Dáil Éireann - Volume 282 - 19 June, 1975

Excess Vote, 1972-73. - Vote 42: Transport and Power (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:

That a sum not exceeding £34,849,000 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of December, 1975, for the salaries and expenses of the Office of the Minister for Transport and Power, including certain services administered by that Office, and for payment of sundry grants-in-aid.

—(Minister for Transport and Power.)

[1061] Mr. J. Lynch: I should like to raise a question about the harbour development plan at Cork. The plan was prepared three years ago. There have been some new developments in that one of the major users of the harbour area— one of the big industries—has had second thoughts about the establishment of the industry. The Minister for Transport and Power has said that because of the unwillingness of this big firm to go ahead with their plans the review by his Department of the plans had to be delayed or revised.

The Taoiseach during his recent trip around the coast gave an assurance to the Cork Harbour Authority that the Government looked favourably on the plan. The Minister for Transport and Power is not present but I presume somebody will reply on his behalf. At what stage is the examination of that plan by the Department of Transport and Power? What stage has been reached?

The Taoiseach: The Cork Harbour Commissioners brought forward details of their plan during the course of the tour of the harbour a few weeks ago. The Minister for Transport and Power and I myself went on that tour. The plans are now being examined by the technical personnel in the Department of Transport and Power and also by the Cork Harbour Commissioners. I cannot give an up-to-date report of the stage of the discussions but they are proceeding in order to fix the actual timetable of the proposed plan.

Mr. Cunningham: What has the Minister for Transport and Power in mind in regard to freight transport in the northern half of County Donegal where the Lough Swilly Railway Company, a Northern Ireland registered company, have abandoned the major part of the freight transport in that area and where CIE are taking up some part of that abandoned freight transport? The users of the road transport for freight are falling between two stools, as are the employees of the former transport set-up. They are not being made redundant by the existing company and are not being taken over by CIE.

[1062] In the absence of the Minister for Transport and Power, can any Minister on the Government benches tell me and the people of the northern half of Donegal what is to become of transport in that fairly remote area. It has no air transport. It has many economic problems which will be aggravated by the mess in which freight transport is at the moment? I should like an assurance for myself and these people of what proposals there are, if any, for a satisfactory outcome to this mess.

The Taoiseach: The Minister for Transport and Power is at an EEC meeting but I will convey Deputy Cunningham's query and arrange that a written reply will be sent to him on that point.

Mr. Cunningham: Would the Taoiseach undertake to have the Minister meet a deputation to discuss this problem, that is, if he is not prepared to do something without meeting a deputation?

The Taoiseach: I will convey the Deputy's request to him.

Mr. Brennan: This is an obvious case where private haulage regulations might be relaxed in the meantime.

Mr. J. O'Leary: Have the Government any proposals to assist the ailing tourist industry? We all know that this industry has been badly hit this year. Many people will agree that we have priced ourselves out of the tourist market, due to inflation and the lack of price control. I should like to know if the Government have any proposals to subsidise the colossal special service charges now being charged by the ESB and also the large capital contributions required by the ESB when they are connecting supplies to homes in rural areas? Finally, have the Government any proposals to subsidise the ever increasing CIE fares?

The Taoiseach: Many of these matters are of a wide-ranging nature. As the House is aware, the Minister for Finance will be announcing details of the Government's proposals [1063] next week. Specific questions on the tourist industry are naturally more appropriate to a full discussion on the Estimate. As the Deputy will appreciate, the overall proposals are designed to deal with the situation which was mainly due to external factors and not because of any internal situation.

Mr. G. Fitzgerald: I should like to raise a very important point on this Estimate, that is, the oil and gas exploration off the south coast, the setting up of the national gas board and its implications in our concerns, particularly in a county which will be the first to feel the effects and changes that may result from these developments. We have two major concerns, finance and the powers on the Cork County Council and its planning authority, that may be usurped by the national gas board. I am looking for an assurance from somebody, on behalf of the absent Minister, to say that the county council need have no fears in this respect. It is not enough to say that there will be co-operation and that no action will be taken without consultation with the planning authority. In my view, consultation is not enough.

The Cork County Council are in their present position because of the gas finds off our shore. Hopefully, the same thing might apply to any of our maritime countries over the next few years. Can we get a guarantee that, as a county council and a planning authority for the area, our responsibility will cover all aspects of development and that wayleave responsibility will be the planning authority's responsibility rather than that of the gas board, for obvious reasons?

The national gas board will apparently take the gas from the high water mark and the wayleave situation could, if not handled properly, cause problems in the sense that a precedent is then set that could cover water, sewerage, and so on. We also believe that in that area—and this could apply to any other area at a later stage—the social and living conditions of the people will change dramatically, because we all hope there will [1064] be extensive development there. With that development, there will be need for major infrastructural work by the provision of major services, such as roads, housing and other necessities. Can we be assured that some arrangements will be made to assist the local body, because it is obvious that the local body cannot bear that financial burden? I am asking this question now because of its effect on a county which has about 250 miles of coast line. This could be the concern and the problem of any other maritime county at a later stage.

The Taoiseach: As the Deputy appreciates, under the Planning Acts the local authority has responsibility for a number of these matters. Obviously, the possible finding of both oil and gas will create an entirely new situation. The question of consultation between the new gas board and the local authority is one of the matters which will fall for discussion. It is impossible at this stage to say how that will develop because of its completely new character, from our point of view. It is obvious that the two public bodies, the local planning authority and the new gas board, must synchronise their arrangements in order to exploit the possibilities of a find, taking into account the needs of the people residing in the area and the general planning considerations.

Mr. G. Collins: Could the Taoiseach say what progress has been made with regard to the Government plans for the development of the Shannon Estuary?

The Taoiseach: I cannot say at this stage, but I will pass the Deputy's query to the Minister.

Mr. Browne: I should like to ask two questions. Have the Government made any decision on the question of a nuclear power station here and what exactly is the position at the moment? Are the Department of Transport and Power providing any funds for the development of Rosslare Harbour? That harbour is one of the most important ports of entry from Great Britain and Europe and there [1065] is a tremendous need for development of an additional berth there.

The Taoiseach: A nuclear energy board has been established. No recommendation has yet been made and until a recommendation is made the Government cannot come to any conclusion. I will pass the Deputy's queries and recommendations about Rosslare Harbour to the Minister.

Mr. Moore: Some time ago the Government asked An Foras Forbartha to carry out a survey of our ports. I understand that when the report is finished it will not be published.

Arising from Deputy Fitzgerald's question, the Taoiseach said that the developments he mentioned were largely a matter for the local authority. This is only partly true because a lot will depend on the Minister for Transport and Power, on whether he will give the necessary order in relation to harbour works for development at the port. Will the Taoiseach tell the House if he has received an application from any concern for a harbour works order in respect of Dublin port for the construction of an oil refinery?

The Taoiseach: The Deputies' queries will have to await the Minister's presence. These are detailed matters and I have not the information available. However, I will arrange to have a reply sent to the Deputies.

Mr. Colley: Having regard to the fact that our present refining capacity is approximately one-half of our requirements, have the Government made any decision in regard to whether we should positively increase our refining capacity or positively that we should not, or are the Government neutral in the matter?

The Taoiseach: The Government are not neutral in the sense that some proposals are being examined. However, the proposals have not reached a stage at which it is possible to make a decision.

Mr. Colley: I appreciate that is in [1066] regard to proposals put forward. However, my question does not relate to individual proposals but to general policy. Is it the policy of the Government to ensure, either through projects put forward or through an active approach on the part of the Government to promote them, that there should be at least sufficient refining capacity to meet our own requirements? This question is quite apart from the discovery of oil off our coast. Is it a question of waiting until a suitable project is put forward, in which event it might be accepted? If that is so, is it related to an overall policy regarding refining facilities?

The Taoiseach: The position is that steps were taken to increase the stocks position. As the Deputy is aware, under EEC requirements the number of days' supply was increased. Our supplies are being increased up to the relevant requirement, namely from 60 to 90 days. The general question of the overall position is being considered in the light of proposals submitted as well as the prospects of possible oil finds off the coast.

Vote put and agreed to.