We are very grateful to the Minister for his very full report to the House. The Minister in his speech referred to the solution to what he said was the most intractable problem, that of the British and German contributions to the Community budget. The UK rebate amounted to £720 million this year and two-thirds remission on its VAT payments from next year onwards. There are many people who would look on this as an imposed solution rather than an agreed one.
In congratulating the Members elected to the European Parliament it is necessay to point out that that the turnout for the elections was disappointing. The turnout in Ireland was 47.6 per cent, which was the second lowest in Europe. The dubious distinction of the lowest turnout belongs to the United Kingdom at 32 per cent. With regard to the super-levy, there are very many people who are disappointed with it, particularly with the bungling of figures by the Minister for Agriculture. There are many people concerned that unfortunately this country will suffer because of this really unforgiveable error. I referred earlier to the reports of the seven planning regions. They have all held seminars to decide on development strategy to the year 2004. I repeat that I hope they will be able to accommodate the changes of emphasis from single projects to programmes, which is absolutely essential.
I would be very interested, as I am sure other Members of this House would be also, in getting reports from all the seminars. I intended to say on the last occasion in July with regard to my native county, Meath, that there is a considerable area in north County Meath which many people in public life have claimed could be included as a disadvantaged area. I would like to add my voice to theirs. I am proud of the fertile fields of my native Meath. But I would point out at this fertile area does not coincide with the borders of the county. The soil survey, for example, carried out by the Agricultural Institute and other projects by the Department of Agriculture and ACOT, led to the conclusion that there is a large area of land from Moynalty onwards which could probably be included in the disadvantaged area. I would urge that this be looked at again.
We have dealt fairly adequately with the aspect of discrimination against women. There is a large volume of reports from the EC. In my previous contribution I dealt individually with those. This will be coming up again next week when we are dealing with the Interim Report by the Joint Committee on Womens' Rights. As one who took part in the committee, I look forward to making a contribution then on this subject. I want to say in passing that things have changed very rapidly because women in general will not put up with conditions that obtained many years ago. We used to have a phrase then that the mother's place is in the home. As we all know now, this is no longer accepted. There is no great reason why this should be so, any more than that the father's place is in the home. The big problem which we are trying to solve is that women will break out of their traditional roles and that all positions and situations will be open to them.
Adult education is an area in which I have a special involvement. It is also an area which could benefit far more from the EC. I believe that there is no reason why people at any age cannot qualify in different areas. For example, the man working on the road who retires at 65 years could very well go to university and take out a doctorate. There is no logical reason why he should not, if the facilities were available for him and people like him. Adult education is something which had been included in the interim report on education by the Joint Committee. I have some involvement with adult education in County Meath and a great step forward has been made in recent years. I was one of a number of people involved in teaching a diploma course who visited the UK last year. We saw there at first hand what was being done by adult education. We visited Waltham Forest. While I know it would be impossible from one short visit to pick up all the details, it seemed to me that the United Kingdom is benefiting far more from the Social Fund in the area of adult education than we are. We saw their situation where all subjects were being taught. There were créche facilities available. Generally, more funds were being spent than are available in this country.
In our report of the Joint Committee on Womens' Rights we urged that child-minding facilities would be provided for all housing schemes in the future and for all existing schemes where this is possible. It seems to me that, if this is an area which qualifies under the Social Fund, perhaps it would be possible to have those provisions made through moneys from the fund. Overall, much more could be done in the area of adult education. We should qualify for a far greater percentage of the fund than we have been receiving up to now.
In the area of rehabilitation we could qualify for far more than we are receiving. In my local paper, The Meath Chronicle, a few weeks ago there was an article which suggested that the funds for the coming year would be drastically reduced in the area of rehabilitation because there is some concern that the criteria for qualifications are being very strictly applied from now onwards. Sheltered employment does not qualify for assistance from the Social Fund. Ireland and Greece have a very little statutory provision on sheltered employment. The State did not see the disabled requiring special legislation, so the work was left by and large to voluntary organisations. But the health boards have a statutory duty to look after the disabled. Since the function of rehabilitation has been taken out of the Social Fund and because the budget has got tight the criteria are being applied strictly from now onwards, and I hope that this does not result in a situation where many of the people who are being looked after at present will be neglected.
I believe that in this area there are four categories: those people who are in institutional care, and they are well looked after; also the day-care level which is the responsibility of the health boards, and those with an ability to work but whose productivity could not compete on the open market, and, lastly, training for open employment. It is my belief, and there is not too much information available on this as far as I can understand, that only the last category will qualify for funds from the EC. I would hate to see a situation where the health boards would suffer because I have visited a number of institutions over the last few years and I saw the work that was being done for the handicapped and for the disabled. I saw them in situations where they were happy, where they had something to work for and something to look forward to. I would make a plea that any shortfalls in this area from the Social Fund would be made good by the Government.
In the area of the environment I did on the last occasion refer to the problem of smog particularly in Dublin. I see that this has become a subject which is being debated in depth very recently. An Foras Forbartha have produced a booklet Air Quality in Ireland. It was published in June this year. They have been designated by the Minister for the Environment as the National Air Pollution Data Base Centre. The booklet is well worth studying. It does also deal with the problem of acid rain, and while in general for the country it points out that there are no problems, it does state on page 10 that —and I will quote this short paragraph:
On a regional scale, however, the picture that emerges is somewhat different. In Dublin, in particular, the air quality is now a greater concern than in the past, due to rapid urbanisation coupled with a significant increase in the use of solid fuel within the domestic sector. The Dublin conurbation is expanding rapidly, and with about a million people already located within an area of about 290 square kilometres it is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe. Urban growth is also occurring in other centres such as Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway, and so the air quality in these areas also warrants attention in the future.
I would like to see a situation where some positive action will be taken on the lines of the Report on Air Pollution: Conservation and Protection of the Environment by the Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities which was published on 11 April this year. I am sure the Minister will take the recommendations into consideration.
With regard to energy I did also deal with that matter on the last occasion. I dealt with the finances that were available to this country in the quota and non-quota sections. I believe that Irish participation in EC energy research and development programmes has resulted in financial assistance of approximately IR£7 million in the last ten years. Ireland has received 1 per cent of the first four-year research and development programme and 2 per cent of the budget allocation for second four-year energy research and development programme. In the demonstration programme Ireland received 1.7 per cent and 3.9 per cent of the total budget allocation for the 1979-83 and 1983 programmes respectively. Altogether 62 research and development projects were funded through direct and indirect actions in the last two four-year programmes and the total value of EC contributions to Irish research and development contracts was IR£1.9 million.
Though only 17 Irish demonstration projects received funds from the demonstration programmes financial aid for these programmes amounted to almost IR£5 million. I would like to see something more being done in the domestic area. We have reasonably good grants for the provision of conservation of buildings and this is mandatory in new buildings. We still have more or less the concept of the open fire where stoves would be far more economical. I did say before that I believe there was a competition to determine the best type of stove for the fuels that are available in this country, and I would like to see grants or some kind of financial inducements to people to use stoves instead of the open fire. I would also like to see some grants for the provision of systems of solar heating, direct solar heat, for example glass porches which would make a sizeable contribution in the domestic area. Perhaps we could allow, for example, in new houses where we have maximum floor areas specified some provision for the addition of solar porches to exceed this limit. I do not think there would be anything to be lost, and there would be everything to be gained by that provision. There should be special grants for heating our water supply by the solar method, and indeed some years back it was possible to purchase packages in some of the builders' providers but now these are not available because there was no demand for them.
I agree with everything that has been said by the other Members with regard to Ethiopia and all the Third World and deprived and developing countries, and I hope that the aid which is being provided will be continued on an on-going basis.
Fisheries was dealt with before, and we will have this problem to a greater degree with the accession of Spain and Portugal to the Community, and as some Members have pointed out these countries have fleets which are perhaps 20 times greater than ours. This will pose a problem. It seems that in an island country such as ours even still we have not availed of our position in respect of fisheries. I am most indebted to Professor Dooge for the very full information he gave in reply to my question on the last occasion.
We are also further behind in forestry than we should be. Finally, I welcome the new plan in the Community to fight poverty. It was reported in the Community report for October-November that the long term and young unemployed, the elderly, single parent families and refugees are among groups identified for priority treatment in the fight against poverty according to a new Commission proposal for specific action on poverty. The proposal aims at a five year programme of action and research among these and other population groups who fall outside the grasp of social protection measures.
Community action to combat poverty was initiated in 1974 when a social action programme was introduced. At that time some 30 million people in the Community of Nine were thought to be living on less than half the national average wage of their country. Since then the growth in the number of one parent families, youth unemployed and refugees has made the situation more severe. The Commission proposal would help cross-Community action to combat poverty and ease the way to finding solutions. The schemes envisaged would be based mainly on cooperation action by the member states. The research programme will cost an estimated £25 million. I welcome this heartily and I hope that we will benefit to a proper extent from this money.