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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Jun 1970

Vol. 68 No. 9

Shannon Free Airport Development Company Limited (Amendment) Bill, 1970: Committee and Final Stages.

Sections 1 to 7, inclusive agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 8 stand part of the Bill."

Section 8 proposes to raise the limit of the amount that the Minister for Finance may subscribe for shares in the Shannon Free Airport Development Company from a maximum of £8 million to £17 million. I want to question whether this sum will be adequate in view of the programme prepared by SFADCO which was placed before the Mid-Western Region Organisation and approved by that body. Under that development programme SFADCO propose to build 128 industrial units or industrial buildings at a cost of £9.75 million in the next four or five years. This estimate was arrived at some 15 to 17 months ago and having regard to the substantial increase in all costs in the interim period I wonder if the limit now placed on the Minister for Finance to take up shares in exchange for capital is adequate. Certainly the sum does not appear to be sufficient to finance the scheme proposed by SFADCO for the mid-western region, which includes Limerick City and County, Clare and North Tipperary.

I would ask the Minister to raise this ceiling figure substantially. I believe it should be increased from £17 million to £25 million. I do not think this is an exaggerated figure having regard to SFADCO's plans and the potential development in the Shannon region. Though the sum of £9 million sounds a substantial one, that estimate does not make any provision for the acquisition of land or other expenditure; it seems to be related solely to the provision of advance factories and building units as proposed by SFADCO. The time has come when we must have a bold and imaginative plan for the development of the entire mid-west region including the Shannon estuary. I suggest to the Minister that the sum of £9 million in this context is wholly inadequate to develop this region in a realistic manner.

The SFADCO proposals provide for the creation of 7,500 additional jobs during the years 1969 to 1974 or an average of 1,500 new jobs per year. This is more than approximately three times the rate of the number of jobs provided during the ten years in which SFADCO have operated from the coming into effect of the 1959 Act. It is obvious that these proposals would cost a sum far in excess of the £6 million or £7 million that it cost to provide the 4,500 jobs at the Shannon Airport industrial estate. For this reason I submit to the Minister that he should reconsider this provision and introduce an amendment on Report Stage to provide for a sum of about £25 million.

I am aware that in replying to points raised by other Senators and by myself on Second Stage, the Minister said that he thought it was a good system that enough funds would be provided for two or three years at the end of which time SFADCO would come back to the Minister for further funds. I suggest that in this day and age the provision of funds for a period of only three years is taking too short-sighted a view when one realises that planning, of its very nature, must be done on a long-term basis. Therefore, the figure of £25 million I have suggested would be more realistic than a ceiling of £17 million.

I might mention as a matter of interest that one of the Scottish development boards, I think it is the Scottish North-West Development Board which operates in the Inverness area, is planning to spend a sum in excess of £40 million on a development programme to provide industrial and other undertakings.

It is interesting to note, too, that the Litchfield Report on the mid-west region anticipated that between the years 1966 and 1986, the population of that region will have increased from 265,000 to 325,000, an increase of 60,000 persons. The Buchanan Report put the estimate at the higher figure of 371,000 persons by 1986. Therefore, it is obvious that if industrial development in the area is to be kept in line with the projected increase in population, the necessary finances will have to be provided to keep pace with the job requirements. Perhaps the Minister will reconsider this section and bring in an amendment on Report Stage to provide the necessary additional finance?

I can sympathise to a certain extent with the Senator's approach to this matter but let me say that I cannot see any justification at this stage for an amendment. As I pointed out in reply to the Second Reading discussion, while one can claim justifiably that the proposals in relation to the operations of SFADCO in future years must be aimed at, the system that has operated and which I propose to continue to operate has much to recommend it. That system is on a two to three year review basis so that it is left open for the Minister for Industry and Commerce to come back to the Oireachtas at the end of that period and to seek approval for the provision of additional moneys for further development in the area. This, in turn, will give an opportunity to the Oireachtas to debate this and to consider the amount of progress that will have been made by SFADCO in that time.

In this section the provision is being increased by more than 100 per cent. The amount set out in section 2 of the Act of 1968 was £8 million for the development in the airport region. I can see the Senator's point in that the extension of the functions of SFADCO now take in the entire mid-western area and, on the face of it, this would appear to justify the provision of more than an additional £9 million but I consider the manner in which it is being provided to be satisfactory for the reasons I have mentioned. It is preferable that this should be done than that a far greater amount of money should be provided over a longer period which would, in its own way, act to inhibit the Oireachtas from commenting on the progress or reviewing the progress that would have been made.

I do not accept that the additional £9 million that is being provided will not enable SFADCO to make the forward planning beyond the two to three year period I envisage at this stage. I do not think at any stage lack of money will prevent them from planning. I have no reason to believe that there would be any reluctance in coming back to the Oireachtas seeking the additional moneys if such were required. I feel there is not any need for me to commit myself to making provision for any more than that.

The Senator mentioned raising the ceiling from £17 million to £25 million. I do not think this is necessary. If I thought it was necessary I would have had it written into the Bill originally. It is far preferable that we should have a particular amount that might be seen to be needed over a two to three year period, so enabling me to come back to the House at the end of that period seeking additional moneys and at the same time providing the Oireachtas with the opportunity of discussing the activities of SFADCO in the mid-western region in the mean-time. It is because of that and because of my being fully satisfied that the amount of money provided under this section is sufficient to meet the requirements of SFADCO and the developments that they can envisage over the next two to three years that I could not agree to what the Senator suggests. I consider the amount of money provided under this section is sufficient to meet the requirements in this regard.

The Minister has allayed some of my fears in regard to the possible shortage of capital in that if I interpret him correctly he has said it is desirable that SFADCO should plan for a longer period than two to three years and they certainly will not be discouraged from so doing. The Minister obviously has accepted my point that planning for two or three years is not sufficient. We have got to plan for at least five years ahead. The Government have accepted that planners should look at least five years ahead and having regard to that, what the Minister, in effect, is saying is that SFADCO are free to go ahead and plan five years ahead but the Government will only assure them of sufficient capital to carry them on for two or three years and they can then come back to the Minister before that time is up looking for additional capital to complete their plans or expand their plans as the case may be. The Government will see how they are getting on in the interim period and on that basis they will decide whether further moneys should be voted. There are certain merits in that approach but I do not agree with that. If you encourage a semi-State organisation or anybody to plan five years ahead it is essential that they should know the capital will be available for five years ahead. The Minister does not accept that as a proposition. All I can say is I am glad to have the assurance that SFADCO will be encouraged to push ahead with plans on a longer-term basis.

However, the Minister did not touch on the larger issue, that SFADCO up to now, according to the terms of the Bill, are being encouraged to go ahead with their programme for building advance factories. I visualise them going much further afield and acquiring land, say, in the Shannon estuary area for development on a massive scale. Certainly this sum would be wholly inadequate for such plans. We have got to be bold and imaginative if we are to tackle this problem of the south and the west and SFADCO are the obvious agency to do that.

Every Senator who spoke on the Second Stage, and the Minister joined them, praised SFADCO for their expertise. They deserve every encouragement. The greatest encouragement I can think of as a businessman apart from being a Senator is to be assured that adequate capital is available.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 9 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.