I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me this opportunity and I thank the Minister of State for coming here to reply to my question.
This issue which has beset those of us who have represented parts of rural Ireland for some considerable time represents what I consider a serious clash of interest, a contradiction in terms of the application of the planning Acts, how they apply and how they are supposed to apply equally as between all members of the public. In my constituency, automatically and without reference to anyone, An Taisce or its agents examine each planning application for one-off houses in the countryside and lodge objections with An Bord Pleanála. When it does so it is guaranteed success. All that is required is that it submits the objection, quotes planning law, which may or may not be relevant, quotes the spatial strategy outlined by the Minister and quotes the development proposals for the greater Dublin area, all of which serves to reject the planning application on the basis that people who are indigenous to the countryside, who have lived all their lives in the countryside, whose sons and daughters want to live in the countryside and who are able to afford a home on the free sites they will get from their parents in the countryside are deprived of doing so.
I pay tribute to An Taisce for the excellent work it has done in the area of preservation of buildings. However, it has overstepped its authority and responsibility. The Minister makes a small annual subvention to that body. That is an indirect subsidy to facilitate it to do the type of work to which I have referred and to which I strongly object.
I listened with interest to a recent radio programme when the chairman of An Taisce outlined his plans for rural Ireland to the effect that people in the countryside need not be concerned because they would be catered for by compulsorily purchasing land adjacent to towns and villages on which suitable housing would be built for them. A similar policy was carried out in eastern Europe after the communists took over in 1945. The stated grounds for this were economic. It was more economical to keep people in high density locations and remove the possibility of having to provide services for them in the countryside. What services have ever been provided for people in rural areas in any event?
I find it objectionable that there are bodies acting as agents for An Taisce which are in receipt of the benefits bestowed on that body by the Minister as a consulting body in respect of planning permissions and by a direct subsidy, and which at the same time operate as community objectors and come forward allegedly on the basis of deep and overwhelming concern about what they see as unnecessary and undesirable planning in the countryside.
It is time we came to a conclusion on this issue. People in the countryside have an entitlement to live there. We still live in a free country. I hope we do not see a scenario where people will be ordered where to live. Unless the Minister takes action on this soon, I fear we are heading down the road of the areas to which I have already referred. This is not the first attempt at the depopulation of the countryside. It was done in the highland clearances in Scotland and it was also done in central and eastern Europe in another time.
Will the Minister either amend the legislation to reconstitute An Bord Pleanála to ensure the self-serving exercise is not repeated on an ongoing basis, or remove the consulting role from An Taisce, or will he do a combination of both?