Thursday, 1 April 2021
Project Ireland 2040: Motion [Private Members]
Mattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
Ar an gcéad dul síos, gabhaim buíochas le cúpla duine, Brian Ó Domhnaill, our research and policy advisor, Mariead and Councillor Máirín McGrath in my office, for putting together the motion.
I thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, for staying as long as he could. He had another engagement and apologised before he left. My thanks to the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth as well, but I have to contradict him. He said that local councils were the authors of county development plans. They used to be but are no longer. Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? We heard a disgraceful letter read out from Deputy Verona Murphy about the attitude and powers given to the Office of the Planning Regulator. We have much rethinking to do. Those of us in the Rural Independent Group will be forced to take a legal challenge if this is not recognised.
I am disappointed that the Government is not accepting the good intent of the motion. Amendments have been put down, which is somewhat ridiculous. The motion refers to chronic under-investment in infrastructure across rural Ireland that now jeopardises and undermines the proposals for post-pandemic recovery in these areas. The motion calls on the Government to recognise the tremendous opportunities for remote working and rural living highlighted by the pandemic and to urgently review the draconian planning restrictions on rural one-off housing contained in the national planning framework as they are prohibiting rural people from the ability to build homes in their areas. This will lead to heightened rural depopulation. These are the basic facts. This is what has happened the past ten years.
I know honest and good senior planners. They are telling councils that if they want to get planning in rural Ireland, or know anyone who wants to, they should get the applications in fast because it 18 months' time this will be a no-go area. That is shocking.
There are many challenges but Irish Water is a major challenge. Lack of investment is resulting in the urgent need for villages and towns to have upgraded wastewater treatment plant throughout the country.
There are dozens of villages across my county of Tipperary and I will name a few of them, including my own, An Caisleán Nua, Kilsheelan, Burncourt and areas like Lisvernane, Dundrum, Kilross, Dunaskea, as well as Golden and Cloughjordan in the north of the county. The needs are there, from the bottom of the county right up to the north of it. Nobody can build a house now, as has been highlighted by other speakers, unless there is capacity in the system.
The contract for Irish Water runs out in a year’s time. What will happen after that contract? We must remember that the county councils will not have any say with Irish Water when the staff are transferred there. Many of these staff members do not want to go but will be forced to go. Where is the democracy and their rights in this?
Within the changes that will be coming through the county development plan in County Tipperary, and it is the same everywhere, will be the increasing difficulties with one-off rural housing. There will be little opportunity for people to continue to live or return to the countryside. We cannot live in or get planning permission in the countryside. That is not acceptable and is shocking.
Irish Water has a crazy proposal. I am shocked with Deputy Smith, as a Green Party Minister of State, and with the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, where he came in to reply on a Topical Issue matter recently - for which I thank the Ceann Comhairle for having allowed it - about the madness and the need to stop that pipe coming through Tipperary and right up to Dublin to pump water all of that distance. The plan is to put a pipe that is higher than me standing inside it, and one must consider the disruption that this will do to flora, fauna, the land and everything else. This will then enter pipes that are leaking 60% of their water here in Dublin. This is bananas and complete lunacy instead of just fixing the pipes. We had a real opportunity to fix the pipes during the pandemic because there was no traffic in the city. This is shocking.
The national planning framework and the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, dictate local plans that were once made at the behest of local councils, as stated by the Minister of State. Most recently, the Cahir Local Area Plan in my own town is currently undergoing change. The OPR has recommended a reduction from 50 ha to 10 ha in the residential zoned land. Some 40 ha are being taken away. This is madness. This will extremely limit the ability of the thriving town of Cahir to develop. How will we accommodate the increased numbers of people we expect to work remotely, from home and in hubs?
The Bank of Ireland is closing. I put forward a proposal about the Bank of Ireland which is closing a stream of its branches, from Mitchelstown into Cahir, on to Cashel, Templemore, Lismore and all over. I asked that the bank, in which the Government has a 14% stake, to make these branches into remote working hubs. There are officials who live and work in the banks in Dublin who cannot live here because of the cost of living. They would love to go back to Tipperary to those banks. They could give a couple of hours a day service to the public and do their remote working then from the bank buildings. Many of these are listed buildings in pristine condition. I heard Senator Ahearn calling for the councils to buy these bank buildings. Why should they? The banks should be made to keep their presence there for their customers. That, however, will not be happening.
We have to make access to high-speed broadband a human right. People are being dictated to as this is a two tier system. This motion calls to address all of these issues.
In 2016 the United Nations stated that access to reliable broadband is a human right. If this is the case we have utterly failed the people of rural Ireland and, not only that, but parts of the town on the outskirts of Clonmel and Nenagh cannot access broadband.
As the mid-term review of the national development plan is underway, it is timely that we throw out this Project Ireland 2040 plan before we have to go to the courts. We have obtained legal opinion, through Deputy O’Donoghue, and we will be returning to the articles of a most recent case. The principles were articulated in the seminal case of Ryan v the Attorney General in 1965 on pages 294, 312 and 313. The case clearly stated that none of the personal rights of the citizens is unlimited and their exercise may be limited by the Oireachtas when the common good requires this. The Oireachtas has to reconcile the exercise of the personal rights with the claims of the common good and its decision on the reconciliation of these should prevail. We have that case law there. We are on dangerous ground here and I am certain there will be dozens of cases. We are certainly not going to accept this, we cannot and we will not.
We have very significant challenges. We want to work with the Government agus ní neart go cur le chéile, but the Government does not want to work with us. It has the green agenda but we are all involved in this agenda. I raised a point yesterday about having a sensible green agenda. Farmers are being scapegoated. Glanbia together with a Dutch company plan to have a massive cheese processing plant to take milk from farmers all over Munster who have invested hugely, including in Deputy Nolan’s constituency of Laois-Offaly. An Taisce must be reined in and its role must be examined as it is holding up this project. It went for planning in Waterford County Council. It then went to An Bord Pleanála and obtained approval and the farmers then invested, got money from the banks and Teagasc did work for them. Some have invested millions of euros with proper animal-friendly systems, well-cared-for animals with proper animal welfare. An Taisce has now brought this project before the High Court for a judicial review. The Taoiseach replied and said that there were too many judicial reviews but we have to look at the system of An Taisce bringing these cases. We are then told that it intends to go to the European Court of Justice. Farmers are now facing the prospect next year, in high season when most of their animals are in calf - it is wonderful to see the cows and calves out on the fresh grass - of going back to quotas if the case goes to Europe. They have banks to pay, families to feed and look after and this will cause terrible destruction.
There is no joined-up thinking. Many members of An Taisce are also members of the Minister of State’s party. It has this ideology which is grand and dandy but it is causing havoc to business. We have seen factories run out of the country through serial objectors and we have seen a meat plant stopped down in Deputy Nolan’s constituency. This is shocking and we must have joined-up thinking. We need to have bodies like An Taisce but it must live in the real world and understand that we have a God-given and constitutional right to make a living. That has been denied to us for the past 12 months but it will be continually denied with these plans.
I am asking the Minister of State to go back to the drawing board and I ask the Minister to stop the plans for that pipe which is total madness. This is like the children’s hospital, another runaway project.
We want to develop a road from Limerick to Cahir to provide connectivity to the cities which is what we are all about here. This will connect Galway, Limerick and go on to the M8 in Cahir, to the Cloughbreeda junction, which will provide connectivity to Dublin, Cork, and then on to Waterford. This will connect to the ports of Galway, Foynes, Waterford and, indeed, Rosslare. That is a sensible project that could be developed at a cost of roughly €3 billion. The Government wants to go from Limerick to Cork and from Cork to Waterford costing €10.8 billion. This is madness. Why can we not change and look at things again? Big is not necessarily wonderful.
The Minister, Deputy McGrath, said the Government had got experts from all over the place to help it with these and other plans it is rolling out. We need common sense. We have too many experts as far as I am concerned. Common sense is a scarce commodity, a Cheann Comhairle, and it is a very important one. I know that today is April Fools' Day, being 1 April, but many of the announcements the Government has made and is rolling out this week do not have a penny, a pingin amháin, to back them up. It is all grand with grandiose plans. I remember when the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, went over to Glenamaddy to launch a plan and I said it was like the song, "Four Country Roads" because not a penny was provided. It was all fanfare and spin.
We need to listen to our people and to allow our people to live with dignity. Above all, people who do not want to be on the housing list because they want to have the wherewithal to build their own houses, should be allowed to get planning. This would take 20% pressure off the waiting lists for houses because these people are forced to go on lists and are renting at an enormous cost.
We need joined-up thinking and I am putting the Minister of State on notice here. I am disappointed he called us the regional Independents because we are the Rural Independent Group. We seem to be the only such group. I am fiercely disappointed, a Cheann Comhairle, cá bhfuil Páirtí an Lucht Oibre? Not one of them is here. It used to be a national and rural party. We had great men like Seán Treacey, the Ceann Comhairle had Jack Wall in his own constituency, and we had many such people, along with Dan Spring. None of the Members of that party are here but they are on television morning, noon and night telling us what they are going to do. They could put men on the moon for us and take them off again but they are not even here. I also remark on the lack of attendance of Government backbenchers, which is staggering.