Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Bill 2003: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Tá ríméad orm an díospóireacht seo a oscailt sa Dáil inniu ar an Dara Céim den Bhille seo. Tugann Bille an Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 2003 deis dúinn díriú isteach ar chursaí a bhaineann lenár n-oileáin amach ón gcósta. Dar ndóigh beidh deis ag na Teachtaí a gcuid tuairimí a chur in iúl faoin reachtaíocht ar ball beag agus tá mé ag tnúth go mór le cloisteáil uathu.

I measc na spriocanna atá leagtha amach i ráiteas straitéise na Roinne Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuai the agus Gaeltachta tá ceann ar leith a bhaineann le forbairt tuaithe, Gaeltachta agus oileán, sin é, chun cúnamh a thabhairt chun pobail inmharthana agus bheo a chothú sna háiteanna sin. Ba mhaith liom cúpla rud a rá faoin sprioc thábhachtach seo go ginearálta roimh dhíriú isteach ar fhorálacha sonracha an Bhille seo.

Is fiú a mheabhrú don Teach go bhfuil os cionn 40% de dhaonra na hÉireann, sin é, thart ar 1.5 milliún duine, ina gcónaí i gceantair tuaithe. Ceapaim go bhfuil tuiscint mhaith ann anois, go háirithe ag éirí as an obair ar fad a rinneadh i ndáil leis an straitéis spásúil náisiúnta, ar na hathruithe móra ata tarlaithe cheana féin agus atá fós ag tarlú sna ceantair seo. Airím anseo an ghluaiseacht daonra idir dhaoine áitiúla ag bogadh i dtreo na gcathracha agus a mhalairt treo, an fheirmeoireacht ag dul i léig, riachtanais agus rialacha nua i gcursaí pleanála agus comhshaoil ach go háirithe, easpa áiseanna agus infrastuchtúir agus rudaí eile. D'aithin an Rialtas a riachtanaí agus até sé go gcuirfí cur chuige straitéiseach i bhfeidhm a bheadh dírithe ar phobail a chónaíonn i gceantair tuaithe. Ba mar gheall air sin a tugadh an cúram d'fhorbairt tuaithe don Roinn nua Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta. Is é an dushlán atá os cómhair mo Roinne ná polasaithe a aimsiú a thugann aghaidh ar na hathruithe atá ag tarlú sna pobail tuaithe, tacaíocht a thabhairt dá bhforbairt agus cothromaíocht réigiúnach níos fearr a chur chun cinn.

Tá dul chun cinn leanúnach a dhéanamh chun leas eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta na bpobal tuaithe a chinntiú faoin bplean forbartha náisiúnta, a bhfuil tionchar mór ag an bPáipéar Bán ar fhorbairt tuaithe air, agus faoin gclár CLÁR, ceantair laga ard riachtanais, ach go háirithe. Tá CLÁR ag diriú isteach ar na ceantair tuaithe faoi mhíbhuntáiste is mó a d'fhulaing titim sa daonra idir 1926 agus 1996, meántitim de 50%. Sa bhliain 2002 ghnóthaigh daonra iomlán de 284,000 buntáiste caiteachais de thart ar €14 mhillliún a caitheadh ar thacaíocht don bhonneagar fisiciúil, pobail agus sóisialta faoin gciste CLÁR. Dar ndóigh, tagann cuid mhaith de na hoileáin mhara faoin gclár seo freisin, mar shampla: Árainn Mhór ó thuaidh; Inis Bó Finne, Cliara, agus Inis Tuirc san iarthar; chomh maith le Béara agus Cléire ó dheas.

Is í bunaidhm pholasaí na Roinne i ndáil leis na hoileáin ná forbairt inmharthana na n-oileán mhara sin a bhfuil daoine ina gcónai orthu a chur chun cinn agus iarracht a dhéanamh leibhéil shasúla seirbhíse a sholáthar do na hoileánaigh. Is feidir an bhunaidhm pholasaí seo a sháiniú i dtrí chuspóir straitéiseacha mar seo a leanas: fáil isteach shásúil ar chóras iompair i rith na bliana ar fad do phobail oileán a éascú; pobail na n-oileán a spreagadh chun eagraíochtaí ionadaíocha a bhunú a oibreoidh le Ranna Rialtais, le háisíneachtaí Stáit agus le húdaráis áitiúla chun bonneagar, tionscal, talmhaíocht, iascach, turasóireacht agus araile, na n-oileán a fhorbairt; agus polasaithe Rialtais maidir leis na hoileáin a chur chun cinn agus a chomhordú.

Tá mé thar a bheith bródúil as an méid atá bainte amach do na hoileáin le blianta beaga anuas. An chéad chéim a tógadh, ná bunú an choiste idir-ranna comhordaithe um fhorbairt oileán i 1993 chun athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar straitéisí forbartha do na hoileáin agus na tosaíochtaí sin a mheas. Cuireadh an tuarascáil fhoirmiúil ar fáil i 1996. Ba é an chéim ba shuntasaí ná freagracht shonrach i leith na n-oileán a bhronnadh ar an Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán a bunaíodh i 1997. Is cúis áthais dom gur thit na dualgaisí seo ormsa ag an am mar Aire Stáit ag an Roinn sin go dtí 2001 agus arís anuraidh nuair a ceapadh mé mar Aire ag an Roinn Gnóthai Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta.

Tá sé rí-shoiléir go bhfuil lán-tacaíocht tugtha ag an Rialtas seo agus an Rialtas a d'imigh roimhe do chaighdeán saoil na n-oileánach a fheabhsú. Tá an soláthar i leith fhorbairt na n-oileán méadaithe ó faoi bhun €2.5 milliún sa bhliain 1997 go dtí beagnach €8.5 milliún i mbliana, sin é, €6.12 milliún i leith thograí caipitil agus €2.35 milliún i leith thograi reatha. Tá infheistíocht mhór déanta in infrastruchtúr na n-oileán chomh maith le seirbhísí le seacht mbliana anuas. Ina measc tá iompar farantóireachta agus aeir, céibheanna, bóithre, soláthar leictreachais agus uisce, sláinte agus oideachas.

Gan aon dabht is í rochtain shábhailte an tosaíocht is mó a bhaineann le hinmharthanacht phobail na n-oileán. Tá feabhas íontach tagtha ar na seirbhísí farantóireachta ó 1997 – faoi lathair tá 14 seirbhís á maoiniú le hais cúig cinn i 1997. Is fiú a lua chomh maith go bhfuil seirbhísí aeir á maoiniú go dtí na hOileáin Árann chomh maith le seirbhís ingearáin do Thoraigh i rith an gheimhridh. Rinne Ollscoil Cranfield staidéar ar leith ar sheirbhísí aeir chuig na hoileáin i 2001 agus tá na moltaí sin fós á meas ag mo Roinn. Cheana féin, tá dul chun cinn sásúil á dhéanamh chun aerstraicí a chur ar fáil ar Inis Bó Finne agus ar Oileán Thoraí mar atá geallta i gclár an Rialtais. Ceapadh comhairleoirí le gairid chun staidéar a dhéanamh ar na seirbhísí farantóireachta agus ar an infrastruchtúr atá riachtanach ina leith. Táthar ag súil leis an tuarascáil sin go luath.

Tá infheistíocht ollmhór déanta i gcéibheanna oileánda le cúpla bliain anuas. Mar shampla, tá níos mó na €1 milliun caite ar chéibh an Leab Gharbh in Árainn Mhór, €2.4 mhilliún caite ar chéibh Mhachaire Rabhartaigh le freastal ar Thoraigh agus ar Inis Bó Finne agus €1.75 milliún ceadaithe do chéibh Rú an Átha le freastal ar Oileán Cliara agus Inis Tuirc. Tá forbairtí móra beartaithe do na céibheanna ar Oileán Cliara agus Inis Tuirc iad féin, a chosnóidh tuairim is €10 milliún agus tá pleanáil maidir le mórfhorbairt na gcéibheanna ar na hoileáin Árann ar siúl chomh maith.

Is é dúshlán mór eile do mo Roinn na deiseanna fostaíochta inmharthana a chur ar bun ar na hoileáin. Caithfear a admháil go bhfuil na hoileáin Ghaeltachta ag fáil seirbhíse maithe ó Údaras na Gaeltachta a d'fhógair scéim nua fiontair le gairid do na hoileáin seo. Faoin scéim seo, anuas ar na gnáthdeontais caipitil agus fostaíochta, beidh deontais eile suas go dtí €90,000, nó 80% de na costais bhreise a bhaineann le gnó a bhunú ar oileán, ar fáil faoin scéim de Minimis. Tá sé inmholta go mbeadh aitheantas den saghas sin tugtha do na hoileáin taobh amuigh den Ghaeltacht a thagann faoi churam na Roinne Fiontair, Trádála agus Fostaíochta. Le tamall anuas tá mo Roinn-se ag breathnú ar na féidearthachtaí atá ann ciste fiontair a bhunú do na hoileáin seo i gcomhairle leis an Roinn Fiontair, Trádála agus Fostaíochta.

Is cuid dílis d'oidhreacht an Stáit iad ár n-oileain mhara agus cé go bhfuil go leor déanta le blianta beaga anuas, aithním an gá atá ann le feabhsúcháin bhreise ar rochtain, seirbhísí agus bonneagar chun caighdean maireachtála na n-oileanach a chothú agus a fheabhsú. Tá sé mar aidhm agam a chinntiú go leanfar ar aghaidh le hinfheistíocht fhiúntach i bhforbairt na n-oileán sna blianta amach rómhainn.

Beidh Uachtarántacht an Aontais Eorpaigh ag Éirinn sa chéad sé mhí de 2004. Is cúis mhór sásaimh dom a chur in iúl go mbeidh comhdháil á heagrú ag mo Roinn-se, mar chuid den Uachtarántacht, i gContae na Gaillimhe ón 19 – 21 Bealtaine 2004 a mbeidh toscaireacht ó bhallstáit an Aontais mhéadaithe ann. Beidh na riachtanais eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta d'oileáin an Aontais Eorpaigh, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs struchtúir agus maoinithe tar éis 2006, mar théama lárnach den chomhdháil thábhachtach seo.

Is mian liom anois aghaidh a thabhairt ar an reachtaíocht atá ós ár gcomhair inniu ag miniú na n-aidhmeanna ar dtús agus an téacs, de reir ailt, ina dhiaidh sin.

Bille gairid, sé alt, atá ann a bhfuil trí aidhm aige: foráil a dhéanamh i leith cumhachtaí nua i ndáil le seirbhísí paisinéirí bus a chur ar fáil mar chuid de chonarthaí farantóireachta nó aeir áirithe; foráil a dhéanamh i leith cumhachtaí breise a bhaineann le haerstráicí a chur ar bun ar na hoileáin; agus daingniú a dhéanamh ar na cumhachtaí reachtúla reatha atá ag an Aire i ndáil le seirbhísí iompair go dti na hoileáin.

Tá an chumhacht maidir le seirbhísí paisinéiri bus ag teastáil ar bhonn siarghabhálach chun fadhb ultra vires a d'aimsigh Oifig an Phríomh-Aturnae Stáit a leigheas agus a rinneadh plé air le gairid ag an gCoiste um Chuntais Phoiblí.

Tá i gceist díriú ar an ghné seo i gcomhthéacs Bhille an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) (Leasu) 2001, nár achtaíodh. Go bunúsach tá an cumhacht seo ag teastáil sna cuinsí go bhfuil riachtanas ann paisinéirí a thabhairt ar aghaidh idir an phointe tuirlingthe-fágála ar an mórthír agus an t-ionad daonra is giorra.

Sampla den chineál riachtanas seo is ea an conradh farantóireachta ó Inis Bó Finne. Tagann an bád i dtír ag céibh an Chloiginn agus bíonn seirbhís bus ceangailte leis an gconradh chun na gasúir scoile ón oileán a thabhairt ar aghaidh go dtí an scoil i dTuam nó i Mainistir na Coille Móire. Sampla eile is ea an tseirbhís bus go Gail limh a cuirtear ar fáil do phobail Oileáin Árann nuair a thagann siad i dtír ag Ros an Mhíl. I láthair na huaire tá riachtanas mar seo i gcás ceithre cinn as 14 conradh farantóireachta chomh maith le conradh aeir amháin.

Feidhmeoidh an dara cumhacht maidir le haerstráicí ar na hoileáin mar chreatlach reachtúil faoina bhféadfaí forbairt a dhéanamh ar sheirbhísí iompar aeir go dtí na hoileáin amach anseo, ach cead an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire lompair a fháil. Bhí an chumhacht cuimsithe seo san áireamh chomh maith i mBille an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) (Leasú) 2001, nár achtaíodh sa deireadh agus tá sé á lorg anois i gcomhthéacs gealltanas i gclár aontaithe an Rialtais maidir le haersheirbhísí a chur ar fáil go dtí na hoileáin.

I gcomhthéacs na reachtaíochta atá molta, ceaptar go bhfuil sé iomchuí daingniú a dhéanamh ar na cumhachtaí reachtúla reatha. Faoi láthair, tá cumhacht ag an Aire foirdheontais a íoc i leith seirbhísí farantóireachta faoin Acht lompair Oileáin Árann 1946 agus Acht an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 1998. Tá i gceist na forálacha seo a aisghairm agus iad a thabhairt isteach arís sa reachtaíocht nua.

Ag díriú isteach ar théacs an Bhille anois, is foráil chaighdeánach í an fhoráil léiritheach atá in alt 1. Leagtar amach ann na sainmhínithe atá in úsáid sa reachtaíocht. Mar shampla, ciallaíonn "oileán" oileán árithe de chuid an Stáit. Maidir le "comhsheirbhís paisinéirí bus agus oileáin", a leagtar síos an bhrí in alt 2, go bunusach séard atá i gceist ná seirbhís bus do phaisinéirí a cuirtear ar fáil mar chuid de chonradh farantóireachta nó aeir idir oileáin áirithe agus an mhórthír.

Baineann alt 2 le cumhachtaí an Aire i ndáil le seirbhísí iompair a sholáthar le haghaidh oileán. Féadfaidh an tAire, le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais, foirdheontais a íoc le haghaidh oibriú seirbhísí farantóireachta, mar a foráladh cheana faoi Acht Iompair Oileán Árann 1946 agus Acht an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta, Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 1998.

Ina theannta sin, féadfaidh an tAire, le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire Iompair foirdheontais a íoc i ndáil le seirbhísí paisinéirí bus agus oileáin mar chuid de chonarthaí farantóireachta/aeir áirithe. Déanfar na cinn scríbe dóibh siúd a leagan amach i rialacháin. Tá an chumhacht á bronnadh gan dochar do bhailíocht foirdheontais a íocadh roimhe i ndáil leis seo. Tugann alt 3 cumhachtaí don Aire i ndáil le haeradróim a sholáthar i dtaca le haerseirbhísí a chur ar fáil idir na hoileáin agus an mhórthír. Sa chomhthéacs sin, féadfaidh an tAire, le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire Iompair, talamh a fháil, trí aontú nó go héigeantach, chun aeradróim agus saoráidi gaolmhara a thógail, a fheabhsú, a leathnú nó a fhorbairt ar na hoileáin nó ar an mórthír mar amhlaidh. Áirítear chun na críocha seo aon aeradróm atá ann cheana. Tá for áil ann freisin i leith maoiniú a dhéanamh ar na gnéithe seo.

Leagtar amach in alt 3 na nósanna imeachta a bheidh le leanúint sa chás gur gá ceannach éigeantach, lena n-áirítear forálacha caighdeánacha maidir le fógra roimh ré, pleananna a thaispeáint, fógra chuig daoine leasmhara, fiosrúchán poiblí, cúiteamh, eadráin agus mar sin de. Tá foráil san alt seo freisin maidir le cumhacht an Aire i ndáil le bainistiú agus oibriú aeradróm den sort sin nó, má úsáidtear é le hordú arna dhéanamh ag an Aire le toiliú an Aire Airgeadais agus an Aire Iompair, i ndáil leis an bhfeidhm sin a bhronnadh ar eagras reachtúil, mar shampla, chuig údarás áitiúil nó chuig cuideachta a fhaigheann maoiniú nó cuidiú ón Státchiste.

Baineann alt 4 maidir le haisghairm Acht Iompair Oileán Arann 1946 agus alt 4 d'Acht an Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta; Gaeltachta agus Oileán (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 1998, gan dochar do chonarthaí a bhí nó atá i bhfeidhm agus a rinneadh faoin reachtaíocht sin. Leagtar amach in alt 5 go n-íocfar caiteachas a bhaineann le riaradh an Achta ó thaobh an Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta nó an Aire Lompair nó an Aire Airgeadais as an Státchiste ach cead an Aire Airgeadais a fháil mar is cuí. Is foráil chaighdeánach eile atá in alt 6 ina leagtar amach gearrtheideal an Bhille.

Molaim an Bille seo don Teach.

Is rud maith é go bhuil an díospóireacht seo ag tosnú anocht. Tuigim a bhfuil ráite ag an Aire ach beidh ceisteanna á gcur agam air i rith an díospóireachta. Is rud tábhachtach é go mbeadh caighdeán maith maireachtála ag na daoine atá ag maireachtaint ar oileáin na hÉireann, a mhórmhór in iarthar na hÉireann, agus go bhféadfaidís teacht amach go dtí an mórthír am ar bith a theastaíonn sin uathu. Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil an dualgas glactha ag an Aire agus ag an Stát seirbhísí a sholáthar dos na daoine sin.

Cuideoidh an Bille chun seirbhísí níos fearr a chur ar fáil. Dúirt an tAire gurb í bunaidhm pholasí na Roinne iarracht a dhéanamh leibhéal sásúil seirbhíse a sholáthar dos na hoileánaigh. Tá sin mar bhunús ag an Bhille.

The explanatory memorandum states: "the purpose of the Bill is to consolidate the existing legislative powers of the Minister", but the Bill is not called a consolidation Bill. If its sole purpose is to consolidate legislation why does it not say so? I understand there is a retrospective part in this Bill but it is not clearly referred to in the explanatory memorandum, or maybe I am missing it if it is. It says that there are no direct financial implications arising from the legislation. Will the Minister clarify that? If one makes legislation retrospective surely it is because the State may be exposed to an action or a process. The Minister has indicated that is not the case, and I have to accept that. Perhaps he will explain why it has to be retrospective if there are no financial or legal issues involved.

The Minister made great play in his speech about how good a Minister he is and how wonderful are all the organisations he has set up, and there is no doubt about that. Nevertheless, under the Government there has been an inefficient and expensive service to the islands, particularly the Aran Islands. The Minister may shake his head at me but he cannot shake his head at the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General regarding the State subsidised transport services to the Aran Islands. One of the major criticisms of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the services to the islands refers particularly to the services to the city of Galway and the islands. The report states that at the initiation stage of a particular contract, following detailed evaluation of ten tenders submitted, the consultants recommended that one tender was head and shoulders above the rest. The Government approved the contract for the provision of an approved ferry service to the islands at a cost of €600,000.

As an acknowledgement of the considerable investment in the new service required from the operator, the Department agreed to the insertion of a clause in the contract, allowing for an extension of the contract for the main shipping service for a further five years after August 1997, provided that agreement could be reached between the parties to this contract. It is not evident from departmental papers whether further Government or Department of Finance approval of the inclusion of this clause in the contract was received. That is what the Comptroller and Auditor General stated. I ask the Minister to respond to this issue. He indicated that there was no problem but, clearly, there was a very serious one when this was the subject of a published report.

I was not the Minister responsible.

Deputy Ó Cuív may not have been the Minister directly responsible but the Government of which he is a membe was in office for most or all of the relevant period. As the Minister who has introduced the Bill, I ask him to explain the reason his Department does not have the records in question. If he does not know, will he please find out before the debate concludes?

The other question which arises relates to the request for additional funding under the extended contract. In early 2000 the operator applied for an increase in the subsidy due to severe financial difficulties. At this point I am paraphrasing rather than quoting in full. In April 2000, the Department made an advance payment to the operator on condition it would come back to the Department, within four weeks, with a restructuring plan in order that the business would not continue to incur losses. Subsequent to this payment, it transpired that the advance pay ment contravened a 1994 agreement between the Department and the Bank of Scotland, whereby subsidy payments to the operator were to be paid directly to the bank. The bank demanded payment of the subsidy for the months of May and June. The Department paid an amount of €85,000 to the bank. Efforts to recoup the money from the operator were rebuffed. That does not make sense to me.

The report continues as follows, at the bottom of page 116: "Enquiries made in the marine survey office—

To what year is the Deputy referring?

It is the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for the year 2000.

What year is referred to in the report?

Early 2000, according to the reference from which I am reading, at page 116. The report reads:

Enquiries made in the marine survey office indicate that the stand-by vessel nominated for the Galway city service does not have a load line certificate for the carriage of cargo. Accordingly, it would appear that this vessel has not been operating in full compliance with the terms of the contract. It is understood that an application for a load line certificate has been made recently by the operator in respect of this vessel.

The report goes on to raise other issues about the tender competition. It refers to the absence of a contract for a bus service. It states that, with the approval of GCC, a letter of intent was issued to the operator, awarding the contract, but there is no record of approval from the Department of Finance. A signed contract does not exist in respect of the service provided following this negotiated agreement in relation to the provision of a daily return service in winter and twice daily return services in summer, using two boats to Innishmaan and Innisheer. In September 1998 the Government was advised that the Minister could be acting ultra vires by including in the contract the requirement to provide a bus service between Rossaveel and Galway. Is that the subject matter of the retrospective legislation?

That is precisely the issue.

Yes. Therefore, that is the core issue with regard to retrospection. The report goes on to state:

The Rossaveel service has been funded since mid-1997 by the Department without having a contract in place. The Department has failed to ensure that the operator formally accepts its condition of service. Although the letter of offer states the number of sailings to be under taken, as no contract is in place, the Department is not in a position to reduce the subsidy, should there be a shortfall in the sailings agreed to. In fact, the Department does not monitor the frequency of the service actually provided before making payments.

I put it to the Minister that this points to very serious inadequacies in the operation of the service to the islands. It is a matter which he must address. These issues cannot be avoided in the debate on the Bill – they cannot be hidden or swept under the carpet.

On the question of compensation, the report states, at page 119:

The contract does not include a requirement to provide a bus service to Galway city. Legal advice was not sought by the Department with regard to this as the Minister's power in regard to essential bus connecting services is being followed up in relation to Rossaveel.

It goes on and on.

Let us look at the actual use of the service, specifically from the city of Galway, which is costing the taxpayer a very significant amount of money, in terms of the number of sailings contracted for and the number of sailings which actually took place. One of the key issues relates to the number of passangers who travel on the services. In the summer months a very significant number, including islanders and tourists, travel between the city of Galway and the Aran Islands.

Not any more.

I am referring to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

They do not travel any more.

Will the Minister state the reason for that?

I will enjoy explaining it to the Deputy in my reply to the debate.

I look forward to the Minister's explanation. Perhaps it will include the reason the Minister, or the Goverment, paid for services in October, November and December 2001 when the total number of passengers on the ferries was six.

That is not correct.

I did not interrupt the Minister. While I will be happy to hear what he has to say, I would like him to listen to what I have to say first.

I hope the Chair is also addressing the Minister who has been interrupting my flow of thought. However, he will not divert me from the point with which I am about to charge him. The issue in this situation relates to one of mismanagement of the service by the Government. There is complete frustration in Galway and the Aran Islands with regard to the quality of the boat service, which reduced over those years when people were not using the service while the State was paying a fortune for it. The report states:

The Department is unable to provide statistics on the amount of cargo which was carried on that service. In the absence of such statistics, and given the very low level of passenger usage for ten months of the year, it is impossible to evaluate the justification for the level of services contracted so far.

The report is very constructive with regard to services out of Rossaveel. It also—

That is the service which I put in place.

Will the Chair please bring the Minister to order?

Acting Chairman

The Minister should allow the Deputy to continue.

The Deputy is referring to the service I put in place.

I am delighted the Minister did so and I laud him for it. Is he not great?

Will the Minister answer my question about the money aspect?

Acting Chairman

The Deputy is provoking the Minister.

It is Deputy O'Dowd who is being provoked by the Minister.

Acting Chairman

If the Deputy addresses his remarks through the Chair, he will not provoke the Minister who has given explanations for which the Deputy asked.

Will the Chair ask the Minister to behave?

Acting Chairman

The Chair will ask all Members to observe the protocol of the House.

A question also arises with regard to the usage of the air service which is, increasingly, the choice of citizens on the Aran Islands.

That is not true.

Acting Chairman

The Minister will have an opportunity to reply. It is not appropriate to interrupt Members in their delivery.

In effect, the Minister is denying that, in 2001, over 4,000 islanders and 17,000 others travelled on the air service. That is a massive number.

The number who travelled on the boats was 125,000.

I am speaking of the air service and the comments in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report which the Minister has obviously not read: "Islanders' use of the air service is quite high and growing". That is very clear, when compared to the use of ferry services between Galway and the islands.

Between Galway and the islands.

My criticism related to the service between Galway and the islands.

I agree with the Deputy.

Do I hear an echo, or did the Minister speak?

I agreed fully with the Deputy in that regard.

Acting Chairman

The Minister will have an opportunity to reply. It is not appropriate to interrupt.

Let us be honest.

Let us be very honest.

I am familiar with the service for many years.

Sorry, I did not hear the Minister.

The service from Galway should never have been operated as it was. If I could have stopped it, I would have done so.

Acting Chairman

Members should adhere to proper procedure in the House.

The Minister is making my point. Will he answer the questions which the Comptroller and Auditor General asked? Will his Department put the information on the public record? Will the Minister come into the House—

Acting Chairman

The Minister will have the opportunity to reply to the debate.

That is part of my question to him. Will he reply to it? The report goes on to comment on the activities of Údarás na Gaeltachta. One of the proposals we think is important relates to more usage of air travel in the winter months when fewer people are in a position to travel on ferries. I do not know whether I should compliment the Minister now but it is good and constructive that he has given himself power in the Bill to improve the provision of aerodromes for the delivery of air services between the islands and the mainland. If the subsidy continues, people will use the aerodromes, if they can. The issues regarding O'Brien Shipping have been mentioned in the debate and I will await the Minister's response.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report of 2001 – 2002 raises concerns about financial contracts between the State and public operators subsidised in the provision of transport services to the islands. This goes to the heart of the matter, namely, transparency which people want to see in Government expenditure. They are critical of what has happened. I assume the Bill seeks to address such issues in order that the services become more efficient and an effective transport system.

There was a difficulty in regard to a bus service from Rossaveel to Galway city, which few people use and the State continues to subsidise. There are also issues in regard to under-used subsidised ferry services to the Aran Islands with which I have dealt. The services carried 1,047 people in 2002.

Did the Deputy say there was a problem in regard to the take-up of the bus service between Rossaveel and Galway?

That was the previous paragraph. The next one indicates that there are also issues surrounding the provision of under-used subsidised ferry services to the Aran Islands. This relates to O'Brien Shipping.

The Deputy referred to a bus service as under-used.

Yes. The bus service from Rossaveel.

Is the Deputy saying the service is under-used?

That is what my notes state.

My information is that the Deputy is incorrect.

If that is the case, I will accept what the Minister says. I thank him for his intervention.

The ferry service carried 1,047 passengers in 2002, down from 25,123 in 1999. It carried 19,000 passengers in 2000 and 11,000 in 2001. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report drew attention to serious flaws in the contract. It complained that the 1992 contract with O'Brien Ship ping had been renewed for seven years without public competition, even though the then Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands knew of the problems. The State subsidy is worth €4.2 million for the seven year period to the end of 2004. However, the State renewed the contract in 1997 without carrying out an evaluation of the performance of O'Brien Shipping or the use of its services.

The Comptroller and Auditor General criticised the management and monitoring of Government subsidised contracts, stating it was unlikely best value for money was obtained for the State. He also noted a piecemeal approach to co-ordination with a lack of analysis and monitoring of subsidised transport operations to the islands:

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs does not monitor the frequency of the service actually provided before making payments. It cannot provide detailed or summary annual statistics regarding passenger services between Rossaveel and the islands as sailing logs are not generally reviewed.

A recent summary of the service discovered that, with the exception of the summer months, the company had not provided the number of sailings contracted for during 2001 and that little use was made of the passenger service outside the summer months. Of the passengers carried, just 5% were islanders. The Department is unable to provide statistics for the amount of cargo carried. Thus, it is impossible to evaluate the justification for the levels of service contracted for.

Air services are becoming more popular with islanders. The use of such services is high and increasing compared with the use of ferry services between Galway and the islands. However, air services also need to be monitored as formal checks are not made to ensure the service provided is according to the conditions attached to the agreements. There is also no requirement on the operator to forward logs of trips undertaken or details of the number of passengers carried.

The problems identified with State services to the islands included the fact that the Galway city island service often did not run as scheduled. There were problems with the transportation of cargo. There are often delays on the Rossaveel bus service while there has been dissatisfaction with the standard of the vessels used. A 1995 report on passenger ferry service to the islands found that the subsidy paid to ferry operators might also have been subsidising summer tourist traffic to the islands. It recommended that the subsidy paid to ferry operators to operate a winter service out of Rossaveel to the two small islands should be transferred to the air service operator. Perhaps that is where the extra power in regard to aerodromes to which the Minister referred could come from.

A more co-ordinated approach is needed to ensure a better delivery of travel services to the Aran Islands if value for money is to be guaranteed. There is a need for greater scrutiny of information on the use of such services to the islands which should include better monitoring of services and inform decision-making, particularly in the awarding of State contracts. The continued need for a subsidised passenger service also needs to be re-evaluated, particularly given the extremely low level of usage in the off-peak season.

These are the issues which have been brought to my attention in my discussions on the Bill. I look forward to the Minister's response to the questions I have raised.

Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an Dára Chéim den Bhille seo, Bille an Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta (Cumhachtaí agus Feidhmeanna) 2003. Bille gairid agus teicniúil atá ann agus i bprionsobal níl mé ina choinne. Tá rudaí anseo agus ansiúd ar mhaith liom go mhíneodh an tAire iad agus beidh mé ag fanacht ar fhreagaí uaidh ag deireadh na díospóireachta.

Fuair mé na figiúirí ón daonáireamh a rinneadh i 2002 agus chuir mé i gcomparáid leis na figiúirí a bhí sa daonáireamh i 1996 iad agus bhí laghdú de 502 ar dhaonra na n-oileáin idir an dá linn. Tá cuid mhaith déanta ag an Aire chun saol na n-oileáin a dhéanamh níos fearr do dhaoine ann ach tá daoine ag imeacht nó ag fáil báis gan clann. Tá an scéal ag dul i laige agus ní maith an rud sin.

Fadó bhí iascaireacht ann mar shlí bheatha. Má tá daoine le fanacht ar na hoileáin, caithfidh slí maireachtála a bheith acu atá inchurtha le slí bheatha in aon chuid eile na tíre. Ní fhanfaidh na cailíní ar na hoileáin muna mbeidh na háiseanna acu atá ar fáil ar an mhórthír. Caithfimid cothrom na Féinne a thabhairt do mhuintir na n-oileáin agus tá sin mar bhunús don reachtaíocht seo.

This Bill is short and technical in nature and I have no problem with it. I am, however, wary when retrospective legislation is introduced when it has been discovered that functions were discharged that were ultra vires. Often, though, it is on a minor point of law that such issues arise and it is correct that such loopholes are closed.

The provision of airstrips on the islands is important. Transport to the islands should always be as safe and secure as possible. Many people from the islands have died working in the fishing industry and while travelling to the mainland, so safety is paramount.

We do not consolidate enough legislation and the Minister is to be complimented for introducing this Bill. If we can get all the necessary information in one document it makes everyone's life easier and is welcome.

This Bill is about communication and transport. I read in the Department's strategy statement that Údarás na Gaeltachta is to provide broadband access to Gaeltacht areas outside the western corridor and to the Gaeltacht islands. This is welcome because broadband access gives the opportunity to establish a business anywhere. Instead of broadband being an aspiration for the Gaeltacht and the islands, there is a need for its early provision so projects can be established to create well-paid employment. The islands depend on tourism but that is seasonal and we need year-round employment with high standards of pay and conditions. There are also other modern methods of communication which could provide employment on the islands.

There are difficulties in establishing businesses on Gaeltacht islands because of the in-built disadvantage of having to cross seas that can be hostile, particularly in winter. We can talk in broad terms about industrial provision on the islands but there are many disadvantages to be overcome. We need funding along the lines of the EU cohesion funds to make good the transport deficit that exists for the islands in the movement of goods to our major markets on the European mainland and in Britain.

I was confused when I read the explanatory memoranda of the Bill and compared them to the Bill itself. The explanatory memorandum on staffing states that there are no staffing implications arising from the legislation. However, section 5(1) of the Bill dealing with the expenses of Ministers states, "expenses incurred by the Minister or the Minister for Transport in the administration of this Act shall, to such an extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas". How can administration expenses be incurred if no staff are involved? The two passages are incompatible and I await the Minister's explanation for this with interest.

Deputy O'Dowd raised the vexed area of the service to the Aran Islands and provided documentation to illustrate his point. Do the service and the problems that arose from it expose the Minister to action? Is that a closed book now?

This legislation contains three major provisions and I have no problem with it. The Minister has described his Department as an enabling Department and this legislation follows that pattern. I do not believe, however, that we will see many airstrips in future because many of the islands have very small populations with only a few supporting a substantial population. On the other hand, the provision of safe, regular transport, particularly in the winter, from the islands to the mainland remains an important issue. The Minister has referred to transport for children attending secondary schools for instance. On one hand, there is the matter of scale, while on the other, there is the matter of safety.

It will not be an easy agenda to address. When we are coming from a point where there has been a reduction of 500 in island populations between the 1996 and 2002 censuses we must ask what can really be achieved? We must ask what populations are viable and what islands can provide a way of life and a standard of living that measures up to the world we live in. The Minister referred to the trend of populations gravitating towards main centres of populations a number of times in different contexts. It remains an issue, not just for the islands, but for many parts of rural Ireland and is a substantial problem. The other part of his brief will see him devising more and more means to hold the population and strengthen settlements in rural Ireland.

I am pleased that as part of the EU Presidency, a comhdháil will be held in Connemara next May. It is important that we are linked into the mainstream of European thought in terms of our inhabited islands. Without going into too much description, the islands contain much heritage, history and traditional ways of life. Our islands have an extraordinary record for producing some of the finest literature that is part of the cultural treasure trove of this country. There are important social and cultural aspects of our islands that are important to maintain and develop.

I wish the Minister well with the outcome of this legislation. It will not make a dramatic difference to what he can and cannot do, as it is essentially a tidying-up exercise. The Minister used this debate to outline what he achieved in office in the previous Administration and since coming to this office. He also put the six sections of the Bill into context. I have no intention of tabling amendments on Committee Stage, as ensuring the early passage of this Bill is the proper thing to do. While the Bill does not have a huge policy impact, it is important that this legislation is passed into law.

Gabh mo leithscéil, ach is féidir liom caint as Béarla. I wish to share time with Dr. Cowley.

Is that agreed? Agreed?

While the purpose of this Bill is largely technical, the fact that it is entitled the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Powers and Functions) Bill 2003 offers the opportunity on Second Stage to discuss the wider functions of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. We can broach this topic later, but I will begin by examining the elements for which the Minister is seeking additional powers through this Bill. I am not in disagreement with those functions being allocated to his Department.

I speak with some experience on the need for such services and provisions to be made available on many of our islands. Being a technical Bill, it is lacking criteria as to how certain types of transport should be provided, to which of our islands and why. Deputy O'Shea spoke about the unfortunate shrinking population base of many of our islands. However, there is also the question of accessibility. There should be some standard criteria that measures whether an island is accessible 50%, 70% or 90% of the time. Irish islands, as a rule, are largely accessible. Tory Island may be less accessible than most and there are islands off Counties Mayo and Galway that have difficulties with boat transport throughout the year. We need to think about air access, either through air strips or heliports. The Minister has certainly made steps in this regard. I presume the recent announcement he made on two air strips are contingent on the passing of this legislation. The whole point of the Minister acting ultra vires in this area depends on this legislation going through. That said, those islands will appreciate those extra facilities.

It is from personal experience that I believe that air access is essential to islands, particularly the better populated ones. My father died on 28 August 2000 on his native island of Arranmore. Because the island's ambulance was being serviced at the time of his fatal attack, my father was transported on a tractor and trailer. Subsequent transport to the mainland was by the island lifeboat. I took the issue up with the Minister for Health and Children and the North-Eastern Health Board. However, my family and I fully accept that the transport facilities were not a contributing factor to his death. I believe he went to the island with full knowledge of his mortality because it was the home of his heart.

This experience indicated to me, as the son of an islander, the real difficulties that people face day by day, week by week, in accessing services and responding to crises. There have been improvements since. On Arranmore, the terrain does not allow for an airstrip. There is a small heliport facility on the Leabgarrow side of the island, but for some reason it was not functioning at the time of my father's death. I accept that support has been given to the island comharcumann for bus transport since. There is an excellent bus service now operating on the island.

However, there is a difficulty with co-ordinated transport, a function sought by the Minister in this Bill. There is frustration among the people on Arranmore about having a co-ordinated service on the island, such as a boat service interconnecting with other services on the mainland with varying degrees of reliability. It could be a private service or subsidised service. While I realise the Minister has the experience of the Rossaveel to Galway route, there seems to be a lack of co-ordination of transport for many of the islands and major population centres. The people of Arranmore regularly need to get to Dungloe, Letterkenny or the local Donegal airport, and for Cape Clear, it is Skibbereen and Cork. I want to see consistency in this area, given that the Minister has so clearly identified the success of the Rossaveel-Galway link and the Aran Islands.

Deputy O'Dowd spoke of the ongoing difficulties of subsidising ferry services to the islands. As a member of the Public Account Committee, I can vouch for much of what he said. At a recent Public Accounts Committee meeting on this issue, I questioned Department officials on the matter. I fully accept they were aware of the difficulties that exist. There was a certain degree of contriteness and a promise that for future meet ings of the Committee of Public Accounts these difficulties would be ironed out. I will be interested to see whether they can be ironed out. The O'Brien situation cannot be justified in terms of ongoing public expenditure or the management of public funds.

At that meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts, I suggested that we should also consider the experience of other countries that are island nations, archipelagos or have a large number of offshore islands. They all have similar transport difficulties in how they operate their ferry services and deciding on the extent to which they have air and boat links. I cited the examples of Scotland – as a nearest neighbour – and Denmark. Even though Scotland is not an independent nation, these are countries with similar populations, spatial strategies, and urban and rural divides. There are lessons for us as to how we can extend our services from the way in which they are addressing this.

I relate another family experience in the more distant past. My grandfather was taking advantage of the more liberal licensing laws that existed at the time and was a missing passenger from the Arranmore boat disaster, which killed 29 people. This indicated – far too slowly in terms of a State response – the problems with transport between the island and the mainland. Even as a young person travelling on a regular basis to Arranmore Island on holidays in the 1970s and even up to the mid-1980s, the standard form of transport was the 15-foot fishing boat whose only form of buoyancy aid was represented by the tyres around the side. We have been very late in realising that people who live on islands require safe and reliable means of transport. If this Bill helps the Minister to do this, my party and I will not stand in its way.

I welcome some of the references in the Minister's speech to money and infrastructure that has been provided. However, a new rolling programme for quays and piers is required. The Minister referred to the pier in Leabgarrow, Arranmore. There is also a pier on the Aphort side. While much effort has been put in to the boat facilities on the islands, there may not be similar work on many of the mainland ports. I admit that some work has been done. However very often there are other options for those travelling to and from these islands as to the ports used both on the mainland and on the island. This is why I mentioned the Aphort example on Arranmore Island.

There is another access point on that island which is not used due to the inadequacy of the pier facilities and I suspect the same would also be found on mainland piers. This has an impact on people living on islands for their interaction with the mainland and on tourism development for many of these facilities. As part of a co-ordi nated cohesive programme, it might help stem the population loss from many of these islands.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was created on the formation of this Government in June 2002. As spokespersons, we have not really had the opportunity to discuss the wider powers and functions of the Department. Now, 18 months later, we have some experience of how the various elements of the Department – community, rural development and Gaeltacht affairs – are interacting with each other.

Every year there is such an opportunity when the Estimates are debated.

That is a debate on how the money is spent.

It goes into detail about everything the Department does.

I am not a member of the relevant committee and those of us in smaller parties have to juggle between different committees.

Whereas I accept the Minister's interest in rural and Gaeltacht affairs, as one who represents an urban and suburban constituency – despite my island background – I am concerned that what is seen as the urban development section is suffering. I accept this is an area for which the Minister of State takes greater responsibility. However, when I hear the Minister say to the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis that one of the main causes of urban deprivation is rural depopulation, I wonder what are his focus and priorities. It is not my experience in an urban area that people coming from the country are causing problems leading to urban deprivation. I am trying to concentrate on that lack of focus. It is a broad Department covering areas that conflict in many respects. It demands a coherent response.

We will give the Minister the opportunity and time to get things right. However, after 18 months I am expressing my reservations about the work of the Department. It is important to have a Department with responsibility for the community, as was suggested by my party. It is not exactly in the form that we suggested and there are elements that could make it a more important Department.

During Question Time today, I suggested some of the areas in which the Department could and should be leading to educate and direct other Departments to meet the needs of the disadvantaged and marginalised in our society. We are largely talking about those who are isolated on islands, in rural communities or even in areas of large urban population who are isolated in economic and psychological terms. In this regard I would value the opportunity for a more wide-ranging debate, possibly at the next Estimates. However, I thought that a Bill that deals with the powers and functions of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs was also a good opportunity to do so.

Through this Bill the Minister seeks certain transport powers and functions. When responding at the end of this debate the Minister should outline how he sees the services being provided by other transport agencies. It is important that he has a clear policy. Does he envisage private companies providing these services? Will there be greater State co-ordination? If the Minister is unclear about this in terms of a wider State policy, many of the people who do not have a viable transport system will be further neglected. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response as to how the people in the islands can look to a better future when travelling around and accessing their islands. It is important that the island culture, which is very much part of what we are – and very much part of what my family is – can be maintained.

Táim an-bhuíoch don seans a labhair ar an mBille tabhachtach seo. Tá an-suim agam ins an oileáin ós rud é go raibh mé ag obair ar oileán mar dochtúir teaghlach agus bhí orm dul chuig na hoileáin gach seachtain ar feadh na blianta fada. Chonaic mé go raibh sé an tábhachtach go mbeadh cabhair le fáil ag daoine nuair a bhí sé ag teastáil uathu, go mórmhór i gcás práinne cosúil le timpist bóthair, galair agus mar sin de. Bhéadh sé an-tábhachtach go mbéadh siad in ann dochtúir a fháil. Cheap mé nach raibh an cabhair cheart le fáil ar feadh na blianta do na daoine ar na hoileáin. Ba thrua mhór sin dóibh. Bhí a lán scéala acu faoi na rudaí uafásach a tharla ar feadh na blianta, mar shampla, athair nó máthair nó duine de na páistí a fuair bhás nuair nach raibh gá toisc nach raibh cabhair le fáil. Níl sin ceart nó cothrom ar chor ar bith.

Táim an-bhuíoch labhairt ar an ábhar seo mar tá sé an-tábhachtach go mbéadh rud éigin déanta. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil suim mhór ag an Aire, an Teachta Ó Cuív, sna hoileáin. Sin an post atá aige. Tuigim go bhfuil sé ar bharr an phoist sin agus ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil a lán rudaí ar fáil sna hoileáin nach raibh ann riamh. An rud is tábhachtaí ná access.

I am pleased to speak on this issue as someone who has experience of the islands as a general practitioner to a number of Mayo islanders for several years. I do not do that any more, but I practised for many years on Clare Island and Inishturk. I enjoyed the experience but what was impressed upon me was how little there was on the islands. Some of them had resident doctors but do not now. That service is provided now from the mainland and depends on the expertise of district nurses who would be resident on islands. That said, there have been cases where there has not even been a nurse on some islands. One can imagine the deprivation suffered.

What was impressed upon me most of all was that everyone had terrible stories of how, for example, a child had died of a burst appendix because he or she could not be sent to hospital. Access to the islands was and still is a problem where weather is concerned. Some islands do not even have a proper pier to allow a trawler or currach to land in bad weather which means the island is cut off. If the infrastructure is in place, much more is possible. I pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, for the work he has done in improving access. That is his job. He is on top of his job and is trying his best to put the important infrastructure in place for the islands. This must be built because there has been terrible neglect of the islands over the years.

There has also been terrible neglect of the areas in the west where people live, and the western islands are an extension of that. There is deprivation on the mainland, but it is even greater on the islands. Good piers are being constructed and they are badly needed. To say they are essential is an understatement. Some islands have a helicopter service while others may have had but no longer have it. Shannon Search and Rescue provided a service to the Aran islands and the Air Corps continues to provide an emergency service to the islands. It is ironic that some could receive assistance more quickly on an island than on the mainland.

It was while I was a doctor for the islands that I saw how effective helicopters could be in servicing the needs of islanders. It was wonderful to see the Air Corps providing the service when the weather was suitable, which it was most of the time. When it was not, a trawler did the job. It always impressed me how useful a helicopter could be in reaching a person within an hour, allowing him or her to be treated and brought to the appropriate centre.

The trouble is that the service in place, good as it is, is not dedicated because no doctor is on board. Often a doctor is picked up – I would be picked up from Mulrany. A helicopter would land in a field which would create great excitement in the village, although not anymore I am sure. I would be whisked out to an island in a short time to treat a patient. It was very important for him or her to be seen by a doctor and then brought to hospital. One can imagine the contrast with what happened before there were helicopters when people had to wait for a certain period and make a terrible journey on a trawler in very bad weather to the nearest pier on the mainland where they could be seen. That has improved, but it could be better with a dedicated helicopter service with a doctor on board which would be available at all times.

It should be remembered that the helicopter is not always available. The trouble with the Air Corps is that it is not always available because it has many other jobs. It is no fault of the service but it spends half the time flying Ministers here and there rather than engaging in mercy missions. It is also involved in other activities such as monitoring foreign trawlers and policing our fishing areas. This means it is not always available for mercy missions to the islands.

The islands often have a better emergency service than the mainland and it is something I would like to see extended to the mainland. We await the joint report commissioned by the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Health in Northern Ireland into the feasibility of a helicopter mercy medical service. We have still not received that report. The great need for proper access to islands is the main issue and its importance is something anyone who has worked on islands or lived in the west will understand. I admire the advances that have been made but they are not a reason to stop because more needs to be done. However, credit must be given where it is due and there has been progress in this regard.

I wish this progress could be extended. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, was the only member of Cabinet to visit Pollathomas. He made promises and gave people great courage. They are waiting for assistance. I know announcements were made regarding Red Cross aid similar to what Dublin received, because I tabled questions on this, but the people need ongoing compensation. Proper incentives should be provided for people living on islands or in the west in places such as Pollathomas. The figures last week showed that it is the worst unemployment blackspot in Ireland with 40% unemployment. The area is dying and it did not need this landslide. An area that was bleeding is now mortally wounded. A tax incentive scheme should be put in place for the area and perhaps the Minister will adopt this idea and promote it. I was in Pollathomas today and made the point that it is necessary and the Government should support it. Perhaps the Minister will refer to it when summing up.

Deputy Boyle referred to the statement by the Minister about the east and west and populated areas versus rural areas. If all the people in Dublin who have to go there to find jobs – more than half the graduates from Mayo must do so – could stay in the west, they would be much happier. This would result in fewer people in Dublin, fewer people using the services and fewer cars on the road. Developing the roads in the west makes great sense because more people would move there from the populated areas and bring life back to rural areas, the west in particular. If we do not have our people, what do we have? If the Minister wants proof of this, the census shows it. It has been well highlighted that if a line is drawn from Killala to Newport, virtually every electoral district west of that line has shown a decline in population, except for Mulrany which has shown a significant increase and the district beside it which has shown a marginal increase.

Debate adjourned.