Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
1. Mr. J. Bruton and Mr. E. Kenny asked the Taoiseach whether the Government has received and considered the report of the task force established by the Government for the purpose of studying and making recommendations on the western Bishops' report entitled A Crusade for Survival.
2. Mr. Rabbitte asked the asked the Taoiseach, in view of the Government's decision to establish a Western Development Partnership Board, the plans, if any, he has to establish a similar board for the Dublin region, having regard to the level of unemployment, the decline in industrial employment and general poverty levels in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
3. Mr. J. Higgins asked the Taoiseach the composition of the recently announced Western Development Partnership Board; the budget for the board for 1994; when the board will have its first meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Government welcome the report of the task force and the speed with which it brought forward its recommendations. I launched the report A Crusade for Survival in Castlebar on 3 February. The Government announced the establishment of the task force on 16 February; the members were appointed on 1 March and this report was submitted to the Government on 18 April 1994.
The terms of reference of the task force were: to assess the recommendations of the report and bring forward proposals to Government as to the actions that  might be taken and to make recommendations to Government on the most appropriate permanent institutional response.
In establishing the task force the Government recognised the acute economic and social problems of the west arising from a declining population and from the projection that this population decline could continue, with the consequental social and economic implications, unless specific action is taken to arrest this process. The Government has accepted the task force recommendation that the goal of policy should be to achieve population stability in the region on a county basis at 1991 census levels by the end of the decade.
The task force identified a number of key issues of specific significance to the west and these are outlined in Chapter 2 of the report. I do not propose to give a detailed list in this reply but copies of the report have been made available to this House.
The Government shares the task force's view that the achievement of population stability requires the pursuit of appropriate national economic policy as articulated in the Programme for a Partnership Government, the National Development Plan and the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.
The implementation process in respect of the majority of recommendations made by the task force is either ongoing as part of existing sectoral policies or planned as part of the measures to be undertaken in the National Development Plan.
In addition, the Government has agreed to take immediate positive action in respect of a number of specific policy recommendations which were emphasised by the task force. These include action in relation to milk quotas, assessment of means for unemployment assistance purposes, continued promotion of the west for mobile investment, review of registration — standards policy and funding of the accommodation base, licensing and planning framework for the sea fishing and aquaculture sectors and a  pilot urban renewal incentive scheme in a small number of towns in the west.
As regards the most appropriate institutional arrangements for achieving the objectives set out in A Crusade for Survival, the Government, on the recommendation of the task force, has approved the establishment of a partnership structure, the Western Development Partnership Board, within the local development programme. The strategic focus of the partnership board will be, through the development of an action plan, to provide direction to the activities of the various agencies and community-based organisations concerned with economic development in the west.
It is my intention that, as recommended by the task force, the board will be established and members appointed by Government by the end of June and that the inaugural meeting will take place as soon as possible after that date with the action plan to be compiled and published within 12 months. The Government will require the relevant agencies within the region to prepare detailed responses to this action plan and these will be monitored by the partnership board.
A sum of £50,000 is being made available as initial funding for the board in 1994. It is intended to cover administrative costs, including staffing and the initial stages of preparation of the action plan. The figure reflects the fact that the board will be in existence for less than six months in 1994. Funding in subsequent years will be settled in the normal way in the context of departmental Estimates and the allocation of EU funds for the local development programme over the years of the national plan.
The Government has no plans to establish a similar board for the Dublin region. The underlying economic conditions in the Dublin region are quite different from those in the west, where the task force identified major problems, arising from an imbalance in the demographic structure, in the threat to the viability of small local businesses and to the maintenance of effective public and social services catering for the remaining  population. The Government recognises that local area or community groups no matter how well motivated or successful, cannot address such issues without a strategic approach at regional level.
The stark facts outlined in A Crusade for Survival are that a century ago the region boasted a population of 910,000 people, which by 1991, had fallen to 510,000. If current net out migration trends continue, the region stands to lose 110,000 people, one fifth of its total population during the next 20 years.
The economy in the Dublin region is much more viable. The implementation of policies enunciated in the national plan with the support of EU Structural Funds will further develop enterprise and employment in the Dublin region. I recognise the seriousness of the unemployment problems in Dublin, both in scale and in terms of the extent of long term unemployment. The challenge is to develop policies which enable the unemployed to benefit from the economic developments occurring in the Dublin region. This objective will be significantly advanced by the Government's policies regarding the tax treatment of those at work. Equally relevant is the fact that the local development programme will support the creation and expansion of small businesses through support from enterprise boards of which there are four in the Dublin city and county areas, while the particular needs of the designated disadvantaged areas will be met through an integrated socio-economic development approach operated by partnership companies. There are five such partnerships in Dublin at present, and two of these are being extended under the local development programme. A further five new areas in Dublin have been designated.
I do not consider that a further structure in the Dublin region would add value to the initiatives already in place. Over the period of the national plan these initiatives will be assessed and evaluated and the Government can then consider  if the policy objectives are being fully achieved or if further initiatives are necessary.
Mr. E. Kenny: I thank the Taoiseach for his lengthy reply which contains a number of aspirations and a great many generalities and which is a summary of the proposals of the task force arising from the report entitled A Crusade for Survival issued by the Bishops. Will the partnership board have a chief executive officer to be appointed by the Government? Will it comprise nominees of the county enterprise boards and Leader projects as recommended by the task force and set definitive targets in terms of job creation given that the Taoiseach identified this as a specific requirement? The chief executive officer of the IDA said it had set a target of 9,000 jobs for the west. How many of these will be delivered by the board either on a provincial or county basis and will it be given designated status as an incentive to attract jobs to the region given that it has lost 200,000 people in the past 50 years?
The Taoiseach: The Deputy has moved a few steps ahead of the task force which recommended the establishment of a partnership board which will, with everybody concerned, prepare an action plan for the region. A council will also be set up and the Government will facilitate and support everybody concerned in the region in whatever way it can. Like the task force any recommendations will be accepted as we have no intention of imposing our will. The people in the west want to do something for themselves, but need the support of the Government. It is with that in mind that we will set up the partnership board which, in turn, will put together an action plan within 12 months. We have committed £50,000 to pay the administrative costs of the board for the remainder of this year. It is estimated that approximately £100,000 in administrative costs will be needed to run the board.
Mr. Rabbitte: I welcome the appointment of the Western Development Partnership  Board which is long overdue. How can the Taoiseach say that a similar initiative is not necessary for Dublin? Surely he is aware that the biggest boost in population has occurred in the Dublin region, that Dublin has the highest per capita unemployment rate, the most serious endemic poverty and deprivation and the most concentrated unemployment blackspots? How can he say there is not a case for some form of regional initiative in the capital which is relatively the most neglected area in the country?
The Taoiseach: I am sure very few would agree with the Deputy that Dublin is the most neglected area in the country. The west is suffering a serious decline in population but that is not the position in Dublin.
The Taoiseach: There has been an increase in the population of Dublin. While there may have been a decline in the population of parts of the inner city, the population of the greater Dublin region has increased. Many policy initiatives have been adopted to direct life back into the city to make the inner city a living place. Urban renewal policies have been extremely successful. Approximately 5,000 people have returned to live in inner city areas as a result of policies specifically focused on getting the population back to the inner city. It is obvious from the image of Dublin over recent years that many of the dilapidated sites have been eliminated by the urban renewal initiative and that unemployment blackspots — which nobody is denying exist — have been tackled under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. Areas have been designated under local employment and community development schemes. Policies are focused on those areas. The approach to be adopted for the west is not necessary for Dublin.
The first major problem to be addressed in the west is that of a declining population. If the population there continues  to decline it will become much more expensive to deliver services in the area. There would also be many other repercussions. The same is not true in the case of Dublin where more enterprise promotions are required. The problem in Dublin is not one of population decline. The Government is pursuing policies for Dublin to focus on the problems of the city which are much different to those in the west.
Mr. J. Higgins: Is the Taoiseach serious about the problems in the west, apart from the passion in his response to the questions tabled by Deputy Kenny and me? Does he realise he has not answered one supplementary question put to him by Deputy Kenny? Is he aware that the general reaction in the west to the partnership board is that it is a pathetic and insulting response to an area clinging by its fingernails for survival? Is the Taoiseach serious about this initiative? An initiative by the Minister for Social Welfare means-testing the dole, a scheme by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to keep milk quotas in the region and the Minister for Enterprise and Employment overseeing the development of indigenous industry is not adequate. What indigenous industry is he talking about? Is he aware that the only other two Ministers involved, the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, reviewing registration procedures, and the Minister for the Environment exploring methods of securing EU funds——
Mr. J. Higgins: The Minister of State  should have told the Taoiseach that the general reaction in the west is that this is nothing other than a political chameleon to tide the parties over the European elections.
The Taoiseach: I reject Deputy Higgins' suggestion that this is an insult to the people of the west. The Deputy is one of the few who has labelled it as such. Those involved in this initiative have welcomed the immediate reaction of the Government. I accept Deputy Higgins is a candidate in the European elections and, perhaps, he may be able to do something about some of the problems to which he referred if he is elected.
The Taoiseach: It is unacceptable for him to ask what indigenous industries are located in the west. I could not believe my ears when I heard him admit that there are no indigenous industries in the west.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Higgins does not understand the definition of indigenous industry despite putting himself forward as a credible candidate to represent the west of Ireland in Europe. At the Arbour Hill ceremonies this morning I spoke to Bishop Finnegan who said he wanted to thank me and the Government for our quick response to the problems in the west. He wished us well and was delighted to be working with us. That is in stark contrast——
The Taoiseach: Others have said it to me also. Deputies are wrong if they think I do not visit the west and the people there will see more of me in the next few weeks. The proof of the pudding will be whether the people there believe this party and the Government are the only ones interested in that area. We have a good track record on the west. Fine Gael's policy for the past ten years has been against what it called dispersed investment which, for the west, would mean no money for railways, roads or anything else.
Miss Harney: The Taoiseach referred to Bishop Finnegan's comments. It is extraordinary that those who want to reduce the role of the Church in our lives want to increase the role of the State. Will the Taoiseach accept that the reason for the many difficulties in the west is the lack of employment and economic opportunities generally? The Culliton report suggested that if we were to improve economic development we should have less bureaucracy, fewer State boards and task forces. Will he accept also that the establishment of this task force and the number of State boards established in the past 12 months is in direct conflict with the recommendations of Culliton?
The Taoiseach: I do not accept that Culliton had all the answers to the problems of the Irish economy and I said that on the day the report was published. Culliton made some good recommendations but they are not 100 per cent correct. Deputy Harney is aware that the first major problem to be dealt with in the west is its depopulation. It is unacceptable for Deputy Harney to cast a reflection on the interest of the bishops in the west in making people self-reliant and motivated to do something for themselves.
The Taoiseach: They have been a force for the restoration of self-confidence in the people of the west and have taken a forward-looking position in motivating people there, the results of which are obvious. Local communities are seeking  opportunities to do something for themselves. They recognise that they cannot look to the Government to solve all their problems. It is with that philosophy in mind that we will support them, continue to work with them and if people want to throw negatives at that initiative, so be it. We will continue to be positive.
Mr. E. Kenny: In the past forces have been successful only when they were given teeth, political clout and resources to do the job for which they were set up. Is it intended to appoint a co-ordinator or a chief executive officer to the partnership board or will the targets and objectives set by the board be the responsibility of a Cabinet Minister? Will a chairman of the task force deal with priorities arising from the action plans? The Taoiseach has rightly identified that population stability can only be achieved through economic development and harnessing various incentives.
Mr. E. Kenny: In that context can the partnership board expect there will be a fair division of the allocation of £1 billion for county roads and the commitment of the IDA to create 9,000 jobs? Does the Taoiseach believe resources will be made available to the partnership board to solve the problems of a village like Doohoma on the Atlantic in which there are 110 houses, 57 of which are occupied by single persons and where there will be no children——
The Taoiseach: The task force made its recommendations and they have been accepted by the Government. It is now a matter for the western partnership board to get together. I know from experience that a task force did an excellent job to  try to arrest economic decline following a series of closures in my county of Longford. Many opportunities may be developed in the west and tourism is a major development target of the Government in that regard. The areas of fisheries and forestry could be developed. Last week the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Walsh, tried to interest company representatives in the United States in forestry development in the west. In the past few weeks the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Quinn, announced new employment opportunities for Ballinrobe and Castlerea. The Government decided to build a prison in Castlerea.
The Taoiseach: I understand that the Deputy may not like to listen to the litany of success but that is the record. There is a commitment in the National Development Plan to allocate money to that region. We expect to take up the issue with Brussels to see what may be available to supplement the efforts of the western partnership board as it was fully supportive and, with the Government, contributed to the cost of examining the problems of the region.
Mr. Rabbitte: Does the Taoiseach agree that the population of Dublin has increased by 250,000 in the past 20 years and that during the period there was a decline in industrial employment of 36,000? It is that decline we seek to address. Does he acknowledge that of the increase in unemployment between August 1992 and August 1993 of 4,400 people, 3,600 or 80 per cent live in Dublin and that the traditional policies of the IDA have discriminated against Dublin? If the Taoiseach says a different strategy is needed in the Dublin region from that in the west will he indicate what alternative he is offering the people of Dublin, having regard to the fact that macroeconomic policies have not lifted people out of the unemployment blackspots  of the city which experience the most serious deprivation and poverty?
The Taoiseach: I do not deny Dublin has its problems but they are not the same as those in the west. That is the substance of this question. There has been a decline in industrial employment in Dublin and its industrial base has changed dramatically in the past 25 to 30 years. Many of the small industries in the old parts of Dublin have disappeared. Small textile and footwear industries are not in business and a different industrial infrastructure is being built. It is sheer nonsense to say that the IDA discriminates against Dublin.
The Taoiseach: Intel on the outskirts of Dublin employs 2,500 to 3,000 people and there are discussions about expanding the plant. Recently there was an announcement about a plant in Blanchardstown. We know those projects are not sufficient; but it is sheer nonsense for the Deputy to say there is discrimination against Dublin. We all know there is serious unemployment and that the Government is devising policies to focus on different areas to retrain and give a second chance to as many of the long term unemployed as possible. Deputy Rabbitte is aware that, unlike the west, Dublin has a base that can generate a level of economic activity. I know the Deputy is in the middle of an election campaign and putting forward his case.
Mr. J. Higgins: Will the Taoiseach agree it is ironic we should be debating simultaneously questions about Dublin's problems and those of the west? Both are linked and result from a lack of planning or bad planning. While there is massive depopulation in the west with a decrease of 208,000 and 148 townlands denuded, Dublin is becoming an uncontrollable monster. Will the Taoiseach accept that a dynamic agency like SFADCo is required, with powers, an agenda, executive officers and a specific budget and targets to report back, through the Minister to this House?
The Taoiseach: The partnership board reports to my Department, which the people in the west wanted. The Deputy is the only person who has poured cold water on the effort. Deputy Higgins said we are pursuing the wrong policy, but he is a member of a party who rejected decentralisation policies which brought civil servants and public service jobs to Galway, Castlebar and Ballina. His party sold sites and we had to pick up the pieces when we returned to office. We must face reality.
Mrs. Owen: Will the Taoiseach agree that the response of the Government to the report of the Bishops in the west contains many phrases but little else? It includes “making every effort,”“overseeing,”“reviewing,”“exploring”, “initiation”, “appointing” and “devising.” Will the Taoiseach outline a single action as a result of publishing that report other than the setting up of another task force and the recent announcement by the Minister for the Environment that the planning of golf courses will come under the planning process?
The Taoiseach: The task force has been set up and has completed its work. We are now setting up the partnership board which the task force recommended. The people on the ground know what they are doing.
The Taoiseach: This is the shortest period in which a report was commissioned, a task force set up, its recommendations received and action taken on foot of them. We are realists and know the problems of the west will not be solved overnight.
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Does the Taoiseach accept that since Fianna Fáil returned to office in 1987, 125,000 people have emigrated, most of them from the western seaboard, from Donegal to west Cork and that that is an indictment of Government policy under Fianna Fáil? Does he accept that further promises and talk about speculative action by a task force is not the answer to the problem?
Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Does the Taoiseach  accept that Government policy since 1987 has been a total failure? There is nothing in what he says to indicate that something will be done to stem the tide of emigration and depopulation in the west.
The Taoiseach: ——investment is better than it has been for a long time. If Deputy O'Keeffe wants to forget about what is happening in the outside world, so be it. The state of the Irish economy depends on what happens in the outside world. Exports are at the highest level ever.
The Taoiseach: All the economic indicators show that for the past four months there has been a downward trend on the unemployment register, with more people employed than was the case 40 years ago. That is what is happening in the economy and if Deputy O'Keeffe does not recognise that, he is living in cloud cuckoo land.
Mr. Connor: In addition to A Crusade for Survival and the Government task force report, there is another report on the Taoiseach's desk which shows that in the Castlerea and Boyle areas of his constituency, between 1986 and 1991 the  population declined by more than 10 per cent——
The Taoiseach: I will have to send to Deputy Connor recent copies of The Roscommon Herald to inform him of what is going on there. We approved a prison for Castlerea, new industries for Castlerea, Roscommon town and Boyle and urban renewal in Roscommon town and Ballaghaderreen. How many more developments is Deputy Connor unaware of in the County Roscommon part of my constituency? I am proud I was born there. I will write to the Deputy about all the developments of recent months of which he seems to be in ignorance.
Mr. Rabbitte: Is it not the case that until the Bishops in the west put the skids under the Government it did not even promise lip service to a structured approach to the problems of the west? Is it necessary for the Bishops of Dublin to put the same pressure on the Government for it to demonstrate urgency about the extent of neglect of Dublin?
The Taoiseach: That is not a bad election speech. I expect we will read something similar in the Deputy's election literature. The Bishops in Dublin do not need to do so because Dublin produces its own consumer demand for many services and small industries. It is well serviced by enterprise boards and local development companies. There was never any doubt in the party I lead — our track record shows this — about our intention regarding the problems of the west, which are not easy to solve. The people of the west know who looked after their interests over the years.
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