Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 31 May 1990

Vol. 125 No. 5

Turf Development Bill, 1988: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am very glad to have an opportunity to speak on the Turf Development Bill, 1988, although I conscientiously believe that this legislation has come some 15 to 20 years too late. The main Turf Development Act confined the activities of the board purely to the production of peat, which indeed served its purpose well for the first ten or 15 years of the board's existence. Once the board found themselves, some 20 years ago, in a situation where they were having a greater and greater area of cutover bog on a number of occasions I made representations and advocated that the remit of the board should be widened so that the board could diversify and be empowered to create more job opportunities in the midlands.

In the constituency of Laois-Offaly up to seven or eight years ago Bord na Móna was the greatest industrial employer, with 2,500 workers. Over the last two years the workforce has been considerably reduced, possibly by as much as 700 skilled jobs. This is an unfortunate situation. I regret to say that it reflects greatly on the personnel of the board of Bord na Móna and the worker/directors of the board of Bord na Móna who resisted, as far as I could see, every opportunity to try to have some element of diversification within the activities of Bord na Móna. When the board, in conjunction with An Foras Talúntais as it was then, started to experiment with the future usage of the cutover bogs, it was an extremely important activity, but it was an activity that never showed in the annual accounts of Bord na Móna.

The big problem was that from the word go it was bound to be loss-making factor for the simple reason that the board were paying industrial wages to people who were to all intents and purposes, engaged in agriculture, in farm work. The economics of the matter were altogether wrong. We have had 25 years of research, in conjunction with Bord na Móna and An Foras Talúntais and now Teagasc, that has not been acted on. It absolutely goes for nothing.

In 1975-76, after the oil crisis, when an effort was made to find alternative sources of energy, the then Government set up an inter-departmental working committee between the Department, Bord na Móna and the ESB to see if we could have a system of fast-growing trees to replace the peat requirement for the running of, for instance, Portalington power station, which is now closed. The input of Bord na Móna was like drawing teeth — they kicked and resisted at every possible opportunity of putting the experimentation into practice; and, even though the European Community provided £5 million for that experimentation, less than half of that money was taken up. It transpired that the people who selected the varieties of trees for that project knew from the word go that the type of shrubbery or fast-growing trees they were putting in were not suitable for the soil conditions available on the bogs.

The contraction of the activities of Bord na Móna is a very severe blow to the midlands. However I welcome the changes which the present board of Bord na Móna have embarked on over the past year. I wish their activities success but it is very doubtful if we will be able to get back into a situation where this semi-State organisation will once again claim to be the greatest single employer in the midlands.

The whole question of the cutover bogs is a very vexed one. When the board was set up in the thirties, and indeed into the forties, the vast bulk of the land at present in the ownership of Bord na Móna was acquired compulsorily, mainly at the price of half a crown an acre. A considerable amount of the land at present held by Bord na Móna should be offered in the first instance to the people from whom it was compulsorily required under the 1933 Act. Land reclamation is sufficiently developed now that even small farmers should be able to utilise those lands, especially for summer grazing, with the minimum amount of maintenance.

Perhaps it would be a little unfair to expect the board to be able to engage profitably in intensive horticulture production, despite the fact that last year we imported almost £45 million worth of vegetables. The peatlands would be ideally suitable for that purpose, but the Government's policy of deciding that the vast majority of this area should be handed over to Coillte Teoranta is an unfortunate decision and one with which I do not agree. However, that does not mean that it is not going to go through. It is unfortunate from this point of view.

The main preoccupation of Bord na Móna was the production of peat and over the years, despite scientific evidence to the contrary, they tended to harvest the peat right down to the marl, right down to the gravel. The scientists tell us that we need a minimum of 1.5 metres of peat in order to sustain any sort of afforestation growth. It is only in very few areas of the cutover bogs that one finds that depth of peat. So, we are handing over to the forestry people huge tracts of land and the use to which they can put these cutover bogs is certainly very limited. Perhaps they would be able to grow 200,000 acres of Christmas trees on a four or five year rotation; but, if they grow much higher than an ordinary Christmas tree, the depth of soil or peat remaining will not be sufficient to maintain any sort of mature timber. The scientists, the Foras Talúntais people, the forestry people know that; yet they seem to be hell-bent on deciding that that is exactly what they are going to do with this very valuable natural resource.

I would like to bring to the Minister's attention that some years ago, when the price of oil was drastically increased, Bord na Móna increased the price of turf and briquettes from the two briquette factories they then had, just to keep them in line with the going price of oil and other fuels. At that time the fuel merchants had to queue up for many hours in order to get supplies. It was rationed out. As a politician, one would find oneself making representations to people on the board to see if Mr. X could get a quota of briquettes in order to sell to his customers. Those retailers were treated with scant respect by Bord na Móna. It is of little consolation to find now that there are stockpiles of that environmentally friendly fuel. People got such a roasting from the board when Bord na Móna were in a dominant position on the market that people now find great difficulty in bringing themselves to handle the stuff.

Just because an organisation is a semi-State one, where the pressure is not on for them to make money, where they are not supposed to be efficient, where they do not seem to have any obligation to serve the public, that is no reason for people who are trading and trying to make an ordinary living to be treated like dirt. I remember last year speaking to probably one of the board's biggest customers in County Wexford. He told me that a few years ago they would leave Wexford at 5 p.m. on a Sunday evening, drive up to one of the board's plants in the midlands and queue up in their lorries all night. As the queue progressed, at 11 p.m. the gate would be closed because there was a teabreak and at lunchtime the same thing. If they were still there at 4 p.m., the time for closing the retail outlet, they could sit there until the next morning. What a way for a retail organisation to treat customers. It is no wonder the board have stockpiles that they cannot get rid of. Last Christmas 65 workers were let go from the peat briquette factory outside Daingean, County Offaly, because the stockpiles were so great that they could not carry any more. That is a direct result of the board and their customer relations over the previous ten years.

I would hope, as the board turns a new leaf and tries to get into a new way of working, that they will learn from their arrogance and their mistakes of the past years. It is poor consolation to the 600 or 700 people who are former workers of Bord na Móna in Laois and Offaly and part of Kildare and Westmeath to make a speech like this. Those responsible in the board have a lot to answer for in their approach to the business ethic over the years.

I would hope that the Minister, with his responsibility for Energy, will take a long hard look at the proposals that Bord na Móna have for the development of the very important natural resource they are sitting on at present. I would not be in favour of State farming, but there must be some allocation of new reclaimed peatland made available to lease in the first instance to young farmers who have completed an intensive course in horticulture and who have embarked on the farmer apprenticeship scheme. If we can put in the most progressive young people into 200 acre tracts of this valuable resource it is an opportunity to see if they can produce sufficient vegetables to offset the outrageous tonnage of vegetables and fruit imported every year. This exercise would not cost the Government or the board anything but it would be an investment in the future. If we are to succesfully find new ways of utilising this natural resource, the board and the Government must embark on a policy that will put all of the options to the test.

The board must have over a quarter of a million acres of designated cutover bogs at present. It would fall into several categories of soil type quality, but with the facility we have there we should be able to rival our Dutch colleagues in the European Community as the market garden of Europe with land formerly reclaimed from the sea. But surely we also have an advantage in that peat soils are eminently suitable for growing a very wide range of vegetables and fruit.

If Bord na Móna want to remain in the energy field, I would like to ask the Minister if they would consider having some trials in the production of rape seed oil as an energy crop. We have in the agricultural sector in the Community a situation where practically all of the crops available to farmers in this country to sow and to harvest are either rationed or on quota. The beet quotas are again reduced this year. Take the barley situation. Wheat is problematic from the point of view of the weather — although if the ozone layer hole gets bigger perhaps we might be moving into a new era for wheat growers. There is always some good in everything. However, there is an opportunity that should not be lost sight of, the opportunity of the board utilising its resources to remain in the energy-producing field. I would expect that they would look at rape seed oil. The agricultural scientists tell us the results from peat soils are equally as good as what is harvested off mineral soils. That is again an area that requires the attention of the Minister and of the board and the Minister for Energy should be in a position to encourage the board to diversify. I would hope that the Government would not lose sight of the fact that we in the midland counties have suffered severe loss in job opportunities over the past few years. There are no visible signs of any efforts being made to redress that.

I would like to wish the Minister success in his efforts to revamp the board of Bord na Móna. I hope that the provision of job opportunities will remain high in his priorities. I wish the board success, despite the fact that I regret very much some of the policies they have pursued in the past few years.

Ar an gcéad dul síos ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire inniu. I am very glad to see our Minister here this morning. He has been here yesterday and again this morning and it demonstrates his keen personal interest in this important Bill.

In welcoming the Bill and congratulating the Minister on introducing it, I want particularly to welcome the philosophy behind it, which is one of making Bord na Móna a more competitive and market-led company and not a continuing burden on the taxpayer. That should be encouraged in every respect and in every State company.

I share the concern expressed in the Dáil about the board's financial position. I was glad to hear the Minister say yesterday that this issue is being reviewed and is to receive Government attention. It is vital that Bord na Móna become a thriving profitable company that can contribute to the economy at home and compete successfully abroad. The board is a very big employer; there is no need to remind anybody of that. I am sure the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but my understanding is that there are about 2,500 full-time employees and about 500 seasonal employees. In my own county of Kildare there are about 2,000 people depending on the board and the ESB, and the total peat sector nationally accounts for about £100 million in wages. It is something that is of immense national importance, and of immense local importance in the part of the country I come from.

Unfortunately, we have to concede that the employment scene around the bogs of Kildare and Offaly has been very badly hit over the past couple of years. A couple of years ago the board employed 4,800 people, so there has been a huge national fall-off in the numbers employed. That is the main reason we must press ahead to restore Bord na Móna to being a dynamic and competitive company that can give secure employment and can bring economic benefits to the midlands.

I welcome the remarks that the Minister made in relation to that. I believe the Bill will go a long way to making the board more efficient. I hope the board will be viable and successful for many years to come and that it will continue to do the valuable work which it did over so many years nationally and on behalf of people in the midlands.

Our peatlands account for about 1.1 million hectares. I notice the Minister likes to talk in acres but now that we are in the European Community we would prefer to talk in hectares. I realise there may be people who have difficulties with hectares; but it is about 1.1 million hectares or roughly 2.6 million acres. That is about 17 per cent of our national land area. That proportion in peat is only exceeded by Canada and Finland. A lot of what we have is western blanket peat. The board controls about 90,000 hectares, so it is easy to see why it plays such a vital economic and social role across the midlands. The board's contribution over the years to the welfare of the midlands has been immense. What it needs to do now is to adjust to the changing times and make best use of what is by any standards a huge natural resource, and to do that on a sound cost effective and commercial basis. That is what the taxpayer has a right to expect and I am sure this legislation will help in fulfilling that expectation.

I am glad the Bill gives very wide scope in relation to the activities the board can be involved in. It is in the non-traditional areas that there is the greatest potential. Unquestionably, there is great potential for the export of horticultural moss peat. This fact is underlined by the amount of private development in this area. The board are going to be faced with some stiff competition from the private sector in the years ahead. Certainly, the private sector are showing a lot of interest in horticultural moss peat production. This in itself will not be a bad thing. They are in a good position to meet that competition, especially on quality grounds. I have been led to understand by Teagasc and others that Bord na Móna's horticultural moss peat is of a very high standard.

The board's exports of moss peat have risen steadily. There is no reason why they should not continue to rise and reach afigure of £40 million or so within a few years. Perhaps a long-term target of £100 million a year in exports would not be out of line. I am aware there is some resistance in certain quarters, particularly in Britain, to the harvesting of horticultural moss peat, with concern being expressed about the environmental aspects. The point needs to be made that a large proportion of our bogs have been interfered with and damaged over the years. There are not that many left that are still in a virgin state. I agree that the bogs identified by those interested in protecting them should be afforded adequate protection. These can be developed as tourist attractions.

Another area in which the board are in a very good position to expand is the marketing of their consultancy and advisory services. Over the years they have built up tremendous technical expertise. That technology must be highly marketable now that Russia, with its 71 million hectares of peat, is about to become a free market economy. I understand major research into peat is being undertaken in Russia. Some of our original technology may have been imported from Russia. As we have people of a very high calibre involved in engineering and machinery development I have no doubt we have a lot to offer in the international consultancy service areas.

I am very pleased that a new peat research centre has been opened in Newbridge, my local town, where the board have a tremendous record of technical achievement. I am aware many of the board's scientists have an international reputation and this valuable expertise can be put to good use and will be in demand internationally. Given the board's long association with Newbridge, I am sure the Minister would agree that it would be a very suitable location for the national headquarters of Bord na Móna.

The alternative uses of peat must be exploited. Peat can be used in the treatment of sewage effluent and in removing noxious odours coming from meat and fish processing plants. There is also a market for activated charcoal. Those non-traditional activities present opportunities to the board. I am pleased to see that the Bill gives the board wide scope to engage in that sort of work.

Reference was made yesterday to the smog problem in Dublin. We welcome the initiatives which have been taken to solve that problem, both from an environmental and from a human health point of view. I do not think the board would claim that with the use of briquettes smoke emissions from households will be eliminated. Briquettes, I would agree, are far more environmentally friendly than coal. I see no reason why a profitable export market cannot be developed in addition to a viable home market. I am pleased section 4 of the Bill encourages the board to get involved in such activities outside the State.

There appears to be a general view abroad that peat is not a competitive fuel in generating electricity. Possibly history would indicate that that is so but the Finns have shown that it is possible to generate electricity more cheaply using peat rather than oil and only marginally more expensive than coal. They have plans to double their peat fired generating capacity over the next ten years. The board should consider this option very carefully.

I welcome the fact that the Bill gives the board power, in accordance with such directives as may be laid down by the Minister, to develop cutaway bogs. This is going to become a big issue in the near future. Indeed, it has already become an issue in the midland counties where there is widespread concern about what is going to happen the land once the board have finished harvesting. Approximately 2,500 acres come on stream each year. The Minister was absolutely right to establish an independent committee to examine this question which over the years has been avoided. It is at least 15 years since I heard it being discussed but little attention has been paid to it for the simple reason the choices are not easy ones. Many vested interests are at play. The Minister has never been one to shy away from making choices which require courage and I am sure he will not shy away from this issue.

I submit there is room for grassland, horticulture, amenity and forestry and that each of these activities can be accommodated on the land best suited to them. The new reclamation techniques, involving mixing and deep ploughing, can create very good grassland without drainage problems. The board are well placed to develop and sell this land profitably. I am not of the view, just because the land was bought by the board very cheaply, that they are not now entitled to recover their investment in developing that land. The board are entitled to recover that investment. Certainly farmers adjoining the bogs have a claim. Some of the big blocs away from the edge of the bog could be best disposed of in single commercial units. I am sure the committee will address this matter, which I imagine has been raised in the submissions already made.

Unquestionably, deep fen peat is an ideal medium for growing vegetables. When we discussed the Bill setting up An Bord Glas we outlined the seriousness of the problem in relation to importation of fresh vegetables and what could be done in terms of import substitution. That land could be used very productively to cut down on our import bill and reduce our balance of payments. The research carried out at the Lullymore research station shows what can be done in this respect. I would like to see this research being revived by the board. The nursery stocks sector also presents the board with opportunities. The point needs to be made that the types and depth of peat differ for all these activities. If harvesting is carried out on a flat surface there will be pockets of deep fen peat and others with very little peat. Each of those can be identified and used for the purpose for which they are best suited.

There is undoubtedly big potential in the amenity area. The preservation of specimens of untouched raised bog is important from an environmental and tourism point of view. I have already referred to that matter. Forestry undoubtedly should be the preferred option on some soils. It would not be either economically or aesthetically desirable to have the entire midland cutaway bog planted in trees. What we need is a balanced and integrated approach. We should also remember that large areas of private cutaway turbary will become available and we should make the best use of that land. While I realise this is outside the scope of the Bill, a good case can be made for treating the midland bogs as a single region and setting up an overall authority to determine its future. The last thing we want is for the bogs to revert to being a rural wilderness.

Let me make one small point on the wording of the Bill. I apologise to the Minister for being pedantic but where I come from turf is what horses race on. We have a club which regulates matters regarding the turf. In the technical literature I have read and, indeed, nearly all the board's literature, what we are dealing with is referred to as peat, not turf. I hope the High Court is not asked at some stage to rule on the difference. I realise there are many people who burn turf in their grates and harvest it every summer, but that is a small technical point. I apologise for being pedantic but I felt I had to raise it.

We also have turf accountants.

Yesterday afternoon Senator O'Toole raised the question of the Minister's role in relation to the remuneration of officers and I must say I had a good deal of sympathy for what the Senator had to say. It will be the job of the board to get on with the task of managing their people and business and the less interference with them the better. I realise, of course, public money is involved and this must be monitored. The Senator also asked when the supply of peat would be exhausted. Using a figure of 2,500 acres a year this will happen around the year 2030.

To come back to the central point, the future use of cutaway bogs is crucial to the future of the midlands and to the national economy. The opportunity must be taken, where it arises, to use these lands to create maximum employment within the region. I welcome the Bill and I commend the Minister for introducing it.

Reference has been made by various Senators both today and yesterday to the tremendous work done by Bord na Móna since they were set up in the forties. I, too, would like to pay tribute to them for what they had done over a long period of time. Before going on to look at the economic aspects of the Bill. I wish to say that for quite a long time we took this indigenous resource for granted and ignored it at our peril until our Dutch brothers and sisters emphasised the need for us to protect that resource by giving us during the European year of the Environment £1 million to maintain one aspect of boglands, our unique flora and fauna, not alone for environmental and preservation reasons but also for scientific reasons.

Reference has also been made by Senators to the fact that outside of Canada and Russia we have one of the largest areas of bog which for quite some time was considered to be bogland of no economic value. The rather derogatory terms, bogmen and women, have been applied to ourselves but these are not in keeping with the work done by Bord na Móna and the opportunities under this Bill to promote our boglands. It is important to look at this matter in terms of the thousands of years it took to actually give us that bogland, during a period of intense luxuriant vegetation in a climate much warmer than today.

It is very important that we treat the bogs in an appropriate way from an environmental viewpoint. I emphasise that at all times — and I am sure the Minister will ensure that this will be the case — Bord na Móna, with their new remit, should be very aware of the importance of the environmental aspect. I would strike that note of caution. In relation to preservation within the environment we should not think only in terms of the preservation of buildings and national monuments; we should certainly try to leave a percentage of bogland to nature. We must strike a balance between our obligations to native industry and our obligations to protect the environment for future generations.

I recall, as a geography teacher over the years, looking at the alternative uses of boglands. About 20 years ago tremendous emphasis was put on the use of cutaway bogs for vegetable production, which of course, is very much needed as many speakers have said to counteract the tremendous volume of vegetables we import each year, not just exotic vegetables but the common vegetables. It seems farmers had an ideal opportunity to do so but they have not taken advantage of that opportunity. The expertise that has been gleaned over the years, as Senator Dardis has said, should be applied in the vegetable sector; one of the four areas mentioned by the Minister as alternatives, horticulture, forestry, agriculture and the amenity use of the cutaway bogs.

Senator McDonald in referring to the problems being encountered in the growing of trees mentioned that to ensure solid growth a metre and a half of soil is necessary but he also pointed out there is just six inches or a narrow skin of soil there to support worthwhile crops. Therefore, is forestry a reasonable alternative? I recall that 20 years ago fast-growing trees were considered an alternative. I am concerned about the fact that large tracts of our boglands have disappeared since the sixties and also about depth of our bogs. Bord na Móna have developed, obviously in the same way as the ESB over a period of time their expertise in peat management, land management, land drainage, the production of peat moss and in horticulture. Is it the Minister's intention to give Bord na Móna the scope to diversify within their area of expertise or does he envisage Bord na Móna getting involved in enterprises which would, perhaps, be at variance with their traditional activities?

Reference was made to joint ventures. Will the board have carte blanche to engage in such activities? The Minister also made reference to consultancy work which has proved to be exceptionally profitable for the ESB. Expertise has been built up over the years both in the scientific area and in the use of machinery and I wonder if the two work together. Is their remit broad enough to allow them move into other areas? Without holding back Bord na Móna, a guarantee would have to be given that investments in new ventures taken on initially would be reasonable.

Reference has been made to the smog problem in Dublin. It was amazing how quickly the advertising of Bord na Móna at the time — it was exceptionally good — caught the imagination of young people. When emphasis was put on the need to burn peat briquettes sales escalated. This shows what can be done when the question of the environment is brought into play, particularly at a time when everybody is extremely aware of it from a health viewpoint. Peat briquettes are not the panacea to the smog problem but at least, as has been stated, they are environmentally friendly and were very necessary——

That is questionable.

Questionable, yes, but they are environmentally friendly, unlike the non-environmentally friendly coal. Having regard to the fact the bituminous coal will be banned as and from the autumn, will there be sufficient peat briquettes available to meet the increased demand for them at that time? People will still want to have a fire burning in their homes.

The Minister made reference in his speech to the fact that 2,500 acres will come on stream each year. Again I would strike a note of caution. In order to speed up the decision-making process, and this is to be welcomed, sub-boards are to be established. Will the appointments be made within Bord na Móna, as it is now or will new people with expertise be brought in? The sub-boards will not be empowered, as is stated, to do anything outside the powers of the main board. The Minister has stated that sub-boards will be appointed by the board and the members, including in each case the managing director of the company, will be drawn from the membership of the board. Does he envisage people with expertise being brought in from industry or will they be drawn only from within the existing setup of Bord na Móna? The intention seems to be very vague. That brings me back to my original question. Will the board diversify their activities within their area of expertise and will they appoint people with expertise in industry? I hope there will not be a conflict between those activities which, as I said, may be in keeping with their traditional activities, or with their new remit.

I will finish by paying tribute again to Bord na Móna for what they have done over a period of time. They are very much associated with this country, not just from an economic viewpoint but also from a tourist viewpoint. The tourism potential of the midlands has never been fully exploited. They have their own particular beauty, as can be seen at this time of the year, with vast vistas across the central plain. I hope this industry will continue to give employment to families who have been associated with the peat industry for generations and who would like to continue in this employment which is the reason they have stayed in Ireland and on the land during the past 50 years.

I wish to join with the other Members in welcoming the Bill. I believe every Senator is enthusiastic about it. The number of Senators who wish to speak about Bord na Móna and bog development is an indication of the interest in rural Ireland in this matter. This is to be welcomed.

It is true Bord na Móna have made a major contribution to the economy. If one examines the record of Bord na Móna during the number of years they have been in existence one will see they have been a major success. People are inclined to judge Bord na Móna on their book performance. Having regard to the terrain they have to work on, the difficulties with weather and drainage as well as all the other problems that have confronted them over their years, one can claim that they have made a major contribution to the development of rural Ireland and that they have done this against the odds. In commenting on this legislation we have to bear in mind their achievements. They are one very important semi-State company who have succeeded against the odds. There is no greater compliment we can pay to those who have directed the activities of Bord na Móna during the years — the senior personnel, the management as well as those who have designed plant, equipment and machinery suitable for use on the rough terrain of the bog. One can all too easily forget just how difficult it was for them to achieve success under those circumstances. Therefore, it is only right and proper that we should encourage those who have laid very sound foundations in developing one of our important natural resources. The company is a credit to those involved with the board.

I regret that Bord na Móna were not in a position to continue the production of peat at Glenties, County Donegal. Unfortunately, it is neither economical nor practical to develop small bogs and it is only right that the board should recognise and face up to this fact. A large number of people were employed for a long time at Glenties but it is no longer economical to develop the bog there.

I also regret that Bord na Móna have never been helped to market their product in the city. Bearing in mind their success, one has to ask why have they not succeeded in penetrating the major market in this country and at a time when the taxpayer is being asked to contribute very substantially to the cost of resolving the smog and pollution problems in Dublin city, one has to ask, having regard to the fact that we have a very successful company involved in the development of a native fuel, why we have not been more energetic in helping Bord na Móna sell their product in our capital city where one-third of the population live. Somehow we have failed to encourage the use of this fuel in the one area where it is vital and important we use it, and this I regret very much. Perhaps the taxpayer would not have to face the major expenditure involved in converting to smokeless fuel if we had been more successful in convincing people in Dublin of the importance of using our native fuel.

I am glad that Bord na Móna under the new legislation will be free to engage in consultancy work and the development of other products. If one examines the history of Bord na Móna, one will see that they have expertise in the development of plant and equipment, the drainage of bogs and the production of peat moss and other products. They have been a success. I am delighted they will now be in a position to develop new products and engage in consultancy work. Bord na Móna, I believe, have first-class engineers and this has stood to them. It is only right that we recognise that they introduced technology in every area, such as computers, data bases, modern technology and communication links, long before everybody else. They have done a tremendous job under difficult circumstances.

I would like to see Bord na Móna develop new products. Other speakers have referred to possible activities in cutaway bog. I have no doubt Bord na Móna will examine each of these and sill achieve great success.

I would encourage the Minister to support strongly Bord na Móna going into the nursery business, to experimenting with plants and shrubs, because we have a world market and we have the ability to transfer, whether it is potted plants or shrubs. There is no difficulty in transporting in containers and pots. I would like to see Bord na Móna spearheading a major organisation to investigate the production of shrubs and modern plants. They have the resources and the raw materials and the experiments can be carried out at very little cost. It is right and proper, having regard to the new provision for Bord na Móna that they would be encouraged to examine that possibility.

There is another possibility which I am less enthusiastic about but which, nevertheless, I would like to see Bord na Móna examine. We are all aware of the difficulties experienced with the Arigna coal mines. The coal mines have vast resources of slack or a type of fuel that it might not be economical to use. The possibility should be examined of combining slack from Arigna or any other mine in the country with turf to produce a fuel that would be acceptable. The Minister might encourage research and experiment in that.

Bord na Móna are acting as agents for many small bogs. The EC are giving a support grant for development of small bogs in rural Ireland where a number of people are involved. A group can come together, whether they form a co-operative or whatever, and there are EC supports available for them. That support is administered through Bord na Móna. I have been on a deputation to Brussels and this matter came up for discussion. I can say without reservation that the EC officials in Brussels were not totally satisfied that Bord na Móna was the right vehicle to distribute the support to small bogs in rural Ireland. I suggest to the Minister that he might look at this aspect of aid which is available for the development of small bogs. I am talking about bogs that are much too small and uneconomic for Bord na Móna. The EC see that peat production would be an energy source and would present a financial saving on the importation of fuels. I would like the Minister to consider that the funding to local authorities should be administered by his Department. I have made a positive suggestion and I would ask the Minister to consider taking it on board. I know the senior officials in Brussels would respond very positively. I have the utmost respect, support and praise for Bord na Móna. However, the EC see that they are not suitable agents to distribute EC grant support for small bogs and small pickets of developing bog in rural Ireland. I would ask the Minister seriously to consider that aspect.

In every field of activity people regard themselves as experts. Every man you meet at every pub and corner is an authority on everything. Recently, on the question of the airport in Galway and the question of the value of bogs, people were giving expert advice on television. There has to be a balance. The bogs must be developed so as to produce the best value for the people of Ireland. It is right and proper to recognise expert advice. But there are people who take a very tough stand, who parade with placards and tell us how to develop and what we should and should not develop. We have to face up to pressure groups who can be organised by people who are only interested in projecting themselves.

I welcome the Bill. I am enthusiastic about it. Bord na Móna have done a great job for this country and have never received sufficient recognition. There is a totally success story. I am pleased to support the activities of Bord na Móna. I hope the Minister will continue to recognise and support their activities. I wish them many years of successful development in a difficult area.

I also welcome the opportunity to say a few words and to welcome this enabling legislation that Minister Molloy has brought before the Seanad. I support the main object, which is to allow Bord na Móna to exploit fully their commercial potential, the opportunities we hope will be out there for them, and to develop in partnerships, both at home and abroad, into different commercial areas. There is no doubt that Bord na Móna's role in developing our indigenous peat resources over the years has been extremely valuable, particularly from the import substitution point of view.

Bord na Móna — particularly for my generation and younger — are almost part of the Irish heritage. They always were and there is a sort of assumption they always will be. That is not true unless action is taken now, action of the kind the Minister is proposing, to ensure that they have a commercial future and that they can meet the demands of market reality, rather than be hide-bound by what now appears to be overly restrictive rules and regulations as laid down in previous Acts.

There is also a need to bear in mind the enormously important economic and social role of the board, particularly in the midlands area. Whatever else is done and whatever other comments we have to make, we must keep as a backdrop the future of all the families who have been intrinsically tied up with the work and development of Bord na Móna over the years. Alongside the major problems we have of unemployment and emigration, we must keep to the front of our minds the future of these people who have served Bord na Móna and their country so well.

This is only enabling legislation. I trust it is the type of legislation that will leave doors open to allow potential opportunities to be rationally exploited as they occur over the years ahead to ensure a healthy and vibrant economic future for Bord na Móna.

One aspect of the Bill particularly fascinates me and the Minister referred to this in his speech. This legislation will enable Bord na Móna to enter into partnerships and into subsidiary companies, both at home and abroad, of one kind or another in the commercial world. Taking that statement alongside an aspect of the Finance Bill which intrigued me last week — the whole concept of EEIGs — I would like to ask the Minister does he see a particular role in this area? I know very little about EEIGs. In fact, I had to question the Minister for Finance as to exactly what they were and how many were in Ireland. Even though we are providing a tax regime under which they will be treated, the Minister for Finance could tell me that there was none in Ireland to date. These investment groups apparently envisage several partnerships in the Community coming together forming cross-Border groups in the commercial sector. I wonder would it be applicable in this particular case. Could we envisage Bord na Móna or a subsidiary of Bord na Móna working hand in hand with similar type operations in other Community countries. Is this the type of thing that is envisaged or what has the Minister in mind? Are there any specifics he could give us?

There is enormous potential in the area of semi-State bodies. The same provisions have been made for the ESB as are being provided here for Bord na Móna, of going beyond the national boundary and getting involved commercially in the broader European Community with similar type ventures elsewhere. Consultancy work has been referred to. I welcome that because a tremendous amount of expertise has been built up over the years within Bord na Móna. This is an area where the company has a great deal to give.

I will come to the cutaway bog in just a moment. We must commend the Comptroller and Auditor General for bringing a matter to the Minister's notice as a result of which there is the provision in the Bill — I think it is section 11 — to put on a statutory basis superannuation provisions for spouses and children of workers. It is amazing that there has been only a non-statutory system in place for some time and that it has been allowed run for so long without having been rectified. That is very welcome and I am sure will be welcomed by those concerned. It is putting on a more permanent and satisfactory basis the provisions that are being made for them at the moment.

The need for Bord na Móna to exploit the commercial opportunities provided by the banning of the sale of bituminous coal in Dublin has been referred to by many colleagues. I am a little bit cautious here. I urge Bord na Móna to make the best use of whatever commercial opportunities offer themselves to them. Before we go over the top in eulogising the environmental friendliness of peat, we should be a little bit careful. It is certainly far better than bituminous coal but as we become more environment conscious and as Europe prods us in a direction in which we should have been going anyway — we are finally catching up — it will be found that there are unsatisfactory aspects to the emissions from burning of peat and briquettes. They are of a different nature and are not of the same level as we now have with bituminious coal, but ultimately the burning of peat will not be the answer either. We welcome the opportunity and of course we must encourage any semi-State organisation to take whatever opportunity presents itself but from an environmental point of view we must look even further ahead in terms of protecting the air and atmosphere, particularly in the larger urban areas, because ultimately it is the health of our people that we must be most concerned about.

I come now to a point that perhaps interests me most in relation to the Bill and the role of Bord na Móna at the moment, that is, the handling of the whole question of cutaway bogs. Over the years the mention of bog and peat was synonymous with poverty and hardship in Ireland. There was little interest in the Irish bogs. They were considered wastelands in every sense of the word and people felt they were of no intrinsic value. The extraction of energy from peat brought it into the realm of commercial exploitation but, on the east coast in particular and in the larger urban areas, the bogs were not regarded as important. Those living in areas surrounded by bogs considered the future from a commercial and economic point of view to be bleak. One eked out a very hard existence from the bog. A marginal type farming was carried out on the fringes of the bogs and those who survived there were tough people and families. Indeed, many people over the years had to survive in those very difficult conditions. So the bog came into our heritage and folklore as being synonymous with a hard life and poverty.

It is interesting that in the last few years we have a totally different view as to the potential of bogland, and the whole concept of bogs has changed. Commercial exploitation can serve the country well in terms of import substitution for energy requirements. The environmental aspect of blanket bogs or raised bogs has been brought home to us by non-nationals even more than by nationals. I first began to analyse the position of bog, peatland, wetlands generally in 1987 when Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands on behalf of the Dutch Peatland Preservation Council, presented a bog to the Irish nation. Altogether, £30 million was spent in terms of investment in Ireland to allow the Irish people to save three other bogs. It takes European continentals to ask us, as Irish people what we are doing with our beautiful natural heritage. They tell us not to make the same mistakes as they made, not to go too far in relation to commercial exploitation, to stop, to think, to have a rational policy as to where we will go in the future. Many in this Chamber and, indeed, elsewhere, certainly began to look at the whole question of the Irish bog through different eyes.

Today a compliment must be paid to Bord na Móna for the conservation ethos they have developed in the last few years. This is an aspect of Bord na Móna that I do not think has been sufficiently recognised. It is a heartfelt compliment from me to them for recognising the national treasure as well as the natural resource that they control or have direction of, apart from the commercial implications of what they are doing. It is not often that we get the opportunity to compliment our semi-State bodies, particularly our commercial semi-State bodies for their conservation ethos. I sincerely mean it in the case of Bord na Móna. I compliment them for the excellent relations they have with our wildlife service in the wildlife section in the Office of Public Works.

This is the way forward and the way towards greater rational and commercial exploitation, taking the sensitivities of conservation of nature into account at the same time. They deserve our thanks and our compliments for taking on board this aspect of the national amenity for which they have responsibility.

I was very concerned some time ago when the then Minister, Deputy Michael Smith, announced that he was offering the first pick of all our cutaway bogs to Coillte Teoranta. In other words Coillte Teoranta could take what they wanted and leave the rest for whoever wanted it, for farmers in the area with non-viable holdings, for potential horticultural use, for the whole wetlands and amenity and recreation aspects that we all talk so much about. I thought that was a very dangerous way to proceed at the time. In other words, they would take the best and leave the rest for whoever could make what they could of it. End of story.

I compliment the Minister for establishing his independent expert committee under the very sound chairmanship of the former Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Donal Creed. I await with interest the report of this committee, which I understand will be some time at the end of this year. It is extremely heartening to see that there have been over 40 submissions already to the committee. If there is good dialogue and a good outcome from the committee the future of the cutaway bogs will be in good hands and, for all our sake, will be put to the right use. We all have different views about the right use. It will be very difficult to reconcile the competing demands for using the cutaway bogs. We must try, and the committee must try above all else to reconcile those competing demands.

The generation is now aware of the importance of the environment; environmental consciousness has been raised, the tempo is increasing and our children will know all about it. Any mistakes we make now will be thrown back in our faces very quickly indeed, because land, its utilisation and the whole resource of land is an area we must deal with extremely carefully. The choices and decisions we make now could determine irrevocably the fate of some of these cutaway bogs. Other decisions may not be so long-term in their impact, such as in the horticultural area and even in afforestation but there could be irrevocable decisions made, certainly as far as the next couple of generations are concerned. We have to get it right for the sake of our country, our children and the European Community. We are part of a community. The bogs are a Community resource as well as an Irish resource.

We cannot afford to make mistakes and claim ignorance any longer for what we do. There is advice, there is help, we can profit from the experience of others, we can learn from their mistakes. In the Netherlands, through economic need they have virtually used every piece of peatland and fenland they possibly can for fuel production. There are about 30 hectares of undisturbed bog left in that country. They are pumping millions into the preservation of their one sample of undisturbed bog because of the enormous wildlife importance of it and its tourist attraction as a wilderness amenity. Many Irish people just cannot comprehend the concept of pumping millions into "a bit of old bog", as they would tell you, and advertising it as a tourist attraction. The whole wetlands concept is still foreign to many of our people. In the Netherlands and other parts of continental Europe there were hectares and hectares of blanket bog and raised bog and it is all gone; all of it has been commercially exploited.

We have got almost to the point of no return in relation to the raised bogs in Ireland. But for the co-operation of Bord na Móna now and the conservation ethos they have adopted in the past two years, it would have been too late to preserve any intact raised bog as a wetland and as a nature reserve. We should be looking to conserve approximately 10,000 acres of raised bog. I do not think that will be achievable now because it had gone too far in terms of sheer commercial exploitation before this concept was accepted.

We should preserve about 40,000 acres of blanket bog intact. We need a policy in this area to reconcile the conflicting demands in relation to intact bog as well as to the cutaway bog. Perhaps the Minister's committee, when they have reported on the question of the use and the handling of the cutaway bogs, might be asked to look at the overall conflicting demands on the uses of intact bogs. This involves different departments and different sections in the same Department. In the Department of Energy it is a case of "all systems go", with the green light given to afforestation, to plant trees at all cost. There is then a conflict with other Departments in terms of the impact of tree planting, regardless. There is a balance between what are the natural interests of the Department of Energy and the natural interests of nature conservation and the protection of our natural amenities, and indeed built amenities. The natural and built heritage must be protected.

Trees when planted, be they on cutaway bog or on marginal land of any kind are not an issue for the first few years; they are but a foot or two over the ground. Up to recently they did not come within the planning ambit at all and within ten or 15 or 20 years coniferous belts could suddenly mushroom in some of our most scenic areas. There is a lot of concern about indiscriminate planting, not because the land that is being planted would not be suitable for planting, particularly of belts of coniferous trees, is having on amenity and visual aspects in certain areas. We have to be more careful here. I urge the Department of Energy to be as co-operative and as conservation conscious and to develop the same conservation ethos as the semi-State Bord na Móna have done in the last few years.

There should not be conflicting demands in this area. We have a very small landmass, we are a very small country. If we get the act right, if we make the right decisions now, be it in regard to cutaway bogs, tree planting, or marginal land or whatever, we will have a country that will be the admiration not only of Europe but of the world in terms of the scenic impact, of the preservation of our natural resources and as a tourist attraction generally. This, above all, will be the sales pitch for Ireland in the years to come; unspoiled, natural resources, sensitively developed with sensitive exploitation of what we have got in the best interest of the Irish people. I make a plea for the Department as a whole to develop the same conservation ethos as Bord na Móna have in this area.

The last speaker made a plea for grants for the commercial exploitation of small bogs that were not within the ambit of Bord na Móna. I feel strongly that any grant-aid for commercial exploitation of bogs in the private sector must be matched by grant aid for the preservation of intact bog, for those areas that are deemed to be worthy of preservation, that are examples of the species, as it were. We cannot consider grant-aiding for commercial exploitation unless hand-in-hand we grant-aid preservation. There is room for both and once it is done sensitively we will get the best of both worlds in this area. We badly need greater State input into the preservation of blanket bog but particularly of raised bog because the question is greater in regard to raised bogs at the moment. There is very little of it left intact worthy of preservation.

We are into a whole new ball game in terms of environmental impact assessments. I would like the Minister to refer in his response to Second Stage the role EIA's will have in the future use of cutaway bogs. Certainly, over a certain size, EIA's should be the rule or the norm in terms of the change of use of the bog from today. We have to be conscious of the environmental impact, of change of use in this area. I would like to know what the Minister's views are in invoking EIA's in terms of future use of our blanket bogs. ESA's — environmentally sensitive areas — and designation and support for farming in an environmentally sensitive way comes into this also.

There are many non-viable holdings around the midlands and in the areas of these bogs. Some of the farmers who gave up this bogland decades ago in the belief, and in the knowledge as it was at the time, that it was commercially virtually worthless certainly from an agricultural point of view, would be well served if some of this land were returned to them.

I use the word "returned" advisedly. I am not sure on what commercial basis the transaction would be — that would have to be worked out — whether it would be on the 99-year leasing system from Bord na Móna back to the farmers or whether there would actually be a sale. I do not know how one would pitch the commercial value of cutaway bog, particularly when one thinks of what Bord na Móna paid for it many years ago, to the very same farmers in many cases but that is for another day. Farmers and their sons and daughters who could be encouraged to stay on the land in the more remote rural areas of the midlands should be considered for some of this cutaway bog. That is a matter the committee will be deciding.

The whole area of horticulture has been very well covered. Some of these cutaway bogs are extremely suitable for the exploitation of horticulture and its potential in this area. A lot of wilderness areas should be flooded again and we could get into coarse fishing. The wilderness and the wetland areas could be developed to the full. Perhaps if there was a dual purpose eco-system of one kind or another, where they just flood if the level is not too deep, areas that might dry out in the summer to a type of grassland and that would be under shallow water in the winter, we would have a very interesting habitat development.

Mountain and blanket bog landscapes are a valuable national resource and national policy is needed to reconcile the conflicting demands. I urge the Minister to allow this expert committee to consider those conflicting demands when they report to him on the use of cutaway bogs. I would be delighted if the expertise the Minister has gathered together results in the production of a second report on the use of the present intact bogs. The most significant opportunity for creative conservation is provided by cutaway bogs in the midlands generally.

Not all the effects of development are negative. There is a modest example in my own county, the Wexford slobs, where man intervened heavily. They are now one of the most important wild fowl habitats in Ireland and they owe their entire existence in their present form to past human activities. There is an enormous opportunity here for creative conservation. Whether we talk about grassland, vegetables, afforestation, biomass production, flooding for amenity use or whatever, the decision of the committee will be extremely important. Above all, I urge the Minister to ensure that the potential for nature conservation gets priority in terms of the use of the cutaway bogs. The creation of diverse wetland habitats will go some way towards compensating for losses of biologically important wetlands elsewhere through commercial exploitation or for energy uses. A balanced approach and the continued conservation ethos that exists within Bord na Móna who are liaising with the wildlife section of the Office of Public Works, augurs well for the decisions that will be made.

I commend the Minister for setting up this committee. I await the results with interest because thereupon hangs the future use of what could be potentially an important asset.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him, as a fellow Galwegian on his appointment as Minister for Energy. It is the first Bill he has brought before us since his appointment. I wish him well and hope that he will be successful in presiding over this important Department. Of course, he will be exploiting the mineral wealth of our country. I hope he succeeds and at the same time, preserves the environment which is also important and has been referred to very eloquently by Senator Doyle.

I would like also to pay tribute to Bord na Móna for their excellent work over the years. Since their foundation in 1946 they have provided jobs for many families. Because of the type of work involved in saving turf, in many cases entire families worked on the bog and earned good money. Of course, times have changed and Bord na Móna, like every other State body, must adapt to that change. Their workforce has been depleted in recent years through voluntary redundancy and early retirement.

This Bill will provide the board with the legal mandate they need to restructure and revitalise their operations in order to deal effectively with present difficulties. The Bill will also allow the board to engage in other activities in which they have acquired particular expertise. It will enable them to promote, form, take part in or acquire, companies and to enter into joint ventures. It will also enable the board to exploit cutaway bogs, undertake engineering and building works not related to peat and to engage in consultancy, advisory and training services. This will give them greater scope to establish themselves as a leader in industrial and economic development here. The Government have encouraged State-sponsored bodies to develop and diversify their economic activities in the interest of job creation. Where new legislation was required to achieve this, the Government undertook to introduce such legislation. Indeed, this Bill is part of that process.

One of Bord na Móna's traditional areas of expertise relates to the development of engineering and since their inception the board have had the power to manufacture plant and machinery in the performance of their functions. They did this with competence and they pioneered many machines. They also provided valuable training for young apprentices in the fitting and welding trade and many of those young men, on completion of their apprenticeship with Bord na Móna, set up their own business and indeed made a great success of it. In recent years Bord na Móna have not been taking on apprentices. Perhaps now, with this Bill being put through the Oireachtas, they will be able to renew this very valuable programme.

In the private sector, too, we have seen great changes in the design and manufacture of new machines for turf cutting. One of those companies called Ballintubber Enterprises is located just outside my constituency near Ballymoe, County Roscommon. This company has been a front-runner in the manufacture of turf-cutting machines and in the process has given very valuable employment in an area that has very little manufacturing industry. Of course, there are other companies involved in the same type of business and we see their machines daily operating on the bogs in the west of Ireland. This expertise has ensured a warm turf fire in the winter months in the vast majority of homes in rural Ireland. People are no longer depending on oil or gas as a source of heat and, of course, the Exchequer must be saving millions of pounds on imported oil as a result of this activity. In the west of Ireland, however, the machines used by the Sugar Company for cutting turf did a lot of damage to the bogs simply because the bogs were not drained sufficiently. A very good scheme was introduced by the late George Colley, when he was Minister for Energy, under which grants were given to groups of farmers to develop their bogs by draining, the making of roads, erecting bridges, and so on. I would like to see that scheme reintroduced because in some cases the best of turf is being left behind simply because there is not sufficient drainage to allow the machines to operate properly.

Bogs are being destroyed and it is lunacy in this day and age to waste a valuable resource for the sake of a few million pounds. I appeal to the Minister to introduce some scheme, similar to the one I mentioned, to develop those bogs. Even £1 million provided on an annual basis for a few years would do great work. We have a duty in the national interest to maximise the potential of our bogs and drainage is the first step in realising that potential. A few years ago hopes were running very high in Galway and Roscommon that a new briquette factory would be built at Ballyforan on the Galway-Roscommon border. We thought at that time that the Derrynafadda bog would be developed. This was to be the bonanza for the west. Hundreds of jobs were to be provided for our young people. After a lot of to-ing and froing the site for the factory was cleared, railway tracks were laid in the bog, expensive machinery for the factory was purchased abroad and kept in storage. I would say million of pounds were spent. However, horror of horrors, the whole project was abandoned. At the time, Bord na Móna said a survey revealed that we had an over-supply of briquettes on the market and that the building of a briquette factory at Ballyforan would not be justified. I did not agree with those findings then and I still believe that if Bord na Móna were prepared to market their briquettes aggressively then, as they are doing now, the building of that factory at Ballyforan would be justified. Briquettes are being sold right across Britain in shops, supermarkets and chain stores. Indeed, with the emphasis now on smokeless fuels this market can be developed and expanded still further.

Peat moss is another major profit maker for the board and has found a ready market at home and abroad. This area of activity can be expanded and, indeed, the advent of the mushroom growing industry in recent years should help considerably. Much has been said about the usage of cutaway bogs and, indeed, various suggestions have been made as to how we should use cutaway bogs after the peat has been extracted. I remember some years ago going on a visit to locations in the midlands where a cutaway bog was being developed and I was amazed to see the grass that was growing there, the cattle that were being reared on it and the vegetables that were being grown. Problems developed, problems that could not be foreseen at the time. The animals developed some disease due to lack of mineral traces and so on and there was a problem with vegetables. It is an area into which a lot of thought has to be put. There is no ready answer.

Like other speakers, I would not like to see all our cutaway bogs handed over to Coillte Teoranta. We should keep our options open in this regard because one area can differ greatly from another. One area might produce good vegetables, another might be able to produce good trees and another might be good for cattle grazing. No two areas are similar and for that reason we must keep our options open. Naturally some areas are suitable for growing trees but I would not like to see all cutaway bogs being planted. We import large quantities of vegetables each year. This is unfortunate because some of our cutaway bogs could be used for growing vegetables. I await the findings of the committee on this. I am sure they will go into all the details and I hope they will produce their findings before too long so that we can develop those large tracts of bogland which are now unproductive.

Farmers, and in particular small farmers, who adjoin those cutaway bogs should be given priority in the allocation of cutaway bogs. In many cases those large tracts of bog were acquired from adjoining farmers for a very small amount of money. In the Derrynafadda area, which extends back into Mountbellew and almost to Glenamaddy, my own parish, Bord na Móna compulsorily acquired some land from farmers who were not all anxious to give it up. Because it would develop into this great project they gave up their land and got a very poor price for it. What will happen to that land which has never been used by Bord na Móna? Will it go back to those farmers, because in some cases all they got for it was about £10 per acre?

We could discuss turf and bog development for a long time. I know Bord na Móna have problems, that there are financial implications because they have had to borrow heavily over the years to develop and they are now paying the price. Repayments on some of their loans at present run at about £20 million per annum. I hope that the changes will help them to continue in turf production. Those of us from rural areas know what bog development means to us and our families. I have seen it in Altymon in Galway, an area the Minister will be familiar with as it runs into his constituency.

Many families from that parish and from around Athenry made very good money out of bogs and they would be anxious to see turf production continue in that area. The workforce there, as in every other bog, has been depleted. It caused considerable problems in the area but, as I said at the outset, Bord na Móna, like every other State board, must change with the times. They are a commercial enterprise. The day of lame duck operatons is gone. All those boards will have to stand on their own feet and pay their way. I hope this measure will help in some way to establish Bord na Móna once again as a major industry involved in the production of peat, first of all, but also allowing them to develop and diversify into other activities, to go abroad and to sell their products. That is a very good development. It is, perhaps, a great chance for them but they have done a great job in the past and I wish them every success in the future.

This Bill is almost like a farm of land, some of it is good and some of it is not so good. The first part that we welcome is the provision under which Bord na Móna may take part in and acquire companies. We also welcome the provisions under which the board may engage in activities which are not strictly related to peat. Our reservations relate to the establishment of sub-boards and also to some matters which are not referred to in the Bill, for example, the provision of funds, or any reference to funds, for the development of the board. It is to be welcomed that the Bill will enable Bord na Móna participate in companies and to expand. Bord na Móna should be allowed reach their full potential.

One of the problems the board encountered over the years was that they did not have the capacity, because of the law, to expand and develop in areas which held considerable opportunities for the company. We are opposed to the provision to establish sub-boards as we see that as a very ominous development. There are a variety of reasons we oppose that. First, it will inevitably weaken the parent board. The existence of sub-boards is bound to undermine the authority of the parent board. Secondly, the establishment of sub-boards could be the initial step in the dismantling of Bord na Móna and their ultimate sale to the private sector. Bord na Móna have filled an important social function, particularly in the midlands, over the past number of years and are concerned at the lack of emphasis on their social role.

Areas in the midlands have been seriously damaged economically because of the recession and retrenchment of Bord na Móna recently. Plants have closed in Galway, Westmeath, Offaly and, also, one in Donegal which is not relevant to my generalisation of the midlands. A number of people have been seriously inconvenienced and damaged economically because of those changes and replacement industries have not been established to the extent that is needed.

The provision for the establishment of sub-boards is another step down the road that leads to further privatisation and the having-off of various activities of Bord na Móna which in the long term is undesirable for a variety of reasons, including the straightforward economic one that if companies such as Bord na Móna are to become serious players in the international market they should be able to engage in activities such as research and development. I read somewhere that Bord na Móna are spending £1.5 million on research and development. That may seem a large sum of money to many people but it will not allow Bord na Móna to carry out the necessary work to develop new products. Major investment in new products will have to be made if the company are to become a serious player internationally and if they are to expand into overseas markets. The money being spent on research and development is not adequate. Companies should be able to make big investments in research and development because a large amount of what is invested of necessity is on products which fail. Research and development ultimately pays off if a company has the ability to invest in the development of a large number of products. Out of that come the winners which will more than balance the losers. If a company is dependent on only one or two products and concentrates on developing them, they are on a winner if those products sell well but if they do not it is disastrous. For those reasons, companies such as Bord na Móna should have a much bigger investment in research and development than at present and there should be some reference to the provision for extra funds. There will be a need for greater investment if this company are to return to full viability and enormous amounts of money will be required to do that.

I welcome the provision to allow the company to expand outside the State but that expansion should not take place at the expense of jobs at home. Given that that will not happen, then it is desirable that the company should have the capacity to expand and to develop new markets, and to get from them the possibility to develop and reach their full potential. I welcome the provision in relation to accountancy practices and I do so with a fair degree of ignorance. I am by no means an expert on accountancy but it is reasonable that the company should engage in conventional accountancy practices and for that reason I welcome the provision.

I also welcome the provisions in section 7 which allow for joint ventures to acquire assets for building and engineering works, both in the State and outside it. That is a very useful development and it takes us to the question of the development of the cutaway bogs. Throughout the midlands that has been one of the great Irish political issues for some time. There have been many suggestions from committees on this matter but there has been much more development in committee work and in paper-pushing than there has been in development of economic action on the ground. I have an open mind as to what action should be taken but something should be done and done quickly. There is considerable potential for forestry and grassland although, as Senator Hussey indicated, grassland is difficult to manage. It requires a high level of agricultural expertise to maintain it over a prolonged period of time.

There are enormous environmental riches contained in some of the bogs in the midlands and they should be protected as they are part of our heritage. They are grossly under-valued at present. It is imperative that we preserve that environment so that it can be fully exploited and studied in the years ahead. In the bogs in the midlands there is tremendous potential for scientific research and for bringing new technology and scientists to Ireland to look at that valuable resource. It also provides a wonderful tourism opportunity and a developing market in those aspects of tourism. We are scratching the surface in regard to those matters but I am concerned that that resource should be preserved and that ever effort be made to prevent its destruction. Even if we cannot utilise it and capitalise on it fully at present, in the longer term it should be there to be exploited by a future generation, if this generation cannot get their act together.

That summarises most of my views on this Bill. Broadly speaking, I welcome it because it is a step in the right direction but I am concerned about some aspects. Our party will be introducing amendments to cover our concerns, particularly in relation to the sub-boards and the provision of funds.

I would like to conclude by referring to the delightfully cranky point that my friend, Senator Dardis made in relation to the title of the Bill, whether it should be called "turf" or "peat". I suspect this comes from his agricultural science training. I imagine that Professor Raftery will not disagree with me. I share his concern. I know it is a relatively minor point but I hope the Minister will consider the possibility of changing the title if that can be done without creating a lot of bother.

I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his recent decision to ban mining on Croagh Patrick. It was a courageous decision but a good one.

I listened with interest to the contribution made by some of the Opposition speakers on this Bill last night and this morning. At times I was confused, as I understand the explanatory memorandum to the Turf Development Bill, 1988, states:

The purpose of this Bill is the amendment of the Turf Development Acts, 1946 to 1983, in order to broaden the statutory remit of Bord na Móna, to allow it, (1) promote, form, take part in or acquire companies; (2) delegate some of the functions of the board to subboards; (3) engage in activities not strictly related to peat.

These are the terms within which the discussion on this Bill must be kept if one is to make a contribution which is relevant. I hope I can do that.

Discussion on the Bill gives us a chance to assess the present state of the board, their operations and the future of those people who will be working in Bord na Móna after this Bill has been passed. Since the Bill was introduced in 1988 I understand that consultants have submitted a report and important management decisions have been taken with the sole purpose of improving the position of the board. Bord na Móna, since they were set upt in 1946, have played a major role in providing a number of jobs in areas where in most cases there was no alternative source of employment.

Peat is of tremendous importance in Ireland. This can be seen by the fact that one-sixth of our total land area, more than three million acres, is covered in peatland. Bord na Móna have purchased in excess of 200,000 acres of bogland from private landowners. This is only a fraction of the total amount of peatland in the country, most of which is either completely unused or very poorly used in relation to its tremendous economic potential.

Over the years we have seen very little private bog development for the simple reason that it is not of a profit-making nature. Bord na Móna deserve tremendous credit for their progress over the years. Only for them the development we have seen with regard to our land might not have taken place on the scale we are now accustomed to. Bord na Móna are completely dependent on the weather. In this regard, over recent years they have faced major problems because of very bad summers. However, in spite of all the major setbacks they have, over the years, made a tremendous contribution to our economy.

It is accepted on all sides of the House that this Bill is important, as the future of Bord na Móna depends on it. Important decisions have to be taken. I have no doubt that the Minister, when faced with these decisions, will take them in the best interests of the board. Structures must be changed to enable the company to face current and future challenges. The Bill sets out to streamline a company which has served us well for over 40 years and, if given the chance, will continue to serve the nation well in the years ahead.

We, as legislators, must offer every facility to the board and to the management and to ensure that the company operate to their maximum potential in a highly competitive environment. The present structures of the company will not allow them to operate to their maximum potential when facing challenges. Hence the need for this important Bill. The management and workers of the company must be congratulated on the way in which they have adopted to the new situation and have spread into the international scene. The fact that they did it successfully shows that the expertise and skills are there. We must accept the fact that the current structures are inadequate. Hopefully, this Bill will address this major problem and, when passed, will allow the Minister and the company to adopt structures which will be vital for the future survival and expansion of the company.

This Bill will also permit Bord na Móna to engage in joint ventures in relation to their business, as extended and defined in this Bill, both here and abroad. It is intended that the board should only get involved in companies or joint ventures which will be able to pay their way. In this regard, involvement in joint ventures is subject to the approval of the Minister for Energy and also the Minister for Finance.

As has already been stated, as part of the fairly far-reaching transformation seen as essential, the Bill will allow Bord na Móna, subject to ministerial approval, to delegate certain functions to sub-boards. The powers of the board can, under the 1946 Act, be exercised only through the main board. This Bill provides the main board with powers to adopt another route by permitting the establishment of sub-boards and authorising the exercise of some of its powers through them. The drafting of this section of the Bill, however, reflects the belief that these sub-boards should only have powers as defined for them and conferred on them by written delegation of the main board. These sub-boards will be appointed by the main board and the members will be drawn from the membership of that board.

At present the board may only exercise certain of their powers within the State. This was unduly restrictive in relation to their efforts to develop new marketing abroad. Section 4 of the Bill allows the board, subject to ministerial approval, to exercise the necessary powers abroad and enable them to exploit foreign market opportunities.

The Bill also provides the board with the power to undertake consultancy work. The board have often received inquiries on this matter from abroad but could only respond by way of secondment of staff from Bord na Móna to the Department of Foreign Affairs. I welcome the Minister's statement that it is now proposed to develop this on a commercial basis. It is now also accepted that the board should concentrate their activities on their area of proven expertise, but in doing so should also pursue their primary objective, that is, their peat business.

The board have accumulated a great deal of expertise in other areas and believe they can capitalise on this. The Bill provides for that. The board are one of the leading peat producing companies in the world and have led the way in peat technology. Over the years, other companies, including the Finish peat board, have used many of the board's techniques in establishing their own operations. It is in these technical and engineering areas that new product development, where the board have gained a particular expertise, can be developed further. Provision is made in the Bill to give the board the essential latitude to pursue business opportunities. Again, this will be subject to ministerial approval.

Also under the Bill Bord na Móna will be permitted to promote, form, take part in or acquire companies, either within the State or abroad. The power of State-sponsored bodies to form or take part in subsidiary companies is not new. In 1988 statutory power was given to the ESB to set up similar companies. In this Bill similar powers are to be given to Bord na Móna. The board will therefore have flexibility to develop new emphasis in particular on marketing which no doubt is a vital ingredient in securing the future of the board. These new powers will be of major assistance to the exploitation of the new business opportunities, not only at home but abroad.

I welcome the Bill and again congratulate the Minister and wish him well. I hope to see the Bill going through as quickly as possible to enable Bord na Móna to put in place the new structures which will enable them to continue to serve the people as they have done for the past 40 years.

I also would like to welcome the Bill. It is important legislation that develops the possibilities for Bord na Móna in an interesting way. I would like to take up one or two of those. It is true to say that the existence of large areas of bog in Ireland is one of the distinctive characteristics of this country. They are one of the principal features of natural and ecological beauty and interest throughout the world. I am sure the Minister will agree that it is part of all our heritage. It is certainly part of mine because my mother's people come from precisely the area of the midlands where the Minister indicated a degree of interest in the continuation of employment. This particularly affects Counties Laois and Offaly.

I remember an uncle of mine now deceased, waxing lyrical about the bogs and how, when he was working and living in Dublin, it was one of his principal pleasures to come back and spend an afternoon working on the bog. This is not just a trivial thing, because the cherishing of the bogs, in addition to their commercial exploitation, is a deep-rooted part of the Irish psyche. It is reflected also even in children's literature, in books such as The Turf Cutter's Donkey by Patricia Lynch, which many people like myself enjoyed greatly and made part of their life when they were growing up.

There is something quite distinctive about the nature of our inheritence here that has two or three different features. There is the commercial feature which is principally addressed, and properly so, by this Bill. Then, there is the environmental aspect and there is also a cultural aspect. Bogs are part of our heritage.

In the economic field Bord na Móna were certainly a flagship in world terms in understanding the economic significance of the peat resource and in developing the technology to exploit it. As I understand it, Bord na Móna have over the past 40 years or so made this technology and this expertise available to other countries, particularly in northern Europe and, of course, we welcome any initiative, any demonstration of the native Irish genius. As I say, the economic aspect is something that is of very considerable importance and one the Minister rightly considers to be a particularly valuable aspect of Bord na Móna's work.

Previous speakers have also referred to the problems of dealing with cutaway bogs, with what is left after the commercial exploitation. I will not tire the House by repeating what has been said on all sides about the necessity for special sensitivity in this area. I believe there is also reason for a particular concern and care about the preservation of at least some of the existing bogs. I am particularly glad that the Minister has specifically drawn attention to the expert committee that has been set up and that has recently established an independent expert committee to examine in depth the potential uses of this cutaway bog and to recommend measures which will ensure that the land is put to the best possible use. The terms of reference of the committee require that they examine the competing demands of forestry and agricultural and horticultural and amenity uses of the cutaway bogs. I think this is a very forward looking development and I commend the Minister for having taken this path.

I think it is also useful that the Bill expands the functions of Bord na Móna to allow them to take on and intensify their involvement in consultancy work. In particular, may I say how welcome are certain paragraphs of section 7 of the Bill because paragraph (f) of section 8 deals with promoting or aiding in the promotion of displays, exhibitions and demonstrations; and paragraph (g), which is the one I am particularly pleased to see, empowers Bord na Móna to

establish and endow either solely or in co-operation with any person, chairs and lectureships in any university or college to conduct research calculated to improve or extend the production or use of turf or turf products and the by-products thereof and to foster education and knowledge relating to such production or use.

This is a very valuable development, because I think the university system in this country should not be permitted or encouraged to be an ivory tower system. I think the involvement of universities in understanding, by research and by teaching, the importance of this resource in our community is a very good and a very valuable thing indeed. I hope, however, that this research would not be limited just to part itself, because I have to say that the peat bogs are a finite resource. They are not being replenished, certainly not being replenished at anything like an economic or harvestable rate.

We are dealing with a diminishing resource all the time, one that is finite and we have the option of taking away the whole lot and exploiting it commercially, leaving nothing behind. I know the arguments, both economic and social, for intensifying production of peat, particularly because of its usefulness in combating air pollution. Reference has been made already to the situation in Dublin city with the banning of the burning of bituminous coal, which I particularly welcome and the economic opportunities provided for Bord na Móna in this manner.

However, I have to say that there is a good deal of international opinion with regard, for example, to the use of milled peat as a soil dressing, or as the basis of compost, that would suggest that other fibrous materials are equally good and do not do the damage that intensive reaping of the peat system in the country could do. I hope that among the research interests and concerns which universities will be requested to take on board would be the economic viability of producing a peat substitute which will be useful from the agricultural and horticultural point of view.

I would like to turn to one other situation which is a specific illustration of this and I do so because, as the Minister of State will realise even in the Seanad we are at least quasi-professional politicians. We have constituents who are constituents either by virtue of the fact that they are voters, or indeed in some cases pretend to be voters, or because they believe we are people with specific environmental interests.

I hope that, under the wide terms of this Bill, Bord na Móna, and particularly the committee of experts established by the Minister, will be in a position to give us an authoritative view on the subject of Roundstone Bog and Clifden Airport, because I think this is in a way an important test case for the way in which we are prepared to treat our remaining resources of unspoiled wilderness, including bog. The Minister of State will know, of course, that Roundstone Bog is a unique habitat for rare plants and birds. It is a place of particular beauty that is renowned thoughout the world.

There is also a local lobby group. I have to say, of course, that it is partisan; it is from one side of an intensive argument. This group believes that Roundstone Bog is an area of such importance in conservation terms that it deserves a place on the UNESCO world heritage list of natural areas of conservation values. Various leading authorities have also placed on the record their belief that this is so, including, I have seen myself, the celebrated botanist, David Bellamy, making this particular point. It is one I think we ought to bear clearly in mind.

Again, the Minister will know that there is a proposal to site an airport very near Clifden, which would entail the removal of 211,000 cubic metres of peat, to be spread presumably elsewhere on the site, and also envisaged is the blasting and excavation of 93,000 cubic metres of rock, bringing in 600 lorry loads of tarmacadam and stone base, the building of access roads, fencing, car park and a terminal building.

Again, it may be claimed that this is not in the central area of Roundstone Bog, but because it is a blanket bog it is important to conserve the periphery as well as not to disturb the entire location. It is also true to say that Clifden is only an hour and a half away from the existing airport at Galway. I am not against airports. Indeed it would be a colossal impertinence of me in Dublin, and I would quickly be told so by the Minister himself, who is from the Galway area, and by various Senators from that area who have a distinguished tradition in conservation matters, that it was an impertinence on my part to attempt to inhibit the development of airports from a purely Dublin point of view but I think this bog is so important that it is part of the national heritage. Whereas, of course, airports are important, they do not provide a complete solution to every economic and difficult problem.

I understand that if a solution can be found to this there are economic by-products from the proper development of this very important area of bog at Roundstone. I believe this kind of development could be facilitated under the terms of this Bill precisely because of the foresight of the Minister in establishing his committee of experts and including in the provisions of the Bill the possibility of the engagement of universities in understanding the economic relevance of the bog system of this country.

I come back to this notion of the economic relevance because I have to put it to the Minister that, although traditionally the prime economic importance of peat bogs in this country was merely the abstraction of energy from the bogs, this is no longer entirely the case. Because of the diminishing resources throughout the world of areas of intact natural beauty and of what are described as wilderness areas, there is a considerable tourist potential in these areas, particularly if the preservation of the bogs is not merely the passive acceptance of a geographical fact of life but is the careful exploitation of this resource in human and tourist terms, not only for the people of Ireland but for people internationally who will come to enjoy the amenities that may be provided.

I understand there is a project for the development of an interpretative heritage centre similar to the Burren centre in Kilfenora. The centre would be intended to interpret and explain what my briefing agency describes, quite appropriately, as the "magic" of this landscape to both the resident and tourist market and would initially employ four or five people but within five years would attract 50,000 visitors and have a turnover in excess of £150,000. I believe that, quite rightly, the promoters of this scheme indicate that further downstream jobs would occur. I say this because I think it is important not to be woolly or sentimental in urging Ministers of Government, who are practical people, who have a financial responsibility, to engage in something merely for the sake of whimsy or half-remembered phrases from songs about the old bog road and so on. At the end of the day there has to be, in addition to the environmental necessity, a sound, practical, economic basis.

I conclude by again welcoming the Bill, seeing in it the possibilities for a more sophisticated understanding of the importance of our bogs and developing them economically as a tourist and environmental resource which, I believe, will be very important. As Bord na Móna of 40 or 50 years ago were in the forefront of the development of the techniques for the extraction of peat and fuel from the bogs, I believe there is now the opportunity to go, as world trends have indicated we must all go, in a more sophisticated direction. I believe that Ireland and Bord na Móna under the terms of this Bill could once more be to the forefront of European development in another area. I hope that the provisions passively existing in this Bill will be actively brought to life by the Minister.

Most people who have spoken yesterday and today have in one way or another praised the efforts of Bord na Móna. Well, they will not get that many bouquets from me, I can assure you. In fact, I would say the operation of Bord na Móna over the past ten years has been a disaster and I do not see the prospects for the future as that good. Bord na Móna are in a financial mess. They have a debt of £200 million. The proposals I have heard recently could mean the loss of possibly 1,000 or 1,500 jobs in their operations if they are going to phase out their milled peat operation.

I welcome the Minister's proposals because at least they are an attempt to steamline to some extent the Bord na Móna operation but they certainly do not address the financial side of this. In the Bill Bord na Móna are given the opportunity to diversify into new operations. Diversification in itself is good for any company or organisation, but I am worried that diversification on this occasion is to replace rather than to expand operations. Indeed, I will pick two areas Bord na Móna could diversify into — forestry and grassland. Less then ten years ago I saw Bord na Móna bulldoze 700 acres of forestry into the bog in the interests of progress. Yet today we are talking about Bord na Móna expanding into the forestry industry. If a company of the size, strength and experience of Bord na Móna could not foresee that they were making a mistake in the early eighties with 700 acres of forestry, I am not too sure if I can backslap them today on their proposals. I also saw them in the early eighties dig up 2,000 acres of grassland which they acquired from the Sugar Company at that time and from which grass meal was made and an attempt made to turn it back into peat or bog. They have been partly successful, but nature takes its course and grass still grows. This is a problem for them.

While I welcome the proposals in the Bill from the Minister, I have serious worries. I have serious worries about Bord na Móna, their operations and future. I am not so sure that Bord na Móna are, or will be in the near future, the flagship of the semi-State bodies that we knew it to be. When I say that I do not take in any way from the men who started off in Walsh Island 50 years ago, the Paddy Gormans and the John P. Lynchs and the men Todd Andrews wrote about. They were wonderful men. They worked in extreme circumstances and under extreme hardship. They made a wonderful contribution to Bord na Móna, to the State and to the community of the midlands and the west.

Indeed, Bord na Móna down through the years did make a contribution. But I believe they sat back in their multistoried glasshouse in Baggot Street in the past number of years. I do not think they identified with what it was necessary to do in regard to their future and their operations. While a lot of the blame would lie with management, I think some of the blame would also have to lie with political interference, because they had their share of that also. Bord na Móna should be in far better way than they are — they definitely should not be £200 million in debt. Bord na Móna have got their raw materials for practically nothing. They got the boglands of Ireland for a nominal fee from the farmers of Ireland.

In my own area 15,000 acres of bog were given up to Bord na Móna at nominal rates, ranging from £3 to £40 or £50 an acre on the clear understanding that jobs would be provided for the small farmers and their families, but there are no jobs for either themselves or their sons. As I have mentioned, 700 acres of forestry in that area were bulldozed into the ground and 2,000 acres of grassland ripped up in the interests of progress and development by Bord na Móna. At the same time, 60 permanent jobs were lost in a subsidiary of the Sugar Company, namely, Gowle Farm. The people were told that up to 400 jobs were in the pipeline in the proposed briquette factory at Ballyforan which would service the west and north-west.

As Senator Hussey said, they did go down that road to some extent in that they acquired a site and spent a lot of money. They are still paying interest on some of this money. It was well known at that time that up to £5 million was spent on purchasing machinery — they would call it plant — for the factory, some of which is still hidden in stores around this country while some has been used in other operations. The end result was that they did not go ahead with the project. Therein lies a second problem for Bord na Móna. There was also political interference at that time in that the Minister for Energy decided that Bord na Móna should not proceed. They were not allowed to proceed because the Minister and the Government, in their wisdom, decided a review of all semi-State operations should be carried out. Despite this, a development in Moneypoint went ahead but the one planned for Ballyforan did not. Perhaps it was not politically important enough. Two-hundred and twenty people were employed at that time in that operation but that number is now down to 50, with a few lorries drawing milled peat from that area either to Shannonbridge or Lanesboro'. I do not know if it is a profitable operation, but one would not tell many of the people around Ballyforan that it was a profitable operation, or that one could fill a lorry with turf in Ballyforan, take it to Lanesboro and make a pound on it.

Bord na Móna have their problems. While the Minister's proposals attempt to offer a few outlets to Bord na Móna the £200 million debt still has to be addressed. Bord na Móna over the years have made a very poor attempt at marketing their product. During the last ten years — perhaps things have changed in the last 12 months to two years — only certain hauliers could draw briquettes from the Bord na Móna briquette factories. One might say it was a closed shop. Horticulture, forestry and grassland may present outlets but I do not think diversification into these areas will protect jobs in Bord na Móna.

As I have said, I believe between 1,000 and 1,500 jobs will be lost in Bord na Móna because there is no money coming in men cannot be employed. The paymaster at the moment is the ESB. If the milled peat operation is scaled down, then the workforce will also be scaled down.

The experience of those of us in the south Roscommon and Galway areas with Bord na Móna has been a sad one. In the late seventies people said to us, "We saw them leave in the late forties. They left their shovels after them in the bog, and that could happen again". This has not happened but they have walked away from their responsibility, their commitment, and the decisions they took in the interests of progress and of the people living in the two counties. While there may have been a lot of back-slapping over the last two days, Bord na Móna will receive no such praise from me for the decisions, they have taken in recent times, particularly in the last ten years and I do not say that lightly. I have taken into consideration the efforts made by the people who started in Walsh Island by those who have faced tough times and worked in bad weather.

Bord na Móna may think that to ensure their survival they should sell off some of the family silver. However, they should bear in mind it is not their silver but rather the silver of the small farmers who gave it to them at a nominal fee on the basis that jobs would be provided for themselves and their families. Bord na Móna do not have the right at this stage to sell back to individuals or organisations at a profit bogs which they were given in the public interest a few years ago. The board of Bord na Móna in their city headquarters are not acting in the best interests of Bord na Móna. I believe they lost touch in the early eighties when they seemed to be far more preoccupied with their status, as the flagship of the semi-State bodies, than with the future operations of the company. We are now paying the price.

I wish the Minister well with this Bill. It will address the problems facing Bord na Móna, to some extent. Coming as he does from the west I am sure the Minister has a great interest in the development of our peatlands and the opportunity this presents to create employment. However, the millstone of £200 million has to be removed. I do not know what the Minister's proposals are but I am sure he has given the matter careful consideration. I note from his statement that he intends to make some proposals to Cabinet — he may already have done so — but that is where the serious problem facing Bord na Móna lies. The remaining big areas of bogland are located in east Galway and south Roscommon. We are not happy at the fact that peat from these bogs is being transported across the Shannon to provide employment in other areas. I am not saying that employment should not be created in other areas, rather that if the bog was never touched we would still have it for use at another time. However, it is now being used without any advantages accruing to us. There is a great deal of resentment in the farming community towards the Bord na Móna operation in that territory. The sale of milled peat is very much dependent on what happens in the ESB over the next number of years because if the turf-burning stations are not maintained Bord na Móna will face a more serious problem than the one facing them at the moment.

The Minister has a hard job ahead of him in, first, rescuing Bord na Móna, and secondly, directing them towards the year 2000. I know he will give them his full support and have no doubt that at the end of the day he will have enhanced Bord na Móna. I hope he does because many areas in the midlands and the west are very much dependent on them. In the west up to £20 million was spent on the purchase of a site with £5 million being spent on a plant which is now lying idle on the banks of the Suck. People are crying out for jobs. Some built houses but found only two or three years later they had to lock the door and go again. A few tears have been shed along the way. I hope under the Minister's good stewardship, some of the wrongs will be redressed.

I join with other speakers in welcoming the Minister to the House and the introduction of the Turf Development Bill, 1988. I had the opportunity to speak on this Bill when it was discussed in the other House some time ago. At that time great urgency was attached to this Bill but two years later we find it is only finding its way through the Seanad.

I welcome the Bill because it gives Bord na Móna additional powers which are necessary to allow the company develop further, broaden its statutory base and to expand. As Senator Finneran has pointed out, all the operations of Bord na Móna are far from a happy story. I hope the additional powers being granted will be utilised to the maximum to bring the company back to profitability. There is no question in my mind that Bord na Móna who were set up in the mid-forties, did some excellent work during the following 20 years. However, some time after this they seemed to lose their drive and direction. Many people in County Roscommon have sad memories of the way Bord na Móna handled and managed their investment, their dealings with both the farming community and their employees and the commitments given. They started projects but, unfortunately, never finished them.

I hope the Minister will be kind enough to reply to a number of questions I will raise later with regard to the Ballyforan project, as we knew it. In the first 20 years of their existence Bord na Móna developed vast areas of bog in the midlands, particularly in the counties of Laois and Offaly. They utilised this natural resource, our boglands, in the process creating many jobs and stemming the tide of emigration from that part of the country. Unfortunately, that was not our experience in County Roscommon. Perhaps they became involved in County Roscommon much too late or, alternatively, they were distracted and took their eye off the ball.

At one time Bord na Móna were a major employer, employing upwards of 7,000 people. Today, I understand that figure stands at 2,500 and continues to drop. We all recognise that Bord na Móna have to be competitive. There is no place in this economy for a company who cannot compete in the marketplace and, unfortunately, one of the great tragedies with Bord na Móna is that while they were prepared to manufacture and harvest fuel they were unable to sell it. One of their big difficulties was that while they were able to manufacture millions of tonnes of briquettes they were, unfortunately, unable to market them economically, hence the position in Ballyforan today.

We have to recognise Bord na Móna went through some very difficult years in the latter half of the eighties when extremely bad weather conditions led to major financial difficulties. However, I believe their failure to adjust and modernise — as I stated in 1983 in the Dáil — lies behind many of their difficulties. They were using outdated methods in the harvesting of peat and in the manufacture of briquettes. Indeed, I have no doubt had the Ballyforan project gone ahead, under the then management, Bord na Móna would be bankrupt today. They would have had to borrow massive sums of money to build the briquette factory and undoubtedly these would have brought Bord na Móna down. Nevertheless, one must ask the question, why did Bord na Móna plough so many millions of pounds into the Ballyforan project without first assessing where they were going or what was happening? In November 1982, the then Government launched their election campaign in Ballyforan with the laying of the foundations stone of the factory. In early 1983, the same board had the gall, arrogance, ignorance and audacity to go to another Minister for Energy to tell him that they were not prepared to go ahead with the project, despite the fact that millions of pounds had already been spent on the project. Many questions remain unanswered and, indeed, one must ask the question, why was money put into the project in 1982 and why was it abandoned in 1983. Of course, apart from the money put into the project vast sums were spent on the laying of railway tracks, the building of bridges and roads and on drainage.

Much of the bog acquired has never been paid for. Many farmers — myself and many of my neighbours included — have never received any money for our bogs even though they were taken by way of compulsory purchase orders up to ten years ago. Neither did the board give us alternative turbary. This is an example of the high-handed way in which they dealt with people. Those bogs are now lying idle. They have been ploughed and destroyed. As far as the local people who own them are concerned, they can no longer be utilised. I ask the Minister to address some of those matters when replying.

A large number of people have been made redundant by Bord na Móna. I regret that much more has not been done by way of EC funds, by Structural Funds or other funds, to alleviate the hardship caused in many of our small rural towns and villages where people with good jobs were made redundant. Many young married men with mortgages were left with no option but to emigrate. Bord na Móna can avail of a lot of opportunities if they have the initiative to take them. The introduction of smokeless zones in Dublin to my mind presents Bord na Móna with a great opportunity to market their product, peat briquettes, in Dublin. In a submission to the Government CDL recommended that the Government should subsidise smokeless coal. If there are any subsidies envisaged to help the weaker sections of the community who will have to tolerate an additional financial burden arising out of the introduction of smokeless zones they should be applied to a native product. We all recognise the importance of the peat briquettes in this regard.

Bord na Móna have moved over to new methods of harvesting and now employ people on contract rather than directly. This has merit and undoubtedly will present the board with the opportunity to harvest far greater quantities of peat in far shorter time. However, this change should be made in phases rather than at a very fast rate, to give the communities involved an opportunity to adjust to the new system and to ensure we do not find great numbers of people being made redundant over the next 12 months.

I welcome the decision of Bord na Móna to relocate their head office in the midlands. It was crazy in the first place to locate it here in Dublin. I cannot for the life of me understand why it was located here and I welcome the move to have it relocated in the midlands.

We must recognise that one of the most successful products being marketed by the board is moss peat. The board should be encouraged to market this product worldwide to ensure the maximum benefit for the Irish people, the employees and the economy. It is an excellent product. The board have to be complimented for the way in which they have to date marketed it and they should be encouraged to continue to do so...

There are approximately 10,000 acres of cutaway bog. It is very important that this major resource is handled properly. A rural development plan for the regions should be drawn up which would provide for the making available of cutaway bog. It is essential that people should once more get the opportunity to develop and secure an economic output from cutaway bogs so that they become a source of employment for the rural population. Where possible, EC funding should be sought. There is an urgent need to revitalise those areas and while I do not envisage all the cutaway bogs reverting to grassland the people from whom the bogs were taken by way of compulsory purchase orders should have the opportunity to get them back. Small farmers living adjacent to those cutaway bogs should get that opportunity, be it for forestry or grassland production purposes. However some will have to be retained for amenity purposes. The farmers from whom bog was confiscated in the forties, fifties, sixties or seventies should be given the opportunity to get those bogs back in order to increase their holdings or, alternatively, to use them for afforestation purposes. With the way things are going at present, it looks as if afforestation will be just as attractive as farming in the very near future.

In addition to drawing up a rural development plan, the Government should examine all the possibilities to see what jobs can be created in these cutaway bogs, more and more of which will come onstream annually. I hope in the very near future the Government will have a policy on this. A committee has been set up and I note from the Minister's script that he expects them to report by the end of the year. I appeal to him to use his good offices to ensure they report much sooner.

I think some kind of peat land authority should be set up to co-ordinate our resources in cutaway bogs and to get expert advice on the best way to deal with them. I am very strongly in favour of returning those bogs to the farmers who originally had them. If there is some better way of dealing with the matter I am open to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Structural Funds, under the RECHAR programme should be sought. That programme was designed to benefit areas where coal production had ceased. Peat is the equivalent of coal as far as we are concerned and just as important to us as coal is to many other countries. We should seek funds under that heading to alleviate the major hardship that has been caused in areas where the peat resource is exhausted for those who worked for Bord na Móna but who, because the bogs are no longer being harvested, have been made redundant.

The way in which Bord na Móna acquired those bogs should be looked at. It is extremely important that the Minister examines this question when he comes to make a decision on what should be done with the cutaway bogs. As I stated earlier, the bogs were confiscated from many of those farmers and now that the peat has been extracted from the bogs and they are no longer being harvested they should revert to the farming community. There are a number of issues which I look forward to addressing on Committee Stage.

In conclusion, I again request the Minister, when replying, having regard to the concern expressed by Senators to let the House know what the position is with regard to the Ballyforan project. I know a number of Senators are concerned with regard to that project, the total cost, how many people are employed and the potential employment envisaged for the future. At the present time peat is being transported from Ballyforan to Shannonbridge. It is very hard to see a future in that.

I would like the Minister to inform the House as to how many thousand acres of bog were acquired by Bord na Móna in the Derrynafadda project? How many acres is being harvested at the present time? What is the total cost of the project to date? I would also like to ask the Minister if he would confirm to the House that the previous chief executive officer, having been made aware of the views of the Minister for Energy of the day, proceeded to purchase equipment for the Ballyforan project when it was Government policy to defer it at that time. Where is this machinery? Is it stored on the Continent? Is it stored here at home? Those are questions the House would like answered. I hope the Minister when replying will deal with them.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus fáilte roimh an Bille atá os ár gcómhair inniú. As has been mentioned by a number of speakers this is very important legislation and it will have wide-ranging implications for Bord na Móna. In effect it will decide the very survival of the board. It is true to say that Bord na Móna are at a crossroads and that urgent decisions must be taken, structures must be changed and the company must be geared towards present and future challenges.

The Bill gives us the opportunity to update and modernise an organisation that has served us extremely well over 40 years given the reservations and criticisms that people have already levied in relation to the operations of the board over the previous year, which is quite understandable. Ballyforan is given as an example of difficulties where the board changed their minds about decisions that were taken but by and large, the board has served the country extremely well. I sincerely hope that as a result of the decisions we take in relation to this Bill, when the board is properly structured it will continue to serve the country well into the next century.

The company must be given the opportunity to operate to its maximum potential in these highly, competitive and challenging times. The present structures prevent the company from doing just that. No one can expect management, or indeed workers, to operate in outmoded and outdated structures. They may have been eminently suitable in times past but unfortunately they bear little or no relevance to the nineties and even less into the next century. Because of the inhibiting structures under which the board operates, it has been forced to adopt new approaches to some of its operations, particularly international marketing and in relation to trade. Management and workers alike must be complimented on the manner in which they have adapted and geared themselves towards the international scene. It showed that the expertise is there, the skills are there but it highlighted one very important fact and, that was that the current structures are inadequate. The Bill before us addresses that major problem and will allow the company to survive and to expand in the years ahead.

The Minister mentioned that similar legislation was provided in relation to the ESB. We will have to recognise that the ESB is a service industry while Bord na Móna could be regarded as engaging in extracting a commodity from the soil. I sincerely hope that the spin-off from this legislation will be the quicker development of jobs than was the case in relation to the ESB. I am quite confident, that, given the legislation we have here and the opportunities the board will have as a result, that they will be very successful in the years ahead.

As has already been stated, the board was set up under the Turf Development Act, 1946 with a specific narrow brief of maximising the benefit of natural peat resources. As I have already said, with some exceptions, they were extremely successful in that job and became one of the foremost peat producers in the world in terms of skill, the technology employed, production techniques and the restoration of cutaway bogs. One has to acknowledge also, that the company were very successful in environmental and conservation matters. By any standards, it was a massive achievement and one for which the board in general and the workers and all associated with it must be highly commended.

Workers and management go hand in hand. Relatively speaking, Bord na Móna have had a good industrial relations history. That is a tremendous credit to all involved particularly in view of the difficulties experienced over the past number of years. There is an air of reality and realism on all sides dealing with Bord na Móna.

Extremely important — as has been mentioned by all of the speakers — in relation to Bord na Móna is that they have contributed enormously to the economic life of the country in general and particularly to the economic life of some areas. No doubt these areas would have been severely disadvantaged and would have become economic and social wastelands but for Bord na Móna. In fact, a number of towns in the midlands in particular have been built up specifically because of the operations of Bord na Móna. I will not go into the specifics of the areas involved but we are all aware of the number of towns that have developed because of the operations of the board. Therefore, it is only fitting and right that we should pay tribute to the company for that magnificent contribution.

However, we must acknowledge that the wind of change is blowing and that the people from these areas, so well catered for by Bord na Móna, are rightly concerned about the future. I am confident that the board will use the expertise and skills used so effectively in the past to meet the new set of challenges for the future. Within the constraints of the 1946 Act the board tried to adapt to changing times and there has been significant progress. They have tried to reduce costs through voluntary redundancy and early retirements. Somewhat in anticipation of the Bill, a number of opportunities for possible and profitable participation in new industry areas are being pursued.

Last year I attended a presentation given by some of the management of Bord na Móna and I was extremely impressed by their professionalism, realistic approach and total commitment to making the board a viable entity. Given the powers contained in this Bill, the company will survive and develop. A bog has the unique quality of being capable of producing different products at different stages of development. To a large extent we have concentrated on the extractive element to date. The future will demand a different type of strategy, a mix of more traditional products with a certain bias towards high value or high value-added products. It is also probable that a totally new range of products will materialise. This is why the legislation is so important. The company must be allowed space to breathe, to develop their revolutionary new ideas for the use of peat which could have an enormous impact on the whole industry. Strategic approaches and responses to the marketplace will be required if the board are to survive. The company must have freedom to exploit new developments fully.

A number of speakers have already referred to horticulture and garden industries. These are probably one of the most exciting areas that the board have become involved in, both at home and internationally. Here there is a golden opportunity for growth. However, we have to recognise that it is also a highly competitive area. The company have shown themselves capable of competing with the best in Europe. The time is right for a new marketing strategy of diversification into high value-added products.

The board were set up initially to develop peat production for energy purposes. That has been referred to by Senator Naughten and others. One of the most compelling advantages of peat is the low smoke emission from burning briquettes. With so much emphasis now being placed on damage to the ozone layer, smog problems, pollution of every kind in relation to the use of fuels, there is tremendous scope for the promotion of the use of briquettes for energy purposes. Bord na Móna have been setting about marketing their particular product as a very safe type of fuel in relation to pollution but greater emphasis must be placed on the use of briquettes as opposed to other forms of fuel.

It is no harm at this stage to refer to the difficulties that the board have experienced in recent times in relation to the arrival on the scene of the private operators and the private producers. When the board were set up and into the fifties there was the traditional style of people having their own bank of turf and cutting their own bank of turf. Then, when we came into relative prosperity in the sixties and seventies, that type of tradition died away and you could not give away banks that initially had a fair economic value. With the arrival of new type cutting machines, again banks of turf became extremely valuable pieces of property. Where before people did not know where a bank of turf that belonged to a family was, very quickly they began to try to find out and a lot of problems were created in local areas in relation to the ownership of a bank of turf because it had become a very important piece of land.

The competition that has been generated as a result of the arrival on the scene of private producers has caused enormous problems in the production of bog peat for domestic consumption. It has caused enormous problems for Bord na Móna.

One has to recognise the difficulties of production under which the company operate. Good weather and bad weather both affect the board adversely. If we have a mild winter demand for the product is not as great as they would have hoped. If there is a bad summer they have tremendous production difficulties. So, one way or the other, the board have extreme difficulties and cannot win. If the summer is good and they produce a tremendous amount, and the following winter is mild they have a lot of stock on their hands. It is extremely difficult to plan production in detail because they cannot forecast weather conditions. They have a huge problem and in the circumstances they are doing a relatively good job.

The key to the Bill is flexibility. It gives the Minister and the board flexibility. It gives flexibility for the talents of management and workers who will be able to shine and specialise in their own particular area. I welcome the Bill because I see it as providing a new hope, a new lease of life for the board. The sooner the structures are put in place the better for the company, for the management and the employees but, more especially, for the communities which the board have served so well in the past. The survival of these communities will depend to a very large extent on the success of this legislation and the developments that will accrue from it. I am very confident that the Bill will prove to be an outstanding success for the board. I wish the Minister well in his efforts to put the board on the map as a company, one of the flagships of the country, as it was in the past. I look forward to their return to that level and that standard.

I, too, welcome the Minister to the House. I think it is his first visit since his appointment. There is a general welcome all round not only for his presence in the House but for his appointment also.

Generally, I want to give a welcome to the Bill because I believe it is important that Bord na Móna should diversify as, indeed, other companies have done, some of them long since, the ESB more recently and Aer Lingus, just to mention two. It is important in today's world. Bord na Móna have been struggling, as the previous speaker has pointed out, with extreme difficulties, including the weather. It has not been an easy operation. Despite the criticism of Bord na Móna which I have been listening to for the last hour and a half, they brought great benefits to many parts of the country and gave an uplift to areas which would not otherwise have had it. Indeed, their activities were watched with interest, not only by the native population but by people far and wide in other parts of Europe and in many instances their operation was envied by many. Certainly, I have not heard any reference in this debate to the great importance of turf during the Emergency. Many of my colleagues who have been speaking here might not remember that far back but I am long enough on this earth to remember the forties when we leaned very heavily on turf production to keep us warm, and for cooking and other purposes. It is worth mentioning that since then, of course, Bord na Móna have been struggling in a market that has not been easy. Some Senators have placed the blame on Bord na Móna themselves. I am not going to go into that today, I leave it to the judgment of the Minister as to what he can do about it.

I want to deal with Bord na Móna sales, in particular, in the Dublin area. I have watched with interest the marketing of briquettes and other products by Bord na Móna. This marketing leaves much to be desired. There are two main problems with the marketing of briquettes. There is the optimistic view that this market will expand in the coming winter months and I hope they will tackle the two problems I am about to outline. I would see a difficulty with regard to transportation of briquettes because of the binding. Although in recent times the binding has been improved it would make many people reluctant to purchase briquettes in the local shop. I know briquettes can be delivered by merchants and many people buy in bulk but there are many people in the built-up areas of Dublin city and county who rely on the local corner shop for their supply. However, it is not easy to carry a bundle of briquettes. In many instances traders have to send an assistant with the purchaser and I have seen neighbours carrying briquettes for a person who found it impossible to carry them. I hope Bord na Móna will pay more attention to the binding.

The other problem is that while burning of turf would greatly reduce pollution in the air outside it greatly increases pollution in the dwellings because of the light weight of the dust and many people are reluctant to burn the product because of this. It seems to throw dust at least all over the room where there is a fire and this is a major problem. I do not know what can be done about it. How can dust be made heavy? There may be some chemical they can use with turf to make the dust heavier so that it will remain in the grate and can be removed from there to a container without flying all over the place. These problems may seems minor but the person or firm marketing the product should know the reason somebody is not buying it. Many people buy reluctantly or refuse to buy briquettes because of one or both of these problems.

Senator Norris has been loud in voice, as he usually is, in welcoming the banning of the burning of bituminous coal. I do not see the order as doing that. The Minister should take that up with the Minister for the Environment because if my assessment of the situation is correct, and it might be no harm for the Minister to have a look at recent advertisements in the paper there are moves afoot to beat the ban that is being imposed because the ban is only for the sale of the coal, not for the burning of it. If a person has sufficient space and financial reserves to stock up at this time of year he can burn coal all next winter lawfully. If a person has the resources to move outside the city for the purchase of the coal and transport it in, he can burn it all winter.

It is not unlawful to continue burning coal in domestic dwellings in Dublin. Senator Norris and I am sure many others, may have missed this point. It is not lawful for a person to obtain coal outside the Dublin area and bring it in provided it is not being transported into Dublin for placing on the market or for sale or distribution by a merchant. It is my belief that there are moves afoot for some merchants to move outside Dublin. Recent paper advertisements may indicate this. They obtain a premises or a yard from which to sell the coal from outside Dublin to perhaps a number of people on one street who can hire a truck. It is not the merchant who hires the truck because that is illegal but, say, five purchasers can go to that merchant, purchase a considerable quantity of coal, bring it into the city by truck and take it to their homes.

A Leas-Chathaoirligh, you have allowed me to stray somewhat from the Bill we are dealing with but it is connected with the optimism being expressed by the Minister and by Senators with regard to the sale of peat briquettes in the city of Dublin in the winter. In the interests of Bord na Móna and what the Minister is trying to do that problem should be given some thought.

I was disappointed that there was no reference to conservation of the bogs when the Minister was dealing with what happens the bogs when Bord na Móna finish their operations thereon. Bord na Móna and the Minister have given us a number of uses for cutaway bogs but the continued existence of the bog was not among them. I would like to see this added. I welcome the Minister's decision to set up a committee to advise him on this aspect. It is a step in the right direction. I hope that their remit would cover a further item, that not only would they examine the uses of cutaway bogs for horticulture, grass, agriculture, forestry, amenities but they should consider whether some of them should revert to bogland. That is not impossible. I have watched with interest over the years; I am deeply interested in this matter as I am a turf-cutting person but I do not cut by machine. There are many bogs where a machine should never be allowed. If they are cut by hand, they will remain bogs for future generations. I have seen bogs in the forties not five miles from my own home, in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, that were cut by hand and much of it cut to the rock at the time. That means that you leave a considerable amount of waste. It is now being cut again to a much shallower degree. That is the kind of operation that maintains a bog. There are bogs that grow, and the heather bogs are growing all the time.

Debate adjourned.