The main thrust of the Turf Development Bill is good because it will give a new lease of life to Bord na Móna. Morale in the company has been very low — there have been many redundancies, there was no great sign of expansion and workers were very unsure of their futures. Many employees wondered if there was any future for Bord na Móna and whether they should get out now. I should like to compliment the Minister on introducing the Bill. It is a breath of fresh air, a midland breeze perfumed by the heathers, as the song says.
The Bill can only be helpful to the future of Bord na Móna. I do not mean that as a criticism of the old Bord na Móna or their predecessor in the forties, the Turf Development Board. I should like to pay tribute to the hardy pioneers of Bord na Móna who cut the first drains in our bogs and worked hard to make a success of a far sighted enterprise. They filled our fuel needs when we had no other fuel and they brought prosperity to the midlands. They were the people who changed the term "bogman" from meaning Yeti or Abominable Snowman to a term of endearment which we now associate with the haunting music of the Marino Waltz.
Many of the early Bord na Móna workers have retired, were made redundant or have gone to their eternal reward. I want to pay tribute to them for their toil and effort. They built the railways, mechanised turf production and their engineering expertise designed and produced the type of machine best suited to our terrain. They branched out into the production of turf briquettes and machine won turf, peat moss, horticulture and agriculture and they even undertook pilot schemes despite the restrictions which were placed on them under the old Act.
When I speak of the Bord na Móna pensioners and praise them for the great work they did, I am tempted to say that talk is cheap because the Bord na Móna pensioners who retired before July 1984 have not got any increase in their pension for the past four and a half years. I believe a committee are considering this issue and it is high time that injustice was remedied. I ask the Minister to convey our wishes to the chairman of the committee. We should not wait for all the pensioners to pass on to their eternal reward before a decision is taken to increase their pension. Too many medals are presented posthumously and it would be nice if an increase in their pensions was granted while they are still alive.
This Bill places many restrictions on the board because of the provision to refer back to the Minister. The phrase "Subject to the approval of the Minister" appears far too often in the Bill. Because Bord na Móna have proved that they are capable of carrying out their core business — the production of turf and peat moss in whatever form, and marketing it at home and abroad—we should let them continue to do this. I understand why some check has to be kept on the company if they engage in activities which are not strictly related to peat or if they engage in new ventures. I must ask a question in this respect: will the sub-boards be constituted without any managerial staff? The existing company have six worker board members and one in management. Will these members be represented on the new board?
I know the company can operate abroad and I believe there have been inquiries, even from the USA, about availing of the expertise of the company. We may have to go to Finland to find out how best to produce turf but the Americans still come back to us for the know-how: they return to the old sod to find out about peat. I see wonderful opportunities for expanding our peat moss exports and giving them greater added-value on the Continent. Some years ago I attended a Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg. When we visited a nursery I was delighted to see a green bag with a shamrock on it. Bord na Móna's new acquisition in France is a welcome venture. It is well intended, it will bring benefits to the country and will enable us to expand in what is a very large and lucrative market. We have a good product in peat moss and it is needed all over the Continent. Up to now this product was not marketed to the extent that it should have been and we should now expand the market to hold on to our customers and to keep them happy. It is said that a rolling stone gathers no moss, but I expect the moss now being exported to France gathers a lot of French francs for Bord na Móna.
The previous speaker said that Bord na Móna are toying with the idea of going back into the production of carbon. That may be a more lucrative venture for Bord na Móna because they will have control over their costs and production. I hope the private producers of peat moss will not be eased out of the market as a result of this Bill and the new management in Bord na Móna. Today big ventures in, for example, the bakery trade are in a position to squeeze out the small man. Some of the people I know involved in the production of peat moss have made a success of their business, and it is good that there is no monopoly in that sector. Perhaps Bord na Móna could privatise to the extent of building roads because roads will be needed into new forests. Roads have never been so badly wanted — there have never been so many potholes in "The Old Bog Road"— and I believe Bord na Móna would be prepared to accept such a challenge. They have the expertise to undertake this task; they have built railways and I see no reason why they should not build roads.
I compliment Bord na Móna for acting as agents in the grant scheme for private turf production. As a result of their efforts co-ops have been set up all over the country and communities have become involved in turf production again. This is particularly laudable because Bord na Móna were cutting a stick to beat themselves — they were helping private producers to produce turf and these people would no longer be Bord na Móna customers. They did their work well. I would like to see that scheme continued because there is still a lot of work for them to do in this area. I believe the scheme is being phased out but I should like the grant system which was established, executed and implemented by Bord na Móna to be continued.
Mention has been made of setting up a new process to eradicate effluent from sewage systems and it has been proved that peat moss can be used as an agent in the eradication of effluent. Bord na Móna are developing this process in conjunction with Wavin Ireland. I realise it is early days yet to declare this process a complete success, but all the early reports have been very good. Kildare County Council have set up a scheme in Donore. Up to now this scheme has proved very successful and this could well be the answer to difficulties in relation to septic tanks in areas where there is a very high water table. It even opens up possibilities for sites which could not have been used for housing purposes before. Above all, it will have a revolutionary influence in the anti-pollution drive. I hope that farmers will avail of this process to cure silage effluent problems. This new use of peat now being pioneered could eventually be the chief agent in clearing up our rivers and watercourses and I have high hopes for the success of that process.
As other speakers mentioned, experimental horticulture work has been carried out in Lullymore for many years. This work has been quite successful but there have been some drawbacks because there can be pockets of frost in midland areas which are not in areas nearer the coast. Because of this experimental work nurseries have sprung up all over County Kildare which are fit to take their place with any other nurseries. Groups of nurseries are forming co-operatives and are growing in bulk to fill big orders. These nurseries put on shows every year. In 1987 the venue for the show was SAP; in 1988 the venue was Dunne Brothers in Allen and next year — and I hope the Minister will find time to attend — the shows will be held in Kilcock. Incidentally, a nursery man in Kilcock won the first prize for a garden layout at the international show in Scotland last year. This proves that there are canny people in Kilcock as well as in Scotland and is a measure of the expertise and competence in this area.
Apparently up to now Bord na Móna could not be commercially orientated or involved in marketing, but this Bill will give them the go ahead in this area and will open up great possibilities for them. They will be in a position to give initial training and guidance. The nursery in Lullymore has proved to be the nursery of nurseries, the crème de la crème, as it were. Nine or ten years ago there were moves to discontinue that nursery, but I am glad that did not happen. Thanks for its not happening can go to our party. Beside Lullymore we have Teagasc, formerly An Foras Talúntais, and the Peat Interpretation Centre. These institutions have carried out extensive research and experimentation on all types of bog. This paved the way, laid down the guidelines and charted the pitfalls for the future of our cutaway bogland.
This year those of us who attended the seminar and workshops in the RDS on the subject were fortunate enough to see on our field trip, the successful growing of vegetable crops, carrots, onions and potatoes and even grass for the laying of instant lawns, playing pitches, golf greens and so on. We saw excellent pasture on cutover bogland and a wonderfully viable farm with a suckling herd, run by Bord na Móna in Offaly. On that day we also saw unusual crops that could be grown on acid soil, such as blueberries which found their way into the most prestigious supermarkets in England and were widely acclaimed.
The upshot of this four day workshop on the utilisation of midland peatlands was a decision in favour of a divergence of uses to which bogland can be put. Forestry would rank high here. There was a strong case for the preservation of certain types of bog, like a particular bog in Clara, County Offaly, various types of bog in County Kildare, Lullymore and the Robertstown area. There was mention that the amenity area in Robertstown could be flooded to provide lake-lands, water sports and sailing. Tourism was mentioned, too. Farming on marginal land was widely discussed with the possibilities of making small farms more viable. This is something to which much thought should be given.
We should think of how best to use all the land. Our Minister has a particular interest in this. Some years ago he was widely responsible for forming party policy in this regard. I have faith in him. Bord na Móna have only a small portion of the bogs of Ireland. Most of the bogs are in private hands and much of the bogland is non-productive. We should view the future of our bogs globally as a big unit. There is now no such thing as the Land Commission they are not dead, but sleepeth. We need a body to take overall responsibility for restructuring and making small farms at the edge of the bog and marginal holdings viable. This is all right if there is a dry lie on the home farm. Extra pasture might be obtained and possibly some hay or silage would make a huge difference to these farms.
We should embark on a policy of leasing land to prospective young farmers for some years. In the Land Commission days, farmers were given land willy nilly and some of them did not prove that they deserved it. A leasing system would enable us to segregate the sheep from the goats before outright ownership was given. An overall body would be needed to manage drainage. It would be possible to carry this out on a phased basis. It is not such an insuperable job to deal with 100 hectares in a year, the acreage that Bord na Móna would have, and a bit of private bog that might be restructured, also.
With regard to horticulture, there is a need at this stage of the experimental work done in Lullymore for a pilot scheme on a commercial scale. We can thank Bord na Móna and Teagasc for providing an area for a pilot scheme at Lullymore. A very large firm with marketing expertise are prepared to embark on growing vegetables and training young people — giving them an insight into what is needed and a knowledge of the pitfalls to avoid. I hope this might lead to private growers in the Carbury area, as happened in the Kildare area with mushroom growing. There is a central marketing system, with storage, a co-operative and guaranteed prices. There are private individuals growing mushrooms in tunnels. I hope the same thing might happen with regard to vegetable growing because that type of thinking will create jobs in areas which would otherwise be derelict when Bord Na Móna and the ESB pull out.
My interest in this subject is not new. I expressed it ten years ago when for a short time I was a Member of the European Parliament. I saw EC funding being given — for worn out coalmines in Germany and Britain to produce a fuel that was available on the Continent. I made a case for our virgin bogs, cutover bogs and blanket bogs. The interpreters thought I had engaged in fantasy and they were not sure of the translation of virgin bogs. When grants can be got for the slag heaps in Wales or worn out mines in Germany, we can make a case for EC funding for what should replace the cutover bogs. This would provide jobs in the area of restructuring. I hope we get a grant for this.
Before the ESB and Bord na Móna pull out — in Allenwood there is mention of the year 1991 as a definite year for closure and they have already departed from areas in County Offaly — it is the duty of the IDA to show the will to set up industry there. This is a very serious problem. We have talked about it for ten years and I have not seen any sign of action as yet.
The growing of vegetables should not be dismissed lightly. There is a feeling in this country that because Erin Foods was a failure vegetables cannot be grown here or marketed. That is wrong. I have my own ideas as to what happened in the case of Erin Foods, but we have proved that we can grow vegetables to the extent that we can provide a canning industry, at least enough for our own needs.
We also have the mechanical and technical expertise in Bord na Móna, technicians, mechanics and electricians, to form the nucleus of employment for heavy industry. That must be utilised in the midlands. It is better that these technically qualified people would use their expertise in the midlands than in Manchester or Manhatten, and that is what I hope will happen. All these items I have mentioned could knit nicely into an integrated rural development programme with each divergent use of the land complementing the other. This would provide us with a pleasant landscape that would be conducive to tourism, agribusiness, afforestation, waterways, farming, horticulture and, above all, jobs for the next generation at home.
Taking all that into account I am amazed and saddened at the reply Minister Burke gave on 20 October, at columns 456 and 457 of the Official Report:
Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Energy if he has made any definite decisions regarding the alternative uses of cutaway bogs, with particular reference to County Kildare; if his attention has been drawn to proposals made by Teagasc at Lullymore, County Kildare, in the matter; if he foresees the inclusion of the development of cutaway bogs within the ambit of integrated rural development programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister for Energy (Mr. R. Burke): The Government, in July 1987, decided that cutaway bogs in Bord na Móna hands which are suitable for afforestation should transfer to the Forest Service. Some 1,000 hectares of cutaway bogs transferred to the Forest Service in 1987 have already been planted. Negotiations are in progress for the transfer of further areas and these will also be planted as soon as possible.
I am aware that experiments are being conducted by Teagasc and Bord na Móna in County Kildare and elsewhere in relation to grassland and horticultural uses for cutaway bogs. The results achieved to date would not support any reversal of the basic decision taken by the Government, bearing in mind, in particular, the state of Bord na Móna's finances and its inability to endure any expansion of its loss-making activities.
I was very surprised at that reply because the results do not bear it out. All our efforts have been in vain if that thinking prevails in the Department of Energy. It is ironic that Minister Burke has now gone, but I have every confidence in Deputy Smith as Minister for Energy. I know him well. The case was made by experts at the RDS and bodies representing various interests at the seminar were prepared to give co-existence a chance. The Bill however, contains a provision which would madden me. Where Bord na Móna have 1,000 hectares of cutaway bog, they are required to tell the Department of Forestry each year in advance what will be available. If they want the lot they can take it; if any crumbs are left, other interests are welcome to take them. This has obviously been dictated by the Civil Service and I am glad the Minister is prepared to amend it. The Forestry people attended the RDS and were very critical of anybody who questioned their claims. Instead of making their case in the presence of us all, they wrote to us later. I have no doubt that much of the cutaway bog should be planted but not all, as was intended, according to the Minister's reply. If that attitude prevailed there would be no properly planned amenity scheme and very few jobs would be left after planting of the trees. We cannot wait until the year 2010 for these jobs.
The recommendations made at the RDS were, first, that irreplacable virgin peatlands must be preserved, the extent of representative examples being in the order of 10,000 hectares. The second recommendation was that there should be an overall authority to determine the future of the midland peatlands, based on the region, and with direct access to Brussels. The third recommendation was that an area of viable size and peat depth should be set aside to determine the potential for commercial vegetable production over peatlands. Lullymore would be a suitable site. The fourth recommendation drew attention to the need for the development of the amenity potential of the midland peatlands, to include interpretative centres. In this context the implementation of the Robertstown plan should proceed as a pilot scheme. The fifth recommendation was that the future use of cutover peatlands should be determined on the basis of a regional cost-benefit analysis.
The Minister has a great interest in this subject and has adopted a sensible approach to these suggestions. He is a practical farmer who has a thorough knowledge of his brief. I know he will ensure that the Bill will allow for all interests to be accommodated in our bogs. Forestry should perhaps take up 50 per cent, but that would allow room for many other activities. The midlands will be grateful to the Minister.
I have a dream for my county. I have worked in the bog for the past 40 years and my family still cut their own fuel. Although I am unlikely to see that dream realised, I hope my children and my friends will. I want to see an amárach for the midland peatlands, with thriving happy communities who can live and work there. There is a saying that sometimes one cannot see the wood for the trees. I want the Minister to understand what would happen if we had nothing but trees. He has shown perception and consideration in this matter.
In the main there is a welcome for this Bill among Bord na Móna employees and others, but there is concern too, which I have raised in a constructive manner. My motives are reasonably pure. I do not seek to perpetuate my position in politics as some might do, as they seek to preserve their position in ailing companies or outdated Departments. I want to see happy, healthy families continuing to live and work in the quiet midlands. For those of us who live there, the lines of the Rathangan poet, William A. Byrne, could never have been more relevant than some months ago when we endured smog in this Chamber and throughout the capital city. He wrote:
The purple heather is the cloak
God gave the bogland brown,
But man has made a pall of smoke,
To hide the distant town.
I leave it in the capable hands of the Minister to ensure that a patchwork of different land use will be a future feature of the midlands. I should not like to see an unbroken green mantle of Sitka spruce. It might be very patriotic but it would not be very profitable in the short term. At a time of high unemployment and emigration the provision of jobs must be the priority in our party. This Bill will copperfasten the remaining jobs in Bord na Móna and give a viable future to the board. In the slimming down process there has been much early retirement and redundancy. That might provide short term relief and give a breathing space to the firm and former employees, but we must plan to provide replacement jobs in these areas. The ideas I have proposed may be helpful and I am confident that the Minister will act for the best on this matter.