Dáil Éireann - Volume 345 - 16 November, 1983

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Border Counties Fund.

1. Mr. Leonard asked the Minister for Finance if he has satisfied himself with the level of co-operation between the various Government Departments who have responsibility for administering the EEC-aided Border counties fund.

2. Mr. Leonard asked the Minister for Finance the measures he proposes to take to ensure the better take-up of allocations from the Border counties fund by local [2491] authorities, Government Departments and State agencies.

Mr. Leonard: While the Department of Finance have an involvement in this EEC scheme for the Border counties I tabled this question to the Taoiseach because I felt he should have responsibility for the various Government Departments involved in the scheme.

An Ceann Comhairle: As the Deputy has often heard from this Chair, the Chair has no control over the transfer of questions.

Mr. Leonard: The Department of Finance were equally guilty of not administering that scheme and I felt the Taoiseach should have stepped in with the four Departments concerned and should have seen that the money was taken up.

An Ceann Comhairle: I ask the Deputy to allow Questions to go on.

Minister for Finance (Mr. Dukes): I propose, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

As the Deputy is aware, the Special Border Areas Programme, which is centrally administered by my Department, involves a number of Government Departments, local authorities and State agencies. I am satisfied with the level of co-operation between the various Departments and other bodies concerned. My Department have instituted a procedure for convening at regular intervals meetings of the various Departments to ensure that there is more effective co-ordination and co-operation in the administration of the programme.

As regards the take-up of the allocation from the Special Border Areas Programme Fund, there has been a considerable improvement in the position this year. At the end of 1982 there was an unused balance of over £2 million in the fund. With the 1983 allocation of £2 million the total available for use in 1983 was over £4 million. On the basis of the most up-to-date estimates from the various [2492] Departments and agencies concerned, I now expect that the total available in the fund will be taken up practically in full this year.

Mr. Leonard: Was this improvement due to the Minister's intervention following the debate we had here on 21 and 22 June this year?

Mr. Dukes: The improvements to which I have referred were already in train at that stage. I had a further review of the measures that were in operation following the debate we had this year and I believe it has helped us very substantially to ensure particularly that the agencies other than State Departments have been a bit more diligent in the take-up of the funds that have been made available.

Mr. Leonard: Would the Minister agree that he was concerned on that occasion at the poor take-up and that it seemed to be a great pity, considering the state of the country in relation to unemployment, that this money was not taken up within the period? It is a five-year programme and in all probability we may not be able to get that extended when the five years expire.

Mr. Dukes: During the debate to which the Deputy has referred and on occasions previous to the last debate we had here, I made it very clear that I was rather dissatisfied at the fact that the take-up of the funds was not what we might wish it to be. I am very glad to say that we will now arrive, as I said, at a situation this year where the total amount available in the fund for this year of £4 million will all or practically all be taken up during the course of this year. I hope we will be able to continue that for the remainder of the lifetime of the fund.

Mr. Wilson: Would the Minister state if those co-ordinating meetings were taking place before that debate when I asked him to put in the boot wherever he felt there was some slackness? Were those co-ordinating meetings, particularly with the outside bodies, other than direct [2493] State control bodies, taking place before that debate?

Mr. Dukes: Since the fund was set up my Department have been concerned to ensure that there was proper co-ordination between all the bodies. The co-ordination was, as I said, in train before the debate. Following the debate and the concerns expressed on both sides of the House we looked at it again with a view to ensuring that the co-ordination bit more deeply and had to a greater extent the effect we desired to see.

Mr. Wilson: What does “in train” mean?

Mr. Dukes: “In train” has a very particular meaning in English. It corresponds, as the Deputy knows, to the phrase en train in French and it corresponds to several other phrases in Greek and Latin with which, no doubt, the Deputy would wish to acquaint us.

Mr. Wilson: Did co-ordination take place before that debate?

An Ceann Comhairle: This does not seem to be relevant to the question.

Mr. Wilson: I am asking the Minister did the co-ordination take place before that meeting?

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Michael O'Kennedy.

Mr. Wilson: I asked a question. Did meetings of this committee take place before that debate?

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Michael O'Kennedy.

Mr. Wilson: I am sorry, but I have rights here as a Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle: Will Deputy Wilson please resume his seat until I explain?

Mr. Wilson: I will do that, but I will [2494] get up again to ensure that the question is answered.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Wilson asked a question. I paused for a reasonable time and then I called for another answer. I will not wait all day and obstruct Question Time.

Mr. Wilson: Did the meetings of this co-ordinating committee take place before that debate?

Mr. Dukes: I have already pointed out to the Deputy that from the period of the beginning of operation of this fund it has been the concern of my Department to ensure that proper co-ordination takes place. I would remind the Deputy of what I said in my reply to the original question from Deputy Leonard, which was that my Department have instituted a procedure for convening at regular intervals meetings of the various Departments to ensure that there is more effective co-ordination. The process of co-ordination has been there since the beginning of the operation of the fund.

Mr. Wilson: The Minister did not answer the question I asked.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Would the Minister indicate that the money spent on these projects in the first instance is additional to what the Government would normally spend in the course of their capital programme in this region, as is the intention of the EEC Cross Border Fund? In view of the fact that a number of Government authorities, as he has indicated, are involved in this, can the Minister assure us that there will be no wasteful duplication in the course of the examination by these various authorities to ensure the maximum impact of these funds? May I also ask the Minister if the Government have designated the Border regions for special priority under the capital programme in view of the need to ensure that the infrastructure in those regions——

An Ceann Comhairle: That seems to be a separate question.

[2495] Mr. O'Kennedy: No, it is not; it is related.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair does not think it is related.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Will they give special priority to the Border regions?

Mr. Dukes: Deputy O'Kennedy does not need me to remind him of the rules and procedures governing the operation of the Regional Fund in this country and the Special Border Fund is part of the overall Regional Fund. The intention of expenditures under that fund is to ensure that the total amount of capital investments that will be undertaken will be increased in each member state of the Community, including this State, by the amount that is made available through the fund on the simple proposition that without the assistance of the Regional Fund there would be less available in total for capital investment. That applies to the Special Border Areas Fund, which is in the non quota part of the Regional Fund, as it does to the overall Regional Fund. There is no doubt, and I know the Deputy is aware of this, that the assistance we get from the Regional Fund increases the total amount of investment that is carried on in this country. As to the question of duplication——

Mr. O'Kennedy: The Minister has not answered the question.

Mr. Dukes: I answered the question fully, Deputy. As to the question of duplication, I am not sure what the Deputy has in mind in that connection. A number of different agencies are involved in the operations that are covered by the Special Border Areas Programme. We have a number of local authorities — for example Bord Fáilte — involved and each is involved in a different kind of operation. That is the case because the intention of the operations of the programme is to cover a variety of things and that is where co-ordination becomes important. I can assure the Deputy, however, that there [2496] is no duplication in the operation. As to the question of priority, the public capital programme each year is set out in accordance with what are considered to be the priorities for investment generally in the Community.

An Ceann Comhairle: We have spent 15 minutes on this question and I ask Deputies to take a reasonable approach towards the questions.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The Minister will be able to ascertain in his Department that special priority was given by the Government to the Border regions by a decision around 1978 to ensure that the infrastructural developments in those regions which otherwise would be disadvantaged would be dealt with on different criteria from those for the rest of the country.

An Ceann Comhairle: A question, please.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I want to be assured that that practice still applies under this Government, that special priority is being given to the Border regions.

Mr. Dukes: The public capital programme is drawn up by the Government each year on the basis of a very clear view as to what the priorities for investment are in all parts of the country and with a view to what the availability of funding is. All the priorities and particular needs of parts of the country in relation to the types of operations covered there are considered.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The Minister is applying the same criteria to the Border as elsewhere.

An Ceann Comhairle: Will the Minister please answer Question No. 3.

3. Mr. P. Gallagher asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement regarding the £200,000 from the European Regional Development Fund which might not be made available to Bord Fáilte for promotional purposes in the Border counties.

[2497] Mr. Dukes: The EEC Regulation which governs the Special Border Areas Programme restricted aid from the non-quota section of the European Regional Development Fund for tourism promotion to three years of the five-year period of the programme. Since the allocations to Bord Fáilte in 1981, 1982 and 1983 were partly applied for promotion purposes, the provisions of the governing regulation preclude any further allocation in respect of the promotional element from the Regional Fund aid after 1983. I would add, however, that all other Bord Fáilte activities will continue to be eligible for Regional Fund aid for the full duration of the programme.

Mr. P. Gallagher: The last sentence of the reply does not take the sting out of what goes before that. When did the Minister become aware of the fact that aid for cross-Border promotional activities was being withdrawn from Bord Fáilte?

Mr. Dukes: As I pointed out in my reply, the regulation governing the programme restricted aid from the non-quota section of the Regional Development Fund for promotional purposes to three years. That is Council Regulation No. 2619 of 1980, which governs the operation of the non-quota section and which was passed and published in October 1980. Article 4 deals with things which qualify for assistance. Article 5.1B says that aid for operations for the promotion of tourism under .2 of Article 4 and covering part of the operating costs of the bodies shall last for three years. It was written in the regulation which was passed in 1980. It was, therefore, known since 1980.

Mr. P. Gallagher: Possibly in 1980 all this was done in good faith because we were not experiencing the recession we are in now——

An Ceann Comhairle: A question, please.

Mr. P. Gallagher: ——along the Border. What has the Minister done since he [2498] came into office to try to have this regulation rescinded or to make some effort to see that this could be extended for a further two years, especially in view of the fact that there is a fund to the tune of £15 million and that by the end of 1985, when the ERDF runs out, we will not have spent half of it? On numerous occasions over the last 12 months the Minister has expressed himself as being concerned about the Border areas.

An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have these long harangues at Question Time.

Mr. P. Gallagher: I cannot help it if I am unable to ask more concise questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Humanly I could allow you to go on but Standing Orders do not permit it.

Mr. P. Gallagher: In view of the Minister's familiarity with conditions along the Border and the difficulties which we are experiencing, will he provide moneys out of some other fund or out of the national fund to ensure that cross-Border promotional activities continue?

Mr. Dukes: The last question which the Deputy asked after his speech is a very different question. As far as the original question is concerned, as I have already said, the operation of the fund is governed by the regulation of 1980 which specifically provided that tourism promotion would be covered for three of the five years. I do not propose at this point to look for a change in that regulation. I do not propose either to try to renegotiate any part of it because I do not think that would be either wise or useful. I make the point, however, that all the other activities in which Bord Fáilte are engaged in the Border area will still fall to be assisted by the fund. That, as far as I am concerned, is about as much as a nod don eolach as I can give in this House.

Mr. Leonard: Would the Minister agree that, without changing the regulations and the criteria, his Department could approve the appointment of an [2499] administrator or co-ordinator who would administer that fund on the ground since the lack of such an administrator has been a weakness in the fund?

Mr. Dukes: That is a separate question. I do not agree, for the reasons I have pointed out on several occasions during previous debates in this House, that that has been a weakness in the fund. The weaknesses have been in other areas and I am glad to say that this year we have made progress in dealing with them.

An Ceann Comhairle: I will stay with this question all day if that is what Deputies want and if they think that that is the best and fairest use of Question Time, although the Chair does not think so.

Mr. P. Gallagher: We are interested in this, although the Minister is not.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am thinking of the questions coming after this.

Mr. P. Gallagher: This is a very important question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Every question is important; otherwise it would not be on the Order Paper.

Mr. Wilson: Could the fund be used for roads, fishing facilities and that sort of thing?

Mr. P. Gallagher: I wish to ask a final supplementary.

An Ceann Comhairle: Has the Deputy a question?

Mr. P. Gallagher: Is the fact that the Minister is not prepared to negotiate and does not consider it worthwhile to do so an indication that he is not interested in promotional activities along the Border?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is argument and I am not allowing it.

Mr. P. Gallagher: It is a very appropriate question.

[2500] An Ceann Comhairle: It is argument. I am calling Question No. 4.

Mr. P. Gallagher: The Minister seems to wish to answer.

Mr. Dukes: I am in your hands, Sir, and consequently will resist the temptation to respond to the provocation offered by Deputy Gallagher.

4. Mr. P. Gallagher asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement on the special cross-Border fund programme.

Mr. Dukes: The Special Border Areas Programme, which is centrally administered by my Department, is being implemented by a number of Government Departments, local authorities and State agencies.

The total allocation from the Exchequer envisaged in the special programme over the five-year period 1981-1985 is IR£21 million approximately, of which 50 per cent will be reimbursed from the non-quota section of the European Regional Development Fund. To date a total of £10.045 million has been provided by the Exchequer for the implementation of the programme. On the basis of the most up-to-date estimates from the various Departments and agencies concerned, it is expected that the total amount provided to date will have been spent practically in full by the end of this year, leaving a further £11 million that will fall to be provided by the Exchequer during the remainder of the programme.

I am satisfied that, with the co-operation of the various agencies, local authorities and Government Departments implementing the programme, the objective of improving the economic and social situation of the Border counties, notably by strengthening their tourism potential, will be considerably advanced by the programme.

Mr. P. Gallagher: In view of the fact that this fund is orientated towards tourism, would the Minister be prepared even [2501] at this stage to consider the appointment of a co-ordinator for the fund, possibly someone from the Department of Trade and Tourism or from within Bord Fáilte?

Mr. Dukes: As I have said on at least three occasions since we started these questions, my Department have central responsibility for administering the programme. We have set in place proper co-ordination procedures and I am satisfied that those procedures are bringing about the result we want. This is reflected by the fact that at the end of this year the total amount of money allocated to the programme from the Exchequer and from the European side will have been used and used usefully.

Mr. P. Gallagher: If it is the position that the industry is not satisfied that the programme is being co-ordinated properly by the Department, would the Minister take that into consideration with a view to appointing a co-ordinator from within the Department or from within Bord Fáilte?

An Ceann Comhairle: That is a repeat of an earlier question.

Mr. Dukes: The Deputy is confusing a number of matters. There is no such thing as an industry that would in any way be either satisfied or dissatisfied with this programme. However, if the Deputy is saying that the agencies, the local authorities and other prople involved in the programme are not satisfied with its operation, I will be very happy to discuss the matter with him. As he is aware, I have discussed it with him and with a number of his colleagues from that side of the House as well as with a number of Deputies on this side and also with representatives of the various interest groups involved. From all of those discussions I have concluded that the kind of action we have taken to ensure a proper takeup of these funds is the kind of action that is required most.

Mr. Kirk: Is the Minister aware that there are a number of committees working in the area of cross-Border co-operation [2502] who are deeply interested in the question of the expenditure of this special fund. I have in mind in particular Bord Fáilte. In the east Border region, which comprises the counties of Down, Armagh, Monaghan and Cavan and where we have a natural blend of the two hinterlands, would the Minister consider actively encouraging the formation of administrative structures for the joint promotion of tourism.

Mr. Dukes: That seems to be a separate question but I assure the Deputy that I will be happy to consider any proposal from any group on the lines of assisting the promotion or development of tourism in the Border areas.

Mr. Conaghan: Would the Minister agree that there is much dissatisfaction among the local authorities concerned because of the slow progress in the Border region in so far as the fund is concerned? Would he not agree also that the whole administration of the many funds in the Border area is becoming very unwieldy? Is it not time that an economic study of the whole border region was undertaken and the economics of the entire region studied in detail? Perhaps then we could arrive at a decision on how to administer these funds more beneficially? It is accepted that if one compares the funds as they are administered on our side with the situation on the Northern side, we get the worst of the bargain.

Mr. Dukes: I do not accept that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction about the way in which the funds are being managed. I would accept, though, that there is a certain amount of confusion and that this is fuelled partially by some of the sort of remarks that have been made here today. As to the exact role and function of this fund, it is one which involves a number of Departments and a number of different agencies. It is sometimes the case that those who have ideas in mind for projects that would be beneficial in the area are not always very sure of where to go to find out in what way the funds can assist them. This is a problem but my Department are available always to give [2503] advice in that regard. The other agencies involved, too, are always very open to giving advice where possible so far as their side is concerned.

An Ceann Comhairle: Half of Question Time has been devoted to these four questions. I am advising Deputies to allow Question Time to proceed.

Mr. Wilson: This will be my last question.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Leonard also has indicated that he wishes to ask a question. All the Border Deputies have been allowed to ask supplementaries.

Mr. Leonard: I have not asked one.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputies are being unreasonable.

Mr. Kelly: All the questions relate to your own province, Sir, but I doubt if you would allow the House to spend so much time on four questions about Dublin.

An Ceann Comhairle: The problem is one that is shared by many people.

Mr. Wilson: I appreciate what has been said by Deputy Kelly but I shall stick closely to the parameters laid down——

An Ceann Comhairle: Perhaps the Deputy would stick closely to the question.

Mr. Wilson: In administering funds of this kind, would the Minister keep in mind the enormous potential of the Erne catchment area with its idyllic lakes and with its towns of Enniskillen, Belturbet, Ballyconnell, Carrick-on-Shannon and so on?

An Ceann Comhairle: I have allowed the Deputy to ask a question but he seems to be making a speech.

Mr. Wilson: Will the Minister keep in mind the potential for that whole area, a potential which is not realised either in this House or elsewhere having regard to [2504] the situation in which there is boating on the Norfolk broads with prows resting on sand——

An Ceann Comhairle: This is a long question.

Mr. Dukes: Viva the tourist brochure. All I can say is yes.

Mr. Leonard: A final supplementary on that question, please——

An Ceann Comhairle: The House is determined to turn Question Time into a farce. All I can do is advise Deputies against it.

Mr. Leonard: Seeing that the fund we have spent so much time discussing is a minor one as far as the Border region is concerned — this £20 million, where there have been surveys done in relation to Derry, Donegal and other areas which would cost probably five times that — bearing in mind that, under the European Regional Development Fund, we have information to the effect that Brussels were willing to finance such projects, would the Minister press that money be provided for that purpose by our Exchequer and the sovereign Government in England apart from the Border regional fund?

Mr. Dukes: That is a separate question that does not relate to the Border areas funds.