Fine Gael backbencher John Deasy has accused the Government of ignoring regional development.
He said the distribution of investment across the State was massively imbalanced. “What is worse for me is that, after months of pointing this out on the floor of the House and at meetings of the Committee of Public Accounts and elsewhere, no one in Government seems to give a damn.’’
Mr Deasy said there were parts of the country that had seen almost no foreign direct investment or substantial State investment in the past 10 or 15 years.
The Waterford TD was speaking during the debate on the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Bill, establishing the Irish Strategic Investment Fund. It will take over the €6.9 billion in the assets of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. Minister of State for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Fergus O'Dowd said the fund was established in 2001 and the agency was its manager.
He said the governance structure under which the agency operated had become unwieldy and complex and the legislation would convert it into a body with members, effectively a board. It would have a total of nine members, with the Minister for Finance nominating a chairperson.
Mr Deasy argued there was nothing in the legislation to counteract the growing imbalance in investment across the country. “It is effectively a stimulus package, but it is structured in such a way that 90 per cent of the €6.8 billion in State money could end up being invested exclusively in Dublin.’’
He added that he had raised the matter a few weeks ago in the Dáil and the response from a Minister of State at the time was “patronising palaver’’.
Independent TD Shane Ross said that when the economy was booming, more than 10 years ago, then minister for finance Charlie McCreevy had set aside money for a national pension fund. Legislation had subsequently been passed to allow the money to be used to prop up the banks, he added. “The fund is all but gone, with only €6.9 billion remaining. Today, we are debating what happens to the entrails of the fund.’’
He said the legislation was doing exactly the opposite to what Mr McCreevy did. “It enables the Government to do exactly what it likes with what is left, masked with a few petty cosmetic restrictions.’’ The legislation had been well spun and well sold and was coated in the language of apple pie and ice cream. “The fund will be used ultimately, or pretty shortly, for political purposes and nothing in the legislation stops it from being used for that purpose.’’
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the reserve fund was needed because it was a safe investment that would guarantee the pensions of citizens and deal with the pension crisis that was looming.