Wednesday, 14 June 2006
As previously stated in the House, my Department's role will be contingent on the completion of the arrangements for the purchase of An Blascaod Mór by the State. When these arrangements have been completed, it is intended that my Department, in partnership with Kerry County Council, will be responsible for the development of the two piers, one on An Blascaod Mór and the other at Dún Chaoin. While the county council has engaged in the identification of qualified contractors for the project through a public procurement process, I understand that tenders will be invited only when the island has been acquired by the State.
The Minister appears confident that the current difficulties can be easily resolved. Will he place on record when he thinks the current impasse may come to an end because most of us in the House would like to see finality on this issue and the use of the Blaskets as a national park?
Islands come under the brief of the Minister but in his reply he did not refer to the current responsibilities of his Department towards the Blasket Islands. In the interim period while we are awaiting a solution, is the Department responsible for ongoing work on the island, what is the nature of that work and how is it being undertaken?
My Department does not have specific responsibility for the islands because, as Deputy Boyle is aware, they are not inhabited on a permanent basis. I do not know how long it will take to resolve this matter. As the Deputy is aware, this matter has been ongoing since the late Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, God rest his soul, initiated this project, in which he was most interested. Due to the court cases that were taken, it did not come to fruition. Discussions are ongoing and I hope the matter can be resolved. One can bring a horse to water but one cannot make the horse drink.
What is being done by the Minister or collectively by the Government to breach the impasse? Is the Government considering undertaking other initiatives or has a decision been taken by the Government to await the outcome of the legal process?
The matter has not been in the legal system since the Supreme Court judgment. This is primarily a matter for the OPW and the Deputy should, accordingly, table a question to the Department of Finance. Negotiations took place with the landowners. I wish to state as a general principle, rather than specifically in regard to An Blascaod Mór, that where one is achieving a result by agreement, one cannot allow oneself to be forced into a situation in which one is made to agree to the impossible. In other words, value for money and so on come into play. The issue has been dealt with on a voluntary basis since the Supreme Court case struck down the Bill.
It takes two to tango. To achieve a result, the obligation is equally on the owners to accommodate reasonable requirements of the State as it is on the State to try to accommodate the owners. One cannot have an imbalanced arrangement just because the State is a party to it. One would rightly criticise the State if an open cheque book approach was taken to resolving problems. If that were the case, questions would be asked about the procedures that were followed. I hope the matter can be resolved, but in that type of negotiation it is not acceptable to set a deadline for resolution. Whether these issues can be resolved depends on how reasonable are the requests of the other side.
I was in the Seanad when the former Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, introduced the legislation. It was the only time he came to that House during my time in it. At that time it was most unusual for a Taoiseach to appear in the Seanad. The publicity that is accruing is not desirable. Recent newspaper reports suggest there is a complete stand-off on this issue. Is there any circumstance in which the State may exercise compulsory purchase powers? These islands are an important element of our culture. The literary tradition alone of the Blascaod Mór is very significant. Is it possible that access to the Blascaod Mór could be denied to both Irish people and tourists in perpetuity or is any fallback available to the State?
The Deputy's question strays far from the responsibility of my Ministry in this matter, which relates to the provision of funding to Kerry County Council for the development of two piers, on An Blascaod Mór and Dún Chaoin, respectively. Deputy O'Shea should put a parliamentary question to the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Parlon. His responsibility includes the Office of Public Works, which is involved in these negotiations. The islands are unquestionably important but it is for the Office of Public Works to make any proposal of the type to which the Deputy referred.