Go gcuirfear an Bhóta ar ais le h-aghaidh athbhreithnithe.
Deinim é sin ar chúpla phointe, mar leanas. Ar an gcéad dul síos, nílimse agus níl an Páirtí seo sásta leis an ráiteas atá déanta ag an Aire. Nílimid sásta ach chomh beag leis an méid oibre atá léirithe ins an ráiteas, an méid oibre atá déanta ag Oifig na Gaeltachta agus na gCeantar gCúng agus an méid oibre atá le déanamh acu. Fós, nílimid sásta mar ní thugann an ráiteas seo aon chomhartha dúinne cad é polasaí an Rialtais maidir leis an nGaeltacht agus na Ceantair Chúnga as so amach. Tá sé curtha in iúl dúinn agus tá a fhios agam go bhfuil Aireacht nua le cur ar bun. Tá an Bille rite tríd an Dáil agus tríd an Seanad ach ní thiocfaidh sé i bhfeidhm go dtí lá a bheartóidh an tAire. Measaimid nach bhfuil neart oibre á dhéanamh ag an Oifig sin.
Is soléir ón ráiteas seo nár deineadh aon rud nua le haghaidh na Gaeltachta ná le haghaidh na teangan ó tháinig an Rialtas seo i bhfeidhm. Tar éis a bheith in oifig dhá bhliain anois, táimid sásta nach bhfuil an oiread suime agus ba chóir ag an Aire nó ag an Rialtas san Oifig seo ná in obair na hOifige seo.
Fé mar a dúras anuraidh, tá Coiste Idir-Roinne ag baint leis an Oifig seo. Cúpla seachtain ó shoin, do chuir an tAire in iúl dúinn gur tháinig an Cuiste seo le chéile ocht n-uaire ar fad ón am a thárla an t-athrú Rialtais in 1954, sé sin, breis agus dhá bhliain ó shoin. Anuraidh, dúirt mé féin, agus dúirt cainnteóirí eile ón dtaobh seo den Tigh, go mba chóir go dtiocfadh an Coiste seo le chéile go minic i dtreo is go bhféadfaí ceisteanna a bhí ag déanamh buairt a phlé agus a réiteach chomh fada is do b'féidir le baill an Coiste é sin a dhéanamh agus iad ag caint le chéile agus de bharr an dlúbhaint a bhí ann idir na baill éagsúla ó gach roinn den Stáit.
Dob fhéidir leo san teacht le chéile chun gach rud ar a gcumas a dhéanamh agus a chur ar siúil ar son na Gaeltachta agus na gCeantar gCúng. Do b'in í an tslí a bhí an obair ar siúl ar feadh 2½ blian sar ar tháinig an Rialtas seo a bhfeidhm. Freisin, sin í an tslí a cheapaimíd a leanfaí leis an obair ach, ní hé amháin nár leanfadh leis an obair sa tslí sin ach—fé mar is soléir dúinn inniu—do cuirfeadh moill mhór ar an obair a bhí á dhéanamh. Tá sé sin soléir ó chúpla ruda a bhfuil sé ar intinn agam tagairt a dhéanamh dóibh ar ball.
Tá fhios ag cách go bhfuil ceist na Gaeltachta agus ceist na teangan práinneach a dhóthain. Tá fhios ag gach éinne go dtógfadh sé gach neart atá ag an Aire agus ag an Rialtas chun na ceisteanna sin a réiteach. San am chéanna, chímíd anois nach bhfuil aon duine fé leith agus cúrain na Gaeltachta amháin air agus is mór an trua é sin.
Tá an cheist sin chomh deachair gur cóir go mbeadh an cúram ar dhuine amháin chun an obair a choimeád ar siúl agus chun na ceisteanna a réiteach, agus gane a bheith air aon obair d'aon tsaghas eile a dheánamh. Ní chóir go gcuirfí Oifig chomh tábhachtach leis an Oifig seo isteach in Aireacht mar an Aireacht Rialtais Aitiúil—áit a bhfuil neart oibre ann cheana don Aire agus dá Rúnaí Pairliminte. Táimíd cinnte nach bhfuil obair fhónta á dhéanamh do'n Oifig tábhachtach seo agus nach bhfuil aon obair nua do'n Ghaeltacht agus do'n teanga á cheapadh ag an Aire agus, mar sin, tairgim go gcuirfí an Meastacháin seo siar chun é d'ait bhreithniú.
Last year, when I spoke on this Estimate, I suggested that the office —the Vote for which we are now discussing—was in the nature of a Cinderella office so far as the Government was concerned. On the advent to power of this Government, the office was attached to a Ministry that already had very much activity of its own, to a Ministry to which this Government saw fit to appoint a Parliamentary Secretary to look after one aspect of its work.
When this Minister assumed power, he devoted the first part of his administration to overhauling the management system. As I said last year, that was a sufficient task to occupy most of the Minister's time, apart altogether from the other aspects of his work within the Department of Local Government. That being so, I thought he could not devote the time that was necessary to the administration of this office—an office that was set up some two and a half years before he came into power and which was designed to co-ordinate the work of different Departments so far as the Gaeltacht is concerned. It was not intended to be an executive one: it was intended to be one which would pursue activities for the benefit of the Gaeltacht and those who live in the Gaeltacht and contiguous areas.
It was realised that, as the work that was necessary and what had already been done for the Gaeltacht was dispersed among different Departments of State, it would be difficult and impracticable to divest the different Departments such as Lands, Forestry, Agriculture and Education of these diverse functions. It was thought that the best manner in which the work of these Departments could be accelerated would be by setting up a co-ordinating office. As a necessary adjunct, an inter-departmental committee was set up. A senior civil servant was assigned from every Department that had any degree of activity whatever in the Gaeltacht.
That committee came together upwards of 40 times during the two and a half years prior to the Minister's assuming office. As a result of coming together, the representatives of different Departments were able to discuss over a common table the projects that were in hands, the projects that were contemplated and the projects that were even almost completed in the various parts of the Gaeltacht and the undeveloped areas. They were able to discuss the problems as they affected these areas in the different Departments and, as a result of these discussions, they were able to co-ordinate the different works and aspects of administration. Furthermore, they were able to keep their fingers on the various difficulties and problems that beset the people of the Gaeltacht areas.
That committee came together about 40 times, perhaps a little more—I forget the exact number of times, but certainly it was about 40 times—prior to the advent to office of the present Government. Since the change of Government, that committee has come together only about eight times. At least, that was the answer given to me some weeks ago when I asked the Minister how often it had assembled. I feel that, in the first instance, it was a mistake that this committee was allowed to become so moribund, so lethargic. I felt that, by having the responsible officers come together and—if you like to use a colloquialism—by putting them on the spot, one against the other, worthwhile progress would be made and work which might have taken a long time to implement and to conclude would be pushed forward to a considerable degree.
That is just one of the criticisms I have to offer of the administration of this office in the past years and, indeed, in the past two years. This Estimate is, of course, a token one only. As I have pointed out, the functions of this office are more co-ordinating than executive. The Minister may well excuse the present lethargy on the ground that a new Ministry for the Gaeltacht is to be set up. As we all know, even though that Bill has passed through all its stages in both Houses of the Oireachtas and may, as far as I know, even have been signed by the President, there is a provision for its coming into operation on an appointed day. So far, apart from the provisions of the Bill, which are largely technical, we have had no indication as to the lines on which this Ministry will proceed and as to the basis on which it will be founded. Will it absorb this office, as I anticipate it will? What will its policy be? First, will it confine its activities to the Fíor-Ghaeltacht, which is a rather indefinable area at the present time, or will it take in the Fíor-Ghaeltacht, with contiguous areas of Breac-Ghaeltacht? How far will these contiguous areas extend eastwards or westwards, as the case may be?
I would have expected that this Bill, having passed all stages in the Oireachtas, would have been referred to at length by the Minister in introducing this Estimate. For all we know, this may be the last time this Estimate will be introduced here. We do not know, of course, what day will be appointed by the Government, or whatever Minister is responsible, for the coming into operation of the Ministers and Secretaries Act setting up the Gaeltacht Ministry; but we would have expected the Minister to give us the board outlines on which this office would be operated and the lines on which its activities would proceed. Is it contemplated that the new Ministry will operate largely upon the same lines as the present office?
At the close of the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, I asked if all that would happen, as a result of the Bill, was that the nameplate on the Oifig na Gaeltachta agus na gCeantar gCung would be changed from "Office of the Parliamentary Secretary" to "Office of the Minister". Many organisations throughout the country have welcomed the passing of that Bill into law, but I submit that many of these organisations have had neither the time, nor the opportunity to assess truly whether or not a Ministry will be more successful than the present office would have been, had its work been properly pursued and properly looked after by a responsible person, either an independent man in the Government, with power of making representations to the Government or a junior Minister, with direct access to the Government. I cannot see, at the moment, at any rate, how this new Ministry will work, or in what respects it will differ from the present office. I suggest that now is the time to give the House and the country, particularly the people in the Gaeltacht, some indication as to what changes it is proposed to effect on the establishment of this Ministry.
I have mentioned that the work of this office has not been maintained at the pace which had been set two years ago since this Government took office. In the first place, the staff was reduced shortly after the coming into power of the inter-Party Government. No replacements were made. The office had only four or five officials, and I suggest that a reduction of even one, as was the case, is a serious blow to the administration of such an office, or, rather, would be a serious blow to the administration of an office which was originally intended to work to the limit of its powers. I suggest that, rather than make a reduction in the personnel, the time was ripe two years ago to augment considerably the staff in the office.
It was my intention, indeed, to augment the staff by the addition of an outdoor staff. It was the intention to place at least one man in the Fíor-Ghaeltacht districts; and, as far as we could judge at that time—I think the positions is still the same—there were only about seven areas in which such a staff would be required. The intention was that the outdoor officer would act as a liaison officer between the people in the Fíor-Ghaeltacht areas and Oifig na Gaeltachta.
In that way, we would have ensured that the man on the spot, who would have a wide experience, would be in a position to hear the complaints and suggestions of the residents in these areas, would be able to assess them on the spot and report back to head office his recommendations as to what should be done. Not only has that idea not been pursued, though I readily concede to the Minister that he would not have any intimate knowledge of it, but the staff has been reduced, and, as a result of that, the effectiveness of the office has been reduced.
My main criticism of the administration of the office is that, apart from one or two minor activities, nothing new has been done since the office was taken over by the Minister. No new ideas have been evolved, or, if they were, tested and implemented. There was one exception, but, in the case of that exception, all we had was a halfhearted pursuit, of something that had already been prepared. I refer to the provision of special facilities for the supply of fishing boats to residents in the Gaeltacht. That plan was conceived by Deputy Bartley and myself. A scheme had been prepared, a scheme which was to be financed out of the National Development Fund. The Minister has referred to it. That was a worthwhile development and I am glad that the Minister saw fit to pursue that project.
Many other projects, however, were deliberately not pursued. I refer to the proposal expansion of the tomato glass-house scheme. It is true that the expansion we envisaged met with certain difficulties. First of all, the intention was that the glass-house scheme, having been successfully established in the Donegal Gaeltacht and in the mid-western Gaeltacht, would be extended to the south-western Gaeltacht also. From a Gaeltacht point of view, the most desirable area was that of Ballyferriter westwards. That was found to be unsuitable by the technical experts of the Department of Agriculture, and it was thereupon decided to switch the scheme to the sunny side of the peninsula. Unfortunately, the number of Gaelic speaking applicants on that side was not sufficient to warrant our going ahead with a scheme based purely on the giving of glass-houses to Irish-speaking applicants.
Nevertheless, as soon as the Government changed, and having regard to the opposition that the present Minister for Agriculture had, and apparently still has, to these exotic schemes, as he described them, is it any wonder that any expansion of the glass-house scheme, whether by heating the existing ones, or expanding the number, has been knocked on the head, and will continue to remain knocked on the head, as long as Deputy James Dillon remains Minister for Agriculture?
There has been some activity in connection with minor marine works. That was facilitated by giving authority to the office which I held to sanction, without more ado, certain schemes up to a total costs of £2,500 each.
It is gratifying to know that the Undeveloped Areas Act has been a success in so far as the congested areas are concerned. It is also gratifying to see the Minister for Industry and Commerce, in recent months, having to come to this House for a supplementary Estimate to carry on under that Act. However, the Gaeltacht areas have not benefited to any appreciable extent from the implementation of that Act. We will have an opportunity of discussing Gaeltacht industries on another Estimate to come along soon.
In the ultimate, the welfare of the Gaeltacht, and the rehabilitation of the western areas, must depend primarily on agriculture and, to a lesser extent, on fishing. Unfortunately, fishing has not assumed the importance that it should have on the western seaboard. That is largely because of lack of tradition. No matter what we say we have not got a seafaring tradition sufficient to induce our young men to take their boats and stay out, not merely all night, but over a period of several nights. They have not got the equipment, or sufficient of it, at the present time but it has been difficult to get our young men to pursue the fishing industry as the Spanish, British and other nations pursue it, that is, to go to sea and remain at sea for considerable periods.
We must base the economic welfare of the Gaeltacht and the congested areas primarily on agriculture. Unfortunately, there is not sufficient land in these areas to enable all the people whom we would like to see living there, to eke out a decent living. That is largely the reason why emigration has been traditional in the West of Ireland and why it has been a more serious problem in these areas than it has been in many other parts of the country. It needs planning to ensure that the limited land which there is in the West of Ireland should be properly utilised. I suggest that the mentality and the policy of the Department of Agriculture are not suited to the proper expansion of agriculture in the western areas.
The Department is far too conservative. It was my own experience that, when ideas were put to me which appeared, prima facie, to have some sound prospects of success, cold water was thrown on most of them by the Department of Agriculture. Technicians from that Department came to me and discussed various aspects of these proposals. It is easy for technicians in any line to beat down an untrained opinion no matter how enthusiastic or well-informed that opinion may be. That is the position that I frequently found myself to be in and I do not confine that criticism to the Department of Agriculture alone. I feel that the Department's mentality and outlook is too conservative and it is time that they forgot the training of Sir Horace Plunkett and those that followed him.
Land is too limited in the West of Ireland and we cannot hope that ordinary agricultural methods will ensure for these people a proper living, a living that will enable us to expand the population and to retain the population that is there. I thought myself that an expansion of the tomato glass-house scheme on a very extensive scale would help to solve the problem. I thought that we should heat the glass-houses with native fuel, so far as it could be done. The capital outlay would be heavy. The cost of heating one glass-house would be well over £160, and perhaps more, but unless we do something visionary like that I do not see much prospect of retaining in the West even the number of people living there at the present time.
As another means of expanding the agricultural potential it was decided to drain and develop a large proportion of the blanket bog in the West of Ireland. To that end the Grass Meal Bill was introduced and passed in this House. Goodness knows, there is sufficient acreage of such bog in the West of Ireland to warrant some bold experiment of that nature to ensure that new land would become available to the congests of that area. I often felt that the word "congest", as applied, was a misnomer, particularly having regard to the present rate of emigration, but from the point of view of the availability of productive land these people are congests. Any scheme that would make more land available to these people or make undeveloped land productive should have been pursued and expanded.
The Grass Meal Bill was implemented here by legislation just a year before the change of Government when it definitely came to a sudden end. The basis on which that decision was founded, as stated by the Minister for Finance in the course of this debate last year, in my opinion then, and to my certain knowledge now, was based on erroneous facts. It was based on facts that the Minister either misinterpreted or interpreted in such a manner as to place the proposal in an unfavourable light. I propose to demonstrate that here to-day.
In the first place, the board of directors were able to drain this bog, of well over 2,000 acres, at a cost of 75 per cent. of what they originally anticipated it would cost. When the Minister for Finance was referring to the number of acres drained, again he gave the Dáil information which was not correct. He said here last year that 2,700 acres had been taken over by Mill Fhéir Teoranta, that 1,700 had been plough-drained; and 540 acres enclosed with sod fences, but that the only work done on the remaining 1,000 acres was preliminary work of opening outfalls.
The facts are that, in November, 1954, when the activities of this company were restricted—that is, before it was abandoned—2,600 acres had been surveyed and 2,400 acres acquired; and the entire of these 2,400 acres had been plough-drained at 100-foot intervals and 900 of these acres had been further plough-drained at 50-foot intervals; all outfalls had been opened up; 150 acres completely levelled in preparation for grass sowing in 1955, and a further 200 acres partially levelled. Therefore the Minister, when he made the statements in the Dáil as to the reason for the abandonment of the scheme, was either misinformed or misinformed himself as to the facts concerning the drainage of these 2,700 acres.
What is more important, I think the basis on which the decision was ultimately come to—whether it was the inter-departmental committee that was set up to examine this project from the economic point of view, or whether it was the interpretation the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Agriculture put on their report— was that they erroneously decided that it would have cost this company £33 to produce one ton of grass meal, whereas the £33 figure was the cost that the company had given of bringing one acre of virgin bog into grass production, which is a different thing altogether from the cost of production per ton of grass meal.
The cost of production per ton, as the company anticipated and as they had good reason to believe would be an accurate estimate, was £23 per ton. It was estimated that one acre of bog would produce sufficient grass for between two and four tons of grass meal. Therefore, that figure—and I think it is fundamental when assessing the economic merits of this project—demonstrates clearly that the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Agriculture, whichever Minister jettisoned this scheme, was acting on wrong principles and on wrong information.