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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Transport Costs.

Wednesday, 28 February 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 462 No. 3

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 2. Mr. B. Ahern Information on Bertie Ahern Zoom on Bertie Ahern  asked the Taoiseach Information on John Bruton Zoom on John Bruton  whether subsidies and grants related to island produce will take account of the additional costs of transport. [4371/96]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Mr. Carey): Information on Donal Carey Zoom on Donal Carey The recent report of the Interdepartmental Co-ordinating Committee on Island Development clearly identifies and addresses the long-term issues affecting the communities on our offshore islands. The report, for the first time, establishes a coherent and comprehensive basis for Government policy in relation to the islands. It sets out a strategic framework within which future actions in relation to the economic and social development of island communities will be considered and pursued.

The report highlights the difficulties that offshore island communities face every day when going about their normal business. Geographical isolation, particularly during the winter months, inadequate transport infrastructure and the seasonal irregularity of ferry services are all barriers to developing island economies and the competitiveness of their produce.

The report identifies access transport as one of the key issues vital to the development and long-term viability of the islands. It recognises that, in order to overcome the barriers hindering the development of island economies, a regular, reliable and safe transport service is needed to transport people and goods between island communities and the mainland. This priority is fully supported by the islanders and Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann.

The Government has agreed to the reorganisation of the administration of island access services which, until now, was spread over a number of Government Departments. Expenditure on island access, currently being made by [692] these Departments, is being consolidated in a single financial envelope which I will co-ordinate as chairman of the interdepartmental co-ordinating committee.

I know, from my consultations with island communities and Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, that this new approach will greatly simplify the administrative difficulties which islanders have had to face in the past. Furthermore, the Government has agreed to an additional provision this year of £1 million to this financial envelope.

In addition to the issue of access, the report recommends that each of the relevant local authorities carry out a survey of the islands within their jurisdiction to draw up a programme of priority and costed works required to ensure a minimum standard of infrastructure on each island. In this context, the report recommends that the issue of transporting livestock, which is an important part of the agricultural economy of islands, be given full consideration.

These local authority programmes will form the basis of a strategic programme of priority works which will have a significant impact on the development of island economies. I am meeting all the local authorities involved to get this work under way.

In addition to access services, the report of the interdepartmental co-ordinating committee makes recommendations on other major issues which impact on the economic and social development of islands. These include areas such as education, health, agriculture, fishing and tourism development, the islands Leader II programme and local and community development initiatives. The interdepartmental co-ordinating committee will continue to look at all issues affecting islands including the competitiveness of island produce. I also hope islands will be included in the new extremely disadvantaged category for agricultural subsidy purposes. This will help to offset the additional transport costs for island farmers.

[693] I will co-ordinate the Government's response to the recommendations in the report. However, individual Ministers will continue to retain responsibility for their respective areas of policy.

Mr. Hughes: Information on Séamus Hughes Zoom on Séamus Hughes I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. As a native of the constituency this is my first opportunity of congratulating him on launching the long awaited report on the islands. I may not be particularly complimentary in my comments but the Minister of State understands the purpose of Opposition. Will the Minister of State give his personal view on the present position which allows for a subsidised system of transport to Gaeltacht islands and the fact that such a system is not available to ferry owners operating to and from non-Gaeltacht islands? Does the Minister of State agree that such a subsidy should be available to all islanders, regardless of their ability to speak the native language?

Mr. Carey: Information on Donal Carey Zoom on Donal Carey All of the 22 inhabited islands are now covered by the financial envelope being provided by the Government this year. In that work they will be assisted by the local authority island committees which are made up of members of local authorities and representatives from each of the islands off the Donegal, Mayo, Galway and Cork coasts. Each committee will draw up a programme of which the question of access to both Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht islands will form part. When completed the promise made by the Government to recognise the difficulties experienced by islanders will be met.

Mr. Hughes: Information on Séamus Hughes Zoom on Séamus Hughes I take it from the Minister of State's reply that the recommendations of local authorities responsible for non-Gaeltacht islands which will seek equality of treatment will receive his support when it comes to the question of subsidies. In relation to island produce export costs are a factor. Is the Minister of State satisfied that the reduction in populations on our islands [694] along the western seaboard is much greater because of the difficulties associated with island life? In order to stabilise these populations something will have to be done to reduce costs. A survery carried out in 1994 showed that the average cost of transporting building materials to the islands is 56 per cent higher than on the mainland. As the Minister of State will appreciate, there is two way traffic. The average cost of transporting foodstuffs is 16 per cent higher.

Mr. Carey: Information on Donal Carey Zoom on Donal Carey Since transport will be the major focus of attention in the work to be undertaken by island committees I expect that those islands which have not enjoyed any assistance up to now will have greater scope for importing necessary goods and exporting produce. Aid will be provided to those groups seeking improved access links to the islands. That is the reason the programme has been devised. There is a framework in place under which all the difficulties outlined by the Deputy can be raised. It should be possible for the difficulties experienced by the inhabitants of Clare Island and Inishturk to be examined by the Mayo island committee to see how best the transport system can be improved to reduce costs.

When the revised list of severely handicapped areas is published by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, in conjunction with the Commission in Brussels, the full agricultural subsidies will be payable. This should assist islanders to take advantage of opportunities to export cattle and other produce.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy We now proceed to priority questions to which a rigid time limit applies.

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