I welcome the Minister for Enterprise and Employment to the House on his first official visit.
Adjournment Matters. - EC Programmes and Funding.
With the agreement of the House, I propose to share my time with Senator Ormonde.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I wish him well in his office. I am aware of the Minister's talents and abilities. He was Minister for Labour at one time and he made a major contribution to the development of labour legislation. I wish him success in his new office and I look forward to a positive response from him.
A recent report on information policy by independent communication experts in the European Community criticised the way European Community institutions presented themselves to the public. The report stated that too often citizens viewed European Community institutions as abstract bodies which imposed decisions. It was critical of the lack of transparency in Community affairs and it suggested that a number of changes, including the setting up of regional information points, should be introduced so as to break down the barriers between the Community and its citizens.
It is important to provide information about the Social Fund, especially in relation to assistance for training, education and employment opportunities. Recently, a number of schemes were designed to help people return to the workplace and to find new employment opportunities. Co-operation between European Community institutions and member states must be developed so that more courses can be put in place.
I believe a short debate on this issue is necessary so that the Minister can explain how the schemes will be organised and how the people will benefit from them. It is essential that the Department of Enterprise and Employment organise these schemes in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Department of Education. It would be a worthwhile exercise if the personnel involved in these schemes examined how they can be made more accessible to people, how maximum funds can be obtained from the EC and how the money can be used effectively.
At present, approximately 40 schemes are in place which deal with new occupational skills. These include HORIZON, COMETT, ERASMUS, TEMPUS, and PETRA. I believe that co-ordination is necessary to ensure the EC funding give young people and those who wish to return to work the best possible opportunities. I hope the Minister will indicate how EC funding can be used to best advantage so as to benefit the unemployed and those who wish to be retrained for the workplace.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I wish him success in his new portfolio.
As a guidance counsellor I am very concerned about the best way we can help our young people by way of the various EC schemes. I refer to schemes such as ERASMUS, HORIZON, PETRA and COMETT. I am anxious for the Minister to think seriously about how we can facilitate our young people in the implementation of these schemes. PETRA is a scheme which is vocationally oriented and which enables our young people to go to Europe on work experience. ERASMUS caters for third level students by giving them opportunities to work in another country in an educational context.
I would like to think that we could harmonise our qualifications with those of Europe. However, we do not know enough about these schemes. I would like to see a system, organised by FÁS or by schools, whereby we could advise our young people of the opportunities available through EC schemes. Perhaps guidance counsellors could liaise with each other by way of computer systems which are becoming user-friendly so that we could help our young people to participate in European programmes. Money is being made available in that area; I hope it is spent properly.
From my experience of dealing with FÁS, I know money has not been spent well. I hope now that we are rethinking the whole area we will evaluate the success of schemes and how best to implement them. For example, the HORIZON programme is for young people going abroad for work experience during summer time. In some schools it is not being availed of because the schools do not know about it. Only schools aware of the scheme get the opportunity to use it to send students away during the summer months for work experience. I hope the Minister will take these points into account.
I am pleased to be in the Seanad. I started my career as a political representative in 1976 in this Chamber and I have very fond memories of the Seanad, particularly of the quality of contributions. I appreciate the contribution made here during the course of the Unfair Dismissals Bill. I also confirm to the House my intention to introduce in the Seanad the Bill to give effect to the Culliton proposals.
I welcome the timely raising of this matter on the Adjournment. As Senators will be aware the Government is in the process of finalising the submission for the national plan for the next tranche of structural funding from the EC. I share the views expressed by both Senators that not all of the money that was available has been drawn down which is different from what I have been told in my brief here, that there is no evidence of underspending. The money has been drawn down but not all of it has been spent. That is the point Senator Daly made. I suspect that is partly because in the past the Department of Finance was anxious to ensure that nobody but Merrion Street would now where the money was buried in Brussels. Quite frankly, that was to the detriment of local initiative and local community involvement.
Now there has been an increase in funds following the completion of the Single European Act, the Commission has changed its former attitude to dealing directly with local regions throughout the Community. There is an opportunity now to obtain funding for local projects from Brussels. I have direct experience of this in my own constituency. The Community Workshop in Ringsend was able to attract EC funding by providing matching funds here that did not have to receive departmental sanction and which in no way undermined or interfered with the receipts anticipated by the former Department of Labour, the former Department of Industry and Commerce or the Department of Finance. This is particularly true in relation to the various programmes the Senators mentioned, such as NOW, EUROFORM, HORIZON, and especially ERASMUS and I will return to Senators on that matter in due course.
As part of our submission to Brussels on the national plan for the Cohesion and Structural Funds, it would be extremely useful to ensure maximum publicity about those programmes. If qualifying or potentially qualifying bodies such as schools and community groups could contribute some money and if the nation give official confirmation that it is a Community contribution, that would release additional funding which might not otherwise be available.
The purpose of this plan for funding is to increase the degree of integration in the European Community. I fully support that and I know it has the support of this House. I will take the suggestion raised by the two Senators, communicate it to the relevant people and to the Commission. There will soon be a new spokesperson for the Commission in Dublin following the return of Mr. Terry Stewart to Brussels and it might be an opportune time for that message to be conveyed.