Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Task Force on Bishops' Report.

Jim Higgins

Ceist:

5 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings which have taken place of the task force established by the Government for the purpose of studying and making recommendations on the Western Bishops' report entitled A Crusade For Survival; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The task force, established by the Government for the purpose of studying and making recommendations on the reportA Crusade for Survival, has met on four occasions.

The terms of reference of the task force are first, to assess the recommendations of the report and bring forward proposals to Government as to actions that might be taken and second, to make recommendations to Government on the most appropriate permanent institutional response.

The Government asked the task force to complete its work and report back to Government within two months from 15 February 1994. I understand the task force report is now being finalised and I expect it to be available for consideration by Government in the very near future.

Bearing in mind that there are 140 recommendations contained in the report entitledA Crusade for Survival, a central one being the appointment of a Minister for western development as well as suitable regional institutional structures, would the Taoiseach say whether that is one of the recommendations that has been discussed and if any interim report on the matter has been presented to Government?

I already dealt with a similar question in the House some time ago when I was questioned as to my views on that. I said what was important for the development of the west was fairly speedy action. I said I did not view the appointment of a Minister for western development as contributing to that objective in the very near future for the simple reason that so many functions that would have to be vested in one Minister would have to be taken from a large number of Departments and that the amount of legislative and other time that would be taken up with that would stall any action being taken. My personal view on that is well known. There have been a large number of recommendations put forward and they are being studied by the task force. The Deputy can be assured that the report is receiving the fullest attention at Government level.

Would the Taoiseach agree that it is possible to co-ordinate all the various functions under the aegis of one Ministry, or one agency, which has occurred very effectively under the aegis of the Minister and Department of the Gaeltacht and yet again under the broadened powers of SFADCo? Would he agree that there would appear to be a certain amount of lethargy in relation to the overall devastation of the west; that there appears to be a certain amount of casualness in relation to the Bishops' approach, particularly in view of the fact that they are looking at parishes shrinking, communities unable to field football teams? I remind the Taoiseach that 1,000 townlands that survived the pillage of Cromwell and the ravages of the Famine of 1847 have gone to the wall.

I can assure the Deputy that there is no lethargy. I am well aware of the views of the western Bishops in this regard. Two months is a very short period in Government terms within which to request a task force to consider a report of that size, bearing in mind the number of recommendations. I should stress that it is not a question of passing the buck to a task force, forgetting about it for 12 months or anything like that. The task force is finalising its report despite the fact that it has not yet been established for two months and the Government will have an opportunity of looking at their report in the near future. I am not going to anticipate what decisions the Government may take.

I might point out also that the European Union has a role to play in this regard; indeed all the communities in the west want to see the report presented to Brussels at the earliest opportunity to ascertain the response of the Commission. I can appreciate Deputy Jim Higgins's commitment here. If he is successful in the European elections I am sure he will plead the case of "save the west" very strongly in the European Parliament.

Without wishing to anticipate Government response can the Taoiseach say whether he will be in a position — once the report has been received by Cabinet — to place a finite date by which Government will take decisions in relation to the recommendations of the task force?

I will not anticipate what the Government will do. All I am saying is that the report of the task force will be presented to Government at the earliest possible date. In the meantime that does not prevent continuous action being taken. As will have been evident in recent times, a very strong case was made to me in Castlebar by some of the Bishops that that whole area bordering on Castlerea/Mayo is comprised of a community in serious decline from a population point of view. I was asked by some of the Bishops to endeavour to influence the Government decision to locate a new prison in Castlerea; that the Government did. The IDA is also in the final stages of negotiating an industry for Castlerea to the tune of 100 jobs plus. I was in Glenamaddy recently and I commend the community spirit of the people of that small town on a number of projects I had the pleasure of opening on that occasion.

It will be seen that there is a great spirit of self-help in the west at present. What they need is support not alone from Government but from Europe also and they are prepared to improve their position if they receive reasonable recognition and support.