Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Adjournment Matters. - Decentralisation Programme.
It is with great anger that I again raise this issue on the Adjournment. I have raised it on numerous occasions in the past. As the Minister of State is aware, four years ago the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, announced that 10,000 jobs would be decentralised to areas which had not already benefited from decentralisation. The town in which I live in County Roscommon made submissions in respect of this programme. However, four years have passed and nothing has happened. I raised this matter on the Adjournment six months ago and a special debate on decentralisation has also taken place. Why has a decision not been made?
I appreciate that it has been necessary to spend time consulting widely with staff interests and management. However, in order to create a more even spread of public service jobs and to save some smaller rural areas from oblivion, it is time to make a decision in respect of decentralisation. Two months ago, the Taoiseach stated that an announcement would be made before Christmas. The people of County Roscommon and other rural areas are dissatisfied with false promises and false dawns. I hope the Minister of State will indicate that favourable decisions will be made in respect of areas such as that which I represent.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on behalf of the Minister for Finance. I fully appreciate the keen interest in the issue of decentralisation, both within and outside the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The Government's commitment to introducing a new programme of decentralisation has been copper-fastened by its inclusion in An Agreed Programme for Government. We have undertaken to move forward the progressive decentralisation of Government offices and agencies. The commitment in the programme for Government requires us to take into account the national spatial strategy, which is aimed at ensuring all regions develop to their potential.
It has been clear from the outset that a wide range of important issues must be taken into consideration before arriving at a decision, which the Minister for Finance has reiterated in the Dáil on many occasions in reply to parliamentary questions. As the Minister has frequently made clear, it is not and cannot be as simple as identifying a set of criteria on the basis of which all decisions relating to a new programme of decentralisation can be taken.
As with the previous programme of decentralisation, which made such a significant contribution to many communities across the country, a new programme of decentralisation has the potential to act as a tremendous economic catalyst with the Government leading the way and providing the capability of delivering public services effectively from locations outside Dublin. One hopes the private sector will follow the public sector and, as it reduces its dependence on locating in the capital city, there will be increased evidence of balanced regional development, which is not only desirable but essential.
It would have been preferable that a decision on a new programme could have been made sooner but, given the level of interest in the matter and the many and varied issues involved, it has taken longer than had been originally anticipated. However, given its importance, complexity and great significance, I trust the Senator will agree it has been appropriate for the Government to afford this matter the high level of consideration it deserves before reaching a final decision. As Members will be aware, more than 130 urban centres throughout every county have expressed interest in being part of the new programme.
I assure the Senator and all other Members that all submissions and representations on behalf of towns received by the Department of Finance will be given full consideration as part of the decision-making process. The Government is determined that, as with the previous programme, a new programme should have 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. The Government is equally concerned to ensure decentralisation should not compromise the efficient delivery of public services.
Decentralisation is, as much as anything else, a quality of life issue. Increasingly, people undertake longer commutes to and from work and this is not sustainable in the longer term. Decentralisation offers the opportunity to do something about this by bringing work and home closer together. The Government is seriously committed to developing a coherent and comprehensive programme. I thank Senator Feighan for raising this important issue and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to restate the Government's position.