Seanad Éireann - Volume 142 - 09 March, 1995
NESC Report on Rural Development: Statements.
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Carey) Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Carey)
 Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Carey): I am grateful to the Cathaoirleach and Senators for the good wishes they expressed on my appointment. I noticed during that debate that many Members had a particular interest in the west. I hope to make a contribution to the improvement of living standards of people in the west during my short 120 or so weeks as Minister of State.
Rural Ireland faces serious economic and social problems. These are all too evident to anybody travelling outside urban centres, especially in remote areas. These difficulties are a daily fact of life for people who live in rural areas. They are aware of being caught in a vicious cycle. As population has declined, services have been reduced, and, in turn, economic activity has decreased and so communities have less hope of holding on to their own young people. As young Europeans they will naturally seek improved standards of living. They have every right to expect this.
These young people will be attracted to the better employment opportunities and life styles of the big city. They may wish to taste the different experiences of living in a foreign country. They may also want to broaden their education or gain valuable work experience. At the same time they fully appreciate the quality of the environment and special family ties they have left behind. In many rural areas they do not have an option of staying in their local area. Many of those who have left find it too difficult to return and settle back once they have become used to easy accessibility of facilities and services.
This is not a unique problem to Ireland; it is an international one. Our European colleagues are also facing the problem of rural depopulation, the cycle of rural economic decline and decreasing services. Approaches to the question have been varied, reflecting the different  nature and culture of communities in Europe. However, a common element in all these models is a bottom-up approach coupled with a top-down commitment: local communities involved in partnership with their local authorities supported by central government.
The decline in rural areas due to population loss leads to the withdrawal or curtailment of necessary services such as post offices, ESB offices, bank branches, health clinics and county council offices which in turn accelerates the process of population decline. This is a very depressing feature. We can all appreciate the need for public services to be provided efficiently and on economic criteria. However, that is little comfort to the small and remote communities whose standard of living is under threat.
The effects are not just economic. I am acutely aware of the impact that loss of population, especially the emigration of young people, can have on the morale of small communities. It is important that such communities regain and develop their self-confidence so that they will be in a position to join in the rural renewal process.
In the recently published report entitled New Approaches to Rural Development the National Economic and Social Council highlights the seriousness of the economic and social difficulties facing Irish rural areas. The publication recommends that these difficulties are important enough to warrant detailed and sustained attention by policy makers. As an example of how complex the whole issue of rural development is, the report states that the future of rural Ireland will not be determined alone by restructuring the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors of the economy. It will also be determined by the operation of policies at national and European levels. The council raises issues regarding the interdependence between urban and rural areas. Above all it points out that rural development policy goals can only be met in the context of balanced regional  development and national settlement patterns.
The NESC report considers the origin and nature of the problem. It examines the issues involved in policy terms from a national and rural perspective. It discusses the context within which rural development policy must be formulated and it looks at all the elements involved in this process, the value of area based partnerships, the delivery of public services and many other issues.
The current and future policy responses and the institutional and organisational issues which now arise are examined. A number of core principles are identified as a guide to the development of structures and institutions for rural development. Some of these principles are already in practice through existing groups such as the county enterprise boards, Leader and area development management partnerships and through the efforts of Government. I compliment the members of the council who examined all these existing groups. There is a valuable critique of the long term and short term attitudes people should have to these companies in the report.
The Government has accepted NESC's recommendation that a pilot scheme be initiated to develop service centres in rural areas. I have been given the job of overseeing the implementation of this pilot scheme as part of my responsibilities. The idea is a simple one: to house a number of essential public services under one roof so that remote rural communities will still have a range of services available to them in an economic and effective way. The pilot scheme is to test out how best this might be achieved.
My appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for western development and rural renewal is an indication of how serious the Government is in tackling the many areas of rural policy. My job should also be considered in the context of the roles allotted to my colleagues the Minister of State with responsibility for rural development,  Deputy Deenihan, and the Minister of State with responsibility for local development, Deputy Gay Mitchell; our briefs are complementary. Each of our areas of responsibility reflects the complexity of the issue of rural development as the NESC's report clearly shows. It is also an indication of the Government's commitment to tackling this policy issue in a co-ordinated way and a response to the heartfelt desire of the people who live in rural Ireland to stem the decline in their populations, to become vibrant, self-sustaining communities with a long term future.
My own area of responsibility seems very broad at first, but in many ways it is straightforward: it is to find practical ways of helping communities in rural Ireland break out of the vicious cycle of population decline, reduced economic activity and the consequent erosion of services. There is already a variety of interesting work going on in this area. A notable example is the work of Jim Connolly and his colleagues in Rural Resettlement in Ireland. They are developing new partnerships between the public and private sectors and the Irish overseas.
The Western Development Partnership Board was established to promote the economic development of the western region with the objective of achieving population stability by the end of the decade at 1991 census levels on a county by county basis. The board will prepare an action plan for the region. Its work will also take account of the need to strike a balance between the development of urban areas as centres of growth and the maintenance of rural communities.
The Forum group in Connemara is responding to the needs of the elderly in the area along with improvements in remedial education, in public transport together with new initiatives in shell fish farming and local tourism. It is an excellent model of how practical achievements can be made.
There is a section of the rural Irish population I wish to specifically mention in the debate on rural development  that is, the people living on our offshore islands. Whatever difficulties rural communities on the mainland have, islanders have the additional problem of isolation. As Chairman of the Interdepartmental Co-ordination Committee on Island Development I hope to further the development and improvement of living conditions of our offshore islands.
The NESC report identifies the serious nature of the economic and social problems in rural Ireland but it also emphasises the many positive initiatives which are already impacting on life in rural communities. The report calls for further research on Ireland's settlement problems in order to explore the interdependence between urban and rural areas. I would hope this interesting research will be carried out soon so that a further piece of the jigsaw will be in place.
I wish to praise the authors of this report. I commend them for the extensiveness of their research and the comprehensive nature of the consultative process they pursued. I wish also to acknowledge the co-operation and assistance they received from many individuals and organisations in bringing this research work through the many stages and, finally, to its publication.
Rural development is a complex matter. The NESC report has, however, increased our understanding of the nature and depth of that complexity. At the same time it clearly marks the difficult road ahead for policy makers in approaching rural development in innovative ways.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach seo. I sincerely welcome the Minister because he is a man from the west who has worked and lived there and is well acquainted with its problems.
I also welcome this NESC report. It certainly is a good report and has highlighted many of our problems. It is really a history — a book that should be retained — but, while it identifies the  problems, it does not seem to have come up with any answers.
As someone who has been involved in the depopulation and decline of the west since the fifties and who was a member of a Fr. McDyer campaign to save the west, I claim to have long experience and, as someone who has continually worked in the west, particularly in Roscommon, Mayo, parts of Galway, Sligo and Leitrim for over 20 years dealing with the farming community, I know the west well.
One of the real problems in the west is how do we keep people in the area. How do we provide them with a living? Deputy Blaney, when he was Minister for Local Government, did one positive thing by organising the regional group water schemes. But for his foresight — and he was criticised a lot at the time — the west would be a poor place indeed. These schemes, in turn, supplied water for many of our group water schemes. Earlier electricity was provided, and people in those remote areas were given the same living comforts; they had water, light and all the facilities of a town or city. Unfortunately, we did not capitalise sufficiently on that. We did capitalise on it as far as our hotels and guesthouses are concerned; we would not have the volume of tourists in the west today were it not for the fact that we had electricity and running water.
When we joined the EEC we all looked on it as the saviour of west. It certainly was great for a number of years; when I worked with the farming community in the sixties and seventies, agriculture was booming in the west. The small farmer with ten cows was a viable unit. In my own area of north Sligo we had three creameries.
Rural Ireland was damned by amalgamation — that word should be removed from the Irish vocabulary. We amalgamated small schools, Garda barracks and small creameries because, economically, it appeared right to do so and we based our decisions on how we could save money. However, did we save money at the expense of human flesh  and blood? This has gone on for years, Thomas Davis wrote in “The Silence of Unlaboured Fields” that:
A human voice is never heard,
The sighing grass is everywhere.
Grassland and lowing herds are good,
But better human flesh and blood.
There must have been depopulation of rural areas in his time too for him to write in such striking terms.
I welcome this NESC report and I am very pleased about some aspects of it. Grants and loans were mentioned. For many years, I have said that grants are not the answer and we squandered all the money we got from Europe. That money should have been used for low cost loans at 1 or 2 per cent for people to start industries. There would have been bad debts of course, but 80 or 90 per cent of that money would have recirculated to help others. That money was given out in grants and helped one initiative but that was the end of it. There was nothing for the next person. I welcome the suggestion in this report that low price loans might be the answer. I say that rather than “might be”, it is the answer.
I started in business 35 years ago through necessity; I had no choice. It was easy to start in business then. In the 1970s I could not get an advanced factory for my village so I built a shed. In those days, one only had to go the county council's planning office to discuss plans and if they could not see a problem they would give the go ahead. A factory could be ready to begin production as soon as the planning permission was granted. That is how I was able to build six small factories in my town creating up to 200 jobs.
I worked out today the cost of adding another three small factories; it would be in the region of £6,000 to £10,000 because of the cost of planning permission — there were no planning charges in those days — and an environmental impact study which would cost £4,000 or £5,000. Then there would  probably be objections after that. We have to marry the concerns of environmentalists and industrialists so that they can work in harmony because, at present, they seem to be completely opposed to one another. Nobody seems to be working on that front. We have to make it easier for people to get into business and set up industries.
We are getting some great results now. When Pádraig Flynn was in the Department he started to build good roads to the west. Many criticised him for that and said the county roads needed priority. We cannot exist without county roads but we need good roads to get our produce to Dublin, Belfast and the other big cities. That is happening now.
However, something is still missing which is barely mentioned in the report. There are more students of marketing now than ever before but we have no salespeople. The art of salesmanship — or, to be more politically correct, salespersonship — seems to be a thing of the past. People walk in and out of shops and nobody cares if they buy; if one looks around a car showroom one is rarely approached by a salesman. We all remember a time when salesmen came to our doors. We have lost the art of salemanship. There is no marketing, research or sales assistance for small businesses.
It is not possible to create jobs but, as Senator Quinn said here one day, if there is a market for a commodity and the commodity sells, then jobs are created. One cannot make something and then stockpile it. We need to do a great deal of work developing a good marketing system for our produce. There is no reason for any unemployment in this country or depopulation of the west. There are good airports in Knock, Sligo, Galway and Shannon and we have good ports. We should be able to transport our products. There is a huge potential market in the EU of which we will get a very small part. We must put some marketing mechanism in place and encourage people to go into business.
 Our taxation system is discouraging. I spoke recently to a contemporary who started in business at the same time as I did and who said I was lucky to be out of business. He said that when we went into business if he saw somebody with a briefcase or a folder getting out of a car he knew it was a commercial traveller; today it is an inspector. Inspectors have been our greatest growth industry. We have harassed entrepreneurs. Any small business today has visits from safety inspectors, fire chief inspectors, tax inspectors, health and safety inspectors and environmental health inspectors. I could go on and on——
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: That is true. The Senator's 20 minutes would be used up before he finished the list.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: Each inspector prevents a man from working.
In every town and village there were many small contractors employing three or four people reconditioning houses, building walls, decorating and so on. We brought in a taxation system where all those people had to be registered contractors and they packed up and are on the dole today. We started a black economy and created a Frankenstein because we did not realise what we were doing. I have always maintained that no tax should be imposed on small industries with a turnover below a certain level. They should pay VAT to wholesalers, which they will not get back, but nothing else. The bookkeeping should be cut out. It is impossible for small businesses to carry bookkeepers and accountants and often they are put out of business.
Over the past 20 years in my village 16 shops have closed down. This is happening in every small village. These shops employed one, two or three people and some had vehicles on the road. For many years I drove a van for one of these shops, collecting eggs and delivering groceries. However, these type of operations are a thing of the past. The lights went out and with them the jobs. Something should be done to  make it easier for people to run a business.
County Leitrim is a very neglected area and it has lost more of its population than any other county. If a scheme was introduced there, where people who set up businesses did not have to pay tax for ten years, the number of new industries would be unbelievable. Such a scheme should be established.
My county prepared a special submission for support funds. It is a small report but it is very good because it puts a price on everything that could be done. It is a local action plan, and every county should have its own plan. National and regional reports are riddled with jargon and we must get back to basics in local areas.
Our action plan covers small villages; £10 million would have created a great deal of work in County Sligo through, for example, streetscaping and pavement programmes and the restoration and refurbishment of Sligo Model School, a fine old building, a new arts centre in Sligo — £2 million would be enough and the possible redevelopment of the old butter market as a craft workshop, environmental enhancement of Sligo Abbey and the presentation of the jail complex, etc.
Targeted areas include Aclare, Ballymote, Ballintogher, Ballisodare, Ballinafad, Buninadden, Carney, Cliffony, Coolooney, Coolaney, Dromorewest, Easkey, Inishcrone, Grange, Gorteen, Mullaghamore, Riverstown, Rosses Point, Strand Hill and Tubbercurry. Every village is covered in the plan and what happened in my village, Grange and in the small village of Aclare, indicates the effectiveness of even modest intervention.
Aclare is on the border of County Mayo. It was a very neglected area but it was improved over a number of years through a proper and well prepared village plan and a significant contribution from local sources. As I have said a number of times, there are many local people who would be willing to invest in  their area, if grants and other benefits were available.
There was nothing in Aclare and a great air of depression existed. Funds were leveraged from a range of sources which first provided a serviced industrial site. A small field was bought in that remote village and a small advance factory was built. People said it was a white elephant. However, it led to the return to his native village, where no industrial employment existed in 1984, of a young skilled toolmaker from the United States. Less than ten years later, this small industry employs 17 people and the business is being expanded to take on another ten or 12 employees. This year he won the prestigious national small industry of the year award.
This is positive action and can be mirrored in every small town and village across the country. In the village of Aclare, major elements of the plan have been achieved over the years, with the building of an excellent community centre by local unemployed youths on a training scheme. This now houses medical clinics, health care facilities and a branch library. An imaginative modern scheme of townhouses and old people's dwellings in a courtyard setting has replaced a former eyesore of ruined derelict buildings. Aid from the new fund to continue the work of maintaining this village plan would be a tremendous boost to this remote area.
All this work has been carried out in the small village of Aclare by the county council and the local community with very little resources. We must try to promote this type of effort because this is how jobs will be created. The example of Aclare proves this point and I have no doubt that the work done there can be emulated in every village in rural Ireland.
North Sligo is an area of exceptional natural beauty with a remarkable variety of landscape and seascape, mountains, woodlands, boglands and rivers and similar areas exist all over the west. It was calculated in the action plan that  £7.5 million would boost this part of the county, which features Lissadel House and estate, the former home of the Gore-Booth family and the remarkable Countess Markievicz. She was the rebel countess who was sentenced to death for her part in the Easter Rising, the first woman elected to the Westminster Parliament and conferred with the freedom of the Borough of Sligo after her release from Aylesbury jail in 1917. Almost next door is Drumcliff graveyard, the burial place of William Butler Yeats and his brother Jack. There is a whole range of tourist attractions in this part of the country. However, nothing is fully developed but the action plan has put a price on the cost of developing these places. This is the type of action that should be pursued.
The action plan is an example of what has been done and more areas should get involved and produce similar reports. It gets to the nitty gritty and points out the costs involved and the jobs which could be created. The experiments in Grange and Aclare prove that this is possible and feasible. Rural Ireland does not have to be a desolate place. More money is required to maintain roads and the infrastructure but employment can be created.
I do not see the black part of the picture. I did not believe in leaving the country when it was popular to go in the 1950s. I decided to stay. I never left the country except on holidays and I have no regrets. I was very successful. I believe we can revive rural communities and make them successful. The phrase “bottom up approach” is much misused. Stay at the bottom because we must start with the foundation. The foundations are in rural Ireland, in towns and villages; let us get back to basics. County councils should become more involved and we should encourage them to produce such reports as the Sligo action plan, help them financially and get rid of grants and provide low interest loans.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
 Mr. Enright: I welcome the Minister to the House. I am certain he will have an interesting period in office dealing with western development and rural renewal. I wish him well. His brief presents many challenges but I am certain he has the expertise, competence and energy to make the most of it.
I hope he will seek to extend his brief to include the Offaly side of the Shannon because there are areas in my constituency — Shannon Harbour, Banagher, Lusmagh, Shannonbridge, Doon, Clorhane, Ferbane and Birr — which should be considered for development; they too have been seriously affected by the recent flooding. There was a lot of publicity about the plight of the people living west of the Shannon, and rightly so. However, people in my area have been suffering similar problems on an ongoing basis. This report deals with rural Ireland. Some of the operations of SFADCo, which is within the Minister's remit, are located in Offaly. I hope the Minister will seek to extend his brief to these areas.
There are many important points in this important report. In page (xiv), under the heading Public Services in Rural Areas, it states that “Pressures of public finance and changing patterns of service provisions have given rise to reorganisation and withdrawal of public service provision in rural areas.”. Over the years, national policy at Government and semi-State level has slowly but surely played a major part in the process. Governments and semi-State bodies are to blame for much of what has happened in my constituency.
Some people might think that this was yesterday's war. It is not yesterday's war; the problem is still there today and it needs to be confronted. I am speaking of the closure of our one and two teacher national schools; many three teacher national schools have been under threat. A report was presented to the Department of Education a few years ago calling for the closing of all one, two and three teacher national schools. I come from a rural area. I know that once a school is closed in a  village or a small community, people will start to leave the area.
The provision of rural post offices is an important service. If they did not exist, people would have to travel to larger towns to get a stamp or to collect their post. The closure of rural post offices is a serious matter and affects the fabric of society in the area. There are at least 100 applications currently before the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications from An Post calling for the closing of rural post offices — I am not sure of the exact figure, but it is probably higher than that. If these post offices close, 100 villages across the country will be affected. The Government must have the courage of its own convictions and tell An Post that it cannot allow this to happen.
The late John Healy, a very famous political correspondent, wrote about Charlestown, County Mayo — “No one Shouted Stop; The Death of an Irish Village”. It is a beautiful book, well worth reading and is as relevant today as it was in the 1950s.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: Charlestown is a boom town now, as is Billahy.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: The point is that at the time somebody had the courage to shout stop and it helped to revitalise the community. I was in that town during the Seanad election; I did all right there too.
The third point I want to raise relates to Garda stations and what is called community policing. In fact, it is the opposite; it is closing communities. If a community loses its national school, post office and Garda station, what is left? It is wrong to close Garda stations and close they will unless the Government makes a definite policy decision to keep them open.
I read an article in The Sunday Times about people leaving villages in France, Spain and Italy in their thousands, and now they are like ghost towns. We have to make sure this does not happen here. The Government needs to adopt a positive policy to support these services.
 I also appeal to those who live in those small areas. We can blame the Government for everything but the general public must adopt a responsible attitude. As a person living in a rural area, I have a duty to support my local shop — whether it is the butcher, the grocer, the hardware shop, the drapery store or the local licensed premises — rather than go to a big supermarket, I do not want to fall out with Senator Quinn about this. Services provided by a local bank or a cafe can only keep going, and the community can only survive, if there is interplay between the local communities, the semi-State bodies and the Government. Banks are currently centralising their powers and giving less authority to their local managers. That is a mistake and I ask the banks to review this policy.
Local authority planning is playing an effective part in closing down rural Ireland. I do not want to fall out with any county manager — we have to keep on their right side — but local authorities are actively pursuing a policy to encourage people to move into towns. It is impossible to get planning permission in rural Ireland. If people build houses in rural areas, local authorities will have to provide services for them. That is part and parcel of the duty of Government and local authorities.
Mr. Farrell Mr. Farrell
Mr. Farrell: The roads are inadequate.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: Local authorities say they will have to provide roads, lights, water and sewerage schemes. The people living in vibrant rural communities are being encouraged to live in towns. I say that with great regret but it is a fact. It is time the Government directed county councils and An Bord Pleanála to encourage rather than discourage people to build homes in rural areas. When a farmer transfers sites to his son only one house may be built and he cannot give the remaining sites to anybody. If the other members of the family want to live near their home,  they must move into towns. That is a mistake and I hope the Government and local authorities will reverse this trend.
The reports states that an “increased role for local authorities in rural and local development should only occur within the context of (a) proven performance of the county enterprise boards in the formulation and execution of strategic enterprise development plans”. I agree with the report in that any plans produced by Leader, the country enterprise partnership boards, etc., should be well researched and formulated. If plans are presented as envisaged by this report they will be of benefit to rural communities.
The scheme Leader I was a success in County Offaly. Attractive buildings and new businesses are now located in areas which were run down and derelict. A considerable amount of employment has been created and it continues to increase. A further application for assistance under Leader II has been made by the Laois County Enterprise Partnership Board, which is before the Minister. I hope the success we have achieved will continue under Leader II. The Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, is responsible for the partnership areas. I am delighted that much of north Offaly has been included in the partnership schemes and that grants will be available under them for small businesses. I am pleased that it has been approved and I hope its launch, which was to take place tonight, will happen in the not too distant future.
I read the excellent application from County Laois for assistance under the Leader programme. It outlines positive points about County Laois, including the many attractions, infrastructure and the availability of skills and expertise. However, over recent years national funding for County Laois has fallen. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, will approve the application by the Laois County Enterprise Partnership Board for funding under Leader II because it is important that it be provided.  It is a positive application and was well researched.
This important report needs Government support and the co-operation of semi-State bodies and agencies. It also needs the support of the people. We can have many excellent plans, but unless they have the support and goodwill of the people, they will not succeed. This new approach to rural development should be approved by the House.
Mr. Mulcahy Mr. Mulcahy
Mr. Mulcahy: I welcome the Minister to the House and wish him well in his new post. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I would like to say that although I, with my colleagues, voted against the appointment of two new Ministers of State, that did not in any way reflect on the competence and ability of the individuals appointed to those positions both of whom are excellent public representatives.
This is a comprehensive, interesting and well researched report. One might ask, why is a Dubliner speaking about rural development? We all have an interest in the future of this country. A rural sector is important to the country. We began on the land; thousands of years ago we moved from the forests and sheltered areas to land which we cultivated. However, I do not intend to go into the history of agriculture here.
The problems identified in the report, and by other speakers, highlight the threat posed to rural areas. The Minister in his speech mentioned the off shore islands. When I was younger I visited the Aran Islands six or seven times to attend an Irish speaking school and I subsequently returned to holiday there. What is happening on the Aran Islands is an interesting lesson for other rural areas. The people there have struggled to develop their economy, but also to protect their environment. It is all very well to say one wants prosperity, but not at any price. Some islanders, particularly those on Inishmore, are upset by large numbers of tourists on their island in the summer — they get a break in the winter because not too many people are  keen to cross Galway Bay, or an sunda salach, in the winter months.
A problem, not just for the Aran Islands, is how to balance development with protecting the environment, not in a green sense but in terms of peace of mind or the integrity of one's community. How can the integrity of rural areas be maintained if they are to prosper?
We have an advantage over many countries in that we do not have a large heavy industrial base. We do not provide most of our employment in large scale engineering, motor manufacturing or chemical production, although there are such facilities dotted around the country, for example in Cork. One can travel through large parts of rural Ireland where it is hard to find a factory. That is not the case in many other countries in Europe such as Germany or Austria or, indeed, England where the entire countryside is constantly attacked by an ever increasing spread of roadways and factories. It is hard to find large amounts of unspoiled land in southern England. In protecting, as opposed to developing, rural Ireland we must look at the question of roads. If we have roadways all over the countryside it will disturb the environment and will not create a place where people want to live.
The Minister mentioned the excellent idea of service centres. In my constituency in Dublin there are five building societies right beside each other. It is a total waste when only one office is required to get a mortgage. I support the provision of services in rural Ireland but we must ask if there is an over duplication of offices. It is coming to a stage where every town will demand a post office, a Garda station, VHI shop and insurance offices, a few building societies, video outlets and a social welfare office. Can we streamline this activity to remove waste? We are talking about the distribution of scare resources, as the Minister knows. People do not want to pay more taxes for more services; they want to pay less tax and have more services. In effect, we have to provide a  system of supporting rural Ireland whereby better services are provided at a more efficient cost.
Although the Minister did not refer to it in his speech I am sure he will consider in his deliberations the issue of the information superhighway and the internet. I do not claim to fully understand it but I hope to learn about it. The Speaker of the American House of Representatives, the now famous Newt Gingrich, said a few weeks ago that the government should give everybody a computer to access information. One no longer calls to an office to get information: if I have a query about social welfare for a constituent I do not call to an office, I ring the Department of Social Welfare in Sligo, Mayo or Athlone. We are going beyond a point where people feel that they have to access matters in a personal physical sense. The language and idea of calling “into the shop to get something” will become a thing of the past.
If someone in a rural area has a query on their pension or their tax it might be easier and more profitable for them to access the information by computer. We are not far from the day when one will not even have to key in to a computer; one will speak to the computer. The technology exists already whereby one can speak to a computer and tell it to type up what one is saying.
People sometimes wrongly give the impression that rural Ireland is the backward part of the country. It is not although it may be the under-resourced part where people have not had the same opportunities and exposure to education as those in cities. If the Minister is doing a pilot scheme on service centres he might also include one on computerisation. He might consider giving some families attached to the service centre a free computer and have carried out a cost audit on whether money is saved by giving the computers to people to access information and services.
We all want Ireland to be an inclusive place. The Minister knows about the rural resettlement programme. Hundreds  of families want to leave the city and live in the country. There are organisations dealing with the programme and the State should be assisting them because Dublin has the highest rate in the country of unemployment per thousand. If people feel they will have a better life and better employment prospects in the country it might make sense to give them financial help to relocate.
This report is so good that I ask the Minister to talk to his colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Gay Mitchell, who is from my constituency because we need such a report for the more deprived parts of the cities. There are parts of Dublin, Limerick, Cork and other towns where there is real poverty. I do not want to spoil the debate by trying to compare poverty — although all poverty is relative. There is a French organisation called Le Quatre Monde which means the fourth world. Some people living in deprived city areas have absolutely nothing; they do not even own a field. A field is not enough to feed oneself but at least if one owns a few acres one feels rooted to something. There are people who are totally alienated in our cities and towns. A report such as this needs to made to address their problems.
I welcome this report and this debate. I support many of the report's conclusions and many of the steps the Minister is taking proudly, as a city Member of the Oireachtas.
Mr. Townsend Mr. Townsend
Mr. Townsend: I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I do not know him personally but from what I am told I believe he has his feet firmly on the ground. The subtitle to the report is New Approaches to Rural Development which is appropriate as it is exactly what we want. If we are to take into account what has happened in the past 25 years new approaches are needed, based on the real world. We cannot turn back the clock: we have to go forward.
In the report I picked out some figures which support my case. The numbers engaged in agriculture fell from 330,000 in 1986 to 155.000 in 1992, a  staggering decline of 7.000 per year. While I have been in the Seanad, public representatives have wrestled with their consciences over many things, the closure of Digital in Galway, that transatlantic flights would in future overfly Shannon and problems in Aer Lingus yet there is hardly a whisper about the 7,000 farmers and farmworkers who have to leave rural Ireland every year. The reason is they are scattered throughout every parish and cannot be photographed in large numbers coming out of a factory. The media cannot find them easily to interview them and neither can politicians find them easily.
On reading the report it appears the outlook is very bad and a new approach to rural development is needed. Of the remaining 155,000 farmers, only 31 per cent earn an economically viable income from their farms. A further 17 per cent are surviving on viable jobs outside the farm and a further 30 per cent are surviving with the help of social welfare, CAP transfers and so on. Some 20 per cent of farms are not viable at all, but if we are honest with ourselves we will acknowledge that it cannot be otherwise.
We received an enormous amount of money from CAP resources over the last 25 years but 80 per cent of that went to 20 per cent of the larger farmers simply because the system is based on the amount of land, crops or animals a farmer has. When the CAP was reorganised it made the situation worse. The Government brought in an early retirement scheme. If a small farmer wants to hand over his holding to a very big farmer, he can do so if he is the right age. If, however, he wants to hand over to his son but is not able to enlarge his holding — they call it extensification — he cannot do so. I know several small farmers whose sons are working on the farm. They are anxious to hand over to their sons and they simply cannot do it because of the rules. That is not good enough.
A scheme brought in as one of the accompanying measures when the CAP was reformed and not referred to in this  report is the Rural Environment Protection Scheme. A large amount of money will be available over the next five or six years under that scheme which is the most likely to have a major impact on smallholders and help them stay on their land, but because the scheme is mainly directed towards the farmer with less than 100 acres, the will is not there to implement it properly. There is much negative publicity about that scheme. A sum of £10 million was made available last year and only £1.4 million was taken up. It was financed 75 per cent by the European Union and 25 per cent by the national Government. It is to our eternal shame that we have not taken up that £10 million and have not put a proper scheme in place.
While people with very large incomes employing perhaps up to ten people can do what is required under this scheme and can draw £50 per acre up to a maximum of 100 acres, smallholders on social welfare or taking part in a community employment schemes are afraid that if they take part in it and get £2,000 from REPS, their social welfare payments will be reduced.
The community employment schemes have a role to play provided they are properly organised. The county enterprise boards should be given a fair chance as they are working reasonably well. The REPS, the community employment schemes and the Leader schemes combined could contribute, each in its own way. The county enterprise board in Carlow, for instance, has given grant aid to a person for snail production. Since this enterprise was set up it has created approximately 50 jobs and that is the right way to go about things. Alternative enterprises should be taken seriously but should be well planned. I outlined here last week a bio-fuel project developed and researched in Carlow, France, Germany, Italy and now England are taking this type of development quite seriously. We will be left behind if we do not develop alternative enterprises. The county boards, the REPS, the community employment  schemes and Leader schemes if they are properly organised can play their part.
We cannot turn the clock back. I was interested to hear what Senator Mulcahy had to say and I agree with much of it. We talk about small schools, post offices and telephone boxes. In primary schools in some large towns classrooms are vacant simply because there is not enough pupils to fill them. When post offices in rural areas are being closed — it is the same with telephone boxes — the local people want to keep them although they do not support them. They use the post offices in the bigger towns to get their pensions and that sort of thing. A new approach to rural development is needed. If we continue talking, as we have over the past 25 years, about small schools, post offices, and telephone boxes, we will not make progress. I agree with much of what Senator Mulcahy said.
Mr. Daly Mr. Daly
Mr. Daly: I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Carey, on his appointment and welcome him to the House. I had the opportunity, as I am sure the Minister is already aware, on the occasion on which we discussed the appointments, to put on record my good wishes to Deputy Carey on his appointment to the office and to assure him of my support and to some extent my sympathy in the work which he has to undertake. Already he has demonstrated a willingness to meet various organisations and associations and has taken some initiatives in endeavouring to come to grips with the problems in rural areas. As he said in his speech, it is not just a local Irish problem. We hear a great deal about Irish solutions to Irish problems but this is a European problem and one that has certainly created problems even for the strong German economy. I visited an area in the northern part of Germany where, like the west of Ireland, there was a serious population decline, Initiatives were taken to deal with this decline because part of it was due to the decline of traditional industries.
 I welcome this detailed report, which I have not had the opportunity to study in depth. When it was published earlier in the year I looked through it in an overall manner. In the report we have the expertise of people who have been to the forefront of economic and social development in Ireland for many years. As Members will be aware, industry, agriculture, co-operatives, farming bodies, Government Departments and others were involved in its preparation. Trade unions and people like Mr. Peter Cassells who were involved would have a deep understanding of the problems of communities. There is no doubt that western communities have been hit hardest in the decline of rural areas.
I welcome the Minister's appointment and wish him well. However, I feel there is an element of fragmentation in the Government's approach to this issue. There is overlapping and duplication of effort, which we can see in the allocation of ministerial responsibilities. If the Minister is to be successful, as I hope he will be — and he can be assured of our support — he will have to pull together the various strands of responsibility for different areas of action and find somebody who will put in place an overall policy initiative, not a piecemeal one, dealing with the establishment of pilot projects to deal with specific areas.
We need an enlightened policy in relation to how these problems can be minimised. I do not say “resolved” because I do not think it will be easy to resolve them. No matter what initiatives Governments take, some people will decide to leave rural areas in search of opportunities, entertainment and other things elsewhere. If the best services in the world were in some of these areas, some people would still leave. I know this from personal experience. Some members of my family do not wish to live in the social scene in west Clare and have already left to live elsewhere. I have lived in west Clare and have found it a disadvantage to be about 200 miles from Dublin. I have kept my permanent residence in the west, even when under  extreme pressure in my ministerial post. The strain and pressure this puts on individuals is almost unbearable. I am sure the Minister knows this already from the short time he has been in office.
There is a common perception which must be rejected in a debate like this. This is the fatalistic attitude that rural areas are lost and gone and beyond rehabilitation. This is a fallacy and it is a disservice to people living in rural areas to put that perception abroad. It is said that the effort to resolve these problems must come from the people in these areas themselves. This is not realistic. They cannot resolve these problems themselves. They need Government support and initiatives to enable them to work towards finding solutions.
An area where Government and EU initiatives, with local community involvement, can be successful in meeting and facing up to these problems can be seen in the Leader programme. I welcome the second Leader initiative which is about to be launched. It is to be expanded nation wide, which is welcome, but it would be more welcome if resources were provided for it. We have seen the success of the Leader programme in Clare under Fr. Harry Bohan. Initiatives have been taken and projects organised and put in place which have resulted in jobs being created.
The Leader programme has come to a standstill because of the lack of the necessary finances to complete it. People have been waiting almost six months for Leader II to get underway. Does this demonstrate a commitment on the part of the EU or the Government? I am not blaming this Government but am saying that the Leader programme has been at a standstill for six months. The Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, launched a welcome initiative last weekend in Ballybunion. Could we see the Leader programme accelerated and additional finances provided for it? On the basis of the extension of the programme to the whole country,  the finances provided for it will be totally inadequate.
Some of the areas which benefited from Leader I will be at a disadvantage because of the expansion under the new programme and because the amount of money provided will be totally inadequate to meet demands. This would be a major shame. It would be in the interests of everybody if the Minister took an initiative in that regard.
His colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, deals with the Leader programme. This is the basis of my criticism of the fragmentation of ministerial responsibility, which looses momentum and does not result in an overall concentrated approach. The concept of a Minister of State with responsibility for western development is good and, as I have said several times, I wish Deputy Carey success.
There is another perception abroad that there is no solution to the problems in rural areas, particularly in the west. I do not agree with that. Many of the problems can be resolved with small initiatives. I support the view, expressed in the report, that it is necessary to do some further research. Quite an amount of research has already been done.
We are overburdened with organisations. We debated the fragmentation of the IDA and the division of the responsibilities of agencies. We have agencies all over the place. When we debated the IDA I spoke strongly to Deputy Quinn, now Minister for Finance, and said that the breaking up of overall responsibility in the industrial area was fragmenting effort and leaving people unsure, if they wanted assistance, about whom they should go to, whether it is the IDA, Forbairt, county development teams, the Leader programme or county enterprise boards. There was total confusion and that still reigns. If the Minister can bring some semblance of sanity to those arrangements, he will be very successful. I wish him luck.
Seanad Éireann 142 NESC Report on Rural Development: Statements.