Adjournment Matter: Decentralisation Policy.

Wednesday, 22 July 1987

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 116 No. 20

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Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  The Government [2824] announced recently that there would be decentralisation of Government Departments to Galway, Ballina, Sligo and Cavan. The original plan was to have included eight centres. Killarney, Letterkenny, Nenagh and Waterford were the other four centres which have not been included in the present round. I understand that an interdepartmental committee has been set up under the auspices of the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach to deal with policy for further decentralisation. Heretofore, we have had regional policy only in the industrial areas. Modern trends show that employment growth is in the service sector. There is a very urgent need for a regional policy regarding the service sector.

Recently I raised the matter of funding for Waterford Airport on the Adjournment. The Minister of State was unable to be of assistance in the current year. There is an area where the Minister could be of assistance to the development of Waterford Airport and that is by extending the 10 per cent corporation profits tax to the 60 acre industrial development land attached to Waterford Airport. This concession already operates in the Shannon free zone and is to be extended to the Custom House Docks site in Dublin. Strong representations are being made from Cork to have this concession extended to the development at Ringaskiddy.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  Am I confused or am I reading the wording of your motion correctly? I appreciate your concern but I am reading the wording of your motion.

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  My motion deals with regional imbalances. That is the latter part of the motion.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  In respect of the second line which is to expand the recent decentralisation programme——

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  I am making the case why the south eastern region, where I come from, and the other regions would benefit from regional policy. In order to [2825] develop the Waterford Airport industrial estate there is a great need for this type of discrimination to effect growth at the regional capital of the south east. At least one service industry was lost to the Waterford industrial estate because of fear of competition from the Shannon free zone. Dr. Michael Bannon in his report on Waterford as a regional capital stated that Waterford had about the right number of industrial jobs for its size but that it was very weak in the service sector. Waterford Corporation, with the assistance of the package of incentives announced by the previous Government, succeeded in attracting a most exciting shopping development to the city centre. In the short term this will provide badly needed building jobs in the area. In the longer term it will stimulate business and provide jobs in the retail sector. The city council having examined the experience of York realised that the attraction of tourists to Waterford would need this type of shopping development going hand in hand with Waterford's very important archaeological and historical remains. The confidence that has been generated in the city is most encouraging.

Recently the city suffered a very severe shock with the announcement that the city's major employer, Waterford Crystal, is seeking 750 redundancies from its 3,000 workforce. This amounts to about 10 per cent of the city's industrial workforce. These are jobs worth an average of £17,500 per annum and would remove at a conservative estimate £7 million from the local economy. The unions at Waterford Crystal are opposing the redundancies and have engaged their own consultants to come up with a plan that will achieve the necessary savings for the company in addition to protecting existing jobs. It is to be very much hoped that the unions are successful in this, that a settlement can be worked out to the satisfaction of the unions and the company and that jobs will be retained.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Tras Honan  Zoom on Tras Honan  I hate interrupting one of my colleagues but I had informed the Minister for Finance that I was taking a motion on the Adjournment regarding [2826] the non-inclusion of Waterford in the decentralisation programme. I appreciate the Senator's point and I know Waterford nearly as well as he but I would like the Senator to zoom back in on the point as worded in the motion.

Mr. O'Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  There was a package agreed for eight centres during a previous Fianna Fáil Administration. That did not come through in the time of the last Administration. That package has been delivered now. This involves four centres. I wish to make the case that Waterford and the south eastern region should be included and I raise the matter in the context of why this type of decentralisation is very necessary to the local economy. I ask your indulgence to develop that point a little further before I get back to the body of the speech.

Speaking earlier tonight, I dealt with the situation relating to third level degree courses in the south eastern region. In Waterford city and county and in the region generally, 6.5 per cent of young people in the appropriate age group in 1984-85 were studying for degree courses, while in County Cork 12.5 per cent of a similar group were studying for degree courses. This is a very significant factor because the investment in education is very much wound up with economic development in the region. I made the point already that Waterford is extremely weak in the service sector and this is why it is particularly appropriate that Waterford should be considered for degree courses. Whether this is achieved by expanding the courses available at the regional technical college or by the provision of a new institute such as NIHE is a matter for debate but it is very necessary that this problem is dealt with. It should be remembered that Waterford had a teacher training college until 1938 and it is the only major city that has not got a third level institution, apart from an RTC.

What is basic to this whole question is the overriding problem of the imbalance of the growth of Dublin in relation to the eight other regions of the country. The [2827] ERDO report, “Eastern Regional Settlement Strategy 2011” points to a 1.85 million population for Dublin city and county by the year 2011. This represents an increase of 560,000 people on the 1981 figure and migration of 4,000 per annum to the eastern region. This is a trend that in the national interest must be urgently arrested and the necessary policy measures must be urgently put in place to arrest that trend.

Can the EC help? The integrated approach relates to the further evolution and development which is one of the topics to be covered by the European Commission in its fulfilment of Article 130 (d) of the Single European Act and is an area which must be urgently explored. The objectives, contents and scope of the integrated approach is to bring out the potential for endogenous development and to concentrate financial flows in favour of a region or sector. These objectives are to be achieved by providing or re-enforcing the basis for partnership between the Commission, national, regional and local authorities in the development process. This area within the Community provides resources which must be of great assistance in getting a meaningful regional policy in the general service and manufacturing areas. During the years 1971-78 the eastern region's share of natural increases in the following areas were: public administration and defence, 56 per cent; education, 48 per cent and medicine and hospitals 39 per cent.

The NESC report, No. 81 — Designation of Areas for Industrial policy — states:

The historical trend on the growth of the East regions relative to other areas is undesirable, primarily from a social viewpoint but also from an economic viewpoint.

Finally I very much welcome the announcement by your colleague, Deputy Séan McCarthy, Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce with special responsibility for Science and Technology, in Waterford [2828] this week of a pilot programme for the south eastern region to harness the various agencies in the region to advance the economy there. The Minister stated that the degree of high technology enterprise in the region is low compared with other areas. Let us hope that this is the first in a series of positive Government initiatives to assist job creation in the region.

Minister for Finance (Mr. MacSharry): Information on Raymond MacSharry  Zoom on Raymond MacSharry  I thank Senator O'Shea for the information he has given us about Waterford Airport and other local problems and I am sure he will be quite capable of pursuing those issues with the appropriate Ministers. For the purpose of my contribution here tonight, I will reply to the terms of the motion on the Adjournment which deals with decentralisation.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk in this House about the Government's decentralisation programme. It is just one of a series of progressive developmental measures undertaken by us in Government, and one which I am confident will have considerable social and economic benefits throughout the country.

Fianna Fáil recognised, as far back as the later seventies, the pressing need to promote a more balanced development between the eastern region with Dublin as its hub and the rest of the country. It was obvious then that the concentration of population and economic activity at the centre was to the detriment of both the metropolitan area and the regions. It was placing a huge burden on the capital city while contributing to the problems of regional disadvantage.

In 1980 we initiated a comprehensive programme covering the relocation of over 3,000 public servants to 12 provincial centres — regrettably we were not in a position to see that implemented. However, while in Opposition we did not lose sight of our original objective and continued to pursue the issue as the opportunity arose in Dáil Éireann. It is a pity that the Senator's party did not agree with our intentions at that time and over the last five years. We continued to recognise the self-evident desire of many public [2829] servants to retain links with their provincial roots.

In this modern age of advanced communications and computers there are no prohibitive logistical reasons for those administering many Government services having to be located in Dublin. We have invested massively in our telephone system, it is now one of the more modern in Europe and computers function equally well in Galway, Sligo, Waterford or any other provincial centre as in Dublin.

The drain of young people to jobs in Dublin has several undesirable consequences. First, it leads to an eventual demand for housing, education, and infrastructural services in Dublin at a high cost both to the public authorities and to the individuals themselves. At the same time many of these services are being under-utilised in provincial towns. Housing for example is noticeably cheaper and many would claim the quality of life there is better.

One of the most important factors of all is perhaps less tangible — migration deprives provincial areas of the vigour and leadership talent of those who must unfortunately pack their bags on a Sunday evening for the week's work in Dublin.

It was with the foregoing consideration that decentralisation was included in Fianna Fáil's Programme for National Recovery and was vigorously pursued on attaining office. To reactivate the programme as speedily as possible, a limited number of centres — those for which planning had already been substantially completed in 1980 and which could commence without undue delay — were selected. In recognition of the more restrictive financial circumstances now in operation it was decided to invite private sector participation rather than fund the [2830] programme directly from the Exchequer. It is intended that the State will rent the premises with an option to purchase at a future date.

It is prudent in recognition of the revised funding arrangements that some experience of its operation be gained before further commitments are made. The Office of Public Works have selected the firms who are being asked to tender for the provision of the accommodation required at the four centres which have been chosen. Tender documents will be issued to these firms tomorrow. Once we have settled the finer details in relation to these four centres, the Government will be in a better position to consider when the programme should be expanded to include further centres. I sympathise fully with the Senator's wish to see other areas benefiting from this measure, but I hope he will understand the need to proceed in an orderly and planned manner.

I would hope that the Government's initial moves towards decentralisation will be developed in due course, prudently and creatively, so that we can achieve a balanced expansion in all the regions of our country. This is in line with the Government's belief that local areas can be given a more direct and creative role in contributing to the process of national recovery.

I can say in conclusion, a Chathaoirligh, that we moved very fast in this programme because we recognised its importance. I have covered in fair detail what the Government have in mind, both for these four centres and for the possibility of further extensions.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 23 July 1987.

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