Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 3 Apr 1996

Vol. 463 No. 7

Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Western Development.

Robert Molloy


5 Mr. Molloy asked the Taoiseach when the report on developing the west will be published by the Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6925/96]

An action plan for the western region has been completed by the Western Development Partnership Board. The objective of the plan is to achieve, by the end of the decade, population stability on a county by county basis at 1991 census levels. The plan has already received initial consideration from Government Departments. Further detailed responses are being prepared and I expect to put a comprehensive response to the plan before Government shortly. Following Cabinet approval, the plan will be published.

Given that the population of the west has decreased by 200,000 in the past three decades and the Minister's commitment to stabilise the population at 1991 levels, has he plans to devolve a Government Department to the west?

That is a matter for the Taoiseach. It is my job to publish the plan and persuade the Cabinet to support the worthy measures in it. The report published by the western bishops did not recommend that a Department be devolved to the west, it requested that a Minister or Minister of State be appointed with responsibility for co-ordinating development in the west, and my appointment has gone some way towards meeting that request.

The Minister will agree that the bishops may have their own view on stabilising the population. People are leaving the west each year because there are no job opportunities there. Unless such opportunities are made available we will not be successful in stabilising the population. As Minister with responsibility for the west does Deputy Carey not favour devolvement of power to the regions, particularly the west, and the transfer of a Government office from Dublin to the west?

Personally I support that idea but there would be a problem persuading the people on this part of the island to agree to it. Every time reference is made to transferring a Department to the west people in Dublin are critical of the idea. We have taken our eye off the ball. There are sufficient funds available through Departments to vastly improve development in the west and it is a matter of organising western groups and communities to get value for that money.

I welcome the great interest in the west. Will the Minister guarantee that an equitable amount of State funding will be available for western development and that the present policy of concentrating major expenditure in urban areas will not continue? Has he made representations to the Minister for the Environment to ensure the money promised for the Mutton Island project will not be lost because of bad planning and arrogance on his part?

That is far removed from the question I was asked. I am aware that Deputy Ó Cuív has vast knowledge of western problems, but I do not have the detailed answer he requires on the Mutton Island project. The Department of the Environment, in its allocation of funds, provides a greater proportion of money for county roads in the west than in other regions.

Has the Minister examined the recently published Teagasc report on the west, an alarming report which calls for immediate action?

I am not aware of that report.

To revert to the matter raised by Deputy Harney who referred to the possibility of moving a Department to the west, I have taken a very close interest in the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in recent times, that Department is eminently suitable for transferral to the west where it could organise race meetings much more easily.

Has the Minister's attention been drawn to recent news items emanating from the Department of Social Welfare that it is planning to close social welfare offices in the west and throughout rural Ireland generally? Is that compatible with the Minister's efforts to save the west?

The Deputy should put down a question on that matter.

We all have a problem with the Minister for the west because when we get down to specific tasks he always says that another Department has responsibility, but the west is dealt with by all Departments. If a report on development of the west recommended reform of the social welfare code to enable small farmers and fishermen to develop their enterprises, would the Minister press his colleague, the Minister for Social Welfare, to make the necessary changes, which have been sought for years and which are necessary, as those of us involved in development of the west are aware? Does the Minister consider it fair that 40 per cent of the money allocated to roads will be spent on 8 per cent of national roads in urban areas while only 60 per cent will be allocated to the remaining 92 per cent of roads in rural areas? If he does not think that is a fair allocation what powers has he to ensure a more equitable distribution of funds?

On the first part of the question, my Department took the initiative of making representations to the Department of Social Welfare on the £2,000 REPS exemption for social welfare and we were successful in that regard. I have spoken to the Minister for Social Welfare about matters affecting agriculture and small holdings in the west and I am satisfied he is up-to-date on the problems in that area. I said in this House previously that if Deputies have a reasonable solution to social welfare problems I would be glad to make representations to the Minister for Social Welfare on their behalf. I will gladly assist Deputy Ó Cuív if he puts forward a reasonable proposal.

On the allocation of funds to the west through the Department of the Environment, there is a ten year plan dealing with that matter and the Minister for the Environment has proportionately increased funding for western counties — it was increased substantially last year and again this year.

The Minister should check that.

Major efforts are being made to improve the standard of living in the west.