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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Nov 1984

Vol. 106 No. 4

Developments in the European Communities: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Seanad Éireann takes note of developments in the European Communities since January 1984.
—(Senator Ferris).

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.

This motion encompasses an area so wide that it is very difficult to know precisely the sort of aspect one should lay emphasis on. There are a number of matters in relation to the EC that are quite striking at present. Since our membership of the EC began in 1972 we have benefited quite substantially from that membership. In the past 12 years our country has gained very significantly in financial terms. At the same time certain prices have been paid. We must not lose sight of that either.

We are substantially a net beneficiary as a result of our membership of the EC. On the cost side we have the whole unfortunate unemployment situation which has arisen due to a certain extent to inability on our part to compete with our European partners in many areas. That is very serious. In any review of this situation we must take into account not alone the economic aspects to which I have referred but also the whole spectrum of the political dimensions. We must consider also the social implications in every respect.

On the political aspect, as I have stated in this House before, I am not so sure the Ten can afford to have Spain and Portugal as members. While politically it is desirable that they should become members, economically I pose the question whether we can afford to have them. This question has been raised by other speakers also. It is a very important consideration at a time when we have these various surpluses in the areas of milk and other dairy products, of wine and grain and, potentially, in the area of beef.

On the question of the applications of Spain and Portugal, we must examine very closely and very carefully the implications for us of having these countries in the EC.

It will be acknowledged and recognised that Spain and Portugal are essentially countries not unlike Ireland. They are classed as underdeveloped countries and consequently they are areas which would perhaps draw most on the resources that we ourselves get as one of the underdeveloped countries of the Ten. With the exception of Southern Italy and perhaps Greece we could be classified as the most underdeveloped of the total membership of the EC. Bringing in other countries with fairly substantial populations is something I would question. I acknowledge that there are overriding political reasons for the Community being extended but one has to weigh all the arguments against each other. The question of affording something at a given time should not be forgotten. In that context it applies to a country which should not have gone along a certain route and yet has done so. We have bitter experience of this in Ireland. We pursued certain economic routes and now we are suffering the consequences. We are in a very serious economic position.

The EC, I should like to make it clear for the record, has been extremely important to us. It will even be of greater importance to us in the future. At the same time we have to make our presence very strongly felt at European level. We must remember that most of the decisions that affect our economic life and our entire lives are taken not in Dublin but in Brussels. For that reason our Government at all times must be totally vigilant to ensure that the decisions taken do help us, are decisions in the direction that will give us benefit in various areas. Too often we forget that we are now part of a greater Europe and that Government decisions are limited in terms of the assistance they can give to us as a nation.

We are only too familiar with the exclusion, by reason of the rules and regulations of the EEC, vis-à-vis national aids. We are prevented as a country, as are other member countries, from giving certain national aids that would obviously be beneficial to us. As another Senator remarked today, we are classified and regarded as good Europeans in that we have always obeyed the rules but let us be frank about it: we are in partnership with other persons who at all times do not obey the rules. Certain countries have strayed away from the absolute rules and have applied their own set of regulations to certain aspects. In these instances the country concerned is admonished and given a certain amount of time to correct the position. This goes on almost continuously. It is something we should be wary and mindful of. I am not in any way suggesting that we ought not comply with the rules and regulations but we should be aware that rules and regulations are not always adhered to by our partners in Europe.

There remain some issues that are in need of a great deal of tidying up. We have still to finalise as a Community the whole question of funding and the whole question of own resources. That is an extremely important point. We have to tidy up very considerably the whole agricultural policy. The question of the enlargement of the Community is also very important. There are many areas related to these and one could talk for a long time about them.

On the question of the agricultural situation, we are in a unique position in so far as our dependence on agriculture is very much greater than that of our European partners. If there is any hiccup in the system as far as agriculture is concerned it seriously affects not just our farming community but our entire population. In this context there is a greater need to establish a better understanding between the urban and rural sections of our society. We have had examples of the way in which problems in the agricultural area affect our entire economy. We are in the midst of uncertainty at the moment in regard to the milk producing area of our economy. Milk production is extremely important for our economy. A great percentage of our farmers depend directly on it and practically all our farmers depend indirectly on it in so far as they get their livestock from the dairy herd.

Farmers do not know what the future holds for them. They are told that the position vis-á-vis milk production will not be made known until about next March. I would urgently say to our Government that we must get clarity of the position long in advance of that. We have many people who have now produced up to quota level. They have produced up to a level to which we were allowed to produce in 1984 above the 1983 level and from now on they are to pay a penalty of up to 92p per gallon on any extra milk produced. If this happens it will create an intolerable situation but what is even more serious is the total lack of clarity with regard to 1985. This is very damaging. It will undermine our entire economy. There are a number of people who are seriously affected in the whole employment sector by this matter of lack of competitive ability to which I referred earlier. This is the biggest single social problem facing our country at this time. It is a matter that we cannot easily overcome. Nevertheless every effort is being made by the Government to try to overcome the difficulty of a major unemployment situation. I am satisfied that the national plan will contribute a great deal towards that. On its own accord it cannot be seen to provide all the answers but it will go a long way to helping the situation.

Fisheries has been mentioned and this question has particular relevance in the context of an enlarged European Community. On a general basis there are just a few points I should like to make. There is the whole question of price fixing and also the question of quotas. Quotas are fast becoming the order of the day and must be established long in advance of the producing year so far as agriculture is concerned. We have benefited also from the Regional and Social Funds though not to the extent that we would have wished. There is an urgent need for our Government to ensure that we get as much clarity, as clear a direction as we can and as soon as we can, in particular in relation to this super-levy which is a very important issue.

I shall conclude by saying that our Government and in particular our Minister for Agriculture, achieved a great deal earlier this year in getting a 4.6 per cent increase on the 1983 production level. We hope that further progress will be made next year but it is important that the position is clarified at the earliest date possible.

Developments in the Community are relevant to the countries to which they relate. The biggest single development that has taken place with regard to the area from which I come was the travelling of a delegation of two officials and eight councillors from Donegal to Brussels to put a case for our county. I do not understand why that event was not mentioned in the national press. The press can be critical often of public representatives by way of blaming us for wasting money or of not doing our work as public representatives.

We as members of Donegal County Council went to Brussels on a two-fold mission: first, to educate ourselves in the ways of European affairs and, secondly, to apply what we learned to the specific needs of the county we represent. The national papers referred to the cost of the trip and mentioned a figure in this context of £16,000. It has since been shown that the trip cost Donegal County Council less than £6,000. Telefís Éireann participated in this decrying of our trip by sending cameras to Donegal County Council. If our national papers and our television service had nothing better to do than to try to suggest that councillors or other public representatives are simply leaving this island to go on junket trips, their concern for the welfare of the citizens of our State is doubtful.

We went there to educate ourselves on the methods of Europe and to put on record the needs of our county. I will talk about one or two of those needs. We have, for instance, in Donegal an area that is badly in need of a water supply, that is, Letterkenny town. If Letterkenny and the areas surrounding it, as well as the north-west of Donegal are to develop, there must be a proper water supply. That water supply is available within eight miles of the town in the River Lennon. One may ask why we cannot bring water from the River Lennon to Letterkenny. The answer is that the River Lennon is causing grievious and serious flooding in the area through which it flows causing damage to thousands of acres. It would seem on the surface that to take water from the Lennon would help to alleviate the flooding somewhat, yet that is not the case. Farmers living along the River Lennon feel that if water is extracted for consumption purposes from the river their hopes of ever having it formally drained will end. We went to Europe to put this case.

That was the correct place to put the case then. I am not sure as to how relevant the Senator is now.

We went to Europe to put this case specifically to those in Europe in charge of the funds for which we are applying. We learned there that the Regional Development Fund, as from 1 January this year, was allocated by a different method whereby the base allocation to each member state will be given and the total of those base allocations will be only 88 per cent of the total allocation whereas each member state may surpass that base allocation. If all of these allocations were taken up they would reach 112 per cent of the allocation. It does not take a mathematician to realise that you cannot take 112 per cent from 100 per cent but some of the member states can take more than their lower quota. Some of them can exceed the 100 per cent. This is where I would call on our national representatives to press to ensure that Ireland gets more than its share of the Regional Development Fund.

If they want to make a case as to where they might spend the money, I will try to help them along those lines by citing the case of the River Lennon and the water supply for Letterkenny town. These are very important matters. It is important that they be brought up at European level and that we do not visualise the European scene as something over there as distinct from something to which we belong, to which we in this House are contributing as a nation. The Community should be about the development of the poorer regions by way of funding from the richer areas. We on the west coast have felt for some time that the classification of the whole of our country as one area has damaged the west because it is only natural that things will gravitate towards the east coast or towards the cities. It is imperative therefore that we make a stronger case for the west, for the particular needs of places like Donegal, for the draining of the Lennon. As urbanisation continues these matters become increasingly important.

Debate adjourned.