Adjournment Matters. - Decentralisation Programme.

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to the House. I compliment him and the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, on their interest in and commitment to the decentralisation process. If their plans to decentralise 10,000 Civil Service posts to various parts of Ireland is successful they will have done a great service, not only to the country, but to the public service. There is much merit in and much to be gained by public servants working in rural Ireland, particularly given the issues that face most capital cities in Europe. Dublin is growing at a rapid rate with all the attendent transport and environmental problems. It behoves Government and policy makers to ensure, as far as possible, that we have balanced development across Ireland.

There are many good reasons why public servants should participate in this programme, particularly the access to housing accommodation. In Dublin today one must pay a six figure sum to acquire a house and prices will continue to increase. Good quality three and four bedroomed houses in New Ross can be bought for between £75,000 and £100,000. Some of them overlook a river and have excellent views. There are large areas in the area's development plan for the area designated for residential use and easily serviceable. The whole process is very attractive to people. There is a lot of merit in the policies being pursued.

As the Minister of State will know coming from a neighbouring area – I often tell him that he is my nearest TD – that there is a good road network from New Ross to the major centres of the south east, such as Waterford, Kilkenny and Wexford. These areas have much to offer shoppers and tourists. New Ross is well situated in the centre of the south east. We often promote New Ross, sometimes to the chagrin of Waterford people, as being equidistant from Dublin, Cork and Limerick. The town is well positioned and it should be an extremely attractive location for the decentralisation process.

The Minister of State has taken a keen interest in this policy. I must also congratulate him on taking a particular interest in areas in the south east that he feels are suitable for decentralisation and are attractive locations for selection. I hope and believe that New Ross will be on his list of areas that qualify and meet all the criteria.

I am sure he is aware that New Ross Urban District Council has been to the forefront in promoting and attracting decentralisation to the town. The council, through the good offices of the Minister, is looking at other locations for public service facilities such as a Garda station and new civic offices. I like to think that we will have a campus that will be an attractive location and suitable for the decentralisation purposes. A number of eminently suitable sites have been identified and some of them are owned by the local authority. New Ross is very well placed to avail of and accelerate its own objectives, particularly new civic offices, and to meet the demands that will be placed upon us by a decentralisation programme.

New Ross is well placed from an educational point of view. Access to educational facilities will be one of the main priorities of people trying to decide whether to move from Dublin. Waterford Institute of Technology is one of Ireland's best institutes and it is only a 20 minute drive from New Ross. Many people feel it is of university standard. The college has a business section which is extremely well regarded. Many people in the business sector, banking and elsewhere, would rate it as having a higher standard than some of the universities. It produces some of the best graduates from our commerce, finance and economic colleges.

Also in favour of the selection of New Ross is that its second level educational facilities are second to none. We have five extremely good second level educational facilities which cater for boys and girls. They rank among the best in the country. New Ross ranks highly in the educational, sociological and sporting fields. A year ago Good Counsel College became All-Ireland senior football champions. Many graduates from these schools went on to be extremely successful in Irish business life. For example, Pat O'Neill is a former chief executive of Avonmore, Dermot Desmond who is very successful in the financial services sector and Maurice Keane is involved in the Bank of Ireland. Michael Casey is deputy director at the Central Bank. He came from New Ross and he was educated at the CBS. There is quite an array of people that I could mention.

New Ross has educational facilities that have a proven track record. They should be attractive to anyone coming to the area. People should consider them to be good enough for their children. They will help their children to achieve academic and business success in the future.

The environment is very important to people considering relocation. Those of us who reside in the Barrow valley, who traverse the Suir, Nore or Barrow rivers to Inistiogue, the Passage or St. Mullens will agree that the area has a lot to offer. We also have various heritage centres. It takes less than half an hour to drive from New Ross to Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford. Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay and Rosslare are only a short distance away. These locations are among the best seaside resorts in Ireland. We are fortunate that they are located in the south east. We also have the John F. Kennedy Park and Hook Lighthouse. The Minister of State was instrumental in championing additional funds for the Dunbrody project. We also have the Waterford Heritage Centre. Within a 15 mile radius of New Ross there are 15 excellent beaches. If someone spends a fortnight on holiday in New Ross they can go to a different beach every day, weather permitting. The town has a lot to offer.

From a cultural point of view, I cannot say much about the Wexford hurling team because of what happened recently – that makes two of us, Minister. However, New Ross has one of the best musical societies in the country. The AIMS choral festival is held in the town every year. The area is rich in heritage, culture and the environment. I recommend New Ross for the decentralisation programme.

Over the years New Ross has been somewhat disadvantaged economically, despite the fact that it is in the south east. County Wexford is generally considered to be well off, but New Ross's economic performance has not been that good for historical reasons. There have always been tradit ional industries in the area. We have had job losses recently in a number of industries. As a consequence, the benefits to the locality from a decentralisation programme would be very significant. In politics and in life, the objective of helping those who help themselves is very important. New Ross has shown a tremendous resilience in practising self-help. Our district hospital closed about ten years and a voluntary group resurrected and revitalised the hospital as a voluntary community hospital.

We had difficulty in attracting industry. A group of local people joined together and built an advance factory and that will be repeated. There is a desire and a track record locally of ensuring that we play our part. If the Minister can succeed in ensuring that New Ross is designated for decentralisation, he can rest assured that the amenities, facilities and everything else that goes with it will be in place to ensure a successful relocation for the people involved.

I am particularly pleased that Senator Walsh has raised the important and topical issue of decentralisation in the House this evening. I compliment him on the leadership role he has played with the community of New Ross working with all the sectors of the business community, the local councillors and Minister of State at the Department of the Marine, Deputy Hugh Byrne, who collectively put together a very good package.

The level of interest in the issue is evidenced by the fact that it is also being discussed on the Adjournment in the Dáil this evening. The House is well aware by now that the Government is committed to a new and extensive programme of decentralisation. In pursuit of this policy, my colleague, the Minister for Finance, has been engaged in a series of meetings with his Government colleagues, with the intention that he will be in a position to bring proposals before the Government in time for decisions to be taken on the new programme by the end of next month.

The forthcoming programme starts from a position which Senators may find somewhat surprising. Almost 50% of all civil servants are already located outside of Dublin. Although decentralisation cannot account for all of this, it has played a major part and has contributed significantly to a greater geographical spread of Government services. All regions of the country, including Senator Walsh's, have benefited from the Government's policy on decentralisation. It is the Government's intention that the forthcoming programme will maintain that policy.

Much of the interest in the forthcoming programme has centred on the locations to which decentralisation will take place. In excess of 90 cities, towns and villages throughout every county have made their respective cases for inclusion in the new programme. The Government intends to give due consideration to all the submissions received and, when making final decisions, will take a large number of factors into account, such as the development needs of the various centres under consideration, the availability of suitable sites or office premises, transport links, capacity of local infrastructure, principally water, sewerage and telecommunications, population of the centre in relation to the numbers being relocated, proximity to third level education and availability of housing and schools. These have all been ably covered by Senator Walsh in his address this evening.

Senators will appreciate that until such time as the Government has had the opportunity to consider all the aspects relating to the new programme, it would not be prudent of me to comment on the likelihood of any particular centre featuring in the programme. In view of the level of interest which this initiative has generated and the impact which a new programme will inevitably have, I caution against any expectation that a large-scale relocation of public servants to provincial locations is imminent.

Members will appreciate that even after decisions have been taken to identify what should move and to where, it will be necessary to decide how this costly programme is to be financed and organised. It will be necessary to secure sites, observe planning procedures, design the buildings, appoint contractors, construct premises – all before staff can be transferred. I make this cautionary statement, not to demonstrate any lack of enthusiasm on either my part or that of the Government, and I appreciate the kind words of Senator Walsh in the House this evening, but simply to emphasise that after decisions are taken, it is likely to be some considerable time before staff arrive in their new locations.

However, as the Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works and notwithstanding the current constraints in the construction industry, I assure the Senators that my office will be working closely with the industry to ensure that the programme is delivered as efficiently and quickly as possible, once decisions have been taken. In view of the importance of this programme as indicated, I intend to take a personal interest in the programme's efficient delivery. As further evidence of the Government's commitment to the new programme, I repeat the recent assurance given by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to the Committee on Finance and Public Service to the effect that the implementation of the programme will be given priority attention within the Department of Finance and that the programme will be pushed out vigorously.

Proper co-ordination will be ensured between the various Departments which will have a central role in the delivery of the programme, that is, the Departments of Finance and the Envir onment and Local Government as well as the Office of Public Works.

I acknowledge the very many worthwhile submissions, including a number from Senator Walsh's county, which I received on the subject of decentralisation. I met recently with the Senator and a deputation from New Ross who presented a very impressive case for inclusion in the new programme. I assure them all and those who have been making representations and presenting submissions, that they will be taken into account by the Government as part of the consultative process which has been initiated.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 June 2000.