Dáil Éireann - Volume 454 - 14 June, 1995

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Environmental Standards.

9. Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Tourism and Trade the steps, if any, he will take to ensure that Ireland remains an environmentally-clean venue for tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10933/95]

Mr. E. Kenny: The maintenance of environmental standards, while primarily a matter for the Minister for the Environment, is something that concerns us all. Ireland's greatest natural tourism strength is our clean and green environment. We have the lowest population density in Europe with large open spaces, uncrowded roads and areas of great scenic beauty. This is a legacy of history and nature that I am determined to preserve in so far as my area of responsibility is concerned.

To this end the Operational Programme for Tourism, 1994-1999, acknowledges that a balance must be struck between development and conservation. All developments under the programme are required to comply with the best environmental standards. One of the main instruments used to ensure the maintenance of environment standards is the planning process. The planning process is also used to ensure the application of EU environment impact assessment directives.

[841] We are not, nor do we wish to be, a mass tourism destination. All our future plans for the further development of tourism, involving the development of new markets and products to improve the seasonal and geographic spread of tourism in Ireland, will demonstrate full sensitivity to the need for compatibility with our environmental strengths.

Mr. Andrews: I agree there must be a balance between development and the environment. However, in terms of a current issue, the Masonite factory to be situated at Drumsna in the lovely county of Leitrim, does the Minister agree with the efforts to scupper that project by his colleague, the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, and apparently for everything else — a man for whom I have the greatest personal respect but who seems to have a capacity to intrude on every portfolio? Will he comment on the balance he seeks to achieve?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I do not know how relevant that is to this question.

Mr. Andrews: It is an example of the balance that must be struck between the environment and development.

Mr. E. Kenny: It is a separate question. The Government supports this project. I understand the Minister's objections are on visual grounds. It is feasible to maintain a balance between the creation of industrial jobs and the preservation of the lovely scenery in the Shannon basin, which is of great interest to us all and has great potential in terms of tourism. I will not comment on the remarks about the Minister, Deputy Higgins.

Mr. Andrews: My remarks are not personal to Deputy Higgins. I have had many dealings with him over the years and found him to be a good and decent man, and that will always be my view. However, if An Bord Pleanála turns down this application it is unlikely the [842] industry will set up operations anywhere else in Ireland. I take the Minister's point that the question is not directly relevant, but this is an example of what can happen in the event of failure to recognise the need to balance development and the environment. Such a failure in this instance will be to the disadvantage of the county, the country and particularly the people who would be employed on the project. The intervention of the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht is most unfortunate and inappropriate.

Mr. E. Kenny: After careful consideration, the local authority involved granted planning permission for this development. As in the case of many more minor developments, objections have been lodged. There is a process in train at present and I fully expect the balance between the necessity to create jobs in this region and preservation of the scenic environmental qualities of the area will be maintained.

Mr. Andrews: What will happen if An Bord Pleanála turns down the application?

Mr. E. Kenny: I cannot answer for An Bord Pleanála.

Mr. Andrews: The project will never see the light of day.