Thursday, 17 December 2020
Appropriation Bill 2020: Second and Subsequent Stages
I apologise for being late. I sprinted to get here but the Minister had just got to his feet when I arrived. I appreciate the Minister giving us a full and detailed rundown of the capital funding and the ten-year national development plan ahead. I plead with him to give serious consideration to a constituency that I feel has been starved of good, serious funding for a long time to allow it to make changes. We have many issues in west Cork. The Minister is a fellow Corkman and he was down in west Cork during the summer, as he probably has been often. I would appreciate it if these issues were looked at in a more serious light. There is no point in anybody telling me that Cork has got a fair slice of the cake because it has not.
There was €63.5 million of greenway funding announced recently. It is a great boost to any community to get funding for projects and especially for a constituency like Cork South-West that needs that type of funding. There are possibilities there, as I have said, in Ballinhassig, Kinsale, Innishannon, down to Mizen Head and up into Beara to create employment in what will be a tough time ahead. With Brexit and everything, the fishing and farming sectors are going to be hit. People are going to have to think outside the box for survival. I appreciate the Minister cannot get projects shovel ready but work is still required on the Innishannon bypass, the Bandon southern relief road and the northern relief road. Even passing bays on the N71 and the R586 are an example of an issue that has been omitted.
I said it to the Taoiseach and I say to the Minister that, in the past 20 years, the only progressive work I saw done on the N71 was the opening of the Skibbereen bypass, and that was 18 years ago. No archway or leeway into a huge constituency like Cork South-West can be starved for 20 years of investment and funding, which would bring us into line with other counties and open up places like Skibbereen and Bantry and far-reaching places like Castletownbere, Schull and Mizen Head. Innishannon and Bandon are bottlenecks and desperately need funds to be made available either to look at relief roads or passing bays. A person does not have to be a rocket scientist for some of these works.
Issues that desperately need funding include the sewerage systems in Belgooly, Ballinspittle, Castletownshend and Goleen. I mentioned Ballinspittle in a discussion we had in the Dáil last night. The county development plan allows for 50 or 60 houses there, but they cannot build any house because they cannot increase the capacity of the sewerage system. It is in such close proximity to Cork. Castletownshend is probably pumping raw sewage into the sea, the same as places like Goleen, where I come from. They are areas that need funding and that need to be focused on. Many feel they have not had that.
The endoscopy unit promised to Bantry General Hospital has not been delivered. Bantry hospital serves a catchment of anything up to 80,000 people. I was canvassing around Bandon and Innishannon and it shocked me when people told me they would not dare turn to Cork University Hospital and that they would love to go and do go to Bantry hospital. We have to protect areas like that. Clonakilty Community Hospital has been starved of funding in recent years, which has led to unfortunate situations during Covid. HIQA reports have made it clear that funding has not been spent there in certain important areas where it should have been spent. Staff were left with a massive headache.
I do not want to paint a bleak picture all the time but I have been speaking about these things since 2016 and they need progression. The Minister might have his finger on the pulse more, being from the county. I respect that he is a national Minister but my problem is that a lot of good projects in west Cork are being put before the Government. It might not be very good politically and the Chair might stop me saying this but a lot of nod-and-wink politics seems to go on and the money goes in a certain direction. Proof of that was the rural regeneration fund. I called for an independent investigation into where that money was being spent. That was prior to the Minister taking office. There were shovel-ready projects that did not get any funding.
I know one such project in Schull that would have been a game changer and have provided between 60 and 80 jobs, which in a place like Schull would have been incredible. That project was shovel-ready, had planning and everything but got nothing. It was twice the lead project of Cork County Council and it got zero. I saw projects that were only aspirational coming near senior Ministers and they were given millions. Something is wrong somewhere. Everyone has to push for their own area as best they can but we need to ensure that type of politics does not continue.
The sad thing is the Schull Harbour project looks like it has been shelved because Cork County Council, in its wisdom, with seven days to go before a decision was to be made, and it was assumed it would put the project forward again because it was shovel ready and there was planning in place, pulled the plug and left the group flat-footed with no lead body going forward. If that project had happened for Schull, it would have been a massive game changer for the whole of west Cork because tourism is a road we must travel, given the difficulties in the fishing industry, as I said, and the farming industry.
I have said to the Taoiseach, though it is falling on deaf ears on the moment, that we need to set up a task force in west Cork to look at tourism and areas that have had a complete lack of investment and funding. I will keep calling for that task force. If the Taoiseach does not provide it, it is to be hoped that in the next term, when the Tánaiste might be Taoiseach, he will understand where I am coming from. I can put before the Government 50 or 60 projects that have been there or thereabouts and have been continually refused funding. A task force is what we need in west Cork in order that there is complete focus on the projects, that the projects are brought before the Ministries where the funding is available, and that we are on a level playing pitch with everybody else, be they in Dublin city, out in Castletownbere or down in Ballinadee or Belgooly. It should not make a difference but, unfortunately, it has made such. As a public representative, I have to fight the corner.
There are many issues with flooding in west Cork. Skibbereen, Rosscarbery, Bantry and many other places got flooded. The Minister was down there, as I said, and I appreciate his visit. Rathbarry and such places need funding.
The one criticism I had about the funding that became available was that it was not open to 70%, 80% or maybe 90% of the people who desperately needed it. It was humanitarian aid but there were so many hoops and fences. If a person had insurance, he or she did not get it. I know a business that did not have and could not afford insurance that did not get it because it was told it probably could have got insurance. Some people had insurance with, unfortunately, an excess of maybe €10,000, and they were not able to get it. Some people's damage could have been €8,000 or €9,000. A huge number of people were affected. For most of them, their businesses had closed due to Covid and had just reopened. We were helping them. There was little in Bandon but a good bit in Bantry, obviously, and I saw the damage and the sheer devastation to businesses. Many good people, neighbours and friends put their hands to the wheel. I said at the time that there should have been a stand-alone fund - a very fair and open fund.
We have done this for years in Ireland. When places abroad were destroyed with floods or whatever, we were always the ones to send aid abroad but we did not look after ourselves. We gave a small percentage of people funding and made it look as if they all got it. I know, because I spoke to them, that they did not all get it. They could not get it because the criteria were so difficult and teased out. Businesses and people needed it. Private individuals could get it for their premises, but they were as bad as the rest in that they might not have been able to afford insurance. Flooding is an act of God, not of their own negligence. They only thing they can look out for is if someone will help them. The public representative is the first person to be asked. I look at what is there and tell most of them I am sorry but they cannot get anything. Then there are announcements on TV and radio that there is plenty of money and flooding funding available.
I want to focus back on west Cork. The Minister said people should not be pushing their own wheelbarrow, but nobody has been pushing this wheelbarrow. I would appreciate if the Minister would jump on board the wheelbarrow with me and we will work together. We cannot get it all done in the number of years the Minister will hold office, but we can get some projects done. I would greatly appreciate it if he would work with me on that.