I wish to share my time with Deputies McCormack, Ulick Burke and Perry.
Private Members' Business. - Western Development: Motion.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
That Dáil Éireann condemns the Government for:
–its continued lack of capitalisation in the western region, which includes the counties of Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, Clare and Donegal;
–its failure to prioritise access into the western region, in particular, the four main rail routes, the five main internal airports and the main national primary road arteries; and
–its neglect at providing significant job creation in the seven western counties, given that less than 10% of all job creation in the State in the last three years has been located in the west;
and calls on the Government to urgently frontload capitalisation for infrastructure and employment opportunities, to speed up the introduction of broadband technology, to upgrade third level educational facilities and to promote the continuation of agricultural activity in the region.
The changes in the world economy have given the west the opportunity to compete equally in the global economy but this chance is being taken away by Government inaction. Progress is being blatantly and unforgivably stalled by Government inaction through the Fíanna Fáil and Progressive Democrats policy of "mañana infrastructure”. What is worse is that a creeping policy of abdication of responsibility by the Government in the guise of allocating authority to independent consultants and bodies such as the ODTR has meant that little action has been or is being taken. The prospects for participation by the west in the new economy are being hampered by a confused and often negligent attitude on the part of the Government.
Only 10% of the 30 million people entering Ireland each year do so in the west, including the 2.2 million who enter via Shannon. Most of the remainder enter through the Dublin access points. As a tourist destination the west's best chance is the short break holiday visitor market, yet access is such that it takes a day to get there from the United Kingdom and a day to get back. Such poor access is very detrimental for business, particularly tourism, for which the west is outstandingly able to provide in every way except the critical fact that the infrastructure has been so neglected that few are able to get to or from the west. I accept that the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, has secured a three hour stop-over for Jordanian tourists; does she believe her job is done now? Is that really it?
Can we take it that the Government is responsible for the natural and reasonable outcome of its actions or inaction? If we accept this, which incidentally is a presumption of law, are we left with no alternative than to accept that the Government has no desire to improve infrastructure in the west and is pursuing a laissez faire policy in relation to roads and rail access to the west? There once was a man who said, “To hell or to Connacht”; it is now easier to get to hell than it is to Connacht.
This is affecting businesses as much outside tourism. In a recent survey by the Market Research Bureau for the chambers of commerce over three quarters of businesses wanted direct flights from the west to UK or London destinations. If they cannot get there by air they will find it hard to get there by any other means, but still no action has been taken by the Government.
The western region accounted for just 16% of total national employment between 1998 and 2000, mainly in Galway city. The job gains in the west are in Galway city and County Clare, which accounted for 90% of all job gains in the west, with counties Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Donegal actually suffering a net loss. The west's national share of IDA jobs is falling every year from 22% in 1995 to 18.7% in 2000. Imagine in a booming economy a net loss of jobs. Does the Government accept responsibility for this or does it blame the IDA for not creating jobs in the region?
The west hardly has a sea crossing choice, yet a key access route such as the N5 to Westport is in such a state of disrepair that the negligence is becoming malicious. There are eight national primary routes to the west, only one of which has been given dual carriageway status through the national development plan. This contrasts with all the roads from Dublin leading to the east coast, north and south. This shows the lack of priority the Government has given to western development. All Government road initiatives centre on one incorrect premise: that all roads lead to Dublin. There is foolhardiness to this arrogant presumption. I propose in particular the N2 to Donegal, the N5 to Westport, the N4 to Sligo and in line with my proposal on cross-Border cooperation the N16 should be upgraded.
Roads are not just about lorries and the commercial movement of goods. Quality of life, and cars, are also dependent on the road network. It is important that we receive definite promises from the Government that this will take place within a given timeframe. To date, we have nothing. The Government has clearly given priority to eastern seaboard road development over the west. Time is running out for road initiatives. Will the Government give a date and a decision on investment in roads for the BMW region or will it opt for its current strategy of allocating responsibility to unaccountable groups sitting on expensive reports and abdicating responsibility?
Is the Taoiseach aware that people from all over Ireland contribute to State coffers, or does he believe it is just those on the eastern seaboard? I am not asking for anything unusual, just that the Government recognises it is spending the taxes paid by the people of the Border, west and midlands. If he will deign to recognise that the west contributes to the national budget, why is he so reluctant to give the west what it has paid for? Do we have to produce a receipt? I am not asking for any favours. It is not charity, it is basic infrastructure for which we have already paid. Tax for infrastructure should be the deal but the west seems to be expected to pay and not receive. That is what is happening and the Government is responsible, not the consultants, not civil servants, not the people of the west.
The ESB warned the Government that large areas of Ireland are experiencing severe electricity supply problems due to the overloading of our electricity transmission system. Faced with five consecutive years of annual growth in electricity demand of about 6%, the ESB is attempting to meet the demands of a relatively industrialised country using a transmission system designed for a primarily agricultural economy.
The problem is not just about supply, it is also about reliability. In Carrick-on-Shannon last Friday there was no electricity supply for ten hours and much business was lost. The ESB could offer no explanation for the failure. The electricity transmission system can be compared to our rural water scheme. The problem is that the more people who are put on the system the slower the flow rate. In a water scheme this means that the pressure in a shower is less than desirable. In a transmission system it means that voltages drop, lights dim, computers cut out and data is lost. None of this causes a serious problem for the domestic user but many industries such as biotechnology and computer firms are dependent on electricity of a regular voltage. Foreign companies who are considering setting up in an area will want to know that the required supply of electricity will be available at the correct voltage and that if one transmission line is hit by lightning or taken out for maintenance, they will still have power. This is one of the main problems facing the ESB. At present three of the five lines that have to be cut off for maintenance are shut down at weekends or bank holidays. Substantial new infrastructure must be provided without delay to rectify this situation. The problem with the development of the transmission system is not one of money. ESB is currently investing about £200 million in the system and has plans to invest a further £250 million. Because of planning delays, it can take eight years to build a single line. This is the responsibility of the Government. Will the Taoiseach and the Government accept responsibility for energy supply to the west?
The ESB has a poor record of consultation with local communities. The choice between overhead and underground cabling is clear-cut, according to the Government and the ESB. However, the only costing offered by the Government has been produced by the ESB itself. About two months ago, I formally asked the Minister for Public Enterprise to provide another costing from an independent party. There was no response and no action was taken. The lives of many are overshadowed by the prospect of unnecessary and dangerous overhead pylons. Over 4,000 people have objected to the proposed construction of a transmission line through Flagford, County Roscommon, to serve Sligo town. The lack of response from the Minister on the costing is insulting to the people who will have to live with the decision.
I believe that gas supply is a solution to part of our energy problem in the western region. The Government has not put a time frame in place for the delivery of gas to Sligo. They have merely announced that it will take place at some stage. A date should be set and a distribution plan should be implemented. This ideally should be done in conjunction with other infrastructural works. However there is no time frame for gas, roads or broadband Internet. I know from experience that if there is no time frame, there is no promise. If the Government was candid enough to admit that none of this is going to happen, then at least that would allow private investors to assess the possibilities. While the Government continues to pander, promise and procrastinate, no business will enter the area.
According to measurements of educational participation, the two worst performing counties are Monaghan and Roscommon which score participation rates of 13.1% and 12.16%, respectively, in third level colleges. This contrasts dramatically with the three best performing counties – South Dublin, Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown which scored 21.11%, 24.52% and 37.8%, respectively. It comes as no surprise that the eastern seaboard has the highest educational involvement. This can be attributed to the low level of investment in education in the west, and particularly the north-west. Does the Government accept these figures? Silence is legally deemed to be assent and silence is all we have had from the Government in response to calls to level the educational playing field for the Border, midlands and western region.
A university facility is urgently required in the Sligo region. The amalgamation and change of status of existing facilities is more than justifiable for three main reasons. First, depopulation can be stalled and reversed by enabling students to stay in the west for third level education while bringing in further students from all over the country. Second, the presence of research and scientific facilities is a recognised prerequisite for biotechnology firms in considering development locations. Third, the employment and community advantages of a university have the effect of bonding and augmenting communities.
High speed telecommunications capability is essential to compete for e-commerce business on the international stage. A well developed broadband infrastructure across the country is essential to avoid the over-concentration of national investment in the Dublin area. E-commerce negates entirely the historic disadvantage of the west of Ireland in attracting investment and quality employment for its people. When the west has an Internet infrastructure, it can compete globally with San Francisco, Singapore, Munich or Dublin. This is a golden opportunity for the west. The new economy removes trade barriers such as geographic location and is ideal for the west. Unfortunately, the Government's failure to allow for an Internet infrastructure is disproportionately affecting the west. Small scale individual exceptions have been facilitated to provide bandwidth for certain groupings in Dublin but nothing comparable has been done for the west. In fact, when the Government speaks of Internet infrastructure, it refers to City West in Dublin, not the west, the midlands or the Border region.
The Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, said in her watershed comments of 1998:
Of immediate significance is the proposed unbundling of the local loop. This would allow competitors of Telecom Éireann to gain access to individual customer lines at a price comparable to costs of establishing new lines. This will have the effect of accelerating the development of competitive service offerings, while minimising economic disruption and unnecessary duplication of local access networks.
I agree, but three years have passed since the Minister made that statement and nothing has progressed in the meantime. Ireland Offline was established because of frustration with the Government's inaction and negligence in providing bandwidth and affordable Internet access for small to medium sized enterprises and customers. That body has said that what is available now is far from adequate and has called for urgent action by the Government to allow universal flat rate access to the Internet for all users, complete local loop unbundling by Eircom and universal access to broadband services for all users.
Eircom has stated that it is unable or unwilling to provide e-commerce infrastructure to the west. I call on the Government to give a firm commitment that the financial resources provided to Eircom will be ring-fenced and that this money will only be expended to provide urgently needed broadband infrastructure in the west. I commend the motion to the House.
There is no doubt that there is a lack of capital investment in the western counties. The west is seriously discriminated against, as outlined in the motion before the House. We got less than 10% of all jobs created in the State over the past three years. In the Government's amendment, it claims credit for the retention of Objective One status for the Border, midlands and western region. That status was maintained as a result of the campaign by Deputies on this side of the House, especially those from the west, including Deputies Jim Higgins, Ulick Burke, John Perry, Gerry Reynolds and myself, for the retention of Objective One status, which is well justified. In the counties of the Border, midland and western region, GDP is less than 75% of the national average. In fact, it dropped from 75% in 1991 to 70% in 1995 in the western counties.
The NESC report on population distribution and economic development, which was published in December 1997, showed the percentage change in employment by region from 1971 to 1996. There was a 5% increase for the Border region and 5.7% for the western region compared to 23% for the rest of the country. Population trends for the western counties show a depressing picture. Apart from the growth of Galway city, the population of the western counties has seriously declined. CSO figures show that from 1926 to 1996 there was a decrease in population in all parts of Connacht, with the exception of Galway city and surroundings. While the Galway borough population increased from 14,227 to 57,241, the population figures for the rest of County Galway, and for all the other Connacht counties, show a serious decline. County Galway might be regarded as the most prosperous county in the west, but its population has decreased from 169,366 in 1926 to 131,613 in 1996 – a 22% decline. I will mention the figures for just a few towns: Mountbellew had a 40% decrease, from 12,652 to 7,631; Oughterard and district had a 24% drop, from 14,494 to 10,960; the Clifden and Cleggan area, with which the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy is familiar, went down from 2,399 to 1,980 – a 16% drop; Bunowen-Ballyconeely, an area which I know particularly well, showed a 47% drop from 800 to 425; County Leitrim went down from 55,907 to 25,057, a drop of 55% in that period; Mayo went down from 172,290 to 111,524, a 35% drop; Roscommon declined from 83,556 to 51,975, a 38% drop, while Sligo declined 22% from 71,388 to 55,821; Cavan went down 36%; Donegal 15% and Monaghan 21%.
Connacht's steady progress has mainly been in the last eight years. In 1993, 900 jobs were lost when Digital transferred a section to Ayr, Scotland. It was a serious blow to Galway and shock waves went through the city. I was mayor then and a task force was set up which established an enterprise employment force. It fought back with the talent, experience and expertise of the Galway people. The people of the west are resilient and Galway fought back to the position it enjoys today. The rest of Connacht suffered a minus in that period and over the last 70 years as the figures show.
The discrimination against the west is shown in the distribution of the last round of Structural and Cohesion Funds, 1994 to 1999. Ireland benefited by £5.175 billion but the 13 counties of Connacht and the Border counties received £1.683 billion while the other 13 eastern and southern counties received £3.492 billion. Another example is that Counties Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow received £1.721 billion from those funds, more than the counties in the Border, midland and western region.
Many essential projects in Galway city and county depend on Structural Funds. The city, capital of the west and the fastest growing in Ireland, needs major capital expenditure on roads and rail to alleviate the increasing traffic chaos in the city and approach roads. We must plan a commuter rail service to take workers and shoppers to Galway from Tuam, Athenry, Oranmore, Claregalway and surrounding areas. It should be part of the Government's plans but it is not. It allows the situation to worsen daily. To relieve the traffic congestion at the Headford Road roundabout, there should be a fly-over from the Sean Mulvey Road to the Quincentennial Bridge to separate the westbound traffic from that on the Headford Road and distributor roads into the city. These are essential projects the Government should look at. The Connemara environment project was submitted to Brussels in 1995 and its estimated cost then was £75 million. Connemara needs essential services. Clonbern, Leenane, Carraroe, Roundstone and Clifden require sewerage treatment plants. They are tourism areas and we breach EU regulations by pumping raw sewage into the sea. The Government should address these matters.
The rail service should be improved with a second line from Athenry to Galway city linking Tuam and Oranmore. Galway is unique in having a station in the heart of the city, in Eyre Square. People should be brought in by train to alleviate the traffic problems. Much work must be done in the western region. I do not have enough time to go into further aspects of it. I call on the Minister of State here this evening, Deputy Molloy, who represents the area, to ensure that the Government becomes serious about plans to develop the west's infrastructure, especially the Connacht counties. We are being left behind as the statistics prove. Under the new Structural Funds, in which we have Objective One status, let the money be spent here. The priority must be to reverse what happened in the last five years.
I thank Deputy Reynolds for sharing his time and compliment him on this timely motion. It is regrettable that we have only Deputy Molloy here this evening. He is a western Minister, but the Minister of State with responsibility for regional development, Deputy Ó Cuív, is absent. He has not yet realised his responsibilities. Shortly after being appointed, he admitted that he did not know his areas of responsibility. Deputy Davern, who had responsibility for western development for the past four years, failed to do anything positive. He lacked initiative and drive to advance any project in the Government's lifetime. It is too late for promises as we approach the next general election.
We see a tug of war between the Ministers, Deputies Ó Cuív and Fahey, in Deputy Molloy's own constituency over a project vital to the development of the west, especially Galway city and county. Neither knows what to do about Galway Airport and development funds for it. Deputy Molloy sits on the fence leaving them to fight it out. That is the problem with western development under this Government. There is no doubt that its first vital mistake was to transfer western development from the Department of the Taoiseach to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. It is the death of any area to be placed under the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development because nothing will happen. That Department's empire builders will ensure that.
In 1999 the Western Development Commission was established by statute. It had responsibility for spending £25 million that year. "The Review and Outlook for Agriculture and Western Rural Development, 2000-2001" published by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development recently, states on page 65, that:
The Commission is responsible for the operation of the £25 million western development investment fund in this area. The fund will contribute to the strategic development of the area through investment in business start-ups, growth orientated small and medium enterprises as well as in community based developments aimed at encouraging enterprise development in the area. [This is the important part.] To date 11 projects have been approved by the WDC for assistance totalling £1.54 million and £0.55 million has been drawn down from that fund to aid three projects.
Three years, three projects, £0.55 million, and we call that western development. It is a scandal and those responsible for delivering that service and for this fund should resign immediately. It is incompetence beyond belief. We have £25 million to spend to assist, provide services and enterprise in the west but only £0.5 million has been spent in three years. It is a damning statistic from which the Minister of State cannot run. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development himself put that on the record.
We cannot expect this Government to be serious about western development. Deputies McCormack and Reynolds mentioned the decline in agriculture. In the country as a whole there will be 20,000 full-time farmers. What will be left in the west when pro rata we break that down as to a viable existence in the west under present farming conditions? There will be far fewer full-time farmers. The flight from rural Ireland continues and nobody, certainly not this Government, has done anything. Nobody, certainly not this Government, has cried “halt” or has done anything positive.
Deputy McCormack mentioned Objective One status. It was a fight in this House that brought the Government screaming to the table to say it would fight for Objective One status for the western, midland and Border counties. It was reluctant to do that and that reluctance has since resulted in inaction and absolute failure in regard to policies for western development. As recently as 1 May, I endeavoured, through the Taoiseach's office, to ask various Ministers the amount of money each Department has spent over and above what was previously spent as a result of our Objective One status. Six Ministers declined to answer because they could not identify additional funds spent by their Departments in the BMW region. If that is Government, it is time to query what the Government is doing. It is time the Government allowed those with initiative and commitment to the west to do something about it and to stop the rot which is happening under this Government.
In regard to job creation, on three previous occasions I have indicated the failure of the Government, particularly the Tánaiste, to identify one job in the past 25 years in Ballinasloe, east Galway, which has been IDA-assisted. There has been a net loss of jobs. Only last week 40 temporary employees of the Square D firm were let go because of difficulties. Last year A.T. Cross finally came to halt. That was the flag ship in terms of jobs and industry in Ballinasloe but all those jobs were lost. The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, the Tánaiste and a few others, including the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, met and formed a task force but they have done nothing since to create a job in that important town, one of the largest in County Galway. Is that a record of which to be proud four years after entering Government? There has been a net loss in employment.
We talk about infrastructural development throughout the country. The NRA said the farmers, landowners and property owners of the west are entitled to the same rate of compensation as those in Meath, Westmeath, Kildare or elsewhere in the south east or south. However, it has failed miserably to recognise that holdings in the west are smaller and that the damage done because of severance as a result of that necessitates a more generous response in terms of compensation, but it said "no". It cost the NRA £20 million extra to change the route of the N18 from Oranmore to Gort because of 42 bats in a barn on the route. To this Government and a Government agency bats are more important than people in the west. It is unfortunate that the relevant Minister is not here to face his responsibilities. It is a pity he does not know what his responsibilities are because he too is failing.
I am delighted to speak on this important motion and I thank Deputy Reynolds for raising it. I would like to continue in the same vein as Deputy Ulick Burke. I am very disappointed that this Government has failed to deliver in regard to development, particularly given that the Taoiseach was in Ballaghadereen with the Cabinet to launch this big plan. I do not want to take from the commitment of the management committee in Dillon House. An ambitious plan and a blueprint for success was launched at that time – a massive document. The west is full of documents, but there has been little action. Although a blueprint for success, a big document, was launched in the media at that time, little or nothing has happened since.
Policies for western development need to reflect the unique character of the region. Four fifths of people, or 657,000, live outside towns with a population of 5,000 or more. There are few, if any, plans for small towns in the west. We have all these bodies – the Western Commission, the enterprise boards and State agencies. The Government amendment to the motion refers to the progressive implementation of the national development plan 2002-06. I believe the Taoiseach said this plan would run until 2010. The plan will not be implemented in four years. There is no plan of action for the west.
In Sligo, for example, the improved energy infrastructure is not there to bring in jobs. I spoke to an industrialist in Sligo the other day and he has 26,000 square feet and a massive office complex which is empty. There are no new jobs in Sligo. There are improved services at Sligo regional airport and at the international airport at Knock, but nothing is happening there. It is all lip-service.
In regard to the seven counties of the west, it is definitely the case that it is all hype and no action. This Government is totally spent with consultant after consultant and launch after launch but no action. The Minister cannot say there have been any new jobs or a major industry in Sligo since I came into the House in 1997. We have not been licked by the Celtic tiger which has gone elsewhere. I am very disappointed that in the time it was here, Sligo did not benefit.
We talk about the spatial plan which is another joke. There is no spatial plan. This Government has not announced the plan or the future growth centres. Sligo was identified by Fine Gael as a future growth centre, but that has not happened. We have chaos with the N4 into Sligo, that is, securing the development of the N4 to dual carriageway – motorway standard. Deputy Reynolds referred to other routes as well. The main concern is the N4 and that plan has not taken off.
Small villages and towns were definitely sold a pup in regard to the Western Commission. Deputy Ulick Burke spoke about the very committed staff. It took years for the Government to give the funds – it was an EU problem and it had difficulty securing the funds. It is not that people want grants, but small companies need to survive in the small regions. The west is distinctly different to any other region and we need a document, a plan, that will encourage development in small villages and towns but that has not been developed.
Tourism is on its knees at the moment and there is not a plan for tourism. We all hear of the major tourism destinations, but we need to develop new destinations. Where is the plan for that? The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation, Deputy McDaid, has not come up with a new plan for the west even though he is from Donegal. I have not seen an ambitious plan for the north west. This Government has failed.
People's income has not improved even though the economy is doing exceedingly well. There is a huge expectation, but this Government has failed to deliver in many areas. It has neglected small regions. We all hear the big announcements in regard to the bigger towns and cities on the east coast but when it comes to the designation of Sligo as a future growth centre, this Government has failed in regard to that commitment. It has not clearly stated that Sligo will be a future growth centre in the national development plan. The development plan for the west was supposed to be implemented from 2000 to 2006. This Government will not deliver it and with a change of Government, we will certainly prioritise serious disadvantage.
We hear the hype in regard to the BMW region. Nothing has happened in the region. The Border, midland and western region has a plan. Despite the campaign to acquire Objective One status, there is little or no evidence of anything being done, particularly when one sees the evidence in Sligo where an industrialist has invested his own money in the provision of factory space which is lying vacant in Sligo town. That is an indictment of what the Government has done for the west. I am disappointed it has failed dismally to deliver on all the hype. When the election is called, the west will rally and give a message to the candidates seeking office to implement the mandate clearly established in the blueprint for success because the Government will not do that.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"commends the Government's proactive approach to upgrading the country's infrastructure, including in the western counties, and welcomes:
–the progressive implementation of the National Development Plan 2000-2006, which is designed to enable economic and social development and balanced regional development through:
–developing the potential of all regions to contribute to the maximum extent to continuing prosperity, and
–reducing the disparities between and within the Border, Midland and Western Region and the Southern and Eastern Region;
–the increased investment in economic and social infrastructure since this Government took office, including the projected investment of some 26 billion (current prices) over the period 2000-2006 in roads, public transport, environmental infrastructure, energy, housing and health, as well as investment in higher and further education;
–the progress already being made in implementing the national roads development programme which provides for major improvements in the N2, N3, N4, N5 and N6 routes serving the western counties;
–the substantial investment by the Government in recent years in the national rail network and the 4 main western rail routes in particular, after many years of under investment and the commitment to ongoing investment in the mainline rail network;
–ongoing substantial investment in Shannon Airport and significant Exchequer support for all regional airports in the west;
–the accelerated roll-out of broadband infrastructure in the western counties;
–the establishment of a gas infrastructure in the Midlands, the West and the North-West;
–the Government's commitment to finalise by end 2001, following a full process of public consultation, a National Spatial Strategy which will address the promotion of balanced regional development on a broader basis, with due regard to sustaining economic development, improving the quality of life, and maintaining and enhancing our national and cultural heritage; and
–the retention of Objective One status for the Border, Midlands and Western Region and the resultant higher levels of Structural Funds and better State aids regime available for this region over the period to 2006.
I wish to share my time with the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob.
That is agreed.
The enormous economic strides that have been made over the past decade, the tremendous opportunities now available to our school and college graduates, and the return of so many of our people to live and work contrasts with the scourge of emigration this country endured over most of the past 150 years. While all regions of the country have benefited from this progress, the national development plan recognises that the regional distribution of our economic progress has been uneven. Rapid growth has taken place, particularly in the major urban areas but, by way of contrast, other parts of the country have been making more modest economic progress.
For this reason, more balanced regional development is a fundamental objective of the Government's plan. Balanced regional development is about all parts of the country being able to participate in economic and social progress and being able to benefit appropriately from the opportunities it presents. Such a balance is essential if we are to fully exploit our resources and deliver on our long-term national objectives and great national potential. We must build on the economic progress we have achieved over the past decade, sustain it into the future and ensure its benefits are more widely spread. More balanced regional development will benefit the less developed regions through increased prosperity and the more developed regions through reduced congestion and pressure on infrastructure.
This was among the most prominent considerations before the Government as it approached the preparation of the plan. It involves an investment of more than £40 billion in 1999 prices over the seven year period from 2000 to 2006. It is the largest investment plan ever drawn up by this State.
The west did not get much of it.
It has four basic strategic objectives: continuing sustainable national economic and employment growth, consolidating and improving Ireland's international competitiveness, fostering balanced regional development, which is particularly relevant in the context of the motion we are discussing and promoting social inclusion.
The Government has failed to do that.
In light of the disparities in economic and social progress within the country, the Government successfully negotiated with the European Union for the designation of the country into two regions – the southern and eastern region and the Border, midlands and western region. This arrangement enabled Objective One status to be retained for the BMW region for the full period to 2006 while the southern and eastern region qualifies for a transitional regime for Objective One status until 2005. To give this arrangement full effect, an assembly was established in each of the two regions. Our successful arrangements with the European Union regarding regionalisation forms one of the building blocks in the national development plan for the pursuit of more balanced regional development.
There is broad consensus that our infrastructure has not kept pace with our economic growth and development and that improved infrastructure is now the key issue for a better qualiyy of life and for national development. There is an urgent need to develop our infrastructure to meet the country's growing needs, to maintain and improve our competitiveness, to enhance our quality of life and to provide greater protection for our environment.
The impact of this investment will be very visible in the western counties. The national road network in the region will be dramatically improved over the period through the upgrading of the following routes: the N2 – Dublin to Border/Derry, N3 – Dublin to Cavan, N4 – Dublin to Sligo, N5 – Dublin to Westport and N6 – Dublin to Galway. Major improvement works on other national primary and secondary routes in the region will also take place.
National primary route projects with a total estimated value of approximately £2 billion, including the N2, N3, N4, N5 and N6 routes serving the western counties, are currently in planning. Most of these projects are scheduled to be completed or under way by 2006.
The motion makes no reference to non-national roads. This is understandable because when it comes to non-national roads there has not been any lack of investment in the western counties referred to. Non-national road grants generally have increased significantly in recent years. Funding of £323 million has been allocated for non-national roads this year. This is a 20% increase on last year's expenditure of £269 million and an 85% increase on the 1997 expenditure of £174.8 million. That money was made available by the Government, which the Deputies opposite supported at the time, but they have now come in here with their fairytales.
The Minister of State is the only one telling a fairytale.
The BMW region, in which all these counties with the exception of Clare are situated, accounts for 40,514 or 44.9% of the 90,303 kilometres of non-national roads. The national development plan provides for investment of £848 million at current prices in this region in the 2000 to 2006 period.
There has been almost a 50% increase in the rate of inflation.
Overall, the investment in national and non-national roads in the BMW region will contribute towards providing easier access to employment, training and social opportunities for the region's inhabitants and offering existing firms and potential investors better access to the national road network and, thus, to domestic and foreign markets.
Under the NDP, almost £3 billion has been provided for water and waste water services, which is more than three times the outturn of £906 million under the previous NDP. Of the total expenditure, the BMW region will benefit from expenditure of almost £1 billion up to 2006.
The Water Services Investment Programme 2000-2002, the first of a series of rolling three year programmes providing details of major public schemes to be undertaken, contains schemes valued at almost £650 million for the seven counties referred to in the motion. Investment in the BMW region under the programme during 2000 amounted to just over £100 million. The next three year programme will be announced shortly.
The rural water programme is comprised of a range of capital grant measures to assist in the upgrading and development of rural water supply and waste water infrastructure, principally that of group water schemes. The main emphasis of the programme is on improving the quality of water under such schemes. Members will recall the mess these group water schemes were in under the management of the last Government. Of the total investment of £420 million under the programme, 70% will occur in the BMW region.
That is where the largest rural population lives.
The high level of investment proposed under the NDP confirms the Government's commitment to address the issue of rural water quality and to supporting rural and regional development.
The Government's investment in housing and related infrastructure is yielding positive results. Measures taken by the Government have led to the achievement of a record housing output of 49,812 units nationally in 2000 – the sixth successive year of record output.
The number on the housing list is increasing.
To put this in context, we are building new houses at by far the highest rate in Europe in relation to our population and at five times the rate being achieved by our nearest neighbour, the UK. This is a remarkable performance by any standards.
It is surely remarkable.
We have provided, for the first time, a long-term framework for the funding of social and affordable housing through the inclusion of £6 billion in the national develop ment plan. Funding under this heading and for housing related infrastructure was further increased by £984 million in Action on Housing, reflecting the commitment of the Government to tackle social and affordable housing need. This investment will ensure the housing needs of almost 100,000 families will be met with Government assistance over the period of the plan. We have provided for an increase of 6,000 starts in the local authority housing programme with funding for 41,500 starts over the period of the plan, front loaded to meet existing demand more quickly.
The annual resources allocated to housing since the Government took office have trebled to just over £1.1 billion in 2001 with the funding for local authority and social housing programmes increasing from £179 million in 1997 to almost £703 million this year.
The western region has shared in this increased investment in social housing. The capital allocation to the counties concerned in 2001 under the local authority housing programme amounted to just over £80 million compared with £30 million which the previous Government made available in 1997. We have provided an increase of 166% in that short period.
Why then is the number on the housing list increasing?
The Government's response to overall housing needs forms a coherent, connected and strategic response unlike that of the previous Administration. The action taken by the Government will result in further moderation of house prices, increased and more effective provision of social and affordable housing and a more integrated approach to the provision of accommodation for disadvantaged groups such as the homeless.
The Government should fix it.
The national development plan also provides for the economic and social well-being of rural communities and the continuation of agricultural activity in the western region. It provides for total public expenditure of £4.8 billion in the agriculture, food and related rural development areas, of which approximately £2.9 billion will be expended in the BMW region.
With almost £4 billion in national and EU funding, the CAP rural development plan will account for the bulk of this public expenditure with approximately £2.6 billion being expended in the BMW region. Its four measures concern early retirement, compensatory allowances, rural environment protection and forestry. It will facilitate structural change, support farmers on low incomes, promote sustainable development and provide opportunities for increased income through afforestation.
Measures included in the national development plan, including on-farm investment measures to encourage competitiveness and enhanced environmental and hygiene standards, improved installation aid for young farmers and a comprehensive support package for the food industry, have an allocation of £897 million of which £426 million is likely to be expended in the BMW region. In addition to the measures outlined, rural communities will benefit from other NDP initiatives. The plan provides £6.7 billion in total for actions that will directly impact on rural areas. Rural communities will also benefit from planned investment in other NDP areas such as those relating to roads, housing and health.
On job creation, it is an objective of industrial policy to bring about an improved regional distribution of employment and the specific targets and objectives for the agencies are set out in the long-term strategy report of Forfás. Progress is being achieved by the agencies in increasing the proportion of job approvals in the BMW region. In fact, 50% of all jobs negotiated by IDA Ireland during 2000 in new green field investment projects have been secured for the Objective One region, which is ahead of expectations in the three year target set out at the beginning of the year. The jobs will come on stream over the next few years. During 2000, in addition to jobs negotiated, IDA Ireland acquired eight land holdings throughout the BMW region, which will be developed as business parks to cater for the changing needs of inward investment clients. The parks will provide mainly office rather than manufacturing space. These developments underpin the strong regional focus in the IDA's activities and complement rather than compete with other major developments undertaken by the private sector.
Some 10% of all jobs located in the west.
There has been significant growth in the number of companies locating in the west region. This rose from 54 in 1993 to 73 in 2000. Employment figures for the same period rose from 7,375 in 1993 to 12,709 in 2000, an increase of 68%. New jobs created in this period grew more than eightfold from 262 in 1993 to 2,191 last year. Other employment such as temporary, contract employment, also grew reflecting the changing environment for many of our companies. Overall performance of the BMW region has improved, with unemployment in the region now down to 4.8 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2000. The latest migration data also indicates an increase in in-flows to the BMW region for the first time in many years. There is strong evidence from the agencies that many of these are returning migrants, bringing with them skills and experience gained elsewhere to take up employment opportunities in the BMW regions. While productivity in the BMW region has not kept pace with that in other regions, principally due to the comparative sectoral composition of these regions, it is important to note that significant progress has been made by the BMW region relative to other EU countries, with GVA per person in the BMW region having increased from 60% of EU average in 1991 to 80% in 1998.
However, to support the efforts of the job-creation agencies to bring development to the BMW region, there is an important obligation on local communities and their leaders to support and facilitate the timely provision of infrastructure essential for future social and economic development.
In doing so there is a need to recognise and accept that the provision of essential infrastructure frequently brings change in the physical environment but that such change can be managed in a practical and pragmatic way which respects good principles of environmental conservation.
In the education sector, substantial increased funding has been provided for the National University of Ireland in Galway. In addition, the Government has continued to invest in the development of other third level facilities in the west region in recent years in terms of staffing, budgets and additional courses. Over the past two academic years, the staffing complement has risen substantially in the institutes of technology at Letterkenny, Sligo and Galway-Mayo and the Tourism College Killybegs. A substantial number of new courses have been sanctioned and the budgets allocated to these colleges have increased accordingly. It is planned to continue to develop the framework for the structured development of institutes in the technological sector to address changing local and national demands. In this regard, Letterkenny Institute of Technology, the Tourism College in Killybegs, Institute of Technology Sligo and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology will continue to play a major role in higher education.
The National Spatial Strategy will form the central thrust of Government policy to achieve more balanced regional development. It will provide a framework within which sectoral policy in areas such as enterprise development, tourism, services and agriculture can be co-ordinated and implemented in future in a way that helps to achieve more balanced development. It will also provide a national and regional context for future decision-making on investment in infrastructure. The strategy will aim to ensure that people, no matter where they live or work, can share more equally in the benefits of the economic and social development of the country.
Substantial progress has been made with the development of the spatial strategy. The detailed research undertaken as part of Stage II of the strategy preparation process is now being used to inform a series of spatial policy indication papers focusing on spatial opportunities and choices for different areas and the policies and actions that might flow from these. These spatial policy indication papers will be published in the latter half of next month. Their publication will be followed by an intensive period of consultation with social partners, regional and local interests, local groups and the general public. Drafting of the strategy will then commence with a view to its adoption and publication by the end of the year.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, will deal with investment in other sectors.
Continuing growth in the economy has resulted in increasing pressure on our infrastructure. The success of our economy has led to an increasing work force, increased demand for transport and an increasing level of car ownership. It is readily acknowledged that under successive governments public transport has historically been starved of investment that would have been needed to cater for the level of demand we now face.
Since coming into power in 1997, the Government has intensified the vital national task of revitalising the country's public transport system. We are now urgently addressing the deficiencies caused by many years of neglect. The strategy to achieve that revitalisation is set out in the national development plan published last year. Two of the three stated aims of the plan refer specifically to the regions, investment in the rail network, which serves all regions of the country, and increased investment in public transport in the regions generally.
The motion comes at a time of massive investment in public transport throughout the country. This Government plans to spend £2.2 billion over the next seven years. We have not seen investment in public transport on this scale since the peak of railway development in the 19th century. A total of £500 million will be spent on revitalising the mainline rail network, sending the clearest possible signal that the railway network has a bright future. Some £350 million of this will be spent on completing the five year railway safety programme. Some 490 kilometres of track will be renewed right across the network. A total of £150 million will be spent on railway renewal, especially on new rolling stock and the refurbishment of stations. It is obvious that this Government has committed itself to providing a modern efficient public transport system throughout the country. The Government has always acknowledged that the country is coming from behind in terms of railway investment and there is a lead-in time which must be allowed for.
Perhaps the House might be interested in some of the statistics relating to the work on the five lines to the western region, including £35.5 million invested in the rail line to Sligo since 1997 and the further £2 million which is being invested in 2001. This line will have all continuous welded track by the end of next year and journey times will be reduced by up to 30 minutes as a result. Some £21 million has been invested in the Galway line since 1997. As a result of this investment the Galway line now has continuous welded track along the whole route. Approximately £10 million has been invested in the Westport and Ballina route since 1997. A further £10 million will be invested this year. The line to Ballina will have continuous welded track along the entire route by end of 2002 and the Westport section will be completed by 2004. The journey time from Dublin will be reduced by up to 20 minutes when this work is completed.
Iarnród Éireann has sought expressions of interest from manufacturers for the supply of new mainline rail carriages. This is the first phase of a procurement process designed to improve the quality of service provided to mainline rail passengers.
In addition, to the investment in rail services progress has also been made in improving bus services. Twenty three new low floor wheelchair accessible buses were purchased for Galway city services as part of the investment programme in bus services in provincial city bus services under the national development plan. These facilitated an improvement in the quality and frequency of bus services.
In relation to air travel, I would like to assure the House that the Government is committed to the continued development of air transport to and from these regions to ensure that rapid access is available to everyone. Four of the country's six regional airports, namely, Galway, Knock, Sligo and Donegal regional airports are located in the BMW region and, of course, the west is also served by Shannon Airport, which is owned and operated by Aer Rianta.
The support of the regional airports continues to be an express element of the Programme for Government and the commitment of this Government has been demonstrated through a number of support schemes that are designed to help develop and sustain the regional airport network.
The Government has been supporting all six regional airports, including the four airports in the BMW region, through grant schemes down through the years to assist in the promotion and development of the airports. A total sum in the region of £250,000 was made available to these four airports in each of the four years 1996-99, inclusive. Last year, 60% of the marketing support budget, i.e., £895,000, was allocated to the four regional airports in the BMW region.
The Department of Public Enterprise is also responsible for the implementation of the regional airports measure of the national development plan. Over the period of the plan, £8 million has been allocated for the BMW region airports – Donegal, Galway, Knock and Sligo. The Department launched a general call for proposals to all the regional airports prior to Easter and the closing date for receipt of these submissions is this Thursday, 31 May.
In 1998, the Department allocated a fund of £5 million to provide for infrastructural improvements at the regional airports. Of this £5 million allocation, over £4.6 million was allocated to the four regional airports in the BMW region, again illustrating this Government's commitment to the development of infrastructure in the western region. The airports used the resources provided by this fund for various projects including runway upgrading and extension, improved lighting and ancillary capital works.
The Department also administers the public service obligation – PSO – programme for the operation of essential air services on "thin" regional air routes to improve accessibility and encourage the growth of both industry and tourism related activities. The PSOs make an important contribution to the domestic air access network and facilitate business and tourism development in the regions.
Under new contracts earlier this year, the PSO programme was expanded significantly with the creation of two new PSO routes between Knock and Dublin and between Derry and Dublin. Derry airport serves the area of East Donegal as well as Derry itself and its hinterland. The Knock PSO service provides a daily early morning flight to Dublin and a return flight every evening. There are two flights per day on the Derry/Dublin PSO route including an early morning departure from Derry and a late return flight. The Donegal and Sligo PSO routes were also renewed for a further three year period. In addition, the flight frequency on the Galway PSO route was increased from three to four daily return flights.
The overall cost of supporting the PSO programme has been increased significantly to over £10 million per annum under the new contracts compared to an average annual subvention of approximately £3.3 million under the previous contracts.
Aer Rianta is responsible for the management and operation of Shannon Airport. The company is committed to the continued development of the airport and to ensure the continued growth of traffic at the facility. The new terminal facilities at Shannon Airport were formally opened by my colleague, the Minister for Public Enterprise in March last year. This new terminal, which is fully equipped with state of the art communications systems, has almost doubled terminal capacity to 4.5 million per annum, from 2.4 million previously. As a result, the airport is fully equipped to meet the demands of airport customers particularly in areas such as aircraft safety, passenger comfort and convenience and to exploit new traffic opportunities to the benefit of the mid-west region. Additional investment is proposed for the area, which will underpin the economic well being of the airport and the wider region as a whole.
On natural gas, it is fair to say that the natural gas system in Ireland is about to undergo a complete transformation with the system being extended across the midlands and into the west. This is a very important development for the region as it will create a modern energy infrastructure and provide the basis for future development.
BGE is proceeding with the ring main pipeline, which will run from Dublin through Athlone to Galway, and then south to Limerick, where it will connect with the existing natural gas network. This pipeline is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2002. In addition to providing additional capacity to flow gas around the country, the availability of natural gas will be extended to new areas of supply. The following towns have already been identified for connection as a result of this project – Trim, Shannon, Mullingar, Loughrea, Athlone, Galway, Ballinasloe, Gort, Athenry, Ennis, and Killaloe.
BGE is also proceeding with the construction of a pipeline from the Corrib gas landing point to Craughwell, outside Galway, to join the ring main. This pipeline is scheduled for completion about April 2003. The development of this pipeline will enable gas to be connected initially to Castlebar, Claremorris, Tuam and Athenry. The ring main and Corrib spur pipelines will involve an investment of about £200 million in the BMW region. This is a large scale investment which will establish a core energy infrastructure in the region.
The Government recently decided that the gas network would be extended to the north-west. There is a range of options for these extensions and BGE has engaged economic consultants to assist them in assessing the situation. On a preliminary basis, it appears that a pipeline extending the system to Sligo and Letterkenny would not be a commercial proposition as the demand for gas in these areas would not be sufficient to justify the capital investment. Funding an extension of the network raises competition and State aid questions and these issues along with the funding options are currently being examined. In any event, while these matters must be addressed and fully resolved, I will be reporting to the Government on the options and implications when the BGE report comes to hand in order to get the project under way.
The need to upgrade the country's electricity infrastructure, particularly in the provinces, is noted and accepted. ESB and Eirgrid are embarking on a £2.1 billion programme of investment over the next five years designed to redress this matter. This investment will cover further work on the network renewal programme and the distribution system, low voltage, and also facilitate significant reinforcement of the transmission system, high voltage. Some of the main transmission infrastructural projects scheduled to be completed over the next five years are the Donegal loop, i.e., a 110 kV line from Binbane, near Killybegs, to a new 110 kV station in Gweedore and continuing from there to Letterkenny; the Cloon, Tuam, to Castlebar 110 kV line; the Flagford to east Sligo 220 kV line and station; the Oldstreet, east Galway, 400 kV station and the 220 kV line to Cashla, Claregalway. By 2005, the effect of this investment will be represented by significant reinforcement of the electricity infrastructure in the western region.
On telecommunications, the widest possible availability of competitive services has been an important objective of Irish telecommunications policy since liberalisation. In recent years the Department has put in place a number of initiatives which seek to address gaps in communications infrastructure in Ireland, particularly by bringing broadband connectivity to regional and rural areas.
Under the National Development Plan, 1994-1999, £20 million was made available to support the roll-out of broadband to the regions. Thirteen projects which rolled-out broadband nationwide were supported and are now nearing completion. The majority of these projects entailed the roll-out of broadband services in the western counties.
The figure allocated to telecommunications initiatives has been significantly increased under the National Development Plan, 2000-2006, to £158 million. There is a commitment that two-thirds of this budget will be spent in the BMW region. A first call for proposals was run last year and on foot of submissions received the Department entered nine contracts at the beginning of the year which will result in additional investment in the regions in broadband infrastructure. The projects involved will be completed over the next two years and will entail overall investment of £126 million in broadband leveraged from grant assistance of approximately £43 million.
A feasibility study is being carried out into the installation of an Atlantic corridor providing broadband fibre optic cable along the western seaboard between Kerry and Donegal. The feasibility study will be completed this September. In late 2000, the Government launched the CAIT, Community Access to Information Technology, initiative. Under this initiative funding of £2.5 million is being made available to support projects aimed at introducing groups marginalised from information technology to its benefits. A large number of proposals have been received by the Department and are being evaluated. It is anticipated that there will be substantial support to these types of projects in western counties.
Finally, may I reiterate this Government's demonstrated commitment to upgrading this country's infrastructure, including in the western counties.
In late October 2000, the Government launched the community access to information technology initiative.
Is Deputy Gerry Reynolds listening to all of this?
I am, but I do not know where it is happening.
The Deputy can put it in his pipe and smoke it.
The fact that I must listen to this bothers me.
Under this initiative, funding of £2.5 million is being made available to support projects aimed at introducing to its benefits, groups marginalised from information technology. A large number of proposals received by the Department are being evaluated. It is anticipated that there will be substantial support for these types of projects in western counties. I re-iterate this Government's demonstrated commitment to upgrading our infrastructure, including in the western counties.
It has been interesting that the speeches we have heard so far have not included a single reference to population. Similarly, there have not been any references to needed infrastructure or to the shift in population from rural areas, villages and towns to cities. This tells us, interestingly, that whenever planning issues are discussed, the Government's attitude is to produce endless lists of projected expenditure as a substitute for thought or a real attempt to come to grips with the issues. The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, is a nice man who has given many such lists. Deputy Molloy, who preceded him, could be called the Minister for lists as he was even more voluminous in his use of them. Now that the timetable for Knock airport has been put on the Dáil record, we may perhaps return to what I understand this motion to concern.
Population statistics for many western counties were given by a Fine Gael speaker. I congratulate his party for putting down this motion. The statistics showed that the population of most western counties, such as Leitrim and Roscommon, has declined. It is very interesting, but I want to be positive. How can the Government credibly suggest that it has the slightest interest in planning, given that it has announced an expenditure programme over six or seven years of £40 billion without an effort at suggesting a time scale across sectors, communities and regions? The Government has not ever believed in regionalism or in regional planning, as reflected in its deep antipathy to the last Government's proposal to have regional structures in education. The Opposition of the time wrecked the proposal by opposing it tooth and nail, thereby revealing a deep commitment to centralisation. It is wrong that Ministers, the political representatives of those in the west, stand like puppets to read the Department of Finance's projected expenditure across sectors. The Department of Finance once opposed rural electricity as it thought it would never catch on.
There was an interesting phrase in the last speech, when the reason for not extending the gas pipeline was given. The speaker said that State aid and market competition issues need to be addressed. I will discuss whether they will be overcome by sticking with the point I was making. The Government ran into difficulty in relation to telecommunications infrastructure as it has not addressed the issues. The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, did not mention the report in The Irish Times of 23 April about the comments of Deputy Jim Higgins. The Deputy was displeased by Eircom's decision to drop its proposal to bid for the installation of a telecommunications network, as reported in The Irish Times the previous month.
The Minister of State spoke of State-led State aids and market competition, but the reality is that it is not possible for a company to provide universal telecommunications access without State intervention. In the case of the ESB, I refer to appropriate access to energy infrastructure. As market-led thinking has defeated State initiative, there is an enormous lag and the possibility that such initiative will not again be found in the west. Let us contrast such a prospect with any one of the principles of regional policy. I wrote about regional policy in 1974-75, when I was a founding member of the Irish Regional Studies Association along with people like Michael Bannon. At that time, literature suggested that regional policy should be implemented for any of three reasons.
The first of these was a strong citizenship model which suggested that every citizen has the right to communicate, to enjoy a level of public services in the State and to participate in a community that has an infrastructure to enable it to develop. It was a rights based view. The second possible reason for implementing regional policy is because national economic growth is taking place and one should be entitled to participate in it. The third reason was available to those who did not accept the first two and argued that if a concentration of industry and services was allowed, a problem would be created which had two related sides. While urban dis-economies were created by pouring population on to an infrastructure that would have to be continually added to, an infrastructure with the capacity to deal with education, housing and similar matters was being abandoned.
Urban dis-economies and rural decay are the two sides of the same coin. Where is the evidence of any aspect of regional policy in what we have heard? It is wonderful for a Government to have such resources available to it, but it is a pity that in these best of times we have such a bad Government, one that is hostile to planning. An elementary scholar approaching this area would ask how expenditure of £40 billion within a specific period can be announced, but the spatial plan will not be announced for another year or two. The spatial plan will deal with the distribution of people among towns, villages and cities. New growth cities will have to be identified and different cities and towns will have to be connected. It is an appalling case of putting the cart before the horse.
I do not have enough time to go into this country's historic antipathy to planning, but it goes back to the 1930's and notions that the State should do nothing, should be dictated to by the market and should only help the poorest of the poor. An incredible attempt at centralising decision making has been made. Other speakers have correctly pointed out that, having used the BMW region to make the best possible contrived case to the EU, the Government has not proportionately distributed the results of what was received from Structural Funds to those places for which the Government made the greatest effort. To listen to long lists of proposed expenditure, from national Exchequer resources or from EU funding, is windy stuff and the aural version of watching a three card trick.
People are interested in simple things. At the end of the plan, will all citizens enjoy the same access to communication? Will there be an information divide between the existing developed regions and those regions whose GDP is about 70% of that of more developed regions? The question must be answered with a simple "yes" or "no". Will people have equal access to energy sources, such as electricity lines that can carry the same volume of energy as lines in the industrialised region? What is the answer, "yes" or "no"? The Government's answer is that State aids and market competition have to be balanced. It cannot fulfil the requirements of the motion moved by Deputy Gerry Reynolds unless it commits itself, as a State policy, to a concept of regionalism based on any one of the three things I have mentioned. We could debate the reason for having a regional policy, its shape or its content, but we are not getting to that point.
One must look at the issues that arise as a result of the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy's speech. He gave a hidden jab at the end of the speech suggesting those who are interested in ecological and responsible development may be holding things up. He mentioned that communities will have to realise that development can take place with ecological attention. He said:
To support the efforts of the job-creation agencies to bring development to the BMW region, there is an important obligation on local communities and their leaders to support and facilitate the timely provision of infrastructure essential for future social and economic development.
Does this mean that it is the local communities that are blocking things? It continues:
In doing so there is a need to recognise and accept that the provision of essential infrastructure frequently brings change in the physical environment but that such change can be managed in a practical and pragmatic way which respects good principles of environmental conservation.
That word "pragmatic" is a great word. It means that if we have made mistakes in the past we can cover them up in the present and continue them in the future. This is from the Minister of State with responsibility for housing. He has given us a lecture about how the community should behave in accepting what is decided for it. That raises a further question. What happens if the share which has been allocated to the National Roads Authority is taken out of the national development plan? In what country in the known world are plans for road infrastructure ahead of the national spatial plan? How will the national spatial plan appear when the expenditure decisions and decisions about roads have been taken? Is this not extraordinary? Maybe it will be a series of aerial photographs of what is being done in a piecemeal way. It is a disgrace, a scandal, that the national spatial plan is not put out in advance of these other important decisions. In so far as the Minister of State referred to his own successes in housing and other matters, and sticking to the question of roads, there is need to get over our antipathy to planning, about which I have said enough for the moment. I could say a great deal more.
There is also need to construct a culture of consultation with the public. People do not need little paragraphs. What the Minister of State is talking about, and what the NRA has frequently talked about, is showing people what has been decided for them. That is defined at consultation. However, in most political democracies consultation is the definition of the problem, consultation on how it is to be approached, definition of different means of approaching it, the establishment of a plan in which people will be involved, the allocation of funds for it, its execution and monitoring. That is called democracy. The present Government – unfortunately Fianna Fáil has a long tradition of this, the Progressive Democrats more so because the market speaks to them in some ghostly way – will not accept that as a version of consultation. They produce two or three options, print them – all the technical resources are behind them at this stage – slap them up on a wall for a period of 28 days and say that is what has been decided. That is seen as consultation.
Let us consider the questions people are really asking. In agricultural regions they want to know whether there is a future for the farm family. Where the farms in the counties referred to in this motion differ from other farms all over the country is in relation to physical characteristics. As many as 70% or more are under 50 acres, and 50% could be under 35 or 40 acres. They differ in relation to soils and drainage. Economically, they differ in terms of what they can produce. They also differ as to the social characteristics of those who run them. I do not need a lecture on western development, or to be told that, having destroyed the opportunity for agricultural training for the sons and daughters of people from a farm in the west, the Government is deeply com mitted to agriculture. We watched the loading towards 10% of farmers of the benefits of our entry into Europe. At the time of the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund, we could have worked the guidance element far better. It was all on guarantee. All the benefits, therefore, were primarily related to ability to increase output.
Small farms which are not included in the Government's agricultural planning are also places where there are many rural houses which are falling into decay. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing, when he was in full flight, mentioned that the amount of provision for social housing had increased by 166%. However, he forgot to say that due to his efforts the cost of housing had increased by 300%. He told us about moderating house prices. How is house price moderation being assisted by his colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy in eliminating the special tax that was supposed to be implemented on speculators? They suddenly found that tax reduced just the same as everything else, and the reason is that house prices are supposedly moderating. When I was on Galway Corporation with the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, we used to wonder whether the housing list would ever reach 1,000 – it was usually around 800. Today it is 1,700, and people wait five years for the offer of a house of any kind. The Minister of State tells us house prices are moderating and that the spend on social housing has increased by 166%, but he does not tell us that his friends, the speculators, are getting between 300% and 400%. Why did he not tell us that? Why did he bow his knee to the speculative tendency, the people who are tearing the heart out of the economy?
There are other questions people ask. A rural family asks if there is a future for the farm family. People in a village ask whether they will have basic services that will enable them to live there with dignity. People in towns ask what kind of electricity supply and telecommunications service they will have. People are also interested in housing. Many of them would be very willing to go and live in rural houses. Let us do something imaginative and draw up a list of all the need, beginning with planning. Let us find out how many abandoned houses are there in Ireland. The Government could give grants to have them refurbished and offered to people who desperately want rural housing.
On transport, I am one of the people – Deputy McCormack is another – who use the train to Galway, in relation to which £21 million has been expended on the provision of a continuous welded line. I use that train every week. We hear explanations that people find humorous at times as to why the train is delayed. The suggestions include difficulty with the signalling. Perhaps the market theorists will tell us why it is that if two lines have to be put down alongside the railway line for signalling and telecommunications the telecommunications line for the private telecommunications service goes down first and cannot then be interfered with to provide a proper signalling system? Is that not a clear case of the predator getting in first and the travelling public losing? Is there anything interesting in the rail network in the western region? Is there anything to suggest belief in an integrated infrastructure combining train, bus and other forms of transport? What we are really being told is that a great juggernaut of road design, funded out of the national plan that has nothing to do with the spatial plan, is coming down the road. If people want to entertain themselves in a couple of years time, several working papers will be available to show the spatial plan when it has been decided. People are looking for some very interesting and basic things. They want the population decline to surface in some speech. I am not inventing it. It is there in the census for anyone to see. They want to know about transport. They want to know about the evening up of infrastructure. They want a time scale on the expenditure. They want to be consulted on how it will happen. They also want to know what the Government's attitude is to expenditure from Europe and the precise initiatives that are being taken. What they have been offered is fascinating and really interesting. They have been told that the Minister of State to whom it was allocated as a responsibility finds it a waste of his time, which is rather like his cousin who has not been at a European Culture Ministers meeting, except for one, for the last several years, but nominates cities to be cities of culture. When he eventually finds out where his office is and migrates to it, he tells us that he wants to be a doer, to get his coat off and do things. If he is listening, why is he not listening to what is being said about the need for houses? When will these transport investments take place? What is the truth about the scandal of the signalling system on the western line?