I should like to give a very warm welcome to the Bill and to assure the Minister of the co-operation of my party in getting it through with all possible expedition.
This Bill marks a further milestone in the remarkable success of the industrial development at Shannon Airport over the past decade. The figures which the Minister has given in his introductory speech are an indication of the importance of the industrial estate at Shannon Airport to the contiguous areas of Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary. Of the 4,500 workers at present employed in the Shannon industrial estate some two thirds, or almost 3,000, are domiciled in the city of Limerick. As a representative of that city I should like to emphasise how important to the economy of Limerick city and the contiguous area the Shannon industrial estate has been. In fact, the same statement could be made in respect of County Clare and other areas. I am sure other Senators who speak after me will wish to emphasis that fact.
A very important aspect from the point of view of our current balance of payments difficulties is the fact that Shannon Airport is a net exporter of some £30 million. This is a very important factor in redressing a large proportion of the present adverse trade balance. The increase in employment over recent years at an average rate of 450 must be without parallel in any other section of the country.
I should like to deal with the details of the Bill at a later stage and to confine myself at this juncture to some general remarks in regard to the current and future developments at Shannon Airport and in the mid-western region.
The objectives of SFADCO have altered dramatically since it was established as a limited company under the 1959 Act. The Minister may not recall it but at that time the principal aim was to develop alternative employment for what was feared would be substantial redundancy arising from a decrease in air passenger traffic consequent on the introduction of the jet planes. The company's objectives could be summarised as the development of an estate for industries oriented towards air freight, ware-housing facilities and the promotion of tourism and commercial air services through the airport.
I took the view at that time, as a Member of the other House, that rather than concentrating industrial development at the airport an industrial complex comprising Limerick, Shannon, Ennis and the contiguous area should be developed with industrial estates in the principal centres such as Limerick, Ennis and elsewhere in the region where established communities existed and where there was the necessary infrastructure, including schools, churches, shops, hotels and entertainment facilities. I believed then, I still believe and I think the House would agree with me that workers should obtain employment as near as possible to their place of residence and that finished goods intended for air freight could and still can be easily and quickly despatched to the airport by road from Limerick, Ennis and other centres.
The then Minister, Mr. Seán Lemass, did not accept those arguments at the time and Shannon was developed on its own as an industrial centre. For some years after it was first established in 1959 Shannon drew substantially on the surplus labour available in Limerick, Clare and elsewhere. The need for housing ultimately arose when it was found that labour had to be recruited from a wider area. Other social amenities had to be established and in fact out of the very nature of the development of the industrial estate a new town has arisen. Incidentally, I might say that at that time also I took the view that despite a temporary falling off in air passenger traffic the need for Shannon as an international passenger centre would continue notwithstanding any further technical developments in the field of aviation. Now that we are on the verge of the jumbo jet age I should like to express my personal conviction that Shannon will continue in the years ahead as an essential transatlantic international centre for all types of air traffic. Indeed, I visualise its importance as an air centre will continue to grow rather than diminish.
Shannon now finds itself as the hub centre of industrial development in the mid-west. In fact, the Bill which we are now discussing here today is very much in line with thinking on regional development over the past six or eight years. As the Minister will be aware, we have had several reports recommending the establishment of growth centres and industrial estates. The mid-western area is an obvious centre for such a development. The advantages of an industrial complex have been outlined in those various reports, the advantages of having groups of industries, rather than isolated industries, in a single centre where common technical requirements can be shared and which provide a viable base for technological training and advanced skills.
The formation of the Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary Regional Development Organisation—incidentally the only such organisation in the country—has given a further impetus to the development of industry on a regional basis. I am sure this has encouraged the Minister and his predecessor to proceed on the lines outlined in the Bill.
The mid-western development organisation carries very wide representation from all the local authorities and statutory bodies in the area. In addition, it has representatives from various Government Departments, SFADCO, harbour authorities, chambers of commerce, and others. These are all working and thinking together how best to promote the region in the best interests of all its citizens. As a member of that development organisation since its inception, I should like to pay a special tribute to the co-operative spirit which has been evident in that body since the first days of its establishment. It has been a very pleasing experience to work with the representatives of other counties, bodies and authorities in the advancement of the region as a whole.
We have been accused from time to time in this country of being too parochial in our attitudes. There has been ground for such criticism in the past. Any Member of this House who is conversant with the operations of the Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary Regional Development Organisation will support me when I say that this is regional development working at its very best. I should like to express the hope that other regions will follow the example of the mid-western organisation and by mutual agreement come together in the establishment of a body to look after their regional interests.
It may be of interest that the proposal to utilise the experience and expertise of the personnel of the Shannon Free Airport Development Company was first mooted by the Limerick Chamber of Commerce about six or eight years ago. At that time the proposal fell on somewhat deaf ears. It is now clear that the wisdom of the directors of the Chamber of Commerce, who were all businessmen in different spheres, was right and that the promotion of industrial development in the difficult current world conditions is a matter for professionals and not for amateurs however enthusiastic they might be. I do not wish to decry the efforts of voluntary bodies or of people who are prepared to give some of their time and experience and a little of their expertise, to developing their own and contiguous regions in co-operation with representatives of other areas. Anybody who gives time and effort to help his own and contiguous communities cannot receive too much praise. In this day and age of international competition the securing and the establishment of industry and the appraisal of the potentialities of industry are not matters for the layman but for the professionals.
Shannon Airport has built up a team which is without equal anywhere in the world today. We are fortunate that the mid-western development organisation has this team available to extend their promotional activities over the area as a whole. Representatives from SFADCO have sat on the board of the Limerick-Clare-North Tipperary organisation and have been guiding and dynamic factors in promotion development of that body and its work. They brought forward a five-year development plan for the establishment of factories throughout the area. That plan was received and endorsed unanimously by the members of the mid-western board. As a further indication of co-operation in the Limerick area, I might mention that sites for two advance factories have been provided by the Limerick Corporation and sites for an initial two factories have been provided by the Limerick Harbour Commissioners and more will be provided when necessary.
One aspect of the Bill which causes me some little concern, and was adverted to in the Dáil debate and replied to by the Minister, is the possible overlapping of the functions of the various organisations in the mid-western region now concerned with industrial development. I refer specifically to the IDA, SFADCO, the county development teams and the regional development organisation. I appreciate that the IDA must retain its functions in regard to the payment of grants to industrialists, but I wonder if it would simplify matters if the Shannon Free Airport Development Company could be charged with this task as an agent, if necessary, of the IDA? It seems to me that such a move is possibly visualised by the intention to regionalise the activities of the IDA.
The Minister might take cognisance of the different types of incentives available in the mid-western region. There is Shannon Free Airport where the major incentive is that 20-year tax free concession on profits emanating from the airport. There is the grant incentive available in that portion of the region which comes under the underdeveloped areas. Finally, there are grants and other incentives available in the rest of the region. It might lead to better organisation, more efficient administration and greater success generally in the establishment of industries throughout the area as a whole if these various incentives could be brought up to a common level.
All these plans for industrialisation in the mid-western area make it more than ever urgent that in Limerick, Ennis and other centres in the area the necessary technical and technologcal facilities should be available. I see a danger at the present time in that the new Institute for Higher Education in Limerick has not yet got off the ground notwithstanding the very energetic efforts of the new director, Dr. Walsh. Unless there is tremendous impetus to establish this Institute of Higher Education where full technological training will be available and unless these developments are pushed ahead almost of the projected industrial development, I can see that this region will run out of skilled operatives from the highest technical level down to the level of skilled workers.
That is a point the Minister might take up with his colleague in the Department of Education. The plans are there. As far as I know there is no provision in this year's Estimates to put them into effect. Everybody will agree that the establishment of an industry nowadays is dependent on an adequate complement of fully trained operatives, from the highest level downwards. A scarcity of skilled operatives could affect the projected industrial development. As the Minister is aware, it is proposed during the next five years to establish industrial projects throughout the area. I cannot see those going ahead effectively unless we have the personnel to work in them. Therefore, I hope the Ministers for Industry and Commerce and Education will get together on this important problem.
It would be impossible to discuss the development of the mid-western region without making some reference to the development in the Shannon estuary. In this regard the Minister is aware that after four or five years of negotiation the stage has been reached where the establishment of a single estuarial authority for the entire estuary is almost certain. However, it is very disconcerting that there has been a considerable lack of co-operation and encouragement, not from the Minister's Department because he is not concerned in this, but from the Minister for Finance. It is rather sad to think no grant or no assistance towards expenditure by the Limerick Harbour Commissioners of £17,000 to investigate the bar at the mouth of the Shannon has been forthcoming in spite of the fact that both the harbour commissioners and the regional development organisation have made several applications for assistance towards this very small sum. In fact, the replies from the Department concerned have rather taken the line that the harbour commissioners should not have proceeded to the extent of exploring the nature of this bar across the mouth of the Shannon. The value of this expenditure will be understood when I say that the removal of this bar would permit ships in excess of 500,000 tons, to come into the Shannon estuary with safety.
I am sure other Members of the Seanad have read, as I have in the last few days, that one of the Japanese shipyards will shortly be laying the keel of a vessel of 477,000 tons, so that we are in a very real sense in the era of the gigantic ship. The Shannon estuary is one of the very few waterways in Europe than can take ships of that size. It is, therefore, vitally important that simultaneously with the industrial development of the mid-westtern region the development of the Shannon estuary is proceeded with and that it does in fact become the centre of a major industrial complex. It is the ideal site for the establishment of heavy industries. Oil, smelting, chemicals—all these are industries for which Shannon is ideally suited. In any question of regional development this should be kept in the forefront. I hope the Minister will induce his colleagues in the Cabinet to take active and early steps for the promotion of the Shannon estuary as a site for major industrial development.
We read recently that further developments are mooted for Cork. While I have the greatest respect for the Cork people and wish them every succes with their industrial development I suggest that there is a very serious gap in the west and mid-west where industrial development up to now has fallen far behind development in Dublin and Cork.
The Minister mentioned the function of the Shannon Free Airport Development Company in relation to tourism. Here again I should like to pay them a very sincere tribute for their successful promotional activities in this field. I would suggest to the Minister that their work in this regard would be greatly assisted by better and more frequent air services between the Continent and Shannon Airport. Indeed there is room for vast improvement in the service between Shannon and London.
I noticed from the Dáil Debates that some of my colleagues from Limerick city referred to the development of King John's Castle. I should like to add my voice to support this project which has now been outstanding for the past five or six years and for which funds have been earmarked by the Departments concerned and also by the Shannon Free Airport Development Company.
King John's Castle is one of the finest landmarks in the country, and the necessary capital, not from the Minister's Department but from one of his colleagues' Department, to rehouse some eight families contiguous to the castle should be forthcoming without further delay. The projected expenditure there is in the nature of £200,000 and it is estimated that something like £1 million a year would be spent in Limerick city area. Surely the Department of Local Government could find in its coffers the sum of £25,000 or £30,000 to rehouse the eight families who would be disturbed by this development?
Within recent months in Limerick we had the serious experience of the sole shipping service between Limerick and the United Kingdom being withdrawn. I would like to suggest to the Minister that here again the development of the mid-western area cannot go ahead without cognisance being taken of the requirements of shipping services between the area and the United Kingdom and the Continent, and the continuation of a shipping service between Limerick and the Continent or between Limerick and the United Kingdom should not be left to the vicissitudes of private enterprise. If the Minister makes the necessary inquiries from industrialists in the Shannon Free Airport Estate he will find that there is very considerable disappointment because the sole shipping link between the area and the United Kingdom was withdrawn a few months ago. I would ask the Minister to take up with his colleague, the Minister for Transport and Power, the question of restoring that link, because I am satisfied, and indeed results of a market survey in the area have confirmed that such a shipping service, provided that it is pushed energetically by the people concerned, could be a viable enterprise.
There are many other provisions in the Bill that I do not need to go into in detail. They mainly concern the provision of additional capital for the services that the Minister has outlined in his report, but I would like to ask, is the Minister satisfied that the financial provisions in this Bill are adequate to deal with the very substantial industrial promotion programme visualised over the next five or ten years? On the face of it, they would appear to be adequate, but in these days of rapidly increasing costs of every kind under every head I would question whether the additional capital which now, indeed, looks adequate is, in fact, adequate.
This region is too important, and means too much to the people living in the area, for there to be any cavilling at the expenditure of a few more million pounds, and I am quite certain that this House and the Dáil would co-operate in giving the Minister every facility if further funds are required. There have been, and I presume some of us have participated in them, public meetings and debates about the urgent necessity of saving the west. A lot of crocodile tears have been shed down the years about this very real human problem. One way of ensuring not only the saving of the west in human terms but also the development of the west is to provide with all possible speed for the development of the mid-western region as a centre from which other developments would naturally follow in the years ahead.
I again would like to congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill. I assure him of the full support of the Fine Gael Party and urge on him the necessity of having the provisions of the Bill put into effect without any avoidable delay.