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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Nov 1999

Vol. 161 No. 2

Planning and Development Bill, 1999: Committee Stage (Resumed).

For the information of Members, there are two lists of amendments to the Bill. The principal list of amendments contains 356 amendments and an additional list of amendments was circulated last night. The additional list contains some new amendments and some substitute amendments, which Members wish to substitute for amendments with the same numbers on the principal list. I also want to inform Members that if we dispose today of Part IV of the Bill, that is, sections 7 up to 78, I will call the Leader to seek the agreement of the House to defer consideration of Part V, that is, sections 79 to 86, inclusive, until a later date.

Why is it being decided today that Part V might be delayed until a later date?

That is not being decided now. I said that if we dispose of Part IV, I will ask the Leader to seek the agreement of the House to defer consideration of Part V.

I am sure the Minister does not have a problem with it.

I am sure a reason will be given at that stage for seeking the deferral.

Mr. Ryan

On a point of order, any delay on Part V seems outrageous since it is, perhaps, the most socially critical part of this legislation. The title of Part V, housing supply,—

We cannot pre-empt the debate which may take place on such a proposal during the day. We are not dealing with any proposal now but we will deal with it if and when it arises.

Mr. Ryan

I am reluctant to argue with you and I accept I do not have the right to do so. However, this is a peculiar system in which an amendment to the Order of Business is being signalled through you. The Leader should have told us this on the Order of Business.

It is not an amendment to the Order of Business. The Chair has, out of courtesy to the House, indicated that it will call on the Leader to seek the agreement of the House when Part IV is disposed of and Part V is reached. There is also a precedent.

Mr. Ryan

I am sure there is a precedent, but are you sure there is a precedent for the House being notified in this fashion? I am sure you, a Chathaoirligh, have done your job precisely in accordance with precedent and Standing Orders, as you have always done. I am surprised it emerges in such a way that we are told but not told.

This will not arise if we do not complete Part IV of the Bill.

Mr. Ryan

I appreciate that point, which is why I will not say anything more about it.


Debate resumed on amendment No. 31:
I leathanach 26, fo-alt (2)(b), líne 18, "or linguistic impact statement" a chur isteach tar is "statement".
–(Senator Norris).

I would like further clarification on this issue. That we are taking 15 amendments together makes it difficult to get across the information because we have to consult the amendments and the Bill. If we want to take this matter seriously, it may mean it will not be a lively debate because there will be gaps as we look at the Bill and the amendments.

In what way are amendments Nos. 43 and 45 related to amendment No. 31? I do not understand why they are grouped together. Perhaps the Minister could advise me on this. I am surprised at Government amendment No. 349 which states: "In page 195, line 14, to delete paragraph 5". That is a list of objectives.

Amendments Nos. 43 and 45 are drafted so as to allow for the inclusion of amendment No. 46. They are merely grammatical amendments.

That clears that up. Thank you for your help, a Chathaoirligh. The First Schedule, which is the object of amendment No. 349, states: "Location and Pattern of Development" and gives various intentions, including "Preserving the quality and character of urban or rural areas", "Regulating, restricting or controlling retail development" and, at paragraph 5, "Protecting the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht". I wonder why it is proposed to take out that paragraph. That is clearly the intention of the amendment. I would have thought that was an objective.

We were beginning to talk the last day about linguistic impact statements and the question was raised from this side of the House by Senator Taylor-Quinn as to what a linguistic impact statement is. We do not know. There is no definition. There is what virtually amounts to a definition in one of our later amendments. We place the responsibility clearly with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands to come up with the machinery for producing a linguistic impact statement. I do not believe it is beyond the wit of persons, to be non-sexist about it, to draft a linguistic impact statement by analogy with an environmental impact statement. County councils and authorities have already given rulings which depend on an understanding of linguistic impact. The last day I instanced Ventry in County Kerry where planning permission was refused because it was felt that a development, probably of bungalows, would substantially dilute the speaking of Irish. Since that I have been told there is another case in Donegal where the county council also refused permission because it was felt that with a development of holiday bungalows would substantially dilute the speaking of Irish as a first language.

Some of these introduced the question – this is a completely new element as I did not get an opportunity to speak on it the last time – of including certain protections, provisions and positive elements with regard to planning and allowing a role for Údarás na Gaeltachta in this regard. In the 1979 Act establishing Údarás na Gaeltachta, a theoretical provision is made for this. In the draft of that Bill there is provision for the Government to allocate planning responsibility to Údarás na Gaeltachta. What we envision is not handing over full responsibility for planning to Údarás na Gaeltachta but, because we do not want to blur county boundaries and so on, that there should be joint responsibility or co-responsibility. These are all matters relating to the conservation of the Irish language. It seems, in a Bill which deals with the conservation of rare species of wildlife, wetlands, riverine estuaries and elements of our cultural heritage, it would be strange if Fianna Fáil, which prides itself on its understanding and innate sympathy with the language, would in any sense restrict the capacity of this Bill not only to protect but also to promote the Irish language.

I recognise that the Minister has included a Government amendment and that is laudable in as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. It is really in the area of pious rhetoric and the full weight of our concern is met by a simple statement that the Government will insert the following new paragraph: "(j) the protection of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht, where there is a Gaeltacht area in the area of the development plan." It is just not quite enough.

Mr. Ryan

Many of the concerns atá againn anseo, ghlacfaí leo i bhfad níos, bheadh sé i bhfad níos fusa dúinne dá ndéanfaí athrú beag don leasú atá curtha isteach ag an Aire.

Amendment No. 47 is written differently from the combined Opposition amendment, No. 46. I suspect that Senator Ross has never had his name on so many amendments in Irish in almost 20 years in the House.

Senator Ross is a passionate Gaeilgeoir. He has a very distinctive blas.

Mr. Ryan

Senator Ross has a very distinctive blas as has Senator Norris.

I thank Senator Ryan. Tá an Ghaeilge go maith agam agus blas álainn dílis Protastúnach agam. Ba mhaith liom an Ghaeilge a labhairt go minic sa Seanad.

Mr. Ryan

Ní raibh a fhios agam gur dílseoir an Seanadóir Norris. The two amendments differ fundamentally only because amendment No. 46 proposes that the objects of development plans "shall include the conservation and promotion of the Gaeltacht as an area where Irish is the primary community language". Is é a deir leasú an Aire ná, "the protection of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht". If the Minister were to agree on Report Stage to change this to "the protection and promotion of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht" the section would express a more positive view, would be less defensive and would not treat the Gaeltacht as an area of special scientific interest although I do not think it is the Minister's intention to do so.

Our amendment recognises the need to promote the vibrancy of the Gaeltachtaí as areas where the language is spoken. It is not enough that local authorities do nothing to harm it. It is the duty of planners not simply to protect our environment from damage but to promote those things which are positive. Good planning is not simply a defensive exercise. It is part of the planners' job to promote intelligent architecture, thoughtful layouts of local authority housing estates and those areas of the country where Irish is the primary community language. It is not enough simply to avoid doing manifest harm to the gaeltachtaí. Simply to add the words "and promotion" to his amendment would meet many of the concerns of the Opposition on this issue.

Molaim na Seanadóirí as an tsuim atá acu sa Ghaeilge. Aontaím leo go bhfuil dualgas orainn an Ghaeilge a shábháil ach níos mó ná sin, tá sé mar pholasaí againn an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn. Senator Norris has raised an important point. It should be open to local authorities in Gaeltacht areas to deal with planning applications in a way that takes into account the protection of the Gaeltacht culture, in conjunction with other planning issues. The Bill achieves this and makes provision for local authorities to take such a stance in relation to planning applications. If the Minister clarified this matter the Members might be reassured.

If the Minister's amendment were to say, "preserve and promote" the Gaeltacht, as has been suggested by colleagues on the Opposition side, this might allow us to accept the Government amendment. The Gaeltacht is a very special area and unfortunately, tá an Ghaeilge ag dul i laige in aghaidh an lae. Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go gcuirfimid an Ghaeltacht chun cinn i gcónaí. It is important that we preserve the Irish language and the entity and identity of the Gaeltacht.

I come from a county which has a strong and vibrant Gaeltacht in Connemara and where much planning is being done on a daily basis. I was interested to hear Senator Norris infer that Údarás na Gaeltachta would have a planning remit. I hope the Minister will elaborate on that point because it is news to me. I thought that all planning was done by the local authority. The inclusion of the words "preserve and promote the Gaeltacht" would address many of our fears.

Mar a bhí mé ag rá an tseachtain seo caite, tugann an Bille seo aitheantas don Ghaeltacht don chéad uair sna dlithe pleanála agus tar éis na moltaí éagsúla a fuair mé i dtaobh an Bhille táimse sásta an Bille a neartú ó thaobh na Gaeltachta de. Is dóigh liom go n-oibreoidh na hathruithe atá molta agam féin ach tá fadhbanna agam le cuid de na moltaí atá curtha síos ag Seanadóirí.

Much of this debate would be more appropriate to the debate on an Irish language Bill, rather than the planning Bill. Senators should bear in mind that we are talking about the proper planning and development of an area, whether it is a Gaeltacht or a county area. It is important to keep that aspect in mind. Regardless of how important we feel the preservation and protection of the Gaeltacht is, a range of bodies has been designed to promote Irish, Irish speaking areas and the Gaeltacht. I ask Senators to bear in mind that we are discussing a planning and development Bill.

Senator Norris asked about amendment No. 47. He made the point that slight confusion might arise due to the number of amendments being discussed together. I think the Senator is slightly confused about our amendment, the effect of which is to move the protection of linguistic heritage from being an optional objective in the development plan under the First Schedule to being a mandatory objective under section 10. It is a strengthening—

I thank the Minister for that. I understand that now. I misread the amendment – I was thinking of amendment No. 45, which the Cathaoirleach has explained to me. It is confusing and I am grateful for the Minister's explanation.

Mr. Ryan

Senator Norris has to have things explained to him very simply.

Yes, I do, and then I remember them forever.

Mr. Ryan

The Senator has a problem with all languages.

As I said, this Bill recognises for the first time the special nature of the Gaeltacht and already contains provisions regarding the Gaeltacht, development plans and regional planning guidelines. My amendment No. 47 will make it obligatory for the planning authorities in Gaeltacht areas to include objectives in their development plans to protect the cultural and linguistic heritage of the Gaeltacht. The current provision is optional but we are going to make it statutory. That, in itself, gives a strong recognition to the Gaeltacht, in planning terms, and it gives planning authorities sufficient flexibility to take whatever measures they deem necessary or appropriate.

It is important for Senators to remember that the Bill presents a framework for planning and development and sets out objectives. It is up to the local authorities to decide, within the broad framework of the law, how to implement them. We should not be too prescriptive. This amendment will apply equally to developments of the local authority within the Gaeltacht area.

Senator Ryan has taken the position, as have other Senators, that the Government amendment may be worded too defensively. I am trying to include in the Bill the protection that we all want, but in such a way that that objective will be achi evable in law. It is reasonable to make it a development plan objective. It is worded similarly to the other objectives in the development plan, which strengthens the position.

Planning is only one of many issues affecting the Gaeltacht. The law can only go so far in relation to dealing with language promotion. A Bill on planning and development can also only go so far in terms of language promotion.

Senators referred to the preservation of the Irish language. Is féidir linn breathnú ar an leasú a mhol an tSeanadóir Ó Riain and perhaps add "promotion of the Gaeltacht" to that amendment. However, I would have to look at that because I am a little concerned that "promotion of the Gaeltacht" might mean involving people in a range of areas for which bodies already exist. However, I will look at that in order to go some way towards the concerns expressed by Senators.

Freisin, luaigh Seanadóirí ról Údarás na Gaeltachta agus cúrsaí pleanála. Pléfimid an cheist sin níos moille ach is féidir liom a rá go ndéanfaidh mé cinnte de go mbeidh chuile seans ag an Údarás a gcuid tuairimí a chur ar aghaidh nuair is gá.

Údarás na Gaeltachta is not a planning authority. It would be very wrong to have two planning authorities within a local authority planning area. However, there are provisions in the Bill, which we can expand on later, giving it prescribed authority status, which means it will have to be consulted on development plans covering Gaeltacht areas. As I said, that arises in the context of another amendment which we can discuss later.

Subject to the proviso I mentioned, I will look again at the possibility of including something about the promotion of Gaeltacht areas on Report Stage. However, the Bill goes a long way towards meeting the desires of Senators.

In case it has escaped people's attention, tá Gaeltachtaí i gContae na Mí.

Unlike in Connemara, Kerry and so on, they are islands in the middle of a Galltacht. I am conscious of the need to include a provision in the planning Bill which would protect them from the increasing pressures in a place such as County Meath, in terms of the overspill from Dublin. I know that also happens in rural areas.

We are all, in a sense, speaking about the same thing and have the same desire. I have the added responsibility of ensuring that whatever I put in the Bill is legally possible to enforce and that it provides the protection we all desire. If I can use a word like "promotion" or "conservation" in addition to the strong provisions here already, I will do so on Report Stage. I ask the Senators to withdraw their amendments on that basis.

The Minister has pre-empted me because I noted that he was actually straying on to amendment No. 36. If we examine amendment No. 36, some of the things towards which we are striving can perhaps be achieved under that amendment. We are expressing concerns similar to those reported today in a national newspaper where the people of Rinn say they are afraid of an extraordinary high density development in their area which they feel might erode it. These amendments have been put down because of such concerns.

While my name is to amendment No. 36, I do not agree totally with the proposal but there are some suggestions I will make regarding changes and modifications. Perhaps that amendment could have been taken with the other amendments.

I very much welcome the degree of flexibility the Minister is showing and I am grateful that he is prepared to look at the possible introduction of additional words such as "promotion" and "conservation" and so on. I would like to just tease out the matter, concentrating really on two amendments, No. 252, which is in my name and that of my colleagues in the Labour Party, and amendment No. 349. They are very different and show a very different emphasis. Mine is trying to put something in directly about planning, and so it is germane to a Bill about planning. I will come back to that. The Government amendment proposes to remove the protection and conservation of the Irish language from its list of concerns in the schedules. Could I have a reply from the Minister as to why there is this removal of the objective of protection of the Irish language? There could be a technical reason but I do not know. It might be a matter of drafting or something but I am concerned that the operation of a Government amendment is actually to remove a positive reference to the Irish language from the Bill. That seems to be a retrograde step but there may be an explanation for it and I will suspend my judgment until I hear what the Minister has to say.

The Minister said that he sympathised with the general thrust of our feelings on this side of the House and so on, but that perhaps what we were saying would be more appropriate in a debate on the Irish language Bill rather than one dealing with planning. Of course everybody would accept that the Irish language is not the principal or prime focus of this Bill but we would be foolish to downplay it, although it would be understandable if we did.

Planning must take serious account of cultural matters and of matters relating to our heritage. This is sometimes a difficult battle to win in people's minds because we tend to think of planning exclusively in terms of practical, concrete realities of buildings, developments, supermarkets, roads and infrastructure, getting things done as quickly as possible and not holding up the progress of the country and so on. I remember coming across this in an earlier debate which I am glad to say we won, with the vibrant co-operation of the present Minister and his colleagues. This was on the preservation of our Georgian heritage. There was considerable hesitation concerning our plans to try and preserve and conserve this. This was not what it was really about – it was all "airy-fairy", "what the hell about it, just put down your roads and canals and railways and what is all this rubbish about aesthetics". I am not suggesting that the Minister takes this philistine view, but I do not quite sympathise with the view that the Irish language is quite so marginal in a Bill of planning. It is much more than that particularly where it conserns directly and specifically Gaeltacht areas, if we are serious about developing these as more than merely curiosities, linguistic reservations where the aboriginals are given a little grant to keep them happy, so with any luck they can breed more Irish speakers and so on.

In a way, the Meath Gaeltacht, of which I am aware, is tragic. These people were moved, as far as I know – were they moved from Connemara in the 20s and 30s? They were uprooted from the places where they lived and jammed down in the middle of County Meath, where obviously the land was better. How happy were they leaving their homes? Why were we not able to sustain them in the landscape with which they were familiar? Would the Minister get planning permission for a Gaeltacht in the middle of Meath nowadays? Not, of course, that it would dilute the speaking of English.

Amendment No. 252 states:

The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, shall, after consulting with the Minister, issue regulations to planning authorities concerning:

(a) the identification of planning applications and developments which are likely to have an adverse effect on linguistic factors in Gaeltacht areas;

This is very important. If we are serious about preserving the language then we need to identify first of all those factors that are militating against it. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands is the appropriate person. Contained in that very paragraph, there is something close to a definition of a linguistic impact survey.

(b) the criteria to be used in assessing such planning applications and developments;

This is perfectly rational.

(c) the preparation and context of linguistic impact statements in relation to such planning applications and developments.

In other words, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands will be charged with the formulation of linguistic impact statements. Can anybody argue with the appropriateness of that job being placed within that ministry? Then we have the idea of notice being given to the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, "of the receipt of planning applications and of proposed developments likely to have an adverse effect on linguistic factors in Gaeltacht areas". Finally there is a paragraph dealing with the inhibitions placed on a development in the situation where there are anxieties.

Amendment No. 252 is really at the crux of the whole matter. It is very directly related to planning because we are saying that we require first of all the most appropriate ministry in Government to monitor and to be aware of a possible development which will cause damage to the Irish language. First there is the awareness then the creation of linguistic impact statements and then the power to inhibit any development which is seen as causing this damage. Now these three steps clearly relate to planning.

Obviously local authorities, as I said earlier, have already taken action in this regard even on the flimsy legal basis that already exists so it is not that we are pushing the boat out terribly far. County councils have already rejected planning applications on these bases. I suppose the Minister might say, "There you are, there is no need for legislation at all." I should not be providing the Minister with these pat answers because I see him nodding and writing it down.

I might be writing something else down.

Perhaps he is writing something else. I should not assume pompously that he is making notes of anything that I say.

There is a very strong case for including this amendment which is not something that I had the foresight to imagine all by myself. It was promoted, supplied to me and argued for by people who are passionately involved in and committed to the preservation of the Irish language. I listened to them with respect.

That is my promotion of the positive aspects as I see them of our amendment in the names of the Independents and the Labour Party. I balance that by asking why amendment No. 349 deletes the Irish language from an important section of the Bill.

Mr. Ryan

Ní cóir don Aire a rá nach bhfuil Gaeilge mhaith aige. Bhí sé ag gabháil leithscéalta an tseachtain seo caite. Ní gá dó. Tá Gaeilge líofa bhreá ag an Aire. Is maith an rud é go bhfuil sé ábalta í a úsáid sa díospóireacht seo.

I appreciate the Minister's willingness to look at the question of a more positive word. Words such as "the development and renewal of areas in need of regeneration" and "the preservation, improvement and extension of amenities" are used in section 10 which deals with the content of development plans. We are not talking about defensive development but about positive thinking.

While this may not do my case any good, I am thinking about matters that might not be acceptable to planners but which would be of fundamental importance to a Gaeltacht community, such as a community centre or new school. I am thinking in particular of the west Kerry Gaeltacht, all the young people from which go to an English speaking environment in Dingle. There has been considerable talk during the years about the need for a meánscoil sa Gaeltacht. While this might present problems for the planners, where something would clearly promote the Gaeltacht as a community, they should be prepared to do things that they would otherwise not be prepared to do. People in the Gaeltacht will not thank us too much if everything is stopped. As Senator Norris said, it is not just a museum, it a living community which is developing. Projects should be allowed and encouraged where they would enable the community to develop. I am glad the Minister will look at the matter again. I have no desire to press amendments where he is prepared to be reasonable as he is being in this instance.

I am also happy that the Minister is prepared to look at this matter again. There is an inherent link between planning and the preservation of the culture of an area. Gaeltacht areas must be developed in this context. They are being taken over by outside influences. It is our duty as legislators to protect them, otherwise they will disappear from the face of the earth. As we are all aware tá an teanga Gaeilge i geart lár i gcroí na Gaeltachta. It is more important than ever in the context of planning and development that it is retained, fostered and strengthened.

The Minister said that the Gaeltacht in his home county of Meath needs more protection. Many people living in the metropolis have a temendous interest in the Irish language. They travel in large numbers each summer to the Connemara Gaeltacht. While I am happy to go along with what the Minister said, I hope he will take into consideration what we are trying to achieve, the protection of the Irish language in the context of this legislation.

Will the Minister deal with amendment No. 349?

Amendments Nos. 359 and 47 are related.

I beg the Minister's pardon, I can see that now. I am sorry, he did explain that.

I now have a clearer picture of what Senator Ryan has in mind. I was concerned about the way some of the amendments were worded, that we were talking about the promotion of the Irish language, which is not easily defined in the context of a planning and development Bill. If anything can be done to promote development in Gaeltacht areas which in turn would protect the language I will try and do so on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We now proceed to amendment No. 32. Amendment No. 33 is related. Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 27, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following new paragraph:–

"(u)particulars as to whether any building which is part of this application is listed for protection under section 49 of this Act,".

This amendment which relates to the keeping of registers seeks to insert a new paragraph in the Bill. It is a perfectly reasonable request if we are serious about protecting buildings. Amendment No. 33 states:

In page 27, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following new paragraph:

"(v)particulars as to whether any part of this application forms part of an Area of Special Amenity under section 185 of this Act,".

The amendment deals with amenity areas which are, in the opinion of the planning authority, of outstanding natural beauty and special recreational value. It seems obvious that they should be included in the register which should be as accessible and contain as much relevant information as possible.

Far be it from me to correct the Senator's use of English given his distinguished record—

Please feel free.

—but I accept the principle underlying the amendments. There are, however, difficulties in the drafting. I ask the Senator to withdraw them on the basis that I will table similar amendments on Report Stage.

I am most grateful and apologise for any linguistic deficiencies, which are probably due to my retirement from teaching as well as to the fact that somebody else put them together.

It has more to do with legalese than English.

I greatly welcome the Minister's acceptance of the principle underlying the amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 33 not moved.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

We now proceed to amendment No. 34. Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 are related. Amendments Nos. 34 to 36, inclusive, may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 34:

In page 27, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following new paragraph:–

"(w)a record in summary form of all previous applications realting to this land since 1 October 1964,".

I hope the Minister will also be able to accept this amendment in principle, regardless of whether the drafting is accurate. I can speak with some special force on this matter because I have been involved in North Great George's Street in a series of legal cases which were very expensive to me personally. Curiously – I suppose it is entertaining in its way, although there was a bit of a sting in it at the time – when I sued the proprietor of a neighbouring building I won my case by the magisterial presentation of my evidence. I had everything beautifully marshalled. At lunchtime on day two a young barrister sitting next to me in the court said, "That was superb. It was brilliant. You really scotched that old dame for six. What do you think you'll get?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Ten, fifteen, 20 grand?" I said, "Really." He said, "Oh yes, you're definitely going to get damages." The judge said, "Well in normal circumstances I would award swingeing damages, but in this case I happen to know Senator Norris and he is not motivated by the vulgar pursuit of money and so on this occasion I will make the unusual judgment that I will not award any damages at all so that there can be reconciliation between the parties." So much for one's reputation as a conservationist. The case has, however, continued and continued. The person involved was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison and to a fine, I think, of £30,000 but managed to get out of it. We are still dealing with that case and putting in appeals and objections. On two occasions objections were missed, once because – this was my own fault – I missed it by one day. On the second occasion I was going abroad and another neighbour was involved. He undertook to put the joint objections in, but the matter went out of his head. He had three weeks in which to do it. There was, however, a record of all the fights that we had fought up to that point.

The planning authority did not take it into account because there was no necessity for it to review the entire register. They made a clean decision, totally ignoring the history. That is disastrous. It is a waste of time. If they want to make a good decision on planning or at appeals, obviously they want all the evidence. Look at the analogy of the medical profession. The first thing a doctor does is to get a medical history of the patient. In the case of a building which is a sick building, or a building that needs conservation or a building that needs to be preserved, one does not just approach it in a vacuum. One needs to have information about its planning history. In particular, one of the amendments deals with a list of previous court cases, convictions, litigation, planning appeals and so on.

There is an undefeatable logic about what we are trying to do here. I very much hope the Minister will take this on board. I speak with passion because bad decisions were made next door to me and further along the street on both sides, precisely because decisions were made in ignorance and without taking into account the history of the buildings. I appeal to the Minister and his advisers. I have no amour propre in connection with these amendments and they do not have to be mine. If the Government produces amendments, I will be delighted. Come election time, I will take credit for them, but the Government can put in its amendments at this time if it so wishes. I urge the Minister to take on board at least the principle of these amendments. Otherwise we will continue to have bad decisions made because the people making the decisions do not have access to the full information required.

Mr. Ryan

It is hardly necessary to support Senator Norris, but let me elaborate on one matter. As an academic in a third level institution, I teach my students how to make proper decisions in terms of problem-solving. The most fundamental element is to assemble all the information available, even superfluous information. It is extraordinary how information can get distorted in transmission. One would even recommend talking to the people who collected the information. There is a fundamental issue here. If one is to make good decisions – I do not mean decisions with which I agree, simply decisions that are good – one must have the maximum amount of information. To have a position where it is possible to make fundamental planning decisions without reference to previous history is to leave a huge gap in the decision-making process and, therefore, a huge possibility of error, not deliberate but simply because of the absence of information.

These three amendments relate to the planning register. We may be a little at cross-purposes here. The first amendment on which Senator Norris has spoken eloquently would require the register to contain in record summary all previous applications since 1964. The planning register is a permanent record that is already there. This is only a continuation of the obligation under the 1963 Act. The Bill as it is meets that. Perhaps in the past local authorities have not been assiduous in maintaining records. However, the planning register has to contain the detail for which the Senator has asked. The amendment is not, therefore, necessary.

The requirement to maintain planning files for at least ten years to facilitate public inspection is dealt with later in the Bill. Section 37 of the Bill requires all planning files to be available for pub lic inspection over the counter for five years after a decision is made. Documents can still be accessed after that period under the freedom of information legislation. Does the Senator disagree with that?

No. There is a further point which I will come to later.

Five years is reasonable, particularly in the context of the level of development we have at the moment. After that there would be all sorts of difficulties.

On the second point, which re-emphasises the point about the availability of the files at a local level, the files are not to be sent to the National Archive because, under section 65 of the Local Government Act, 1994, each local authority is obliged to set up its own local archive where the planning files must be kept. That is a better way to operate this system, to have the files available almost ad infinitum at a local level.

The third amendment would require the register to contain all details regarding litigation in respect of a planning decision. Again, I have a problem here. The amendment presupposes that all litigation goes to court where decisions are made on it. That is not always the case. Most cases are settled without any formal judgment. Some practices in the planning area involve many people getting a lot of money on the basis of withdrawing objections – sin scéal eile. I have no great difficulty with the principle. However, there is a difficulty in the case of litigation. I do not know whether the Senator can help me in getting around the fact that a case may be initiated, may never get to court and, therefore, there is no record of it.

The first amendment is already catered for. The second is adequately catered for, between the requirement that planning documents be available for inspection for five years, the requirements under the freedom of information legislation and the existence of the local archive. I have no difficulty with the principle of the third amendment but there is a problem with matters of law.

Let me go through the three amendments again. I am grateful because the Minister has certainly illuminated things for me. With regard to amendment No. 34 the Minister says, and I am very relieved to hear it, that this is already in existence in other legislation, so it is covered. That does not mean it cannot be rehearsed in this. There is no objection to it. If it is not necessary, neither is it damaging. It is not entirely absurd to put it in, precisely because, as the Minister himself acknowledged, it is not always acted on. He would be strengthening the position by rehearsing it in this. He would be reminding people of their obligations. I would like the Minister to consider putting in an amendment, either this or one similar to it. I ask him to reconsider this, although I accept that technically and theoretically it may be covered. The Minister has admitted that it is not always implemented, so let us rehearse it so that people will be aware of the obligations they are not currently living up to.

What the Minister had to say on amendment No. 35 was very interesting. He referred me to section 37 and I looked at it while he was speaking. That is exactly one of the problems because section 37 states: "Where a planning authority gives its decision in respect of a planning application the following documents shall be made available within 3 working days for inspection and purchase by members of the public during office hours at the offices of the authority: (a) a copy of the planning application and of any particulars . . . . .., (b) a copy of any submissions or observations . . . . ., (c) a copy of any report prepared by or for the authority . . . . .., (d) a copy of the decision . . . . ., (e) a copy . . . . ..", and so on. I will not go on with this but the section refers to copies, not the originals. The problem is that many planning applications are colour coded. In Kildare, for example, which is not too far away from the Minister's constituency, the practice of the local authority is to put the originals in storage deposit in Cork. They make copies available over the counter but the copies are available from microfilm and they are in black and white. For quite a large range of planning purposes, they are useless. That is precisely the reason behind this amendment. I ask the Minister to think again because it may not have been presented to him that this is a specific, clear, technical difficulty.

I am in favour of creating local archives, and there is a strong argument for that, but since there is such a wide variety of practice, would it not be better to create a central archive? I see one of my distinguished colleagues on the opposite side of the House shaking his head, and perhaps he is right because if records had been kept more at local level, we would not have had such damage to our archives when the Custom House was hit. Perhaps copies or even coloured copies could be kept. I am not so concerned about that but I would like the Minister to address in some way the situation in a neighbouring constituency to his own, of which I have given him a specific example, where in a large number of circumstances the information is provided over the counter because it is a copy from microfilm, it cannot be colour coded and it is therefore useless for the purposes of planning.

I am grateful to the Minister for accepting the principle of amendment No. 36. I accept his point that trying to enter references to any litigation might be difficult if it is settled. Of course there could be records of court procedures even if they are terminated, but the Minister's point is fair because presumably if the matter is settled, even for venial reasons, it is settled to the satisfaction of contending parties and that is that. There are situations, however, such as those in which I have been involved, where there was no possibility of achieving a settlement out of court and it had to go to a judicial resolution. Perhaps the Minister's advisers could come up with an appropriate wording – if not I will try to produce it myself – to include decisions of a court. I would be happier if litigation could be included.

There are a number of people in Dublin, and probably in a number of other cities throughout the country, who make a practice of trying to get round the legal system. The corporation, for example, has had to resort to keeping files on people who make fraudulent claims. It finds the same names cropping up again and again, people who miraculously disappear down manholes, break their legs on uneven footpaths, get struck by taxis and so on. Such a constellation of claims was occurring that the corporation, in good practice, decided to keep a register so that it could note when these names recurred. I wonder if something similar cannot be done in this area because there are malign, badly intentioned people who are rotten safeguarders of our heritage and they have left a trail all over this city. I will not abuse the privilege of the House by naming any of them but I am sure the Minister and his advisers know some of the people I am thinking of. They have also left a paper trail in legal offices and architectural practices throughout the city. I am thinking in terms of helping the planning authorities to make a proper judgment by allowing them as much information as possible. The least we should do is record decisions of a court. I would like to think we could include more and perhaps we could take advice from local authorities like Dublin Corporation and the City Manager as to how they came up with a scheme to expose fraudulent claims for compensation. This is really the same principle.

I ask the Minister to think again on the three amendments. On the first one he says it is already covered by other legislation. Perhaps it is, but he also acknowledges that it is not being implemented. Let us rehearse it. Let us rub their noses in it. It is good teaching practice. On the second amendment and the planning files, I made a specific point about use of microfilm and the problems of colour coding. The Minister seems to be moving in our direction on the third amendment. I am glad to hear that. Perhaps he will give an undertaking to come back with an amendment on Report Stage or I can produce something myself.

Obviously if the planning file is the subject of litigation it will include reference to that effect and perhaps there should be a comment on the register when that is the case, although it will happen in very few cases. On the point about coloured maps, etc., the Minister could stipulate that the originals would be held and made available over the counter.

I am concerned about the implications of the Bill for the current staff resources. A balance must be achieved between streamlining the system and ensuring it meets all the requirements in our legislative process with regard to planning. That would obviate the need for centralisation of the archives and these files would be held locally. Perhaps that is the direction in which we should go.

Mr. Ryan

I am reluctant to take up time, and the Minster has been forthcoming. A simpler solution would be an instruction to local authorities that whatever codes they use for planning should not become obscured. Senator Norris and I have been going on about teaching but every first year student in any branch of engineering is told that the drawings they do by hand should be such that when they are copied, the loss of the colour does not mean that it is impossible to read the drawing. That is elementary practice. In any engineering consultancy, if people used colour coding which was then lost in the copying, they would not be in their jobs for long. Regardless of how they store their records, local authorities must not store them in a way that will result in some information being lost. If they use colour coding they should find some way of storing and reproducing them in colour. I suspect from the Minister's occasional passing references that perhaps we need legislation to get local authorities to operate in a common sense fashion, but the common sense is that one should not make copies that lose the characteristic.

I am concerned about the five and ten years and freedom of information because FOI only operates in local authorities from a recent date. Will there be a gap of a few years where they will not be covered? Will records created before the operational date of the Freedom of Information Act be left out? Perhaps I misunderstand this provision.

The register exists and all we are doing is ensuring that the provision in the 1963 Act is transposed into this consolidated Bill. It is not a question of putting it in to be doubly sure. The register is there and it is contained in this Bill and not in other legislation. Section 7 provides: "A planning authority shall keep a register for the purposes of this Act in respect of all land within . . . " etc. Perhaps I can facilitate Senator Norris's suggestion by outlining in the definition section on Report Stage that the register is a record in summary form of all previous applications.

That would be very helpful. I thank the Minister.

I was not aware that the issue of copies was a major problem. Senator Ryan's contribution was helpful with regard to what the practice should be. Unfortunately, that is probably not the case. There is a security issue concerning original files being handed out to the public but we should be able to introduce a provision which stipulates that at least one of the files available locally is an original. Applications lodged with local authorities include three sets of original plans, drawings and notifications. It should not be beyond local authority procedures to devise a system whereby some of the originals are available. I will look at this issue again to see if we can overcome the security difficulty.

Senators Norris and Ryan raised the issue of looking at the files. No files would be beyond public access. If the timeframe is within five years then the file is available over the counter. After that it is available under the Freedom of Information Act. Senator Ryan referred to files which pre-date that Act but such files would be available under the regulations on access to environmental information. This covers all possibilities.

We will look at the issue of litigation and perhaps come up with a provision relating to cases which reached a final court judgment where the information is available, particularly concerning planning authorities. There is a different side to this issue which might be helpful to local authorities. Senator Norris mentioned people who consistently try to get around the system by making claims. It might be helpful to keep a record of people who object for the sake of it, giving rise to vexatious appeals which annoy everyone. We will look at these issues. The objective of amendment No. 35 might be met by instructions rather than legislation.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Is the amendment being pressed?

No. I thank the Minister who has gone a long way towards meeting our concerns. These amendments involve important principles, particularly with regard to issues such as final appeals to An Bord Pleanála against a decision which has been made. It is important that all files are available and that decisions are not made in a vacuum. Sometimes appeals are decided in that way and people do not look at the original case, which is a pity. I am grateful to the Minister and I withdraw the amendment. I look forward to the Minister's amendments on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 not moved.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

I wish to refer to the Freedom of Information Act as it applies to planning. The Minister referred to the regulations governing access to files. Now that the Act applies to local authorities will one be able to obtain a copy of a file as opposed to just having access to it? I have lodged a query with the Information Commissioner on this issue as it appears that applications for a copy of a file under the Act are turned down on the basis that one only has a right of access. In some cases it is necessary to obtain a copy of a file to study in greater detail. This would involve applications concerning landfill proposals, water licences, discharge and so on which include a large amount of technical detail. There seems to be a discrepancy or anomaly as to whether the Freedom of Information Act or the regulations has precedence. Does the Minister have a view on this issue?

This legislation seeks to protect the public who were given rights to information under the Freedom of Information Act. However, people are not getting the full benefit of the Freedom of Information Act when it comes to planning applications. I have come across this issue at local level and asked the Information Commissioner to clarify the position. Does the Minister have a view on this issue in the context of this legislation or could we try to ensure that consumers are protected and receive the full benefit of the law?

I am not 100% sure of the situation concerning the Freedom of Information Act. However, under the regulations governing access to environmental information one has access to files and one can stipulate the type of access required – whether it is a simple matter of going to the local authority office and looking at a file or whether one makes a formal request for a copy of a file. That is my understanding of the regulations. If I am corrected I will let the Senator know.

I have been refused a copy of applications which contain technical information which I wanted to take home and study. My request was turned down on the basis that I was only allowed access to a file rather than a copy of it. I then made an application for a copy of the file under the Freedom of Information Act but was turned down on the basis that the rules on access supersede the Act. I have asked for clarification on this issue but it appears that this is an important point and relevant to this legislation.

I have some sympathy with Senator O'Meara's point. The Senator is a councillor and I presume this issue arose in her council.

Any documents held by a council should be available to a councillor.

One can study them but one cannot get a copy.

It should be possible to get a copy on request.

It is clear that practices differ around the country so this issue may need clarification in law.

I think different councils have different standards, but one of the practical difficulties is that very often these copies contain large-scale maps and plans. I entirely concur that one should be allowed get a copy of them. There is a practical cost and time factor and the cost should adequately cover the additional work, copying and time involved in carrying out the work. It is not a simple case of going to a photocopier as it may be necessary to go to a largescale map copier which takes time. If a person is willing to carry the cost, the material should be made available to them.

By way of clarification, I understand that because copyright is sometimes an issue in relation to drawings and technical details, some local authorities do not allow the material out of their office and do not photocopy it. Currently all drawings, photographs, plans etc. are available for inspection but not for purchase for reasons of copyright. As Members are aware, a Copyright and Related Rights Bill is currently being considered in the Houses and it might resolve the issue of copyright. We circularised local authorities in relation to freedom of information. The spirit of the legislation is that the maximum amount of information be made available. There are some exceptions under the Freedom of Information Act. The only thing councils can legitimately refuse to provide is technical documents which may be copyright. Perhaps this is relevant to the issues raised by the Senator.

That was not the issue I had in mind, but I will not labour the point at this stage. I will consider the issue and might return to it.

I think we will be discussing this issue again under section 37 and I will try to get further information to clarify the position.

Am I correct in thinking that an individual councillor may be refused access but that if the council passes a resolution the manager is obliged to provide whatever information is relevant to the resolution? It is a very cumbersome way of doing things and should not be necessary unless the manager is contrary, and unfortunately there are such managers. It might be one way of overcoming the difficulty.

Mr. Ryan

Some years ago a development was proposed near my home and I got a copy of the application. However, I ran into the problem outlined by the Minister, namely, the council could not give me the plans because they were copyright. As I recall, it was the most expensive photocopying I ever received. There is a need to point out to local authorities that they are entitled to recoup their costs but not use costs as a disincentive for people. I have no desire to say they should give away free copies, but the going rate in most commercial photocopying services, which are making money, is 5p per page. Most services provided by student unions charge 4p per page and in some places the cost can be 3p with a reduced quality of paper. As I recall, I paid 50p per page about five or six years ago. Somebody needs to tell these people that they have a right to recoup costs, not make a profit from photocopying.

Regarding the copyright legislation, my understanding is that it should make it clear that copyright is not breached when making copies of technical drawings, but I invite the Minister to have a word in the ear of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment to ensure this is the case. It is very difficult for community associations, for example, to discuss housing developments if the plan can only be inspected on the counter of the authority office, however well organised.

I recall a person falling in love with a sizeable house who decided the simple way of getting the drawings and plans very cheaply was by going to the local authority. This is the sort of abuse we are talking about. I am sure if aspects such as dimensions were excluded it would be possible to provide all the information requested by the Senator. However, we must keep in mind that it is open to abuse in such cases.

I am not sure how abusive that is. If it is an old house and there are drawings, for example, of the original ceiling, it would be very valuable to get a copy of them. Therefore, I would not always see it as malign. For example, in the case of 35 North Great George's Street, we did a trawl and were extremely lucky to come up with the original drawings by Stapleton for the ceilings, which we were able to replace. If information exists and is helpful to somebody who wishes to carry out conservation work, they should be allowed have it. Thank God if it cuts a corner or makes things cheaper. I assure the House that restoration is a bloody expensive business.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 8 agreed to.

Acting Chairman

Amendment No. 37 in the name of Senator Henry is ruled out of order as it is merely descriptive in nature. Amendment No. 38 is in the name of Senator Norris and can be taken together with amendments Nos. 39, 59, 80, 84, 101 to 103, inclusive, and 111 to 118, inclusive.

Amendment No. 37 not moved.

I move amendment No. 38:

I leathanach 28, fo-alt (3), idir líne 48 agus 49, an mhír seo a leanas a chur isteach:

"(b)A planning authority which has a Gaeltacht within its functional area shall make a separate development plan for that area as a joint function with Údarás na Gaeltachta.".

This group of amendments introduces Údarás na Gaeltachta into a central role in planning where it affects a Gaeltacht area. It is a joint role as I am well aware that county councils might be jealous of their preserve, and we do not want to create confusion by seeming to infringe or blur county boundaries. At the same time if we are serious about the protection of the Irish language it is very important that Údarás na Gaeltachta, which was given an outline responsibility in the area of planning in the Bill under which it was established, is included in planning decisions.

I will not recite all the amendments because it would be tedious to do so and, as far as I know – perhaps the Acting Chairman can reassure me on this – all I have to do is move the amendment and the report will show the text. Amendment No. 38 states:

A planning authority which has a Gaeltacht within its functional area shall make a separate development plan for that area as a joint function with Údarás na Gaeltachta.

This amendment refers to co-operation between the planning authority and another established function of the State which the Government has already contemplated entrusting with some degree of responsibility for planning, although the Government has not fleshed out this proposal. This would be a joint effort between the two bodies which seems appropriate.

Amendments Nos. 111 to 118, inclusive, seek the inclusion of the phrase "Údarás na Gaeltachta". It is a large group of amendments that has one central objective, that is to involve Údarás na Gaeltachta as a responsible authority in the planning process in conjunction with the designated local authority.

I have no difficulty with what Senator Norris has said. However, I have some difficulty with the amendments in which my name is included. My understanding was that it would be a joint effort rather than a statutory role for Údarás na Gaeltachta. Údarás na Gaeltachta is not an entirely elected body and it is not within its remit to draw up development plans. Nevertheless, I see a role for it in making a submission. The Minister and the Government want to ensure that we have as much public participation as possible in planning and development and Údarás na Gaeltachta could play a role in this. It could make a submission outlining the points raised on various amendments, including some which we have agreed the Minister will look at for the Report Stage. Its submission would be taken into account by the relevant local authority but Údarás na Gaeltachta would not have a joint decision-making role. I acknowledge that Údarás na Gaeltachta may have a greater knowledge of an area than some councillors who live in a different part of a county and, as such, would have a role in helping a local authority to draw up its development plan.

Mr. Ryan

Tá beagán ionadh orm go bhfuil an Seanadóir Coogan ag rá nach bhfuil sé i bhfábhar leasaithe a bhfuil a ainm féin fúthu, ach sin rogha dá chuid féin.

It is important to clarify this matter. The various bodies that raised this issue with us, and I am sure they have raised it with the Minister, are concerned that a development plan for a Gaeltacht area should not be at variance with the wishes of the body that is given the primary obligation by the State to develop that area. Údarás na Gaeltachta's function is to facilitate, encourage and promote the development of the area as a vibrant community where Irish is the spoken language. To allow Údarás na Gaeltachta simply to make submissions would implicitly allow the local authority to overrule an tÚdarás where the local authority saw fit. Whereas to define the position as that of a joint function means that an agreed position would have to be reached.

With the exception of the chairman of Údarás na Gaeltachta, every member will be elected from next December onwards. Those members will be elected from each Gaeltacht area. They will be the elected representatives of the people of the Gaeltacht, as are the county councillors from the area. One of the practical concerns is that electoral districts in local authority elections do not always coincide with the boundaries of the Gaeltachtaí. Therefore, the local authority members can be only half-representatives, so to speak, for the Gaeltacht and that leads to ambivalence about development plans and uncertainty.

The underlying philosophy is that while Údarás na Gaeltachta should not be able to make development plans that would be at variance with the local authority, the local authority should not be able to put together a development plan at variance with the views of Údarás na Gaeltachta, which is an elected body which representing the people of the Gaeltachtaí. Like many people in the Gaeltacht areas, I believe it is time we classified the Gaeltacht as a separate region in the State for EU and other purposes. If we believe our own rhetoric, the area has many elements which bind it together that are more fundamental than those binding counties together. However, that is another year's work.

It is important to state in law the role of Údarás na Gaeltachta as a major contributor to the development plan, not just as an agency that has the right to make a submission. Submissions by their nature can be and sometimes, correctly, are ignored. Granting Údarás na Gaeltachta a joint function means that it cannot be ignored and that an agreed position must be worked out. That is the best option for a development plan where a Gaeltacht is involved.

A local authority is the supreme planning body in any county. I would not like to see any diminution of that power. While I am sure Údarás na Gaeltachta will make submissions and observations that will be taken on board, the development plan of a county is the responsibility of the local authority. Galway County Council consists of 30 members, seven of whom represent the Gaeltacht. They are able people, vociferous and eloquent, and there is no doubt that they can make a case. Therefore, on the premise that there are elected members from the Gaeltacht on various councils in Gaeltacht areas, the development plan should be made by the council. Observations and submissions made by Údarás na Gaeltachta will be taken on board. However, the ultimate decision on the plan should be taken by the council. The Gaeltacht is well protected because it is represented by elected members. Almost a quarter of Galway County Council represents the Connemara Gaeltacht. On that premise the plan should be the remit of the county council.

Mr. Ryan

I am in the peculiar position that I have heard successive speakers from the Fine Gael Party argue against their own amendments. They should take their names off their amendments if they do not support them and not confuse us.

That is a matter for the Senators.

Aontaím go hiomlán leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Coogan agus ag an Seanadóir McDonagh. The local authority is the planning authority. To impose a dual function would be impractical and flies in the face of everything that Members subscribe to about enhancing local government. It would be a step in the opposite direction.

Senator Ryan made the point I wanted to raise. He said that the local authority area is not necessarily co-extensive with the Gaeltacht area. The importance of this should be taken into account and Údarás na Gaeltachta should be given more involvement in the planning process.

Tabharfaidh an leasú seo ról do Údarás na Gaeltachta chun pleananna forbartha agus treoirlínte réigiúnacha a dhéanamh. Tuigim cad tá i gceist sna leasuithe seo ach ní údarás pleanála é Údarás na Gaeltachta agus ní dóigh liom go mbeadh sé ceart go mbeadh an ról sin aige.

While I understand the thrust of the amendments, they raise fundamental and principled questions about planning. As Members said, if these amendments were accepted, they would give Údarás a joint role in deciding on planning in relation to the drawing up of development plans and regional planning guidelines. Údarás na Gaeltachta is not a planning authority – it is not meant to be so – and the acceptance of these amendments would not make it one, although they would give it a powerful role in the planning process.

There was provision in the 1975 Bill for that power. It must have been somewhere in the Government's mind.

It may have been in an Údarás na Gaeltachta Bill, but it was not in the Planning and Development Acts, and a number have been enacted since 1926. There is no possibility that Údarás could jointly make a development plan with the planning authority or could become involved jointly in drawing up regional planning guidelines.

Údarás na Gaeltachta is a development body, not a planning body. While Údarás might laudably want to provide for the location of factories or other developments in a Gaeltacht area, such projects may not comply with environmental considerations or with the proper planning and development of an area, but there is a danger that the desire of members in a small area to assist its development could overrule good sense and good environmental and planning law.

The intent of most of these amendments is to almost give Údarás na Gaeltachta a veto on planning and development in relation to development plans in an area. I cannot allow that as it would not be right. I agree Údarás na Gaeltachta should have the same power as any other body, including State and semi-State organisations, to make known to the relevant planning authorities the concerns and visions it has for the development of Gaeltacht areas.

As I said previously, I am prepared to make the necessary regulations to ensure that Údarás will be consulted when development plans and regional planning guidelines are being prepared. That will meet the concerns raised by these amendments. To go further would raise a large number of issues. If Údarás na Gaeltachta was given the role in planning and development that is sought, why should, say, the Department of the Marine and Natural Resources not have a veto on decisions on forestry made by a local authority and why should the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development not have a veto on planning and development related directly to agricultural developments? One body must be in charge of planning and development and that body is the local authority in each planning area. It would be wrong to diminish its role or allow others joint authority in regard to that role. As some Senators pointed out in supporting the case for a local authority having this role, its members are democratically elected and are representative of the people, irrespective of whether the people live in a Gaeltacht or galltacht area. This is a fundamental principle and I have no intention of breaching it.

I do not want to engage in a philosophical discussion with Senator Ryan and slow down the process, given that we are making slow enough progress.

Mr. Ryan

I have been very restrained in that I have not said anything bad.

Everybody is being constructive. Many people have views on the Bill and we need to tease them out. I support the promotion and protection of the Gaeltacht. I have had discussions with people in Gaeltacht areas and I am fearful they are increasingly seeking to erect barriers to protect themselves and to keep other people out. I am not talking about barriers in a physical sense, but barriers to keep other people out so that people in Gaeltacht areas are not contaminated. I fear that trend will result in the creation of ghettos or reservations and I am sure that is not what the people in the Gaeltacht want.

Rath Carn in County Meath is a small Gaeltacht. After an initial period in the early 1930s and 1940s when the people there felt less than welcome in County Meath, they adopted a different philosophy. Over the past 20 years they have opened up the Gaeltacht by allowing other people to see what is happening there. That Gaeltacht is as vibrant as some of the other Gaeltachtaí about which we hear a good deal more. Rath Carn has its own secondary school, primary school, aras pobail and church, as well as a lively community into which they invite and welcome other people. I fear a mentality may creep in whereby people in Gaeltacht areas may erect barriers rather than create an atmosphere where people welcome and are drawn to the Irish language as a living language. That is my philosophical rant and I apologise for taking up the time of the House in making that point.

Senators Norris and Ryan and other Senators have received hundreds of suggested amendments from groups. On sorting through them, I saw that many of the proposals had been dealt with in the heritage Bills and other Bills and I decided not to put my name to them. I put my name to this amendment without realising it would be taken with a group of other amendments and I wish formally to withdraw my name from it.

The Minister has made a strong and good case. As I understand it, he has given an undertaking that Údarás na Gaeltachta will be included as a prescribed body. That is an addition. Is that right?

I am happy with that. I take the Minister's point about elected members, but as a prescribed body Údarás na Gaeltachta will be consulted, and that is appropriate. If an outside authority wanted to plonk a factory in the middle of a Gaeltacht, which is unlikely, at least Údarás na Gaeltachta, as a prescribed authority, would have to be consulted. We have made that progress.

The discussion on this amendment has been long, but it has been useful and the Minister has made a very good case. He has met us and I am happy with what has happened. I take the point that members of local authorities are democratically elected and we ought to support that, but Údarás na Gaeltachta, with all its strength, is not an elected body in the same way.

I could envisage cases arising where, for example, the ESB might want to embark on setting up a wind generation scheme, which I would be happy about. I was on Inishmaan recently for the opening of the Synge cottage. The community on Inishmaan is split down the middle, and a former Member of this House is stirring it beautifully. Local consultation and the involvement of Údarás na Gaeltachta would be useful in that case.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.