I am very grateful to the large number of Senators who contributed to the Bill. It is quite obvious that there is a great depth of knowledge about the peat industry in this country. I would like to refer to a number of points which have a wide interest and which were mentioned in the debate. First, I am very happy to note that the Bill has been welcomed on all sides of the House, and I was pleased to note the praise given to Bord na Móna and the work they do on behalf of the people. I was pleased to note too, the tribute paid to Mr. L. Rhatigan, their chief executive who, I understand, may be retiring shortly. He has given excellent, dedicated service to the State in his work for Bord na Móna. Any Senators acquainted with him know him as a very committed and outspoken person, deeply dedicated to the development of our boglands.
One of the major issues which came up in the course of the debate was that of Ballyforan briquette factory. I referred in my introductory speech to the fact that the Minister is carrying out a review of all the major capital commitments before the Department under his aegis. This is necessary and it is now generally accepted by the public that there is a serious problem with regard to public finance. It is only correct and responsible that the Government should take the responsible decision and review major capital projects.
Senators Ellis, Mullooly, Ferris, Hussey, Lanigan and Connor all referred to this project. For the information of the House, I should like briefly to go back on the history of the project. When it was approved by the Fíanna Fáil Government in May 1979, unfortunately no finance was then provided for it. This resulted in Bord na Móna's trying to raise the necessary capital by borrowing. The board ran into difficulties on this because, under the unrealistic pricing policy allowed by the same Government, the revenue from the sales of the board's products was insufficient to cover the servicing of the projected cost of the capital required. When the last Coalition Government came into office, they carried out an examination of the board's bog development programme in the light of their projected capital needs. This was initiated in October 1981 with a view to assessing the board's ability to finance the project. This examination was continued in 1982 by the incoming Fianna Fáil Government and resulted in a Government decision to grant a four-phased price increase which, when fully implemented, will bring the prices for the board's products up to a market-related level. Their relativity will be that of coal. Two of those four phases have already been implemented, which has made an improvement in the board's cash flow condition. That would have gone only part of the way towards the reconstruction of the board's financial situation.
A second review is at present being carried out, but this is a more thorough review of the capital outlay on the bog development and briquette factory project. It is important that the House should note that this project was originally estimated to cost £28 million. That estimate has now gone up to £48 million within a four-year period. That, in itself, is sufficient to lead any Government or any Minister to request a review of the project to see why the cost has escalated, whether there is a pay-back benefit, over what period the project would justify itself and what the return will be to the taxpayer. These are reasonable and proper questions for Government to ask and they should have the support of all public representatives in their decisions. The purpose of the review, which is being carried out in conjunction with Bord na Móna, is to study the practical return on the investment and to reassess all options and all costs, to ensure a more effective capital investment. This review is almost completed and its conclusions will be put before Government at an early date.
With regard to the provisions for the Ballyforan project in the public capital programme, on 25 March 1982 when the budget was presented to Dáil Éireann by the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy MacSharry, the public provision in the capital programme for Ballyforan was £8.4 million. This was the Estimates figure provided by the Coalition Government in autumn 1981 and taken over by the Fianna Fáil Government when they came into office on 9 March 1982. On 9 February, 1983, when the budget was presented by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Dukes, the published figure for Ballyforan in the Public Capital Programme was £5.2 million. This was the Estimate figure then provided by the Fianna Fáil Government in October, 1982. This figure has since been revised upwards to £8.4 million, where it now stands.
I would not like to talk about Ballyforan in any concept other than that of a serious project. I do not wish to compare it with a suggested white elephant such as Knock Airport. That is not a correct analysis. Ballyforan is a major project in the context of Bord na Móna's capital programme and, indeed, in the context of the nation's needs. We must recognise that there is a serious problem with regard to the investing of £48 million of taxpayers' money in the present economic climate. I wish again to stress that this Government must examine all major capital expenditure with a view to ensuring that the money being spent on behalf of the taxpayer is being spent wisely, being invested on their behalf wisely and will show a pay-back to the State and to the taxpayer over a reasonable number of years. There is nothing wrong with establishing acceptable norms which should apply to all public expenditure. There is no doubt that there has been some public expenditure in the past which has not been successful, or indeed justified, with hindsight.
I should now like to turn to the question raised by Senator McDonald of the co-operation by Bord na Móna with private developers. The suggestion has been made that the board have been less than anxious to co-operate with some private developers. I would take a dim view of any move by Bord na Móna calculated not to help private developers. It would be most regretful. There should be no antagonism between private developers and Bord na Móna, because there is ample scope for both. In section 3 of the Bill, the information gained from research by Bord na Móna is being made available to private developers as a legal right. This point was raised not only by Senator McDonald but by Senators Ferris, Connor and O'Toole. It is also accepted that there are certain areas which must be of a confidential nature in Bord na Móna's commercial activities and, of course, the board will have a right to retain that confidential information. However, the information which will be required by private developers should be available to them readily. There should be no reluctance on the part of Bord na Móna to supply that information. I would be most unhappy if the board was being criticised for not being open with bog developers and giving them the information they require. I praise Bord na Móna for their research into bog development and I am satisfied they have an open relationship with private developers.
It should be noted that the board's experienced staff are available to local development committees, co-operatives and private producers to advise them on the carrying out of development works and the application of mechanical production methods. It was deemed desirable to include in this Bill a section which would ensure that private developers would have access to information as a right. This is a correct move and sets out the Government's attitude regarding the availability of information.
The question of possible conflict of interest over land acquisition was also raised. Occassionally a conflict of interest does arise. This is due to the nature of the large scale operations of Bord na Móna. It makes it necessary to plan the development of large areas as a whole unit. The board acquires the land from individuals by agreement if at all possible. If agreement cannot be reached, the board must serve a notice of compulsory purchase. Bord na Móna usually arrange an exchange of land with the owners involved in the case of compulsory purchase. Where turbary rights of tenants are interfered with, the board offer alternative turbary rights or allow the tenants to cut turf until the land is needed. Every effort is made to minimise disruption or loss to individuals. There is also a right of appeal under the Turf Development Act, 1981.
As regards access roads to private bogs, assistance is available under the private bog development scheme for the provision of new access roads or the repair of existing roads to bogs. No specific amount is designated but 40 per cent to 60 per cent of the cost of such works is covered. The grant is payable to applicants but there may be cases in which the owners can arrange with the county council to carry out the works. Bord na Móna will pay the grant subsequently in those cases. Once the grant is made the subsequent upkeep of the roads is a responsibility of the grantee. The board encourage individuals to form co-operatives for the purpose of sharing the cost of access roads. The extent to which grant assistance may be available under the local improvements scheme or from Roinn na Gaeltachta for bog access roads in Gaeltacht areas is taken into account under the private bog development scheme. A sum of £104,669 was paid out in respect of bog roads this year to date. The intended purpose of the ancillary road grants is to assist in the making or repairing of roads comprising part of an approved bog development scheme.
I should like to see the manufacture here of small turf-cutting machines. Recent developments in that area are welcome. Total grants made for machinery amounted to £1,450,255. During the international peat congress to be held here next year the board will set aside 100 acres which will be used by Irish manufacturers to demonstrate machines which are attracting great interest both inside and outside the country.
The position of cutaway bogs was referred to by many Senators. This is an important area and I should like to inform the House that an interdepartmental and semi-State committee, which includes Bord na Móna and An Foras Talúntais, are about to present broad conclusions on this. About 70,000 acres will become available in the next ten years. The general usage which is likely relates to grassland, forestry and amenity. I do not wish to comment further on this until the committee present their report. In cases where cutaway bogs were used for horticultural purposes the results were not great. The results of vegetable growing have proved disappointing.
Senator McDonald referred to the fact that Bord na Móna might move into other areas such as coal. The coal industry is in the hands of private industry. I doubt the validity of extending the remit of the board to that area. The present statutory functions of the board are sound. They have a lot of responsibility and they carry out their task well I am satisfied. I do not think there would be any major benefit if they were given a remit to develop the coal industry here.
The question of rationing turf briquettes was also raised by Senators. This arose because of the energy crisis in the middle seventies. Demand outstripped supply and the board had to take a reasonable decision about the manner in which they would sell their briquettes. They appreciated the value of customers who stood by them over the years. For that reason they allocated briquettes to customers during that time. I accept that it was discriminatory. Obviously the answer is to produce sufficient briquettes. In view of the concern expressed by Senators I will take up this matter with the board. I do not think it contravenes EEC regulations as suggested by Senator McDonald.
Senator Hussey raised the question of payment for land acquisition being slow. My understanding of the matter is that where there is a delay in payment for land acquired by the board, the fault usually lies with the legal people and problems related to title. We are all aware of the complex nature of titles in Ireland. In this case my understanding is that the only reason for slow payment is the finalisation of titles by Bord na Móna.
Senator McDonald raised the question of of biomass. An Foras Talúntais carried out very successful trials in this area and established economic return criteria on investment. Large scale similar experiments carried out by Bord na Móna have not yet duplicated the success of the trials by An Foras Talúntais. However, on some portions of the Oweninny bog in Mayo the results have been very encouraging. The planting programme has been revised to take into account the factors responsible for less successful growth.
The problems which have arisen are first that the forestry trials have been on coniferous species. In the early years these do not provide enough evidence to form a judgment and more time is needed. Secondly, the ESB wish to postpone combustion trials because the material produced by the harvester developed by Bord na Móna is not suitable for automatic feed. If I were to reach a conclusion I would have to say biomass is like any other energy source: success depends on using the right technology to suit the resource material and finding the right appliance to use the product in. This work is ongoing, with the main bulk of it being carried out and funded by Bord na Móna. A sum of £3 million is being provided by the EEC towards a total cost of £9 million.
Senator Ellis referred to the need for tight control on capital expenditure. I was pleased to note his very responsible position in this regard. It is proper to point out that the details and direction of capital expenditure by Bord na Móna are available in each annual report. The annual reports of Bord na Móna are of an open nature. The explanation for capital expenditure and the direction of capital expenditure in these reports are satisfactory.
Senator Lanigan raised the question of the Energy Council. Things do not happen overnight in Brussels. It can be a slow and tedious process to get movement on major programmes. The Commission and the Council of Ministers are very budget-conscious. Major projects which would be of interest to Ireland are being viewed in the context of the Community budget. I want to assure Senator Lanigan that the Energy Council of Ministers are concerned to ensure that we have a sound, ongoing, progressive, energy policy. There are well established criteria for the energy policy which should bring us into the nineties.
One of the main thrusts in that policy is a move away from oil. Around that concept there are a number of policy movements, such as the move towards a balanced fuel policy, a demonstration grants policy, and alternative energy sources. These are all being considered at a high level. The EEC have a major commitment in this regard. We benefit from the various EEC schemes. I am satisfied that we are well represented in Brussels at official level, at Commissioner level, and at council level. We will ensure that the thrust of the EEC policy on energy is maintained and that we can benefit from it.
Senator Robb raised the question of turbary, the position of ownership, and cutaway bogs. Senator Connor raised the question of conservation. The question of title in Ireland is very complex and has its roots deep in history. I am aware of the problems. My Department and Bord na Móna are also aware of them. I do not hold out any easy solution. There is no State wish to take over this land of Ireland. On the contrary, we would much prefer to see Bord na Móna carrying out their remit, and private enterprise being successful. The 1981 Act has given great encouragement to the development of private bogs. Bord na Móna work very closely with An Taisce and the Department of Fisheries and Forestry, who have responsibility for conservation. Where a bog has ecological importance, applications for grants from private developers are referred to the Department of Fisheries and Forestry who have the option of listing them for conservation or acquisition. That is the present legal position.
Senator McMahon referred to private bog development. He also mentioned the bad condition in which some bogs have been left by private developers. This was true in the past. Now we have the 1981 Act there will be a change for the better. Under that Act developers will have to submit a development plan. This will enable us to ensure that development work will be carried out in an orderly manner.
He also raised the question of the different levels of grant aid under that Act, that is, that co-ops get 60 per cent and individuals get 45 per cent. My understanding is that this was designed to help to resolve a particular problem which a number of Senators mentioned, the problem of commonage, or cases where there is doubtful title to bogland. It was felt that by offering a higher rate of grant to co-ops, which include informal or qualified groups of persons, they would be encouraged to pool their resources, including their combined rights to the land, and thus to enable a larger area to be developed in a co-operative spirit. That is a reasonable attitude to take especially taking into account the large acreage which would be so affected.
Senator McMahon is wrongly informed with regard to the direction of grant assistance. I should like to assure the House that all private bog development will be grant-aided in any part of the country. No areas are excluded. All that is required for aid to be granted in a development scheme. I deeply appreciate the interest Senators took in the Bill. I have endeavoured to answer all the points raised but if I omitted any I will discuss them with the Senators concerned. I look forward to the continued capital expenditure programme of Bord na Móna, an organisation that has served us well down through the years. I am pleased to note the support the board have in the House.