Wednesday, 30 May 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“commends the Government's proactive approach to upgrading the country's infrastructure , including in the western counties, and welcomes:
–the progressive implementation of the National Development Plan 2000-2006, which is designed to enable economic and social development and balanced regional development through:
–developing the potential of all regions to contribute to the maximum extent to continuing prosperity, and
–reducing the disparities between and within the Border, midland and western region and the southern and eastern region;
–the increased investment in economic and social infrastructure since this Government took office, including the projected investment of some 26 billion (current prices) over the period 2000-2006 in roads, public transport, environmental infrastructure, energy, housing and health, as well as investment in higher and further education;
–the progress already being made in implementing the national roads development programme which provides for major improvements in the N2, N3, N4, N5 and N6 routes serving the western counties;
–the substantial investment by the Government in recent years in the national rail network and the four main western rail routes in particular, after many years of under investment and the commitment to ongoing investment in the mainline rail network;
–ongoing substantial investment in Shannon Airport and significant Exchequer support for all regional airports in the west;
–the accelerated roll-out of broadband infrastructure in the western counties;
–the establishment of a gas infrastructure in the midlands, the west and the north-west;
–the Government's commitment to finalise by end 2001, following a full process of public consultation, a national spatial strategy which will address the promotion of balanced regional development on a broader basis, with due regard to sustaining economic development, improving the quality of life, and maintaining and enhancing our national and cultural heritage; and
–the retention of Objective One status for the Border, midlands and western region and the resultant higher levels of Structural Funds and better State aids regime available for this region over the period to 2006.
(Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government).
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy Michael D. Higgins was in possession and he has ten minutes remaining.
Mr. M. Higgins: Last evening I spoke in favour of an approach to western development based on a properly structured concept of regional planning. I mentioned a number of the shortfalls of that but, particularly, the extraordinary contradictions that arise from going ahead with an announced programme of expenditure without a time scale in the absence of a spatial plan. The statements by the Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, my colleague in Galway West, in this regard have been singularly unhelpful. I recently received a communication from Mr. Sean Hannick, who is now chair of Council for the West, in which he invited all of us to indicate our support for the Western Development Commission. I do not have the slightest difficulty in indicating my support for western development but I repeat what I said last night that it is best done on the basis of a properly constructed regional strategy.
The Minister of State, Deputy Ó Cuív, is reported in The Irish Times of Friday, 2 March 2001 as saying that what most people in the west are fed up with is tokenism, that they just want basic things done right, like roads and telecommunications, and that they do not need more token agencies. Mr. Scollan, chief executive of the commission, replied: “It is only a token if the Government is not listening.” The Minister of State suggested that his refusal to take responsibility then for the Western Development Commission was based on the fact that the people were fed up with tokenism and do not need token agencies. I find this attitude to the Western Development Commission by the Minister of State with responsibility for rural development quite extraordinary.
He also does not have much faith in the Cabinet's committee – the forum of western Ministers. About six meetings of this forum had been held but it did not meet the approval of the Minister of State. He stated: “ I attended once and never again. I didn't find it a productive use of my time,”. I find this quite extraordinary. The suggestion is in its cute, quiet and intellect way that ideas, work and structures do not matter. It is a case of “bain díot do chóta”. If only the Aire Stáit could get a chance to take his coat off and go foostering around the west, everything would be fine and he would give them long and interminable lectures about roads and infrastructure and  how one could count to five in a hundred different ways. Frankly, it is insulting to those on the Western Development Commission. It is a quite outrageous neglect of an opportunity to develop the west.
Mr. Scollan, in reply to the Minister of State, suggested it was only tokenism if the Government did not allocate funding for the development of the west. That is the important principle. It is also equally clear, as Mr. Scollan pointed out in an act of transparency, that the number of staff attached to the Western Development Commission is very inadequate with two people assessing all the projects that have come in. He made the point correctly, as one should in public service with prudence, that due diligence has to be done. Resources need to be made available. That would be the way to do it and then one could get the Western Development Commission working and would be able to co-ordinate the co-activity of other agencies and Departments.
I noted an interesting thing that whenever one is unhappy with a Fianna Fáil Minister, one invites all the politicians to come on board. We are on board except the Minister of State who is hanging on to some other raft of his own invention. There are important issues to which a clear answer should be given. Perhaps in reply someone will explain to me how one can call the spatial development plan a plan when one has consultation meetings mid-week when Deputies are in Leinster House but one says that something is to be in the terms of reference and that we are just beginning. Over the next year or two a number of different position papers will be prepared but, as I pointed out last night, people are asking very basic questions – non-party questions – such as what is the future of rural villages? What is the future of rural housing? What is the future of different kinds of agriculture – of agriculture that is congested and in fragmented holdings where there are specific peculiarities of soil, drainage, distance from market and economic issues which do not allow one to have all the benefits of large scale production and so forth? One could listen to people and could establish the basis for a plan. Where the Minister of State is, to some extent, half right is that much of this has been studied before. However, it is not going to be assisted by this business of bad mouthing the Western Development Commission because much could be done.
A number of principles could be of assistance. The first of these relates to rethinking the future of agriculture. One has to bear in mind that the guarantee side of CAP has not brought benefits to the western counties in a way that a more imaginative use of the guidance section of the CAP would have done. Much more important – we have to go beyond this now – one must realise that an agricultural policy will not suffice and that what one needs is a broadly based rural renewal policy. This is what people want. Last night I spoke of the two sides of the same coin – our urban dis-economies and congested cities and infrastructure being neglected.
There is a need for institutional reform. This is very important in relation to the institutions that will handle rural policy. There is a need to build a rural policy on a basis of social partnership with the concept of consultation redefined, as I said last night. No longer will citizens accept as consultation that which has been decided for them for a number of days. Rural policy should have a central goal. Rural poverty, exclusion and disadvantage must be addressed.
The rural policy intervention needs to be targeted and costed. The infrastructural investment in new forms of rural services must be central to any rural policy. It is not only about one's income, it is about one's life – access to health services and the way the elderly are taken care of. Putting the environment centre stage as rural renewal policy is vital. I welcome proposals in relation to the possibilities of organic farming, for example. Farming, while it will remain central to any rural policy, needs a crucial focus – for example, getting back to being able to take advantage of high quality for the consumer.
Reform cannot come from Dublin only. It also needs to take into account how the west is affected by decisions taken in Brussels. Could we at least have a commitment that there will be time scales on this hotchpotch of projects that are contained in the national development plan? Could we also say that we will start a culture of listening as a prelude to a genuine concept of consultation?
Mr. M. Kitt: I wish to share my time with Deputy Cooper-Flynn.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Foley): That is agreed.
Mr. M. Kitt: I welcome what the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, has been doing, particularly under the national development plan. The announcement he made, which was repeated by the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, last night, regarding the allocation of £3 billion for water and waste water services is important to County Galway. Water is a basic facility. A total of £1 billion was to be spent in this area up to 2000. County Galway has more group water schemes than any other county. Some people are willing to pay £1,000 per house to get access to a water supply. Priority has been given to the rural water programme.
Group water schemes have improved and more emphasis has been placed on improving the quality of water in such schemes. Some 70% of the proposed investment will occur in the Border, midlands and western region. The development of a water supply from the Corrib has been of particular benefit to north Galway and from there along the route to Galway city. The small group schemes must be given access to a water supply as quickly as possible. The costs of the provision of a scheme in Galway are very high. The Minister has increased the grants substantially but  there are delays in obtaining them. The European Union has stressed the need to use local authority sources for rural group water schemes.
Improvements have been made to sewerage schemes. Small towns have been put on a priority list and the introduction of the rural renewal scheme is important. The cost of sewerage schemes has been reduced with the introduction of rebased sewerage schemes. The first scheme in County Galway was in Williamstown which was officially opened by the Minister, Deputy Dempsey.
I also welcome the improvements to the rail services. Additional services have been provided from Dublin to Galway. The provision of an earlier train service from Galway city to Dublin means people can make early hospital appointments and business meetings. Similar developments should occur elsewhere in the western region, particularly on the Sligo to Claremorris line, on which the carrying of passengers and freight was popular many years ago. With the development of the forestry industry, there is a need to develop that line and the line from Tuam to Athenry and on to Galway city which is famous because part of “The Quiet Man” was filmed in the Ballyglunin area. If that line were developed it would ease the traffic congestion on the road from Tuam into Galway city. While new roads will be provided under the national development plan, rail transport is another good option as passengers can travel by rail right into Eyre Square. As Iarnród Éireann has stated the upper speed at which trains can travel on that line is 20 miles per hour, major investment is required. I wish to pay tribute to Fr. Michael MacGréil who for a long time has promoted the need to improve the rail service to the west.
It is important to create jobs in small towns. While progress has been made on Objective One regions, with announcements for Donegal, Longford and Cavan, I hope announcements will be made soon for Ballinasloe where the AT Cross factory, which was a major employer, closed. A site is available there which was developed by the IDA and we hope a flagship industry will locate in the town. The Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, is a native of Ballinasloe and I know she will not spare herself in seeking to attract industry to the town.
The development of the road network in the west would attract industry there. There are proposals for the building of a major road network in the region. Improvements to the road from Galway to Dublin are costed at £1 billion. It and the N2, N3, N4, N5 and N6 routes serve the western counties. In addition to those primary routes, the Minister has increased the non-national roads grant in recent years. Those grants and roads have a valuable social and community function. Some of the road developments have been painful for many people, particularly where new roads have bypassed towns or have traversed people's properties. If one considers the progress made  regarding the national gas pipeline, one will realise that such problems can be overcome. The natural gas ring main line and the Mayo to Galway pipeline were well negotiated by the IFA.
The same cannot be said about the negotiations regarding the electricity supply infrastructure, as the ESB is now embarking on an investment of £2.1 billion to improve that infrastructure. There is a strong campaign in the western region to put electricity lines underground. People are of the view that ESB lines should be put along the perimeter of lands or even through forestry areas, if they have to be put up. It is strange that lines have to be put overground from Portumna to Cashla but can be put underground from Cashla to Galway city. Under the national development plan some £20 million has been earmarked to roll out the broadband to the regions. That is an important provision.
It is also necessary to provide funding for our airports. There is some debate as to whether Galway Airport should be relocated to Carnmore or Oranmore. Industrialists tell us they need an extra 100 metres of runway at Galway Airport to allow larger aeroplanes to use it. While that is important, the extra money for marketing received in Galway Airport and other regional airports has been welcome.
I hope the third level education facilities in the region will be upgraded as has occurred in the NUI Galway and the Galway-Mayo institute. I hope there will be a continuation of the linkage between our university and institutes with other colleges in the region.
I hope the Government will continue the investment that has been made in the western region.
Ms Cooper-Flynn: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion as, I am sure, does every Deputy from the BMW region because we are all anxious to see delivery on many of the promises in the national development plan.
One must commend the Government on recognising that regional distribution of our economic progress has been uneven. This is reflected in the national development plan. More balanced regional development is a fundamental objective of the NDP. It is a very ambitious plan under which a sum of £40 billion, in 1999 prices, is to be invested during 2000 to 2006 across many sectors. I commend the Government on the proposals in the plan to continue sustainable national economic and employment growth; to consolidate and improve Ireland's international competitiveness; to foster balanced regional development; and to promote social inclusion.
I have heard a good deal of talk during the debate about Objective One status, but the reality is that only one party at the time of the last election gave the electorate a commitment that it would seek Objective One status for the western region. Labour was against regionalisation, Fine Gael could not make up its mind at national level where it stood and some of their western  Deputies adopted a free for all approach to take whatever stance suited in their localities. It was the Fianna Fáil Deputies who gave a commitment to the electorate that they would seek Objective One status and that was fulfilled by the Government, and it must be commended for that.
Within the BMW region, implementation of the national development plan is key. The importance of the infrastructural aspects of the plan over the next six years are vital because there is a chronic deficit in key infrastructure and at this point it is preventing the west from achieving its full potential. This cannot be allowed to continue.
There is a need to keep up the momentum on delivery within the plan. A total of 18 billion is to be spent in the BMW region, but it is important that the delivery under that plan is seen to happen at a reasonable pace. We must overcome capacity constraints, especially for major projects. There is a need for institutional reform at local authority level. In our local authorities there is a serious problem of understaffing and no back-up facilities to put the national development plan in place. We are all aware of the problems experienced by our local authorities due to understaffing and the lack of back-up facilities in proceeding with any major project, whether a road design or rail service. There will be increased spending in the region, but that must relate to improvements on the ground. There is no point in talking in terms of billions of pounds, if people cannot see the progress taking place or if that progress has not been communicated to them properly. The benefits of the NDP are being communicated properly to the people and the perception is that it is moving at a slower pace than it should be.
There is also a need for action on the employment side, particularly under the European employment strategy. I am talking about employability, skills shortages that people in the BMW region are experiencing, training and in-house training for employees, particularly in IT and digital skills. I am talking about equality and more opportunities and training for women workers and people returning to Ireland from abroad to work. There is also a need to look at job opportunities for all those who are willing and able to work. We heard in recent days about the record unemployment figures.
In the BMW region, we are looking at unemployment figures of 4.8%. This is a huge reduction in unemployment and the massive job creation is a result of this Government's policies. People in this region are just as entitled to jobs as those along the eastern seaboard. I am referring to areas in north Mayo such as Belmullet where in the region of 200 jobs have been lost in recent years. That is the equivalent of thousands of jobs in Dublin, about which we would hear on a monthly basis if replacement jobs were not put in place. However, no real significant replacement industry has been put into north Mayo and this problem must be addressed. I am talking  about places such as Ballyhaunis, Ballinrobe, Ballina and Knock Airport. There should be a proper industrial base built around our regional and international airport to provide significant employment opportunities for people.
We also need to promote active ageing and increased labour force participation because approximately 16% of the population in the BMW region is over the age of 65. Gone are the days when people aged 55 or 60 do not have something valuable to contribute to society. We are seeking 200,000 economic migrants to fill our job requirements over the next six years so why not dedicate some of the attention to the vast reservoir of experience and reliability among the active aged in the country? I am very concerned about the employment situation in some blackspots. While I recognise the efforts being made by the IDA, there is no point telling people in these blackspots that unemployment is at 4.8% in the region. They want money in their pockets and to be able to live day to day. That is something to which they are entitled.
The national development plan has the potential to transform the economy of the western region and the quality of life of the citizens. It is needed because of the chronic underinvestment in infrastructure. As I already mentioned, it is an ambitious plan but it must be delivered on the ground if the credibility of the plan and the Objective One promises given to those in the BMW region are to be fulfilled. We must eliminate the infrastructure deficit by securing planning permission for projects. The current backlog must be eliminated and we must use private sector expertise if necessary. I am tired hearing from my local authority that it does not have sufficient planners or engineers and that when it tries to recruit these people the salaries it offers are not good enough. Let us use private sector expertise if required because the six year period is crucial. When we reach 2006, there will not be any point telling people we are sorry, that we did not get an opportunity to spend the money because we simply did not have the staff in place.
We must use public private partnerships and match Exchequer and EU resources with well co-ordinated public private implementation. There is a need for better inter-regional dialogue. There is no conflict between the BMW region and the rest of the country. In the BMW region, we are just asking for that to which we are entitled. At the end of the day, if we get what we are entitled to under the plan, urban and social regeneration will be provided and there will be benefits to agriculture, tourism, fisheries and the environment. I mentioned earlier that 18 billion are to be allocated to the BMW region. We are getting 20% more per capita in the BMW region than in the rest of the country. That money is being well spent in the area of roads and water. I would like to make several points about airports, electricity and the provision of broadband.
As a Deputy from the west of Ireland, I am not satisfied with the condition of the N5 between  Dublin and Westport. It is a national disgrace that the road has been left in such a condition. While I accept that £2 billion will be spent on these roads over the next six years, a section of the road has been designated by the NRA not to be done until 2019, which is not acceptable. I ask for a front loading of funding for some of these major infrastructural projects.
I will support the Government tonight because they are the only parties who have listened to the people of the west.
Cecilia Keaveney: I thank Deputies for sharing their time with me. I am pleased the motion is before the House and that I have a brief few minutes to contribute to it.
I am pleased the Opposition has a new found interest in the west which it says includes Donegal. The difficulty tonight is that the only person in the Chamber from outside the BMW region is the Acting Chairman. I presume that is because he is slotted for this time. The new found interest comes back to the same people who are plugging these interests all the time. It is heartening to know that nothing brings crocodile tears from people faster than political opportunism to which I will refer later. It is right that we talk tonight about locations such as Donegal. Three hours of debate on such a county is long overdue from those tabling the motion who usually do not think about it. If the record is checked, I will have managed to give three hours of my speaking time to the issue of Donegal, never mind the replies of Government Ministers. Therefore, to reduce all the issues concerned to a mere few minutes is very difficult.
Donegal has not achieved what the rest of the country has as the statistics on job creation and unemployment will testify. As newspaper reports indicated yesterday, it is very frustrating to hear about the almost zero unemployment levels and the great employment opportunities throughout the country which have not yet reached Donegal. While our statistics are still fairly bleak and job creation is not what we would like, there are difficulties in terms of the right skills for the right jobs, right jobs for the right people, moving work to the workers and not the workers to the work. We complain constantly about traffic congestion in Dublin and the difficulty in obtaining accommodation, yet there are workers to do the work in Donegal but we cannot get the work, while the work is in Dublin where employers cannot get the workers. This issue should be easily solved.
The issue of unemployment must continue to be addressed at a time when the economy is doing so well. Donegal has not yet got the road and rail access, high tech or other infrastructure which exists in other parts of the country. Those who know no better perceive the county as isolated. Yet that is so far from the truth for those who know and consider Donegal as part of the north-west region, close to Derry and Belfast. I can leave my house and be in Derry in 20 minutes  or in Belfast in just over an hour and a half. If I left here and tried to get to the airport on the other side of the city, it could take almost that amount of time, which speaks for itself.
Donegal's real problem is historic given its geographic location north of the North. Our problems of access, be it by road, rail or air, can only be solved logically through co-operation with the Six Counties. In regard to the N2, we welcome the by-passes from Monaghan, Carrickmacross and Castleblayney and the link to the M1. However, we want an M2 equivalent to motorways to Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Belfast. As I have raised this issue on many occasions, I await the Cabinet's conclusions on the national spatial strategy and look forward to the upgrading.
The N2 is just half of my traditional route home, if Members pardon a certain amount of northern humour. The equally long A5 is in a different jurisdiction so we could only complain at cross-Border local authority level about the issue before the Good Friday Agreement. When we ask the Opposition tonight who brokered the Good Friday Agreement, I assume it will have to admit it was the current Taoiseach and the current Cabinet. Nothing has the potential to assist Donegal more than proper North-South relations. I trust the road and rail issues will be resolved at North-South ministerial level and I urge that the current political difficulties be faced up to and dealt with.
In terms of air access, the Good Friday Agreement enabled the Government to seek and gain a PSO for the Derry-Dublin flight. I urge that the current political difficulties be faced up to and dealt with. In terms of air access, the Good Friday Agreement enabled this Government to seek and gain a PSO for the Derry-Dublin flight, investing in what has proven to be a very popular twice daily return service. I ask the Minister to bring to the attention of the Minister for Public Enterprise that there is a huge level of extra charges being levied on the Derry side. This must be reviewed as must the fact that the travel agents in Dublin add a £9 service charge to the ticket price.
To assist tourism and trade it was our Government who, at my behest, contributed £4.5 million for the Greencastle-Magilligan car ferry which will be opened with its twin the Buncrana-Rathmullan ferry next Easter. Marketing can help overcome the damage done by 30 years of troubles. The all-Ireland tourism body will assist the Minister in her tourism organisation so I trust that the support for tourism initiatives will increase. Donegal North-East needs more power supply. The sensible resolution is to bring gas west from Belfast. Here again co-operation that will cross the Border at local authority level can be aided by a North-South dimension of the agreement. I ask that Ministers keep their focus on that matter.
We needed broadband and fibre-optic investment and what did this Government do? It gave us £37 million but Eircom pulled out of the deal.  There must be a plan B. We lack housing and what did the Government do? They gave Donegal County Council £18.5 million. The challenge remains with the council, not with the Government, to deliver on housing. While fishermen previously pleaded with Fine Gael for its support, this Government delivered on the whitefish fleet renewal and marine infrastructural development and it continues to understand that this is an island nation with an important resource. The Government has kept the farming community in employment through its serious approach to foot and mouth disease.
I return to the crocodile tears of tonight. How dare a party which refused to look for Objective One status for the west come in here to lecture Fianna Fáil—
Mr. G. Reynolds: That is untrue. Withdraw that please.
Cecilia Keaveney: —on what the west needs. Where would we be now with Fine Gael at the helm? What did it do for its own long standing and highly respected national public representatives? What did it do for its public representatives in Donegal North-East? Did these representatives get the ministerial ranks they deserved? Its public representatives here were ignored and the county was ignored when Fine Gael was in power.
We need access, we need more jobs and we need investment. We need a national spatial strategy. I say no to those tabling the motion here tonight because I have seen where their true interest lies and their record on the Donegal and western region speaks for itself.
Mr. Ellis: This motion speaks of hypocrisy of the highest level.
Mr. G. Reynolds: The Deputy would know all about that.
Mr. Ellis: I will remind my neighbour and friend Deputy Reynolds of some of the things that happened during the lifetime of the Rainbow Coalition with regard to the constituency we both represent.
Mr. G. Reynolds: Go back to Adam and Eve.
Mr. Ellis: Never mind Adam and Eve. The problem is that the Deputy's family has been here since Adam and Eve and they did not achieve much. What I want to point out is—
Mr. G. Reynolds: On a point of order, I ask the Deputy to withdraw that remark about my family.
Mr. Ellis: I want to make it clear that it is not a personal remark. However, if the Deputy felt it was personal I must tell him why it might feel personal. The Rainbow Coalition during its time stopped the following projects in County Leitrim. It stopped the new county council offices and  stopped the north Leitrim regional water scheme. It gave only one small sewerage scheme, thankfully in my own village, during its time in power. It put no investment into the rail system, health, the telephone infrastructure or education.
Mr. G. Reynolds: What about the extension to St. Patrick's Hospital?
Mr. Ellis: Since the change of Government in 1997 there has been sanction and construction of the new council offices. In fact they have been opened by the Minister who provided the money, Deputy Dempsey. Sanction of the north Leitrim regional water scheme has been given and it commenced this week. The new sewerage schemes for all villages in County Leitrim have been approved and consultants will be appointed this week by Leitrim County Council. A sum of £17 million has been invested in the Dublin-Sligo railway line which gives us continuous welded rail from Dublin to Sligo. During the lifetime of the Rainbow Coalition there was absolutely no investment in that line. There was just talk by Deputy Yates, the then Minister, who, when he was Opposition spokesman, sensed that the future of the line was in question. This Government has made the investment and now the line is a reality.
Deputy Reynolds mentioned health. When Deputy Cowen was Minister for Health he gave sanction for an extension to Our Lady's Hospital in Manorhamilton. He also sanctioned new health board offices for the North-Western Health Board in Manorhamilton. The extension of the fibre optic cable to the north-west was a decision taken by this Government.
Mr. G. Reynolds: It is more expensive to send an e-mail from Dublin to Galway than from Dublin to New York.
Mr. Ellis: This is hurting big time because the Fine Gael Party never delivered as far as the west or Leitrim were concerned. This Government's interest in the Sligo Institute of Technology has been proved by the amount of money invested in it over the past few years. Its continued expansion is of major benefit when it comes to creating further employment in the north-west. The extension of the gas pipeline has been mentioned and it has been made clear that the Government intends to extend the pipeline from the Corrib field to Sligo and Donegal. This is important if we are to develop the region.
Mr. G. Reynolds: The Deputy must not have heard Deputy Jacob's speech last night.
Mr. Ellis: As far as this Government is concerned, it has given a commitment and will proceed with it.
Mr. G. Reynolds: It will go the way of all commitments.
Mr. Ellis: The position is that this Government has made enormous investment as far as the north-west and the BMW region are concerned. We are all aware that Fianna Fáil was the only party that put in its manifesto for the last general election that it wanted Objective One status for the west, north-west and Border counties. It proved successful and it is the lifeline and incentive people there needed. The greatest incentive that has been given as far as the area I represent is concerned was when the Minister for Finance introduced the Shannon corridor rural renewal scheme. It has made an enormous difference to the area I represent. Leitrim has benefited, and I make no apologies for this and I feel sure that Deputy Reynolds makes no apologies either. We also see the benefits of the MBNA project which will shortly open in Carrick-on-Shannon. It will provide between 300 and 400 jobs initially and it is estimated that it will provide up to 1,300 or 1,400 jobs over the next four to five years. These are Government commitments to develop County Leitrim.
We have made enormous progress over the past four years. We have made progress with regard to education and the provision of new schools. Deputy Reynolds will probably be the first to accept that the recent announcement by the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, of new second level schools for Mohill and Ballinamore is progress that was badly needed in the county.
As far as the area that I represent is concerned, we have only made progress under a Fianna Fáil led Government. It is sad to have to say that and I know Deputy Reynolds accepts that we have made considerable progress. There are one or two other projects which need to be dealt with and I have no doubt that they will be dealt with in the context of the spatial strategy. One of those is the N4.
Mr. G. Reynolds: The Deputy is on dangerous ground there.
Mr. Ellis: I am on more solid ground than Fine Gael with this motion. Fianna Fáil never gave a commitment that it did not fulfil.
Mr. McGinley: I am sharing my time with Deputies Jim Higgins, Naughten, Connaughton, Ring, Donal Carey, Crawford and Deenihan.
I wish to compliment Deputy Reynolds for tabling this motion.
Yesterday we had the publication of the quarterly national household survey which shows the national unemployment rate at an all time low of 3.7%. However, in the west it is several times that rate and in Donegal it is almost 20%, five or six times the national average.
According to last August's report of the Western Development Commission, the unemployment rate in County Donegal is 22%, which is a national disgrace. The national development plan will not bridge the yawning economic gap  between east and west but will allow greater divergence. The Government's stated policy of equal per capita spending between the BMW and southern and eastern regions will do more than preserve the unequal status quo.
Figures from every single indicator, including population density, the dependency ratio, educational attainment, disposable income and family size, show the disparity of development between east and west. Graduate employment in the west and north-west is alarmingly low compared to other parts of the country and shows a huge brain drain from the west. Just 4% of graduates from Letterkenny Institute of Technology find suitable employment in Donegal. Major growth in economic activity and employment is needed to alter these alarming trends.
One of the most important issues for economic development is access, but the north-west has been ignored in this area too. The major road arteries to Donegal and the north-west are the N2, N3 and N4. While the national development plan signals motorways and dual carriageways between Dublin and Belfast, Cork, Limerick and Galway, it states that roads to the north-west will be merely upgraded. Unfortunately, upgrading such roads will only allow for operating speeds of 80 kph, compared to 110 kph on motorways and dual carriageways. Journey times from Dublin to Donegal or Mayo will be no faster than they were in the 1980s, which means that potential investors will give a wide berth to these locations.
The N2 from Donegal to Aughnacloy and the A5 on to Derry is the main artery between Donegal, Derry and Dublin. It is a scandal that both are not being upgraded to facilitate the increasing volume of traffic. It is a prime project for a joint venture between North and South. There are no railways in Donegal, but we have an international airport at Carrickfinn. While all other regional airports have several daily return flights to Dublin, it is unbelievable that there is no same-day return flight between Donegal and Dublin. It is similarly unbelievable that the Government tolerates such a situation.
Donegal and the north-west continue to be under-resourced with gas, electricity and telecommunications. The region has a weak electricity infrastructure, with 110 kV lines covering the area compared to 220 kV and 400 kV in the rest of the State. This affects the quality of supply and means that there is a constant danger of variations. It can have catastrophic effects on industrial production. The telecommunication networks of the north-west and west have about 20 times' less capacity than the east and south, meaning that e-mailing a sensitive document can take several hours in Donegal compared to a few seconds in the rest of the country. Unless infrastructural deficiencies are recognised and rectified by the Government, the regional imbalance between the west and elsewhere will continue to grow.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): As a representative of a western constituency, born, living and working there, I found the amendment to this motion moved in the House yesterday by by the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, to be nauseating and insulting. Rather than addressing the serious economic and social deficits which starve the counties of the BMW region of vital and needed economic and social resuscitation, all we were given yesterday evening was the usual bureaucratic claptrap. We were given high-sounding nonsense: proposals, aspirations and promises from the national development plan.
It got worse as I listened to the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy's speech and, quite honestly, I was appalled. Like many of us, he comes from and lives in the west and represents a western constituency with a large rural hinterland. He knows the reality of life in rural Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, where villages and townlands disappear, rural post offices, shops and Garda stations close. The Minister of State nevertheless came in here yesterday evening prepared to read out a script written by a civil servant who probably comes in on the DART each morning with a briefcase, takes an elevator to his fifth floor office in comfortable surroundings and has a coffee break at noon. It is simply incredible that the Minister of State takes heed of a man who has probably never been to the west, let alone studied the problems there.
Ms Coughlan: That is false.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): Tá sé fíor, ach níl sé éasca glacadh leis an fhírinne.
Ms Coughlan: Is cuma liom.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): The national development plan, which is being progressively implemented, is designed to enable economic and social development and balanced regional development. Let us look at figures from the most recent available IDA report, in 1999. In the north-west, which includes the Minister of State, Deputy Coughlan's native Donegal, there were 5,556 jobs in IDA supported companies, compared to 6,093 in the midlands, 10,884 in the west and 57,955 in the east.
Mr. Connaughton: That is the answer.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): That is the situation and the reality. In terms of jobs, the west is receiving the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. We are supposed to be grateful for an odd announcement of 20 or 30 jobs. Page 19 of the IDA report is worth a look as it outlines the situation in the west and the midlands. In 1994, there were 116 IDA supported companies providing 13,000 jobs in the north-west, of which 1,558 jobs were new. There were 884 job losses that year, however, so for every two jobs gained, one was lost. In 1995, 1,300 new jobs were created but 697 jobs were lost. In 1996, 1,500 new jobs were created but 600  were lost. In 1997, 2,082 new jobs were created but 900 were lost. In 1998, 1,600 new jobs were created but 800 were lost. In 1999, 1,290 jobs were created but there was a net job loss of 333.
The motion itself is good, constructive and well-intentioned. The Government has tabled an amendment and expects rural Deputies from the BMW region to trot like aimless sheep to vote for it. I do not know how Deputies have the conscience do so and then return to their constituencies to justify their actions. The Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, mentioned energy, but we do not have energy in the west and as a result we have no industry. He spoke of the western road infrastructure, including the N2, N3, N4, N5 and N6. He should visit Castlebar to meet the commission examining roads in the west. He mentioned the western road network, but it takes four and a half hours to get to Westport from Dublin. One could go from Shannon Airport to New York in the same length of time.
Ms Coughlan: At least there is a rail network in Mayo.
Mr. Higgins: (Mayo): He spoke of broadband telecommunications infrastructure, but that has been abandoned. Last, but by no means least, a gas infrastructure was to be the big bonanza, but nothing has happened, which says much for the Government's commitment to the west.
Mr. Naughten: I welcome the motion before us and I compliment Deputy Gerry Reynolds on it. When the Tánaiste was in China and Japan she said that Ireland has a First World economy and a Third World infrastructure. If the country as a whole has a Third World infrastructure, I do not know how the infrastructure of the west can be described. The lack of road access to the west is detrimental to industrial investment and the development of tourism in the west. The viability of existing industry there is damaged by the additional costs involved.
The N5 is the worst national primary route in the country as it is like a cart track. The Cabinet had to travel over the cart track to get to Ballaghaderreen, but it wants to ignore it until 2019. We seek motorway status for the N4, as if motorways are being built all over the country, surely the N4 can be upgraded. The N61, the main artery from the Minister of State, Deputy Coughlan's constituency in the north-west to Rosslare port is a glorified cart track. The N63, which is supposed to serve the new power station in Lanesborough is a substandard road. There has been no investment in the N63 and none is planned for 20 years.
Our rail network is not being developed either, despite the fact that we have an ideal opportunity to develop commuter services. Athlone has four rail lines going into it, but none of them are used for a commuter service. A train passes through a couple of times in the morning and a couple of times in the evening. There is no commuter rail service into Galway, despite the fact that it is the  most rapidly expanding city in Europe. There is huge potential to develop the rail network for freight but it has been ignored so far. Much of the rolling stock that is used to bring people from the west to work in Dublin should be in a museum rather than on the rail lines of Ireland.
The Government motion mentions gas. County Roscommon, which is in the middle of Ireland, has been ignored in terms of the gas network, as it has been ignored in the past. In the context of telecommunications, Éircom has ignored the infrastructure and has not put fibre optic cable in place, even though it is a basic infrastructure for e-commerce. Eircom has withdrawn its investment and the Government is ignoring the issue. Even Deputy Keaveney criticised Eircom's decision. In relation to electricity, there is a completely substandard national grid throughout the rest of Ireland and poor generation capacity. If it is not currently a crisis, it will be throughout the country by the end of this year when there will not be any electricity. In terms of employment, Roscommon has lost jobs rather than gained any under this Government. Roscommon has the lowest level of participation in education.
These issues have and continue to be ignored by the Government. It is not prepared to tackle the issues. All it is prepared to do is bury its head in the sand, throw a couple of million pounds in our direction and hope it will keep us quiet. I commend the motion to the House and hope the Government, in its fifth year in office, will listen and do something about it.
Mr. Connaughton: I congratulate Deputy Reynolds on tabling this motion. If ever a Government should be awarded an Oscar for public relations it is this one, because of its supposed interest in and ingenuity in dealing with the west every single day since it took office, without any sign of worthwhile progress. It speaks always of what it will do, never about what it is doing or what is has done. There are no targets, only press releases, and I guarantee that many voters are standing in the wilderness, in the long grass, waiting for to get the Government on western development. Deputy Higgins was right when he said a while ago that we are losing jobs in some counties. That is happening in good times. What will happen when things settle down?
Regardless of what Fianna Fáil says, we put a special effort into getting that status for the west and the other regions. We were told that it would result in great inward investment and job creation, but we have not got one job more than any other part of the country. Instead we are losing ground. Not a month has gone by in recent years that the Commission for the West, a statutory body, has not publicly stated that Government is not delivering. It is not Fine Gael, or Labour but the Commission for the West which is saying that, and it has the figures.
How can there be balanced industrial development across a region containing towns and vil lages if the infrastructure is so poor that there is neither water nor sewerage services and the region is not even programmed to get them in the next ten, 15 or even 20 years? How can there be any sort of balanced regional development, given what is happening in Dublin? Another 100,000 people will come to Dublin. There is no organisation, no co-ordination. However, they will come and resources will have to be made available for those people because they will be in situ. They will have to be provided with schools and hospitals, with roads and other infrastructure, and they will get that infrastructure before areas that do not have as many people. The problem is that if the Government cannot control what is happening in the capital, the situation of regional development of the whole country will be made a great deal worse.
The big roads are planned, but I do not know when they will be delivered. Roads to the west are to be welcomed, but what is needed is job creation. The town of Ballinasloe has lost a few factories, among them A. T. Cross, the best pen manufacturers in the world, the loss of which put 250 people out of jobs. There has not been a replacement industry. We have an industrial estate which is nicely landscaped, but with very little in it. If this Government delivers in the next year or two, which now looks unlikely, what we want is an anchor industry which will be able to provide the sort of jobs that will have drawing power in the area, similar to what happened in Ballinasloe 30 years ago when it got three factories in the same year. Since they have all left, it is difficult to convince the 6,000 people in Ballinasloe that they are living in good times. I assure the Government that at the next election, Fianna Fáil will have much to answer for in Ballinasloe and east Galway.
Mr. Ring: Out of Tuam came the Sawdoctors, and out of Dáil Éireann came the spin doctors.
Ms Coughlan: Give the Dáil a Ring.
Mr. Ring: The Sawdoctors sang about the N17 and the spin doctors talk about Government Ministers. Deputy Connaughton was right when he said the talk is all about what the Government intends to do. One thing that has been top of the charts on every local radio is that the jokes are over and the people are waiting. Fine Gael will move the writ for the by-election tomorrow. If the Government feels so confident and strong let us have a general election, and if we do there will be fewer Fianna Fáil Deputies coming back from the west because of the Government's performance in relation to infrastructure.
Deputy Higgins talked about getting the crumbs from the table. In north Mayo we did not get crumbs, we got the mushrooms. I tabled a question to the Minister last week about the job creation efforts of Údarás. If the Údarás was working for Manchester United, or managing Meath or Donegal, it would be sacked. This is its  worst record. When there are thousands of jobs in the country it has had losses year in and year out, and the Minister and her predecessor stood over that. When the Minister meets the Údarás she will tell it what a wonderful job it is doing and give it more money for grants than it can hand out to its friends and relatives. If the Údarás wishes to sell land, it does not have to go through the proper procedure like everybody else. A member of the board can have it at a knockdown price. I will stand over that statement. It is wrong that that it should be allowed to happen, and I have three requests under the Freedom of Information Act in relation to it. The people of north Mayo are sick and tired of the same people being looked after all the time. The place dying in its feet. There are no jobs, no infrastructure, no water, no ESB. It is not right. I would not mind if there was no money and the Government could say it has not got the money. However, it has money. For the first time since the foundation of the State, the Government has money, but nothing is happening. The Minister and her colleagues will go down to the Údarás in their State cars, do a public relations job and tell the people what they intend to do, but they have not done anything. They have let the people down, and those people are waiting in the long grass for the Government. The Minister does not have the courage to take on the Údarás. She will go down and praise it at a time when she should sack the board and put in someone who can do the job. All I ask is that the people be given a chance. If they do not get the chance now, they will never get it.
Mr. D. Carey: The former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, gave me the job of looking after a proposal for western development. The infrastructure was put in place for this. We wanted to see capital investment in the western counties that would attract a partnership between the private sector, the banks, and the local communities and also use EU funding. The EU was particularly interested in remote rural areas and supported substantial schemes. It is a pity that after four years, nothing has happened despite all of the good work and the provision of structures. The prevarication went on for a couple of years before the Department accepted that there was a special role in this area.
Prior to the last Government leaving office, plans were made to go to each Department to examine all their western proposals. A lot of work had to be done on that. The current western development manager brought these plans to the Departments and included them in schemes later. However, he is still left stagnant.
There is no point in relying on the theory that the economic tide will lift all boats. It has not worked. There is a need for a special injection of funds throughout the western development area, particularly on the seaboard side of each county from Kerry to Donegal where there has been  huge emigration. After four years one would have expected that some type of pilot project would have been started or that there would have been a huge capital investment whereby the Government could claim, in a blaze of glory, that it had started the renewal of the west. Unfortunately, that has not happened.
I regret that the means provided by the previous Government were ignored for some time by the current Government. That was best illustrated by the haste with which the Taoiseach shifted the section looking after western development out of the Department of the Taoiseach. He could not persuade Deputy Dempsey to take it because Deputy Dempsey sent it to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. It was put on the back burner. That was the kick the west got from this Government and it has not yet recovered from it.
I support my colleagues' call for greater initiative in this area. I regret that a party which championed the cause of the west at each election and boasted of what it did for small farmers in the west has been found wanting in this case.
Mr. Crawford: I support the motion. I was extremely disappointed and surprised by the personal attack of Deputy Ellis on my colleague, Deputy Gerry Reynolds, and his family. Deputy Ellis is the last person in this House who should question what the Reynolds family or any other family has done for this country. I still have many cases on my books in which major questions require answers by that Deputy.
The same Deputy mentioned a number of things which a coalition involving Fine Gael had stopped in his constituency of Sligo-Leitrim. This Government, however, has much to answer for with regard to its record on County Monaghan. The maternity wing of Monaghan General Hospital has been closed down. I asked the Minister for Health and Children what he would do about the upgrading and restructuring of the rest of the hospital, which has been announced and planned for the last number of years. The reply I received was simple. It was that the development of Monaghan General Hospital is a matter for the North-Eastern Health Board. That is not good enough.
The Minister claims full responsibility for any good that is done when he visits an area but where there is a difficulty he puts it out to a separate Department. The swimming pool in Monaghan has been closed, as has St. Patrick's Agricultural College and Pattons Provender Mill. There is no gas in north Monaghan and certainly no fibre-optic cable. The recent report clearly shows that the Border counties have suffered most with regard to unemployment and continue to suffer. No new jobs have been created in County Monaghan for many years despite the peace process. The jobs in the county have been created by the local people.
The main issue I wish to raise, however, is the N2 motorway from Dublin to Derry. It is the only  link we have to bring industry in and get goods and people out of the area. However, nothing has happened with the road from the Aclint bridge through to Derry city. That is a disgrace. We have heard of many promises but no action. There has been talk of this being a major project since the early 1980s. The Belfast to Galway road and the Sligo to Dundalk road are not even in the national plan even though the Belfast to Galway road goes through Armagh, Monaghan town, Clones and Cavan. It is the single most important road crossing the Border and should be eligible for development if the peace initiative is to mean anything.
Mr. Deenihan: I am not exaggerating when I say that this Government has been guilty of total neglect of the west. We have been too boastful as a nation about the benefits of the Celtic tiger, especially the distribution of those benefits. We have overstated our economic prosperity with regard to the distribution of that prosperity to all parts of the country, including the west.
An audit should be carried out of the infrastructural deficit throughout the country, especially in the west, with regard to roads, particularly the national secondary roads which service most towns in the west, sanitary, health and education provision and the roll out of the broadband. The west has been neglected in these areas. The seaboard of the west of Ireland should be considered one area. There are already the examples of the Algarve in Portugal and the Riviera in France and Spain. The west of Ireland should be marketed as one area and Kerry should be seen as an integral part of the west. It shares the same problems, difficulties and deficits as the other western counties.
When the Government goes to the polls it will get its answer from the people of the west. It is becoming increasingly difficult to attract industry to the west because of the lack of basic infrastructure. That is why counties such as Roscommon, Leitrim, Mayo, Clare, Kerry and others are finding it difficult to compete with eastern counties in attracting even small industries. That is likely to continue.
There have been various reports in the past but they have obviously been ignored by this Government. Even the Leader programme, which benefits many western counties, is still languishing with the Commission. There appears to be no urgency to get it through. It has been there for almost a year and the Government is still answering the Commission's questions. If there were a real commitment to western and rural development, the Leader programme would have been in place by now.
This is a timely motion. I am delighted our spokesman on western development is Deputy Gerry Reynolds, who is from the heart of Leitrim in the west of Ireland. He comes from a family that has made a greater contribution to the west and Leitrim than Deputy Ellis ever did. I agree  with Deputy Crawford that it was most unfortunate of Deputy Ellis to make a personal attack on Deputy Reynolds this evening.
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): It is an educational experience to listen to the conversion of Fine Gael to the need for infrastructure in the west. Most people will clearly remember their views on a variety of issues regarding the west going back over many decades, Shannon Airport and Knock Airport being two which immediately spring to mind.
Mr. Deenihan: They closed the railways.
Mr. Ring: They did not do much for Knock.
Acting Chairman (Mr. Naughten): The Minister without interruption.
Mr. Dempsey: We are used to revisionism from the Fine Gael Party. It usually pertains to the early part of the last century, but it is even better at it with regard to the latter part of it. Deputy Connaughton, who spoke about how hard Fine Gael fought for the Objective One status for the BMW region, must not have listened to the contributions to that debate from some of his colleagues along the east coast who castigated Members on this side of the House for attempting to look for Objective One status for the west. While I can respect the fact that some of the Deputies who contributed to this debate have been very vocal about the west, anybody who looks at the record will see that the same cannot be said for the whole of the Fine Gael Party.
In discussing the motion before us we can lose sight of two fundamental facts. First, the infrastructure investment programmes provided for in the national development plan and elaborated on in the Economic and Social Infrastructure Operational Programme and the two regional programmes are the largest ever undertaken in the State. Second, the investment programmes under the NDP will benefit all regions, including the western counties. Of the total expenditure of £40.5 billion in 1999 prices under the NDP, £13.3 billion or 33% will be invested in the BMW region, which has a population of 980,000 or 27% of the population. In his statement last night, my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, gave details of the many sectors in which this investment is taking place. The Opposition's claim that there is a lack of investment in the seven western counties referred to, simply does not stand up to scrutiny. For example, in those counties the allocation for national roads has grown from £34 million in 1997 to £108 million in 2001, an increase of 151%. The expenditure on water and waste water services has grown from £30 million in 1997 to £87 million in 2001, an increase of 190%. The allocation for non-national roads has grown from £52 million in  1997 to £82 million in 2001, an increase of 58%. The allocation for local authority housing has grown from £30 million in 1997 to £80 million in 2001, an increase of 165%.
Regarding the national roads network, the plan provides for investment of £236 million in the N2 from Dublin to the Border in the direction of Derry, which includes 8.5 kilometres of dual-carriageway, although I should point out to Deputy Crawford that I am not responsible for that part of that road in Northern Ireland. Some £429 million is being spent on the N4, the Dublin-Sligo route, which includes 35 kilometres of motorway and 18 kilometres of dual-carriageway. Therefore despite the claims of the Opposition, good progress is being made in implementing the plan.
While we have just completed one year of a seven-year programme, a number of projects are already completed, or are very substantially in progress, and many more are in planning. For example, the Clar-Barnesmore N15 road improvement project will be officially opened tomorrow and work is continuing on the N17 between Knock and Claremorris.
Acting Chairman: I would ask the Minister to conclude.
Mr. Dempsey: I have so much more to say that I am sure the Opposition would like to hear it—
Mr. G. Reynolds: That is unusual for him.
Mr. Dempsey: —because they seem to be badly informed. They might allow me another minute to finish.
Acting Chairman: The Minister's time has expired. I must call a Member from the Opposition.
Mr. Dempsey: I will send a copy of my script to Deputy Ring.
Mr. Belton: I wish to share my time with Deputies Ó Caoláin and Gerry Reynolds.
Mr. Dempsey: A grand alliance.
Mr. Belton: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and I congratulate Deputy Gerry Reynolds on framing it. It is appropriate that we have this debate at this time, after hearing so much about the national plan, which was announced with a fanfare and on which, to my knowledge, nothing has happened since. I cannot see anything happening in that regard in any event.
I am also happy that the Minister is present for the debate because in his contribution he did not mention the N5, which must be improved.
Mr. Dempsey: If I had been given leave to continue, I would have. I was only half-way through my script when I had to finish.
Mr. Belton: No, the Minister left it out. He mentioned the N4 and the N6.
Mr. Dempsey: The Deputy might be interested—
Acting Chairman: Deputy Belton, without interruption.
Mr. Belton: The Minister left out the N5, the road from Longford to the west. A huge volume of heavy traffic passes through Longford at present and the Minister did not mention that. It is as if Longford does not matter. It certainly does not matter to this Government.
A casualty unit in my constituency closes down at 6 p.m. A woman who has two small children rang me this morning to tell me that if one of them gets ill during the night there is nowhere to go in Longford. We are returning to the Dark Ages if a county town does not have a casualty unit operating at night. It is outrageous. The plan for phase 2B of Mullingar Hospital, the hospital for Longford-Westmeath, has been untouched for the past four years as a monument to this Government.
Mr. Dempsey: The Deputy might be interested to know that Fine Gael did not mention Longford in its motion. Perhaps he can take that up with his colleagues.
Mr. Belton: What does the Minister mean?
Mr. G. Reynolds: It was a misprint.
Mr. Dempsey: Longford is not mentioned. The motion mentions Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, Clare and Donegal.
Mr. Belton: That is correct but I am talking about Longford. Is the Minister saying I do not have the right to mention that in the House?
Mr. Dempsey: I am just pointing out it was not mentioned in the motion.
Mr. Belton: Does the Minister know that he is the biggest disgrace since the State was formed? He is known to have done nothing in the Department of the Environment and Local Government except spend money on PR. He has spent £500,000 on PR.
Mr. Dempsey: The Deputy is getting personal.
Mr. Belton: I am not. The Minister is the one who is getting personal.
Mr. Dempsey: No, I am only saying that Longford is not mentioned in the motion.
Mr. Belton: The Minister has not done anything. He has not made decisions on anything. All he has done is make announcements.
Mr. Dempsey: If I am making announcements, I must have made decisions.
Mr. Belton: The Minister is a disgrace. The N5 is a monument to him also because he has done absolutely nothing about it. I am passing on that message to him in the hope he takes it on board. I ask him to visit Longford and talk to the councillors about the road from Granard to the Westmeath border which carries many lorries en route to the west.
Mr. Dempsey: Fine Gael is in control of Longford County Council, is it not?
Acting Chairman: Deputy Belton, without interruption.
Mr. Belton: If Fine Gael members are in control of it, they were elected by the people to be in control of it. If the Minister wants to start criticising democracy here and the people of Longford on how they voted, what kind of democrat is he? What kind of example is he setting?
Mr. Dempsey: I am just asking the question.
Mr. Belton: When the Minister next visits Longford I will ensure that the people there are aware of the insulting remarks he made here today. All he is interested in doing is insulting people, but he will get an answer all over the country at the next general election.
He spoke about the amount of money he is spending on housing. No Minister has a worse record on public housing than he. He fobbed it off under this social housing plan, which is another cop-out.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The motion is a clear recognition of the reality of continued social and economic disadvantage in the west, disadvantage also suffered in the Border and midlands regions. This was confirmed in unemployment figures released only yesterday. While there was a welcome up-turn in employment across the 26 counties, the Border region, which contains a number of the counties in the motion, lags behind in terms of new jobs and has the highest rate of unemployment.
The Border region has an unemployment rate of 5.8%, compared to a State-wide average of 3.7%, a record low. I have emphasised many times during the life of this Dáil that the Government is failing to share the unprecedented wealth in the economy. It has not tackled the structural inequalities which divide the haves from the have nots and region from region. The failure of this Government and its predecessors to undertake and implement long-term progressive planning has led to gross regional imbalances which plague our economy with excessive development concentrated in the Dublin region while the Border, the midlands and the west struggle to catch up. It has led to a housing crisis in nearly all parts of the country but with a greater focus in Dublin where  the greater concentration has been, a waste management crisis and a chaotic transport system, because of the failure to look at the regional imbalances.
With special reference to the west, I will raise what I regard as a disastrous failure dating back to 1992 and one that has profound consequences. It could emerge as one of the greatest scandals. I refer to the sweetheart deal enjoyed by the consortium currently exploiting the massive Corrib gas field off the coast of County Mayo. This gas field is a hugely valuable national resource but it has been virtually handed over to a private company. The deal with the Enterprise led consortium was done in 1992 and the Minister responsible was former Deputy Ray Burke. I call for an investigation into Ray Burke's role in negotiating the deal, enabling the consortium led by Enterprise to benefit from what is the lowest tax regime in Europe. My party, Sinn Féin, has consistently argued for the deal brokered by Ray Burke in 1992 to be renegotiated. The deal ensured that the consortium led by Enterprise has not had to pay one penny in royalties to the Government for the Corrib gas find and the consortium can write off exploration expenses against any tax payable. Income is taxed at 25%, the lowest rate for oil or gas exploration in Europe compared to the world average of 40%.
It is a scandal that Irish national resources have been sold off at a knock-down price particularly when we look at the region involved, the neglected western seaboard. That somebody with Ray Burke's track record was centrally involved in this deal must raise questions about the nature of the negotiation and its outcome. These matters need to be addressed and answered. SIPTU representatives who represent Irish oil workers have called for an inquiry and the Western Development Commission has questioned the Government's handling of this resource. The circumstances and details of the negotiation of these terms should be investigated and made public in the interests of transparency and so that the people can assess whether we have benefited, or will benefit, from the potential oil and gas bonanza in our coastal waters.
In June, a US company is due to begin drilling for gas in the Border counties. It is exploring a huge area centred on Enniskillen, straddling the Border and known as the north-west carboniferous basin.
I hope this potentially massive national and natural resource will not be squandered against the interests of the people as was the Corrib find as I have just outlined. I thank Deputy Belton for sharing his time.
Mr. G. Reynolds: Before I reply to the Government amendment, I wish to register my surprise at the personal attack by Deputy Ellis on my family. My family has had the honour to represent the people of Sligo-Leitrim and Roscommon-Leitrim in this House since 1927 – my grandfather, my grandmother, my father and I have rep resented those constituencies. I hope to continue to do so for some time. We were always seen as respectable, honourable people and I hope that is how the general public regard us.
This Government amendment is a fiction and shows how out of touch it is with the neglect of the western region. The Minister with responsibility for western development, Deputy Ó Cuív, has not had the decency to come to the House and listen to this debate on western development. Deputy Ó Cuív was appointed to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development but he did not want to take responsibility for the Western Development Commission and he did not want to be seen as the saviour of the western region. He was brought kicking and screaming into the position and he now has to take responsibility for the development of the western region. I am surprised he did not come into the House and put the proposals that he and the Government wish to implement over the next few years.
The Government has not put forward any proposal to deal with job creation in this debate. Over the past three years, only 10% of all jobs created in Ireland have come to the west and Galway city has 90% of that 10%. The Government has not given this House any outline of how it will turn that statistic around. Deputy Jacob, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, spoke about infrastructure, particularly about gas infrastructure to the north-west. He stated that funding and the extension of the network raise competition and State aid questions, and these issues, together with the funding options, are currently being examined. This is the Minister who announced the extension of the gas pipeline from the Corrib field to Sligo, but his speech last night puts that gas pipeline in jeopardy. If State aid and competition questions are still being examined, it is another example of how this Government makes promises that it does not keep.
 Proposals have not been made by any Minister speaking in this debate, to deal with the issue of e-commerce and bandwidth. Eircom has withdrawn from providing bandwidth infrastructure into the western region. I asked the Minister for Public Enterprise to ring-fence the money that the Government would give to Eircom to ensure that the money for bandwidth infrastructure would be still spent in the western region. Is the Minister aware that it costs more to send an e-mail from Dublin to Galway than it does from Dublin to London or New York? Is the Government aware that an e-mail sent from Dublin to Galway is slower than a fax message? The Government has failed to deal with many issues over its four years in office and it is a disgrace.
No proposal has been made to front load capitalisation. There are six national primary routes into the west of Ireland and the route to Galway city will be the only one with a dual carriageway. The remainder will be single carriageway. There are no proposals to front load the money necessary to give better access to the western region. We want to develop industry and tourism in the west. Our greatest difficulty is access and nothing is being done urgently by the Government to improve it.
Funding must be provided for the extension of towns and villages and the provision of associated infrastructure such as water and sewerage schemes. This is a slow and painful process. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, outlined expenditure on housing during last night's debate. Why is it that housing lists in local authorities in the western and BMW regions continue to increase? The Fine Gael Party looks forward to returning to Government. We will provide much needed funding for the development of the western region and we will be responsible for our actions.
Browne, John (Wexford).
de Valera, Síle.
Kitt, Michael P.
McCreevy, Charlie.  Tá–continued
McGuinness, John J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
| O'Keeffe, Batt.
Wright, G. V.
Belton, Louis J.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Question, “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to”, put and declared carried.
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