Tuesday, 15 April 2003
Adjournment Matters. - Decentralisation Programme.
Well over a year ago, on 31 January 2002, I raised in the Dáil the issue of decentralisation for Newcastle West, Kilrush and Listowel. At the time the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, indicated that he was not in a position to state when decentralisation would occur. In his Budget Statement of December 1999 he announced that he would embark upon a new and radical programme of decentralisation, thus transferring the maximum number of jobs. In the mid-west region towns such as Nenagh and Ennis have benefited from decentralisation. Like Newcastle West, they are both about 25 miles from Limerick city. The people of Newcastle West are entitled, therefore, to be disappointed as decentralisation has not happened. During the years there have been job losses in Giro, Neodata and Kostal. In addition, the town lost its Objective One status which acted as a disincentive to potential industrialists. Although it has developed as a satellite town of Limerick city with a consequent dramatic increase in housing – in many cases, much of the town's population commutes to outside areas – there is a strong feeling that it has not benefited as much as it should in attracting appropriate industry.
I welcome the recent decision of Shannon Development to establish a business park which should help to attract industry in future. Newcastle West submitted an original proposal for decentralisation which was supported by the community council, Limerick County Council and business interests. In order to enhance the submission, Shannon Development supported a proposal which included not only Newcastle West but also Kilrush and Listowel. I am aware that officials in the Department of Finance were impressed by the submission which pointed out the good community, education and leisure facilities in the area. There is easy access to railways, airports and universities, in addition to the Limerick and Tralee institutes of technology. I am confident the submission which embraced the three communities of Newcastle West, Kilrush and Listowel was an excellent one. It made a strong case for decentralisation which would provide a strong economic stimulus to these areas. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure favourable consideration is given to this submission and look forward to his reply.
Decentralisation is an issue of keen interest to many Members of this House. I, personally, have always been an advocate of decentralisation and I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity to address the issue on the Adjournment. The Government's commitment to introducing a new programme of decentralisation is evident in the commitment made in An Agreed Programme for Government in which we undertook to move forward the progressive decentralisation of Government offices and agencies, taking into account the national spatial strategy aimed at ensuring all regions develop to their potential.
It has been clear from the outset – this is something the Minister for Finance has reiterated in the Dáil on many occasions of late, in reply to parliamentary questions put by a number of Deputies – that there is a wide range of important issues which must be taken into consideration before arriving at a decision. I appreciate that a new programme of decentralisation will be a matter of great significance and trust that this House will, therefore, appreciate the reason the Government is determined that a decision should be taken only after proper deliberation. Given its importance and the level of interest in the issue, it is unfortunate that consideration of the many and varied issues involved has taken longer than had originally been anticipated.
Some 120 urban centres in every county have expressed interest in being part of the new programme, with each and every case receiving consideration. It has been necessary to consult widely with staff, departmental management and other interests. I share the Minister's concern that the deliberations which precede a major decision such as this should reflect the genuine concerns of all those who will be affected by a new and comprehensive programme, be they staff concerned about their future or departmental management concerned about the delivery of public services for which they have responsibility.
There are important lessons to be learned from previous experience of decentralisation. There is a clear determination that those lessons must not only be learned but also applied. Towns and cities to which departmental offices have previously been decentralised were selected having regard to the desire to promote regional development, economic growth and the creation of a more even spread of public service jobs around the country. These criteria are equally applicable in the context of a new programme.
The Government is also conscious of other issues which may impact on the success of a new programme such as proximity to third level education facilities, convenient access to Dublin, the scale of particular offices being relocated and availability of services. The Government is particularly determined that any large-scale programme should do nothing to compromise the efficient delivery of public services. To that end it invited the SMI implementation group to contribute its views as to the most efficient way to proceed. These views will be of considerable use and assistance in informing the Government's decision.
The Minister is conscious of the calls being made upon him, and other members of the Government, to use the vehicle of decentralisation to address job losses in various parts of the country. Like many others, I appreciate the concerns of Senators in this regard but know that Members of this House will realise that the influences on a Government decision are many and varied. It is not as simple as listing off a series of qualifying criteria against which the merits of various towns can be measured. The case for the inclusion of Newcastle West, Listowel and Kilrush has been well articulated. A huge effort has gone into the preparation and presentation of a number of cases in respect of various towns throughout the country. The efforts of so many in this regard deserve appreciation and I wish to pay tribute to all those concerned. Unfortunately, what I cannot and will not do is confirm that any one town or area will be included as a definitive part of the programme. The Government is committed to developing a coherent and comprehensive programme and to make any announcement at this time would only serve to undermine this approach.