who are living in places where there is no broadband. It should be rescinded as a matter of complete urgency because they are entitled to information on what they paid in, what they contributed and whether there are changes they have to make. I ask for that to be done.