Dáil debates

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Project Ireland 2040: Motion [Private Members]

 

3:40 pm

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— Project Ireland 2040, comprising the National Development Plan (NDP) and the National Planning Framework (NPF) are not underpinned by any democratic mandate or vote, by either House of the Oireachtas, as originally promised by the previous Government;

— in excess of 560 submissions were made to the recent review of the NDP;

— a recent Ernst and Young report has concluded that the delivery of the €116 billion NDP, less than one year in, is under threat and already facing ‘significant challenges due to the fact that many State bodies and Government Departments have a‘fragmented approach and varying capacity challenges’ when it comes to infrastructural delivery;

— the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) research indicates that infrastructural investments have a powerful multiplier effect, which stimulates demand and creates jobs, both directly and indirectly;

— there has been chronic under-investment in infrastructure across rural Ireland, which now jeopardises and undermines the prospects for a post-pandemic recovery in these areas;

— regional and rural development in Ireland has failed, based on numerous key economic and social indicators, coupled with the complete over-dominance of Dublin;

— the NPF has reduced the democratic oversight at local government level as councillors and local communities have been stripped of powers to democratically review and decide upon local and city/county development plans;

— since 1966, Ireland’s population has grown by over two million, with most of this growth within the Greater Dublin Area;

— in accordance with Central Statistics Office data, around 37 per cent of the population live in rural Ireland;

— the Government has failed to provide every citizen with access to broadband, a human right, and indeed declared a basic human right by the United Nations in 2016; and

— Ireland now has an extremely serious digital divide between rural and urban areas with many parts of rural Ireland having no access to broadband, due to a complete failure by successive Governments;

and calls on the Government to:

— show much-needed urgency and fast track the roll-out of the National Broadband Plan across rural Ireland, with a deadline of end 2022 instead of the unacceptable 2027 Government target;

— make access to high-speed broadband a human right now, as it is in all parts of Norway, a country similar to Ireland, as it can be used as a catalyst to bring about improved access to healthcare, education and improved inward investment and job creation to every part of the country;

— prioritise infrastructural development in the regions and rural areas by expediting and prioritising its delivery in order to improve quality of life and allow for balanced regional job creation;

— provide both Houses of the Oireachtas with an immediate opportunity to thoroughly debate Project Ireland 2040 and its associated NDP and NPF elements, following the current review of the NDP, especially in light of the drastically changed economic and social landscapes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic;

— provide both Houses of the Oireachtas with an opportunity to take a democratic vote on Project Ireland 2040, following the above debate, in order to underpin the democratic accountability and legitimacy of the strategies;

— recognise the tremendous opportunities for remote working and rural living highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic and urgently review the draconian planning restrictions on rural one-off housing, contained within the NPF, as it is prohibiting rural people from being able to build a home in their area, which will lead to heightened rural depopulation;

— establish an expert independent unit or agency, with expertise in procurement, project management, value for money delivery, and on time target delivery, to plan, oversee and deliver the much-needed large-scale infrastructural projects across the regions; and

— increase funding to at least €5 billion under the NDP Rural Regeneration and Development Fund which currently has a completely insufficient allocation of €1billion under the NDP.”

I thank the Rural Independent Group for giving me the opportunity to speak first on the motion. On 5 July 2018, a vote on the Project Ireland 2040 plan took place in Dáil Éireann. There were 44 "Tá" votes and 25 "Níl" votes. The "Níl" votes were led by the Rural Independent Group. Where were the other 89 Deputies when a vote was taken on such an important issue for the entire country? Two Deputies in County Limerick voted for the plan and one Deputy was absent. These are the same representatives that knock on the doors before every election and tell us that they are fighting for their county, for rural areas and for infrastructure. These are the same 89 Deputies that did not turn up here to vote on 5 July 2018 for such an important plan, Project Ireland 2040.

Is the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, aware that 37% of the population of this country live in rural areas? We have a Cabinet in the Thirty-third Dáil which is heavily weighted towards urban living with 60% of its members from urban constituencies, 20% of the Cabinet are from large towns such as Bray and Greystones, which again is Dublin-centred and just under 20% of Cabinet members are from a rural background. That is not equality even within the Cabinet.

We now have a Minister for Transport who in 2019 stated on live television that 30 cars are adequate for 300 families in towns and villages around the country. This is the same Minister who, when the country is on its knees during a pandemic, told us to set our greens on the south-facing windows. This is a person who is supposed to be representing Ireland. He has the mentality to tell me that 30 cars are enough for up to 300 families in large towns and villages. Each house in villages, towns and rural areas has a minimum of three cars because of the failure of the Government and of previous Governments to invest in infrastructure outside of Dublin. We have these cars to bring students to school and so that parents can go to work. We pay car tax, insurance and tax on fuel and emissions. We have no connection to Shannon Airport, that is if we ever fly again.

There are rail links from Limerick city centre to Dublin or Cork. There are no railway links to Galway, Waterford, Kerry or any other county outside Limerick. There is no adequate bus service for any of our towns and villages.

I need to stress that basic infrastructure must be provided in rural towns and villages. In Ireland, each village and town can progress with potential. This makes sense. Money should be put into sewerage and water systems in Askeaton, , Hospital, Oola, and Banoge. This is economics.

This week, the Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 - Our Rural Future, was published. It is filled with words like "publish", "engage", "support", "explore", "continue" etc. These words do not do not refer to concrete proposals. There is lack of targets, details and exact implementation steps. It is a rehash of what I have listened to for the past 30 years.

Members should note there has been chronic under-investment in infrastructure across rural Ireland, which is now jeopardising the prospect of a post-pandemic recovery in rural areas. There should be water schemes in Kilfinane, Ardpatrick, Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Fedamore, Oola and Pallas Green. I have stated in other debates that 73% of the towns and villages in County Limerick have inadequate sewerage. Moreover, 60% of the towns and villages in Limerick have inadequate water. These statistics are mirrored across all other counties outside of Dublin. I want town and village renewal to happen. I want proper connectivity for our citizens. These are basic human rights.

There is a serious digital divide between rural and urban areas due to the failure of successive Governments. What is proposed in the 2040 plan? Did the Minister know that if any of our rural sons and daughters want to live in rural Ireland, the 2040 plan does not cover that? One may be fooled that into thinking that if one is the son or daughter of a farmer, one can build on a farm. That is not so. Only people who own or are in a partnership on a farm can do so. This is the case even though, due to a lack of infrastructure, people in rural areas pay up to €10,000 per house to install modern sewerage systems in order that they can live in rural areas. This is because of the failure of Governments and a lack of infrastructure over the past 30 years.

Is it known that the Government has proposed that schools comprising fewer than 90 pupils should close and amalgamate with other schools in neighbouring parishes? The 2040 plan proposes that this should happen. We are losing our parish status. One can imagine the impact of that on GAA, camogie, soccer and rugby clubs in rural areas.

We need to be able to protect our hardware stores. Did the Minister know that 60% of business for local hardware shops in County Limerick, such as General Hardware, Tadhg O'Connor Hardware and Cahill's Homevalue Hardware in Kilmallock, comes from one-off houses and 40% of their business comes from the maintenance and renovation of properties in the local areas?

New primary and secondary schools have been built in towns and villages where no local employment was provided. All of the materials were sourced outside of the area. We need to make sure that if any infrastructure is being built that the funding goes to local areas and communities. A law should be put in place that companies have to employ people locally.

I looked up the investment programme tracker. The MetroLink in Dublin has been allocated €1 billion. The Luas cross city project has been allocated €500 million. The children's hospital has been allocated €1 billion. The greater Dublin drainage scheme has been allocated €1 billion. Ringaskiddy water treatment has been allocated €1 billion. For 2025, Dublin will put €4.5 billion into Dublin. There are 25 other counties in Ireland.

We ask every engineer, architect, local authority and councillors from all parties to stand with rural independents and take on the Government. Let us challenge this legally. It is a basic human right for anyone from a county to live in that county, whether rural or otherwise.

3:50 pm

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I was one of those who voted against the 2040 plan because I could see the devastation it would cause to rural communities, the stronger focus it would put on the capital and that it would forget about rural regions. Of course, it was railroaded through as a fabulous plan and dream. Another plan for remote working was announced this week. A lot of things are lovely and seem beautiful when read off a paper, but the fact and brutal truth is that there is an issue.

There are a number of issues in my constituency, as is the case in other communities throughout Ireland, namely, sewerage, water and rural planning. Zoning is becoming a major issue. The Cork county development plan is currently being examined. Broadband, services, roads and public transport are all questionable. It is easy to pick out points that are a cause of great difficulty for people living in rural areas.

Rural planning is one issue. Many people want to come to live in rural Ireland and settle down, such as people in business, teachers or whatever. They would love to get planning permission for homes and get the architecture and environmental side right but then a rule is put in front of them to make sure they will not get planning permission. The Government has focused on plans for rural Ireland, but people cannot live there. Not everybody wants to live over a shop. People with young families would like to get on with their lives but they have been ruined by a planning process that is questionable, to be quite honest. It was questioned and pulled apart in Europe but then, other little tricks and tribulations were put in before people again.

There are sewage issues in west Cork in , , Goleen and . Castletownbere is being worked on - I will give credit where credit is due - and I understand work will be finished in 2022. The county development plan states a number of houses can be built in a community like Ballinspittle and people are absolutely delighted about that. However, when they look for planning permission they cannot get it because nobody has invested in the community. Irish Water will not invest in it. The sewerage system is at capacity.

In terms of trying to extend it, locals have tried their best to play ball but it was of no use to them. The town cannot expand. It is in close proximity to the city, Bandon, Clonakilty and all parts of west Cork. It is a fabulous place to live, as are , and Goleen. These places need investment, in the same way as any other part of the country or Dublin. There should not be a two-tier society.

Water is a serious issue in Clonakilty. If Irish Water does not invest seriously in the town there will be a crisis. One dry summer will lead to a massive crisis there. Investment is needed and it cannot keep going to bigger towns year after year. These are areas that need investment. Clonakilty is a growing town.

The proposal in the county development plan is to de-zone ground. What has gone wrong with our country? More people want to come to live in rural areas. A few days ago a beautiful plan for remote working and living in rural Ireland was published. Where will people live? Are they going to come to west Cork for the day and then return to cities? I think that is the plan the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, wants. I wonder if she is on a different planet to me, because I see reality in the one I am on. The reality is that people want to come to west Cork to live and work. They could work there but they cannot do so if they do not have broadband or cannot build a home. There is a lack of investment in broadband. I have always said we should roll out the €3 billion plan, but there should have been investment in wireless operators.

They could have delivered broadband to people in the valleys and other areas where it cannot be got. The Government is investing in the national broadband plan. The Tánaiste told me about a month ago that would take between five and seven years. That is no problem if one has time enough to wait.

On roads, the main roads into Cork, the N71 and R586, have had no investment. The Skibbereen bypass was built 20 years ago and there has not been a brown cent spent since, other than on pothole repair and whatever. Public transport is a disaster and then there are services like the post office and banks. These are hugely important for people but we are losing them. I speak to postmasters in Schull and Goleen and places all over west Cork who are on the verge of losing their businesses. We are losing services in the banks. I listen to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Deputies and Senators on the radio and television. It is as if they are not to blame at all and someone else is to blame. The State has a 14% stake in our banks. The Government should be fighting to save these services. Unfortunately, my time has run out as I could spend an hour just on this issue.

4:00 pm

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offally, Independent)
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Tá áthas orm labhairt ar an rún seo anocht. I will begin by acknowledging a few positives and being as constructive as I can. However, I must also be honest and point out the failures in this plan, which I voted against in 2018 because of my concern for rural communities. I acknowledge there is some scope and ambition in the plan but we need a sustained focus on the roll-out of national, regional and local infrastructure, not least the national broadband plan. Only a few weeks ago, I was contacted by a company in a rural village in County Laois which employs 30 people. It was told it would have to pay a company thousands of euro if it wanted high-speed broadband or wait until 2024. That is shameful and needs to be called out. The Government claimed it was trying to advocate for rural communities for investment and job creation but how are we to do that if the bare basics are not in place and we punish small businesses and companies by telling them to pay thousands to get high-speed broadband which everyone in the city gets as part of an essential and basic service? There must be action on the lack of broadband to rural communities. There are many black spots. It is not acceptable that we have to wait much longer than everywhere else. We should be treated the same and there should be balance and fairness.

Policies need to be rural-proofed. I do not believe Project Ireland was rural-proofed. Some time ago, I introduced a motion on the importance of rural-proofing any policy or Government agenda. That is where we often fall down. We need fairness for rural communities. Rural planning and zoning is of great concern. It is shameful that people who were brought up in rural areas and want their children to go to school in the area cannot get planning. The programme for Government refers to depopulation. Depopulation would be easily solved if the Government was fair to families in rural Ireland and supported them in their efforts to build homes in rural communities.

I welcome the desire that there be a more equal balance of investment and growth between the three regions but the objective is that the three regions would grow at a broadly comparable rate, which is not happening. If we take the so-called just transition in the midlands, as I have said time and again, it is not a just transition. No alternative employment was provided in the midlands. We were fooled with the whole transition plan. It is taking place over a few months rather than a ten-year period, which would have been fair. The Government's decision to steamroll the plan through without providing alternative employment means many people have been left high and dry. That will have a devastating effect on rural communities and local economies. Coming as it did during a pandemic and following Brexit, it was shameful that the Government chose not to delay to ensure alternative employment was available for the many people in the midlands who face job losses. County Offaly is facing the brunt of those job losses. I am very concerned and would like meaningful action from the Government on job creation because not enough is being done. A model such as the Western Development Commission should have been adopted under which policy would be matched by investment. We are in serious trouble with regard to employment opportunities, thanks to the grand vision of Green Party policy which Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were happy to go along with.

Project Ireland must focus on rural broadband and planning for families who wish to live in rural Ireland. Zoning is an issue. Many businesses would dearly love to set up in rural towns but cannot do so because of zoning laws. I ask the Government to examine those issues and take meaningful action because rural Ireland has been left behind. We need to see meaningful action from the Government if we are to believe it is genuine about achieving balance between the regions.

Photo of Michael McGrathMichael McGrath (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following: “notes that:
— Project Ireland 2040 represents a new strategic approach to social and economic development, and it is the first time that spatial planning and investment have been explicitly linked in Ireland;

— Project Ireland 2040 aims to accommodate the growth of 1 million additional people in a balanced and sustainable way, with a focus on developing regional growth;

— the Government sets the broad legislative and policy framework within which planning authorities work, and the preparation of a statutory development plan is undertaken in accordance with the statutory provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended);

— under this legislation, the decision to adopt the county development plan is a reserved function of the elected members of the planning authority;

— the national-level planning policy as set out in the National Planning Framework (NPF) is being implemented throughout the planning system, and a statutory Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) was prepared by each of the three Regional Assemblies in Ireland, all of which were approved and in place by January 2020;

— the overall funding of €116 billion for the lifetime of the National Development Plan (NDP) out to 2027 is allocated on an indicative basis to each of the ten National Strategic Outcomes set out in the NPF;

— the specific financial allocations are provided for in the normal annual Estimates process and voted on annually by the Dáil;

— the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform published the Supporting Excellence: Capital Project and Programme Review Delivery in March 2021, and the report identifies a range of strengths and weaknesses in the public capital delivery system;

— a Supporting Excellence Action Team will consider the recommendation of how best Government Departments and agencies can be supported to deliver the well-balanced, well-targeted and well-delivered investments;

— although the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) proportion grew in the past 50 years, the majority (circa 1 million people or 60 per cent) of the population growth in Ireland between 1971 and 2016 took place outside the GDA;

— around three-quarters, or 75 per cent of Ireland’s population are living outside Dublin and around half, or 50 per cent living outside ‘large’ towns of 10,000 people or more, and in addition, the actual number of people living in rural areas as a whole, has increased by more than 300,000 people in this period;

— the Central Statistics Office (CSO) statistics for one-off houses in 2016 identify this cohort as 26 per cent of all occupied dwellings and for 17 counties with one-off housing comprised over half of all dwellings built since 2011 and the data confirms that more than 16,000 one-off houses were granted planning permission since the NPF was adopted in early 2018;

— the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future has committed to the development of a Town Centre First (TCF) policy, with these commitments complemented and supported by the rural policy prepared by the Department of Rural and Community Development;

— the establishment of the Department of Rural and Community Development was an important step in strengthening regional balance, including addressing decline, with a special emphasis on the potential for the renewal and development of smaller towns and villages;

— strengthening rural economies and our communities is a core objective of Project Ireland 2040, with the provision of €1 billion to the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund ensuring that the funding is there to deliver on that objective in the coming years; and

— projects are benefitting every county in Ireland and are supporting a wide range of sectors, including town centre regeneration, enterprise development, remote working, tourism and recreation, community facilities, and libraries etc.;
recognises:
— a total of 572 submissions were received during the Review to Renew, the public consultation on the review of the NDP;

— there is compelling international evidence that efficient capital public investment is central to long-term economic wellbeing, and that investment in our economy must be smart, well-planned, well-targeted and well-managed so that it delivers balanced regional growth;

— that efficient public capital investment allows the economy to grow faster on a sustainable basis by raising productivity and supply capacity and this has an important role to play in alleviating capacity constraints that might otherwise restrict economic and social progress;

— that the peripherality of many rural areas, their distance from public service provision and the relative narrowness of their enterprise base, are some of the reasons why rural areas need particular policy support to enable them to contribute fully to our national development, and the NPF supports the development of rural areas, particularly in rural towns and villages; and

— the Government made a decision to proceed with the National Broadband Plan (NBP) in November 2019, and this decision reflected the importance attached to bringing high-speed connectivity to all areas of the State and ensure that no-one is left behind, and this is a move that will address regional imbalances and is supported with a major level of investment, in this case €2.7 billion; and
supports:
— the Programme for Government commitment to seek to accelerate the seven-year timeline for the NBP;

— full implementation of ‘Our Rural Future’ which provides a policy framework for the development of rural areas over the next five years, including targeted measures to enable more people to live and work in rural communities with good career prospects, regardless of where their employer is headquartered; and

— the completion of the review of the NDP which will provide the strategic context for Government investment and set out revised sectoral capital allocations for the upcoming ten-year period, including non-Exchequer investment, as well as providing a renewed focus on delivery of efficient and cost-effective public infrastructure.”

I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling the motion and giving us the opportunity to discuss a hugely important issue for the country. Many of the issues touched on in the motion fall under different Departments, for example, the national planning framework falls within the scope of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, my Department has responsibility for the national development plan, the Department of Rural and Community Development has a key role on many issues and the national broadband plan is led by the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications. Nevertheless, I am more than happy to set out, on behalf of the Government, our response to the Private Members' motion.

The debate, rightly, shines a light on the centrality of rural Ireland to who we are as a nation and draws attention to the fact that Ireland will only be truly strong and prosperous when the entire country has the opportunity to realise its full potential. The definition of rural Ireland varies in different contexts, with around three quarters of the country's population living outside Dublin and around half living outside large towns of 10,000 people or more. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, provides a further breakdown into aggregate rural areas, which comprises all areas outside of settlements with a population greater than 1,500 persons, amounting to almost 1.8 million people. Excluding small rural settlements and villages, there are just under 1.5 million people, or almost 30% of the population, living in rural areas outside any defined settlement. While largely urban, the constituency of Cork South-Central, which I have the honour to represent, also has significant areas which could be best described as rural in nature. This highlights that urban and rural places are truly interconnected and interdependent in Ireland and there is not, nor would we want there to be, a neat division between them.

That is not to say that there are not differences; of course there are. The remoteness of many rural areas, their distance from public service provision, the relative narrowness of their enterprise base, and the consequent vulnerability of rural areas to economic shocks, are some of the reasons rural areas need particular policy support to enable them to contribute fully to our national development. Not all rural areas are the same. Different rural areas vary in characteristics, and distinct interventions and supports are required from place to place.

I note the views of my colleagues who proposed different methods through which these challenges might be met. Constructive feedback of this kind is helpful and leads to better policy outcomes for the country and our people. When we came together to form a government last year, we sought to draw upon the best thinking available to us, creating a vision for reform and renewal that can help Ireland recover and thrive. The Government is addressing regional balance and supporting rural Ireland through the policies, programmes and projects under Project Ireland 2040 as well as the recently published Our Rural Future plan for the period 2021 to 2025.

Since the launch of Project Ireland 2040, there has been significant progress in delivering a range of both large and small infrastructure projects throughout the country, delivering better transport links, facilitating better health outcomes and promoting balanced regional development. There is much more to do, for sure.

The investment target has been regenerating towns and villages to allow for sustainable development and greater access to key resources. This has been enhanced by the national broadband plan, which will deliver high-level connectivity to areas of Ireland that have struggled to source broadband privately. The programme for Government commits to seeking to accelerate the seven-year timeline for the national broadband plan. I have met National Broadband Ireland representatives to discuss this issue. They will be reporting shortly, through the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, on the scope that exists and the options for the acceleration of the broadband plan. The Government is really determined to do that, if at all possible.

The national development plan, for which my Department is responsible, is one half of Project Ireland 2040. Published in 2018, it involves a ten-year programme of capital investment aimed at upgrading our infrastructure, enhancing our economic capacity and promoting balanced regional development. While a review of the national development plan was originally planned for 2022, I asked my officials to bring it forward to 2021 and I launched Review to Renew, the public consultation element of the plan, late last year. In 2021, we now have a public capital budget of €10.8 billion, the largest in the history of the State. The review provides an opportunity to reassess investment plans, update project costings and highlight any new issues that may need to be taken into consideration, particularly in light of the new programme for Government and the ongoing impacts of Covid-19.

The review will seek to answer a number of key questions. What is the appropriate level of public capital investment to 2030? How should it be shared across the Departments? How can Project Ireland 2040 be changed to deliver on the policy priorities in the programme for Government concerning housing, health, transport, job creation, enterprise development and climate action? An assessment will be carried out of whether our plans are ensuring regional balance in line with the national planning framework. We will examine governance and whether any structures and rules can be improved. In that regard, I am introducing a number of important reforms affecting how major public investment projects are managed. This will be achieved by bringing in more external expertise, by adding people with external experience to the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board and by setting up a major projects advisory group comprising individuals with national and international expertise in delivering major capital projects so we can benefit from their experience.

The desire to ensure balanced regional growth will remain a key goal for the national development plan review in 2021 in respect of planning for an Ireland in which the majority of the additional 1 million people we expect to reside here by 2040 will settle outside the greater Dublin area. The first phase of the review is now complete, and the phase 1 report will be published within the coming days.

The revised national development plan, to be published later this year, in the summer, will see balanced regional development at its heart. It will provide further scope for considering the investment commitment to rural regeneration and development, and other projects and programmes that can foster strong rural communities and economies. It will set out the overall public capital budget to 2030 and it will also provide line Departments with rolling five-year ceilings so they can plan the delivery of projects of the type Deputies have said need to be delivered. That gives them certainty on their budgets for the coming years because too often our planning has been short-termist in nature. There is considerable oversight from the Oireachtas on these processes through the sectoral joint committees, the annual Estimates process and the regular reporting commitments of the Government to the Oireachtas.

Our Rural Future is the Government's blueprint for the post-Covid recovery and the development of rural Ireland over the next five years. It provides the framework to achieve the vision of transforming the quality of life and opportunity for people living in rural areas. The policy reflects the unprecedented change in living and working patterns during Covid-19 and the significant opportunities that arise for rural communities, from remote working and revitalising our town centres to job creation, developing a green economy and improving our outdoor amenities, on which we have relied so much. The combination of the roll-out of the national broadband plan and the move to more remote working and a hybrid form of working affords rural areas enormous opportunities. The Government is very ambitious regarding the development of these areas. I commit to working in a spirit of co-operation and collaboration with colleagues right across this House to seek to achieve the objectives that I believe we all share.

The policy will help rural Ireland to recover from the impacts of Covid, enable long-term development of rural communities and create more resilient and strong rural communities with more employment prospects.

Again, I thank the Deputies for introducing this motion and for their continued engagement on these issues. I am aware that Members across both Houses of the Oireachtas are as determined as I am to ensure that rural Ireland is at the centre of our national economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and development. Much work remains to be done to achieve that vision. I commit to working with colleagues to do all we can to bring that about.

4:10 pm

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and the Minister of State in attendance, Deputy Ossian Smyth, should note that nothing I have to say about the Government or Project Ireland 2040 is in any way personal. I am glad to have the opportunity to talk about the plan because it is a very serious matter. It will affect many in rural Ireland. It is a laugh to think that we are considering a plan for 20 years when the Government does not actually know what is going to happen in four or three weeks' time. I believe it does not really know what is going to happen next week. That is how it appears to the people, with one Minister contradicting another and one professor in NPHET contradicting another. They all have a different story. It is hard for the people from rural areas or any other part of Ireland to believe what is now being said over the airwaves. The plan is going to hurt people in rural Ireland in a very negative way. It was introduced by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil two or three years ago and now it is being continued by those two parties and the Green Party. This is all about boosting five cities to the detriment of rural towns and villages. Self-employed people, businesspeople, farmers, housewives and everyone who is paying and will have to pay carbon tax will be affected more. The Government wants to stop us cutting turf and eating meat and it wants to close more of the rural pubs and more post offices. It is letting the banks walk out of the towns even though it has a share in them. That is what is happening. The Government has closed the churches to an unnecessary extent, and we all know that. The Government wants to stop granting planning permission in rural areas. It is telling people they should and could work from home but many of them do not have a home. They would have a home if they could get planning permission but they cannot. The planning regulator is now told to direct people to the five cities. That is what we read in the 2040 plan.

The Government is hell-bent on following the Green Party line to stay in power. It seems it does not matter if, as a result, it is hurting the people, the grand people of rural Ireland. They have been and are being blackguarded, and if this plan is implemented they will be hurt even more. The plan will hurt them like they were never hurt before. The Government continues with spin. We saw what it did this week with the massive plan for rural towns. There is no penny of money for any project. We are told the money is available. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, put up a very good show on the television, on the news or whatever, but no matter how she was pressed, there was no penny of money for any project. She still got away with it.

Then the Government Chief Whip came to the Chamber this morning and orchestrated a spin of praise for An Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar. He took away most of the slot from ordinary Deputies from throughout the country, while seven or eight Fine Gael Deputies praised the Tánaiste all morning. They are good at blathering, boasting and spinning but they are hurting the people.

The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, seems to think he is responsible for the environment or that he is the environment, but there is more to the environment than carbon emissions. Sewage treatment plants are needed in several parts of our county. They include Scartaglin, Kilcummin, which has been waiting for 20 years, Curra, Brosna and Beaufort. They say it is possible to get planning permission in these towns but the applicant will have to wait until it is connected to a public treatment plant. I found documents in my shed the other night dating from when my father made representations to build an extension to the sewer in Castleisland, where all the homes are connected to septic tanks. That was 40 years ago. I found the documents in a box in the old shed and that is God's gospel truth.

In Brosna, a man sought permission to build four houses but the application was cut down to two. He wanted to knock down two old houses and got permission to replace those two, but he will not get to build the other two until the treatment plant is brought up to scratch. In Kenmare, a developer applied for permission to build 55 houses and the planning regulator stated that the density was too low and he would have to add a further 30%, or 20 houses. When he did that, Kerry County Council told him he could not build the houses until the Kenmare treatment plant had been upgraded.

A county development plan is being developed for Kerry and the regulator has told us we can zone more land in Killarney but we must keep the same acreage of land throughout the Killarney municipal area. We will have to cut down places such as Gneevgullia and Rathmore, and it will be the same in Tralee and north Kerry. Tralee can be expanded but the people out in the country cannot get planning permission. There are also young people who are not able to get onto a county council housing list or a local authority housing list. They want to build houses for themselves. It is atrociously difficult to get permission but we believe that, because of this 2040 plan, it will become much worse and much more difficult to get permission in rural areas. If land is being zoned in one place, it will have to be dezoned in another place. That is totally unfair. I do not who the Planning Regulator is or where he is from and I do not believe he knows any part of Kerry. He is going by figures and he does not understand the reality and the issues that people have to contend with there.

Dairy farmers are being told they will have to cut their numbers. The Minister's colleague in Cork South-Central, the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, told farmers in 2013 that they would have to increase dairy production, that milk was the new white gold and that the Chinese would drink more milk. Now he and the Government are telling us that we must reduce the number of cows in our yards. It is the same with the suckler herd. After fellows broke their backs to increase the numbers to try to live, having been told by Teagasc and the farming organisations to build up their herds, they are now being told to switch off the lights and reduce the numbers. The very same scientist who gave the figures on methane gas 15 years ago and said farmers were destroying the environment has admitted he was 70% wrong. This is what is being done to poor farmers. They get up in the morning and work seven days of the week, 365 days a year, and they are being thrown around like this. The Minister has to understand they are being wronged.

Every man and woman on the road will from here on have to pay more in carbon tax, whether that is the young fella with the slats in his nose going to work at 6.30 a.m. or 7 a.m., the housewife taking the children to school, the employer employing people or the businessperson with a van. They will all suffer from carbon tax, all because the Government wants to stay in power and to keep following what the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications is telling us to do. He told us in 2007 to buy diesel cars and said they were the answer. While they may be durable, economical cars, now he wants us to get electric cars that have no durability and are not as carbon friendly as he says they are. He has been torn apart on that issue. Electric cars are not reliable or durable and they would not carry somebody as far as Killarney with the windscreen wipers, the radio and the lights turned on at the same time because they all draw energy from the battery. The driver would be stuck on the side of the road with his or her thumb out, asking some fella for a lift.

4:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I would love to listen to the Deputy for a while longer but I am afraid his time is up.

Mairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Carthy, Munster and Ó Laoghaire. I feel under a bit of pressure because I do not think I will be able to top the previous contribution. I ask Deputies not to judge me.

I commend the Rural Independent Group on bringing forward the motion and allowing us to have this debate. It is really important, as is the issue of development on a regionally balanced basis for all of us who live west of the River Shannon in particular, although I would say that because I am a Galway woman. Since the launch of Project Ireland 2040 and the NDP, the socioeconomic environment that underpinned both has changed drastically . We have seen that in terms of the chronic under-delivery of public housing. There is a severe housing crisis throughout the country, as Deputy Healy-Rae pointed out in regard to rural areas. There have been massive cost overruns on key projects such as the national children's hospital and others, which has severely impacted on the delivery of those projects as well as the commencement of other key projects.

Alongside this, we are dealing with the economic consequences of a global pandemic coupled with Brexit and other factors, including the fact that the Oireachtas having since declared a climate emergency means our economy faces a three-fold threat. The call to review the NDP, therefore, was timely and welcome. I have been harping on about the following point over the past year since I was elected. Ireland's stock and quality of public infrastructure is very poor by international standards. As was highlighted this week when we were debating the rural plan, the infrastructure in rural areas simply is not there. The quality of roads is totally inadequate, as is that of the water infrastructure, the sewerage system and, of course, broadband. The quality is simply not there for people. There is also a lack of schools and hospitals, compounded by the fact that poorly balanced regional development has diminished so many people's standard of living and negatively affected the economy's capacity to grow in a more balanced, sustainable and equitable manner.

We see this especially in the EU's designation of the Border, midlands and western area, which has lost its developed status as it relates to EU regional development and has been downgraded to the status of "in transition". Project Ireland 2040 proposes to redress many of these deficiencies by committing to €116 billion in capital spending for the period from 2018 to 2027. Exchequer funding allocated for public capital investment over that period amounts to €91 billion, with the remainder coming from State-owned enterprises. This works out at approximately €760 million per annum in additional funding from the Exchequer over the ten-year period. This level of investment in capital infrastructure is wholly inadequate to deal with the level of challenge we face in key areas, some of which I have mentioned, such as the areas of housing, healthcare, education and childcare, especially if one is to look at it in terms of regionally balanced development. Sinn Féin has continuously called for extra money to be put into capital expenditure to act as a stimulus over and above what has been already committed.

We hear from the Central Bank that the country will face high levels of unemployment in the long term and we hear from the business sector that many business people are very concerned that they will not be able to return to work after the pandemic. We really need a regionally balanced injection of money into capital investment. We know the jobs multiplier effect that arises from such investment is high and that the benefits are great. We are not stuck for capital investment projects that need attention. Táim chun Céibh Ros an Mhíl a ardú leis an Aire arís eile. Is infreastruchtúr fíorthábhachtach é don cheantar. Dúradh go soiléir sa tuairisc anailíse agus tairbhe maidir leis an gcéibh domhainmhara i Ros an Mhíl in 2017 gur togra fiúntach a bhí ann agus go mbeadh tairbhe suntasach agus dearfach ann don phobal agus don gheilleagar mórthimpeall ag gabháil leis. Sa straitéis nua do cheantair thuaithe a sheol an Rialtas le gairid, is ar chianobair sna réigiúin atá an bhéim ar fad. In éindí leis sin, caithfimid tógáil ar na hacmhainní nádúrtha atá ag pobail thuaithe agus infheistíocht chuí a dhéanamh chun fostaíocht seasta fadtéarmach a chruthú. Tá súil agam go mbreathnóidh an tAire air sin.

4:30 pm

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Speaking of areas that have been neglected and abandoned and in which there has been insufficient funding and investment over the years, I raise the ongoing issues facing Drogheda, south Louth and the east Meath area. A report commissioned by the Minister for Justice into Drogheda as a result of the drugs feud was published last Friday and laid bare the consequences of the neglect of Drogheda by successive governments. Drogheda is the largest town in Ireland and is located on the Dublin-Belfast corridor. We have a fantastic community with great potential but for decades Drogheda has been let down by central government.

Drogheda was designated as a growth centre in the national development plan but that means nothing if the Government is not willing to fund anything. The lack of infrastructure and services in the town has made the implementation of the plan impossible and shows just how much investment is needed to get Drogheda to reach its full potential.

An example of this is the port access northern cross route, which is absolutely vital infrastructure for the town. We need it for the development of housing under the northern environs plan and we need it to improve transport links and congestion in the town and to attract businesses. Earlier this month, Louth County Council's application under the urban regeneration and development fund was turned down. This is the third application for funding that has been rejected. The plan was shelved during the recession, which has left Drogheda waiting for 15 years for the project to begin. Each government claims to support the project but refuses to fund it.

The report released last week showed that Drogheda has a higher than average rate of unemployment and a younger than average population. This is very significant in the context of the problems we are having with drugs and crime. It is not possible to implement the employment objectives of the plan because Drogheda does not have an IDA office, an Enterprise Ireland office or a local enterprise office, LEO. Drogheda's industries have disappeared and nothing has been done to encourage new industries and businesses to set up in the area. Drogheda is ripe for development as a site for a pharmaceutical manufacturing hub but instead the Government has hollowed out employment in the town with initiatives like the Amazon data centre, which provides only a handful of jobs where thousands should have been created. We need a second IDA business park on the north side of the town and a new third level institute to co-operate with industry-specific training companies to help generate local employment. During normal times, more than 15,000 people commute from the town every day. This has to change.

With regard to tourism, south Louth needs to be developed as a tourism destination of historical significance given the history of Drogheda and the surrounding areas. We need a Fáilte Ireland office as there is none in the region.

The housing targets under Rebuilding Ireland also need to be revised. Drogheda has more than 1,800 people on the housing list, many of whom have been waiting longer than ten years but the housing target under the plan for the period from 2018 to 2021 is 384. This plan is not making even a dent in the housing list, which grows longer every day.

Elsewhere in the county, we see the erosion of services with no thought given to the devastating impact their loss has on small towns and rural communities. The most recent example is the loss of the Bank of Ireland branch in Dunleer. This is a heavy blow to the community and to businesses in the area.

The majority of these issues were raised in the report, which goes to show the dire consequences of neglect and decline in large towns such as Drogheda. The fact that we have to beg and plead for adequate Garda resources at a time when the town is in the throes of a vicious feud between organised criminal gangs says it all. We do not want worthless titles such as "designated growth centre". They are not worth the paper on which they are written. They are meaningless unless the Government is going to invest in Drogheda. We desperately need investment and I suggest the Minister, and any other relevant Ministers, read the recent scoping report into Drogheda. If they do, they will see it backs up everything I have just said.

Ruairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion and giving me this opportunity. I will initially deal with Sinn Féin's document, Our Rural Future, and particularly the part of it which relates to optimising digital communications. We had much conversation in the Chamber earlier about investment in remote working and broadband provision. The national broadband plan is the plan we have. On some level, there is no alternative. It needs to be accelerated. We have heard much commentary from the Tánaiste and from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, as to their conversations with National Broadband Ireland, NBI. I spoke to representatives of NBI myself and they brought up particular issues in respect of planning permission and dealing with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, and local authorities. I am told these issues are being dealt with, which is necessary for this acceleration. This needs to happen. We also need to get timelines.

Even in the best-case scenario, however, we are talking about a seven-year project becoming a five-year project. We need the Government to engage with private operators and to look at alternatives so that we can deliver decent rural broadband, whether by satellite or other means, as an interim solution before the full roll-out. I request that the Government do all it can and engage with these private operators in this regard. Sinn Féin will be bringing forward proposals in this area in the very near future because it is so important. We are talking about remote working but that will not be possible until people have the facilities to do so in their homes or in remote hubs. I call for this to happen as soon as possible.

I will also make mention of the Dublin-Belfast economic corridor and the necessity for the Government to engage in cross-Border planning. I refer to the Enterprise rail service and the necessity to speed up consideration of high-speed rail projects. I know there are plans to increase the frequency of the Enterprise service between Dublin and Belfast but these plans are taking too long to be implemented. All of this needs to be speeded up. We need to ensure that other projects such as the Narrow Water bridge and the A5 are dealt with.

All this planning has to be built into the NDP.

We need to have a real conversation on rural living. We are all dealing with development plans and with the huge difficulties that exist for people who are trying to get planning. We are talking about the death of certain rural communities unless we get an answer.

4:40 pm

Matt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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I also thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion before the Dáil. It is opportune that it was tabled for this week because we are talking about the NDP in the context of the motion and in recent days the Government launched yet another report, namely, Our Rural Future. What we had once again this week was another big launch but little vision. The Government's plan contains no new spending, targets or ideas. The lack of detail is astounding and there is virtually nothing new for rural communities in the plan. The strategy is primarily a repackaging of existing Government policy, much of which consists of other promises that have been oft repeated but rarely delivered upon.

The Government's big idea seems to be that people who are working in urban areas will be able to do so in rural areas. That is fine and welcome and it is something that probably should have happened a long time ago. However, it does not represent the type of big ambition and vision that are required for our rural communities. Those who live in such communities deserve to have job creation in their counties, not just crumbs from the table of Dublin. Rural communities need investment in infrastructure. They do not need rehashed investment promises but new money and funding.

The level of delay and procrastination that come with the most simple projects, such as road development, the lack of vision in rail development and the plans being discussed for broadband facilities have been repeated here on a number of occasions. We are dealing with businesses on a county-by-county basis that cannot expand because the resources are not available. That is something we do not see in cities such as Dublin. Rural communities also need to see strengthened local Government and empowerment. There are too many decisions made and too much control in places such as the Customs House and in bodies that are based in Dublin, where announcements such as the one made this week are made in Dublin by civil servants who have little appreciation for the realities of rural living.

Rural communities need to see a Government that will support family farmers, as has been said, in the face of the challenges ahead, as opposed to the continuation of the existing policies outlined in this document and in the strategy we saw this week, which should be a source of embarrassment to rural representatives from the Government. We have seen missed opportunities by Government parties on too many occasions, simply because they do not have the vision and ambition that our rural communities need and deserve. We need to tackle that to ensure that we have strengthened local decision-making and that we have investment in job creation to ensure that those people who live in and come from rural communities can have every expectation that they will be able to build, live, rear families and work in those same communities.

We need to move beyond the partitionist mindset that is crystallised in the so called national development plan and in the document that was launched this week. We cannot look at the redevelopment of counties such as Monaghan, Cavan, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal without recognising that they do not end at places such as Newry, Aughnacloy or Strabane. These communities require and we all require a national approach to dealing with the issues of regional imbalance.

Patricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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I also thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. I am sure the Minister has heard of the expression "beyond the pale", which to this Government means those of us who live outside the Dublin area. To those of us who live beyond the Pale, it is our view that the Government's contempt for us is beyond the pale, which means it is outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour.

Project Ireland 2040 was launched with great fanfare but it turned out to mainly consist of a rehashing of previous announcements. The press conference held in Sligo was probably the most expensive in the history of the State. Not only was there a fancy website but there were newspaper, TV and cinema ads. It would remind one of the old Pathé propaganda short films shown during the war. Sectoral interests, including the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Farmers Association and IBEC were briefed about the document before any elected member of the Dáil was. Selected members of the media were also provided with briefings in advance of the launch.

It is not only the Dáil that this Government treats with contempt. The Government has left rural Ireland behind. The Green Party means well but it has little or no concept of the reality of life in rural Ireland. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have neglected rural Ireland to pander to their vested interests. We need to reverse the regional imbalance and neglect by accessing capital to improve the infrastructure of our towns and villages, and to create jobs.

Far too many people are leaving Kildare and Laois every day to drive to Dublin for work. This has an effect on their quality of life and well-being. Many of our towns and villages are blighted by dereliction. I invite the Minister to come down to Monasterevin, Athy, Rathangan and Portarlington when restrictions allow, and to see the buildings on our main streets that have been empty for years. No effort made to bring them back into use.

Broadband is essential for the economic growth of rural Ireland. I recently spoke to a teacher who uses the data on his phone to run the interactive whiteboard in his class. This is unacceptable in 2021. Just 16% of Kildare's surveys under the national broadband plan are planned or under way. We must increase the speed of the roll-out of the plan, focusing on neglected rural areas and the use of rural work hubs.

I want to add that we have one bank in Monasterevin where I live, a Bank of Ireland branch that is going to close. That is shocking.

Photo of Jennifer WhitmoreJennifer Whitmore (Wicklow, Social Democrats)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion. As we discuss Project Ireland 2040, it is important that we have a clear vision of what Ireland will look like in 20 years time. As we are all aware, the time goes quickly and we will get there a lot quicker than we think. Come 2040, we will only have ten years left to transition to a net zero-carbon economy. There are still a huge number of changes to make in terms of how we manage Irish society to meet that target. It was only with the publication of the new climate action Bill last week that it became apparent that how we manage to meet the deadlines in respect of the various targets will be placed on a statutory footing. We can see that time is not on our side. In that context, Project Ireland 2040 must not be discussed in a business as usual manner. The impact of climate change means that we need to change tack completely and more quickly. Our approach will have to be unusual in that sense because in 20 years time, Ireland will have to look different to how it does now and incorporate transformative approaches to our infrastructure and our economic development. We will even have to change our lifestyles and move away from those we currently enjoy. All of this will have to happen if we want to reach the crucial target of 2050.

What will this transformative approach look like for Project Ireland 2040? For starters, it will require green-proofing development in line with the targets set out in the climate action Bill. It will require a just transition model that is incorporated into the implementation process relating to Project Ireland 2040 and funding will be required to match our climate action ambitions. It is important that the following is considered. Instead of large-scale carbon-producing infrastructure, the focus should be on green infrastructure, such as the electrification of public transport and renewable energy infrastructure. Instead of focusing on the traditional forms of travel and on an ever-expanding road network, there needs to be a pivotal move towards green travel. We must expand our public transport system, including local links and alternative active modes of travel that will have to be central to Project Ireland 2040. Our towns and villages will need to be able to support the creation of green jobs by generating more local sustainable employment closer to where people live in order to reduce commuting times, road congestion and to develop jobs in green industries such as the offshore wind industry. Developing working hubs with access to quality broadband will be crucial to successfully generating more green jobs in areas such as renewable energies and in making our rural communities more sustainable.

We will need to match Project Ireland 2040 with spatial planning strategies which point to a broader move away from urban sprawl. We will need to climate-proof and equality-proof Project Ireland 2040 to ensure a just transition model is implemented in conjunction with this development. This will be a challenge, but we need to implement the measures now to ensure that when we get to 2040, we will be able to look at an Ireland that meets the needs of our rural and urban communities.

I am here today not only as my party's climate spokesperson but also as a Deputy representing Wicklow. County Wicklow has many towns and villages, each with a different look and different feel. They have different strengths and different challenges. One of the main challenges for Wicklow is that it is located so close to Dublin. There has been incredible development in the county that has not been matched with investment in the public infrastructure required to make the communities in Wicklow sustainable. There has been considerable housing development in north Wicklow, but the bus services and schools infrastructure have not matched that development. There are significant difficulties for places like Greystones, Delgany, Kilcoole and Bray which do not have the facilities required for sustainable living. We have many other towns and villages in County Wicklow, and I will point to a few of them.

Arklow is beautiful but many people feel it is a town that Government has forgotten over the years. Major infrastructure projects need to be put in place such as the wastewater treatment plant, the flood-relief scheme and the Avoca Mines remediation project. The development and potential of Arklow hinge on those projects being invested in and moved on quickly. The wastewater treatment plant is awaiting ministerial consent. When it gets approved and that investment is made, we need to see it happen quickly so that Arklow can fulfil its potential.

Wicklow town could be a beautiful vibrant shopping town, but it needs investment, which has not happened to date. It has lovely independent shops which need Government support. They will need it more than ever as we come out of the Covid pandemic. I have spoken to business owners in recent weeks. Small businesses in particular are struggling. What kind of Ireland do we want to have when we come out of the pandemic? I do not think we want towns and villages with the major big players. We want our small family-run local enterprises to be strong and sustainable. Government needs to support those. Following all the discussions we have had in the past week about restrictions, there needs to be much more support for those small businesses.

In the west of the county, Baltinglass and Blessington have enormous cultural potential. We need to ensure that we protect those places so that the developments going in do not impede their cultural and tourism potential. Project Ireland 2040 is not just about economic development, it is also about recreational facilities and well-being. We need to ensure that our towns and villages have the recreational and social infrastructure they require. That has not proved to be the case in west Wicklow. People in Blessington have told me that they had nowhere to walk during the pandemic because there are no footpaths and very little outdoor space for them to use. The community is coming together very strongly to petition for a swimming pool. I would like to see the Government support that kind of infrastructure, which is needed for community sustainability and development. I hope there will be investment in that for places like Blessington and Baltinglass.

When we are investing in these areas it is important not to have different elements of government working against each other. Everyone needs to be on the same page, taking a green sustainable focus and making our small towns and villages really resilient so that if there are future economic shocks, such as something like Covid or what is coming down the road with climate change, our villages and towns are as strong as possible and will have an opportunity to survive and meet the challenges that are put to them.

4:50 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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There are worrying signs that all the talk about just transition in terms of developing climate-related infrastructure ends up just being talk and that people who want to profit from the climate agenda and from the development of climate-related infrastructure do not give a hoot about the working people whom they disrupt and impact upon when developing that infrastructure.

I will cite an example on foot of conversations I have been having with fishermen who operate off the east coast, particularly Dublin Bay, for some time. They told me that companies which are snapping up the rights to build enormous wind farms on the Kish Bank and in this instance the Codling Bank require as part of the foreshore licence application when they are doing their surveys, which they are doing at the moment, to properly engage with the fishermen. In this case that involves the owners of 45 fishing vessels and their crews along with those in the processing plants and so on where they would land their catch. Although there is a requirement on the company, Codling Wind Park, to properly engage with them, it is not doing so. It is changing the goalposts having originally given a mapped area of the tract that it was going to survey with the fishermen required to say where their fishing gear was and all the rest of it. Critically, it is required to pay compensation to the fishermen for the impact of the survey on their ability to fish and make an income. This company is trying to ride roughshod over the fishermen, refusing most recently even to meet them because the fishermen insisted on having a legal representative to help them through the process. That sort of stuff just cannot stand. These companies must abide by the principle of the just transition and they must genuinely engage with these fishermen.

The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, is a constituency colleague of mine. These are fishermen in his constituency. We need to tell this company to engage with these fishermen and stop trying to wheedle out of its requirement to properly consult with them, properly engage with them and compensate them properly and fully for the impact of their survey and subsequently the development of offshore wind array infrastructure. I hope I have done my duty by the fisherman and setting that issue out. I hope the Minister of State will pass that on to his colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who deals with the issue of foreshore licences. It seems to me that that company is absolutely flouting its requirements under the foreshore licence to engage properly with the fisherman. I call on the Government to ensure that that happens.

Offshore wind infrastructure also raises a wider issue. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am in favour of offshore wind energy. However, I am not in favour of private companies just gobbling up our marine resources in order to make a profit for themselves when they are not even required to sell the electricity they may generate to this country and where there is no proper marine spatial planning. We have county development plans on land where democratically, one of the few powers local representatives have is to decide what goes where. They decide whether particular places are suitable for housing, agriculture and recreational amenities.

That is not what happens out in the sea. When it comes to parcelling up areas of the marine; the private companies decide where they want to put the infrastructure and the Government effectively dances to their tune. That cannot continue. We do not want to end up with a marine version of the wild west approach we had to housing. We do not want to have that approach, which led to the madness of the property boom and bust, in respect of offshore infrastructure. These profit-driven people, if not reined in, are more than capable of doing in the area of offshore climate-related infrastructure the same damage they did in terms of housing boom and bust and the desperate consequences that followed. I do not believe any part of the marine environment should be privatised but what is happening is, in effect, the privatisation of the marine environment with potentially devastating consequences from an environmental, biodiversity and marine biology point of view, as well as having an impact on groups such as fishermen and their livelihoods, industry and so on. We need proper regulation, best practice in terms of the development of these infrastructures and real engagement with people and communities who will be impacted by the development of these infrastructures. If we do not do that, we will discredit the climate agenda, which is such an urgent agenda to be delivered. It is critical that we develop the infrastructure to deal with the existential threat of climate change but that agenda will be damaged in a very serious way and its credibility undermined if it is not driven to a large extent by the needs, wishes and views of the communities and working people on whom this agenda is likely to impact.

I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to pass on to his ministerial colleagues the need for this company to properly engage with the fishermen in regard to the Codling Bank.

5:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We move now to Deputy Canney, who is sharing time with Deputy Verona Murphy.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I compliment the Rural Independent Group on bringing forth this motion. It is a motion which is close to my heart in the west of Ireland. The national development plan and review of it will be instrumental in tackling the substantial challenges facing the regions. These challenges, if left unaddressed, will ensure inequality in the regions forever. The north and west region has been downgraded from a developed region to a region in transition. This is the only region in Ireland to have this status bestowed on it by the EU. The EU Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development has categorised the region as a lagging region, which is a region of extremely low growth. The national development plan can reverse this trend, positively discriminating in favour of the north and west in terms of investment. It needs to provide additional capital investment which is aligned to the regional spatial and economic strategy set out by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly. We need connectivity within the region and with other regions to allow freedom of movement and choice and this needs to be done in a sustainable way. A good example of this is the western rail corridor, which would link Ballina, Westport, Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. It would connect Galway, Foynes and Waterford ports in terms of international connectivity. As a first step, the national development plan needs to make provision for connectivity north from Athenry to Tuam and onto Claremorris under phases 2 and 3 of the western rail corridor.

Funding is also required to build the Claregalway bypass and to build out bus lanes and park and ride facilities to ease traffic congestion going into the city in Galway. If one listens to the traffic reports during normal times, most evenings one hears about traffic congestion in various locations. Claregalway is always mentioned in those reports. Thousands of workers from the east of the county, where I live, traverse the county, spending up to 20 hours per week in their cars, trying to get to work. This is unsustainable.

We also need housing. In that regard, we need to make sure we have proper infrastructure. Towns such as Craughwell, Corofin and Abbeyknockmoy, which are growth centres for Galway city, have no sewerage systems in place. Developers cannot get planning permission to build houses in this villages and towns yet there is much talk about the town and village renewal under the plan, Our Rural Future. We have got to get real. We need to give Irish Water specific funding to enable it to put in place the infrastructure to support the building of houses.

There is a lot more I could say but I will hand over to Deputy Verona Murphy.

Verona Murphy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. On Monday, the new plan for rural development, Our Rural Future, was launched. I welcome that the Government recognised the need for a plan. Many of the measures contained within it are badly needed in rural Ireland.

I want to dwell on one particular problem. The national planning framework envisages a Karl Marx policy of corralling and forcing people to live in high-density, ghettoised settings with no infrastructure to support them. The county councils across the country are at this point drafting county development plans. Wexford County Council, having submitted its draft plan, received a 24-page letter from the Office of the Planning Regulator setting out recommendations pursuant to the ministerial guidelines. Members will recall that in June of last year, on the floor of the Dáil, the then Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, confirmed that there were no minimum densities in the specific planning policy requirement, SPPR 4. Notwithstanding the Minister of State's confirmation, the planning regulator had the temerity to write to Wexford County Council insisting on densities of not less than 20 or 30 dwellings per hectare. The tone and tenor of the regulator's later is the equivalent of a missive one might expect to receive from the politburo. The letter entirely misrepresents the densities requirement, if one is to have any regard for what the Minister of State confirmed on the floor of the Dáil last June.

The planning regulator in his letter to Wexford County Council sets out a plethora of recommendations that will shut down rural Wexford and ghettoise our towns. We need only look to the early 20th century and what happened in eastern Europe at the hands of the ideologues such as Karl Marx and Joseph Stalin. The planning regulator appears to be of the view that the chief executive of Wexford County Council can amend a county development plan at his insistence or behest. The last great Stalinist sentence in his missive requires the CEO to confirm his recommendations and respond within five working days, an outrageous demand and an assault on rural democracy. This is a power grab by the regulator against every rural constituency in Ireland, including that of the Ceann Comhairle where I understand an 88-page letter has been received by Kildare County Council from the planning regulator. Mr. Justice Kearns in the High Court made plain the requirement of county councils informing a county development plan when he said that a planning authority must have regard to guidelines, but is not required "to slavishly adhere" to those guidelines. That judgment has been upheld consistently by the courts.

The planning regulator, Mr. Cussen, is out of control. Having regard to the correspondence to Wexford County Council, his ideological views and his lack of knowledge with regard to his own remit, he must consider his position. I urge the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to take action immediately to put an end to this Stalinist regime in the Office of the Planning Regulator and to remove the regulator. If the planning regulator is allowed to have his way, he will close rural schools, decimate local GAA clubs and ghettoise our towns.

Rural Ireland will become one massive Merthyr Tydfil.

5:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Before dealing with the motion, I want to state that I share the concerns expressed by Deputy Boyd Barrett regarding the proposed development of our seas. While I am all for sustainable development, including wind energy, it must be done for the common good and not be driven by developers. If we have learned anything in recent years, that is something we should have learned. I fully share the concerns the Deputy expressed in this regard.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Rural Independent Group as ucht an rún seo a chur os comhair na Dála. Tá sé go hiontach go bhfuil deis agam caint faoin ábhar seo. Bíonn díomá orm i gcónaí go bhfuil deighilt ann idir na cathracha agus muintir na tuaithe. Ní féidir liom glacadh leis an deighilt sin mar táimid go léir fite fuaite le chéile. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I understand what the Rural Independent Group is trying to do in bringing it forward. While there might be one or two minor aspects that jar with me, I fully share the sentiment behind the motion.

I despair of the artificial divide between cities and rural areas. I have the privilege of representing both as my constituency includes the three Aran Islands, Inishbofin, all of Connemara, which is both English-speaking and Irish-speaking, Galway city, which is one of the five cities chosen by the Government for development, and parts of south Mayo, including Kilmaine and Shrule. It is a huge constituency, one of the largest in the country, and it is an absolute privilege to represent it. I know the issues we are discussing from all sides and I despair of the false debate that goes on much of time in this Chamber in regard to cities versus rural areas.

There is no doubt that there has been an imbalance in development. We have expanded our cities out of all proportion and in an unsustainable way while neglecting rural areas. Even putting a focus on that today is positive, but to get something out of the debate is another journey and battle. Earlier this week, foilsíodh an tuarascáil seo, Todhchaí Cheantair Thuaithe na hÉireann, i mBéarla. Our Rural Future - Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 contains very good and positive sentiments in theory. I will come back to the town-centric nature of the plan and the lack of a real emphasis on rural development.

Tá orm a rá nach bhfuil aon chóip den tuarascáil le fáil i nGaeilge. Ar an Idirlíon, tá píosa den tuarascáil ar fáil ach níl an tuarascáil iomlán ar fáil. Sheolamar ríomhphost chuig an Roinn agus dúradh ar ais linn go mbeidh sé ar fáil am éicint sa todhchaí. There is no Irish version of it, notwithstanding that all the Gaeltacht areas, from Donegal down to west Cork and Kerry, are rural areas. There is no Irish version of the report other than an abbreviated one that is available online. That is not acceptable. From the beginning, Irish must be part of the solution. Not too long ago, I referred to a book, An Ghaeilge agus an Éiceolaíocht, by Michael Cronin. It is a fantastic little book, written in Irish and English, that I recommend to everybody. It talks about how the Irish language can be part of a sustainable solution to the problems we face.

Social Justice Ireland, an organisation for which I have great respect, goes to great lengths every year to educate us on matters of interest before and after the budget. It has stated that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put rural Ireland at the heart of Government policy and build strong, resilient and vibrant communities. I rarely disagree with the points made by Social Justice Ireland but I would say that this is our only opportunity, rather than a once-in-a-generation opportunity, given the enormity of the challenge we face in regard to climate change. It is our only opportunity to learn, in a context where we declared a climate emergency almost two years ago. We supposedly are learning from the Covid crisis and will never go back to how things were done before. The necessity for balanced regional development is more important than ever. At some stage, we need to stop the false debate and make our words mean something when it comes to sustainable development. I offer the Minister my support in this regard, once again, if words mean something. I had more to say but my time is up.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. In small towns throughout the country, there is a lot of apathy about the Project Ireland 2040 plan. It is regrettable that the Government seems to be following on from its predecessor and leaving small villages across the country that do not have the likes of Irish Water operating there in a situation where the grants they previously got to put in a community sewerage scheme are gone. A central authority will now decide the number of houses that are going to be built in each county. In the west, the likes of Galway city and Sligo town will be given priority. As we move down the ladder, the big question is what will happen to housing allocations in rural areas. The Office of the Planning Regulator is in place and we all know that it is getting tougher for people in rural areas to build houses.

The 2040 plan must introduce balanced regional development. I ask the Minister to look at it again in that light. I have been on to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications about this issue. There is much talk about encouraging people to move back to country areas. Unfortunately, the way things are going, we are not giving our small villages - which I would call settlement areas - the opportunity to put the services in place that would attract people to live there. The 2040 plan needs an overall review. We questioned many parts of it and we have been proved right over the past year with the direction in which things are going. There seems to be an idea that we will fill the cities and larger towns and, after that, we can forget about rural areas. That is not acceptable.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I greatly welcome the motion from the Rural Independent Group. I also welcome the Government's announcement earlier this week, but it is just an announcement. Like many announcements before it, when one drills down into the detail, there is absolutely nothing there. If we are going to get people back into rural Ireland, we need to put services in place, including banking services and post offices. Unfortunately, post offices, such as the one in Broadford in County Clare, are being closed and the Government says there is nothing it can do about it. Bank branches are closing all over the country, including three in Clare. When I raised the issue with the Tánaiste, he said that post offices need to get with it and get online. When I asked him what the Government plan is to accelerate the roll-out of broadband, he said the Government is looking into it. When I asked what the plan is to facilitate ComReg in making sure that those who have a proper broadband connection, of whom there are few in rural Ireland, can make a complaint and have it dealt with, I was told that a Bill was to be brought to the Dail in February. Today is April Fool's Day and there is no sign of that Bill, even though we were told it was being drafted. I do not know whether the Tánaiste meant what he said or whether it was an April Fool's Day joke on his part.

It is all well and good to make grand announcements about rural Ireland but the services that are needed must be provided. There are towns throughout County Clare that do not have a sewage treatment plant. The Green Party has correctly identified the problem, namely, that we need sustainable development. I very much agree with the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications on that point. However, I do not necessarily agree with some of the solutions articulated by his party, although it has, at least, gone some of the way, as I said, in identifying the problems. Unsustainable development simply will not work but, equally, there has to be development in rural areas. There has been very little development in large parts of rural Ireland for decades in terms of sewage treatment plants in towns like Broadford and Carrigaholt, broadband infrastructure, and services like banking and post offices. These are the services that need to be put in place if we are to get people to live there, which is something everybody agrees we need to do.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is out of time.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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Rural development is not just for the benefit of rural Ireland but will also alleviate pressures on our cities. We have a kind of Third World economy at the moment that is forcing people into cities. I appreciate the latitude the Ceann Comhairle has given me.

5:20 pm

Ossian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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My sincere thanks to Deputy McGrath and the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this debate. It was interesting to hear the contributions from all the Deputies. I think we can all agree that we had an insightful and constructive debate today. As my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, said at the outset of this session it is only right and fitting that rural Ireland is and should be a key priority for all of us in the Oireachtas.

Deputy McGrath rightly concentrated on the national broadband plan. As Deputies will be aware, the programme for Government commits to seeking to accelerate the roll out of the national broadband plan. With this in mind, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications has been investigating the possible ways to accelerate the broadband plan and is reporting back to Government.

Broadband is a key enabler for the development of new businesses in regional and rural Ireland together with an increased opportunity for people to work from home. Ensuring access to high-quality Internet connections for people throughout Ireland is essential to the development of all parts our country, socially and economically. Facilitating remote working and innovation opportunities is essential in addressing climate change, adapting to an evolving economy and competing internationally. I thank the Deputy for drawing renewed focus to it.

The Government sets the broad legislative and policy framework within which planning authorities work in drawing up each county or city development plan. I have experience of this as someone who was a county councillor and a cathaoirleach in local government for several years. The preparation of a statutory development plan is undertaken in accordance with the statutory provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Under this legislation, the decision to adopt the county development plan is a reserved function of the elected members of the planning authority. In preparing a county development plan, consideration and decision-making on which particular development policies and objectives to include is, therefore, taken by the elected members. The county development plan belongs to the councillors.

To strengthen the independent oversight of the planning process a key recommendation of the Mahon tribunal was the creation of an independent body. Accordingly, the Office of the Planning Regulator was established in April 2019. The office is primarily responsible for the evaluation and assessment of development plans to ensure strategic consistency with established statutory national and regional planning policy and legislation, which includes the national planning framework. There is no point in having national policies that are completely out of line with how the local planning system runs.

Councillors and local communities remain the authors of each local city or county development plan and have scope to adapt relevant national and regional planning policies to reflect local context. The county development plan is now subject to independent scrutiny to ensure that local policies formulated are consistent with the relevant national planning policies to achieve an overall coherent planning system for the country as a whole.

The national planning framework, approved in 2018 as part of Project Ireland 2020, sits at the top of a hierarchy of statutory spatial development plans in Ireland. The other principal element of project Ireland is the current national development plan, which sets out a €116 billion public capital investment envelope in support of the NPF. The aligned and shared vision of the NPF in tandem with the NDP is an integrated joined-up planning and investment strategy that focuses on a series of ten shared national outcomes. This national-level planning policy is being implemented throughout the planning system.

Further to the NPF, a statutory regional spatial and economic strategies document was prepared by each of the three regional assemblies in Ireland, all of which were approved and in place by January 2020. At a local level, the development plan review processes currently being undertaken by all 31 local authorities are integrating the established NPF strategy requirements into tailored local planning policies and objectives. In accordance with section 11 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, the review of each county development plan must be consistent with both the NPF and the relevant regional strategy.

The NDP is a statement of Government policy in respect of the national development plan. The overall funding of €116 billion for the lifetime of the national development plan to 2027 is allocated on an indicative basis to each of the ten national strategic outcomes set out in the NPF. In addition, the NDP also sets out five-year expenditure allocations by the Department for the period 2018-22. The multi-annual NDP ceilings were devised to give Departments a degree of certainty for future planning with the expectation that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform would not propose substantial changes to the published allocations.

At the same time the national development plan ceilings are only indicative. The specific financial allocations are provided for in the normal annual Estimates and voted on annually by the Dáil. The statutory statement of capital budgets appears in the Revised Estimates Volume. This document sets out details of the public capital programme.

Strengthening rural economies and our communities is a core objective of Project Ireland 2040, with the provision of €1 billion to the rural regeneration and development fund ensuring that the funding is in place to deliver on that objective in the coming years. The fund aims to support ambitious projects that can drive the economic and social development of towns and villages with a population of fewer than 10,000 as well as outlying areas. Initial funding of €320 million has been allocated to the fund on a phased basis for the period from 2019 to 2022, with an allocation of €1 billion to 2027. Calls for applications to the fund are sought under two categories. Category 1 relates to capital projects with all necessary planning and other consents in place and which are ready to proceed. Category 2 establishes a pipeline of ready-to-deliver projects providing development funding for projects to become ready for category 1 status. To date, the fund has provided €166 million for 139 projects across Ireland with 63 category 1 and 76 category 2 projects and is worth a total of €237 million. These projects are benefitting every county and support a wide range of sectors, including town centre regeneration, enterprise development, remote working, tourism and recreation, community facilities, libraries and so on. These projects are also delivering an immediate stimulus in rural areas with many already in construction or about to commence. The third call for category 1 applications closed on 1 December 2020. Applications received under this call are currently being assessed by the Department of Rural and Community Development under the oversight of the project advisory board, which is comprised of representatives from key Departments and independent experts. It is expected that the Minister will announce successful projects under this call in the coming weeks.

I thank the Deputies again for introducing the motion and for their engagement on these issues inside and outside the House. I was glad to hear discussion on all kinds of infrastructure, including everything from water to windfarms to transport problems and so on.

I know members across both Houses are as determined as I am to ensure rural Ireland is integral to our national economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and development. I hope that that we can work together to bring this vision to fruition.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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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.

5:30 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are running out of time Deputy McGrath.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We are taking this motion much earlier than we thought we would be and I understand that I am over time but this motion is sincere, as are we, and we are very definite. I pity the councils trying to put together these plans with the planning regulator dictating with a 58 page letter to the Ceann Comhairle’s own county council, together with the one he wrote to Wexford County Council, which is outrageous.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am looking forward to reading it.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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We need to get back to reality here and we are pressing this motion and are not accepting the Government amendment. Gabhaim buíochas.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta.That concludes our consideration of the rural Independent Group motion regarding Project Ireland 2040. We must now consider the amendment in the name of the Minister. Is the amendment in the name of the Minister agreed to?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is not agreed to. Vótáil.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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A division has been called and, in accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the next scheduled weekly division time.

I thank all who have participated in that very important debate.