Ó Caoláin - Zero delivery from Government on decentralisation
Speaking in the debate on the decentralisation Sinn Fein Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said there had been zero delivery from the Government which was speaking out of both sides of the mouth.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said:
"The promise of decentralisation from this Government has become the modern equivalent of the once infamous promise to drain the Shannon. In his contribution to the debate last night Deputy Michael Smith, the Minister for Defence, tried to refute the argument that the Government had failed to deliver on its commitments. He stated: 'This is the first of a five year term and I challenge those on the other side of the House to sustain their arguments at the conclusion of our full term'.
"I could hardly believe my eyes it when I read it. I have pursued this matter closely since I was first elected in 1997 and I know the Government's record very well. You would think from the Minister's comment that this was a government of new Members, wet behind the ears, rather than an administration full of veterans such as Minister Smith. The Government's promise of a massive decentralisation programme goes back not to Agreed Programme for Government of June 2002 but to the last millennium.
"The Minister for Finance first made the commitment in his Budget speech in December 1999. It was quite clear. Minister McCreevy, said the next round of decentralisation would be "more radical than those to date"
"He stated the Government's intention to transfer the maximum possible number of public service jobs from Dublin and to move almost complete Departments of State and other public bodies to provincial centres. 10,000 civil servants were going to be decentralized and the advantages for Dublin and for the regions would be enormous. The promise was made, the commitment was given and the expectation was created.
"Six months passed and I raised the matter again in a Private Members debate in June 2000, pointing out that there had been no progress. In October 2000 in a written question I asked the Minister for Finance about the Cabinet sub-committee on decentralization. He confirmed that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste Mary Harney, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government Noel Dempsey and himself were on the Committee. The Minister for Finance stated, most significantly: 'I am satisfied that the Government will be in a position to take decisions in relation to the new programme by the end of this year'.
"That was 17th October 2000. The Minister repeated his statement during Oral Questions in the House on 26 October 2000. I questioned the Taoiseach in February 2002 and he said no announcements would be made before the General Election but that enough work had been done for a new Minister for Finance to advance the programme.
"This brings us to the aftermath of the General Election. The commitment to decentralisation was repeated in the Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fail and the PDs. I questioned the Minister for Finance again on 12 November 2002 and now, safely embedded at the start of another term in Government, lo and behold, the Minister told us that it was "not possible to state at this time when the Government will be in a position to take a decision on the issue of decentralisation". This was the decision that was supposed to have been made a full two years earlier!
"In that reply the Minister claimed that they had not acted before the General Election lest they be accused of acting for political purposes. That never worried Fianna Fáil before. But of course it was just another excuse for inaction.
"So here we are now three and a half years after the '99 Budget, a year after the Programme for Government and we are no further on. Minister Smith's role last night, in moving the Government amendment, was to dampen down expectations. He said "decentralisation will not, of itself, create jobs in any locality. While I am certain that the establishment of a new Government office in any provincial town has the potential to act as an economic catalyst for that area, it ought not to be as the necessary solution to job losses." But in total contrast, in his response to my Question on 26 October 2000 Minister McCreevy said:
"Some reporters in the Dublin media do not appear to take account of the fact that decentralisation of a section of a major Government Department to certain areas throughout the country would be better for them than the arrival of a major industry.
"This government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth and the reality is we have had zero delivery from them on decentralisation. I support the motion."