Thursday, 15 February 2007
National Development Plan: Statements.
I am pleased to open this debate on the new national development plan. The plan sets out a vision of how Ireland can be transformed over the next seven years and how we can provide a better quality of life for all. It is an ambitious, fully costed, multi-annual blueprint for sustainable development. It encompasses a broad and comprehensive approach to our economic priorities but also to regional development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
The objective of a better quality of life for our people informs the national development plan. This objective will be delivered in particular by the following measures and strategies in the plan: an investment of some €88 billion in our economic and social infrastructure; a major programme of social inclusion measures costing some €50 billion over the period, including services for children, the elderly and the disabled; a major focus on environmental sustainability backed up by total investment of €25 billion in key areas, including a quadrupling of investment in public transport over the levels in the last plan; a model for regional development that, through the framework of investment and complementary land use policy, can assist all regions to achieve their potential and promote a better environment and quality of life; and strong and tangible all-island co-operation implemented in a co-operative way to the benefit of all citizens on the island.
This national development plan, the fourth since 1989, will build on the solid foundations of its predecessors. It worth recalling the progress we have made since we adopted, in response to EU requirements for Structural Funds assistance, the process of formulating national development plans to progress this country's development. When the first plan was launched in 1989, unemployment was at 15%, the national debt was 107% of GNP and Ireland experienced net emigration of some 208,000 people in the 1980s.
By contrast, the backdrop to the launch of the new plan in January 2007 is one of virtually full employment, a debt-GNP ratio of 25% and a population increase of almost 609,000 over the past decade. The three previous national development plans, funded in significant part by EU Structural Funds, have played a significant role in this remarkable turnaround. Investment under these plans, especially in employment creation, training, education and in infrastructure combined with other successful economic, budgetary and taxation policies and underpinned by the social partnership process, has helped transform Ireland.
Unlike its predecessors, the new national development plan has not been prepared to meet EU requirements and thus draw down the limited amount of EU Structural Funds now available to Ireland. Nonetheless, the Government considers that a new plan was necessary for the following four reasons. We need a comprehensive, coherent, costed and integrated investment blueprint that sets out how we will deliver sustainable economic and social development into the future, thereby improving quality of life for all. We need to send a signal to private sector investors, both indigenous and international, that Ireland has a comprehensive blueprint for investment in areas that will influence and impact on their commercial decisions.
Public bodies also need medium-term policy and financial frameworks within which to plan investment. We need to promote balanced regional development and promote environmental sustainability and underpin all-island co-operation. Finally, we need to demonstrate to taxpayers that there is a comprehensive plan in place that will invest their money on strategic priorities and will do so in a value for money manner.
The plan will involve an estimated expenditure of €184 billion over seven years. This investment will be rolled out within a framework of economic and budgetary stability and in full compliance with the requirements of the EU Stability and Growth Pact. The economic framework underpinning the plan assumes annual average economic growth over the period of 4-4.5% and it is affordable on that basis.
The period to 2013 represents a major window of opportunity in resource terms to tackle our infrastructure deficits before population-related expenditure pressures in health and pensions appear on the horizon. We must use our favourable demographic situation to boost the productive capacity of the economy to meet the long-term demographic challenges. The Government commissioned a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute on the investment priorities for the plan. The plan accords with the prioritisation recommended to capital investment by the ESRI, notably in areas such as transport. The Government is of the view that the quantum of investment required over the period is considerably in excess of that recommended by the ESRI. Accordingly, Government investment under the plan is €2 billion per year higher than that recommended by the institute.
In determining the levels of Government capital investment, the Government took account in particular of the following key factors: the need to decisively tackle economic and social infrastructure deficits, demographic projections which estimate a population of in excess of 5 million in 2021, the window of opportunity in resource terms; and the economic rate of return on infrastructure investment. The Government believes that the construction industry has the capacity and flexibility to deliver the increased investment without causing an inflationary impact as occurred at the outset of the previous plan. Lessons have also been learned from programme and project management problems which surfaced in the early part of the previous national development plan. Key implementing agencies, such as the National Roads Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency, have had significant enhancement of resources and are now well geared to deliver the programmes and projects in the new plan. Recent experience, especially in the transport area, is very positive in this regard.
The plan was the subject of extensive consultation involving submissions from and meetings with social partners, regional bodies and other interested groups. This consultative process overwhelmingly endorsed an ambitious level of capital investment in the new plan. The plan launched by Government shows that account has been taken of the priorities and concerns raised in the process. The plan also contains provision for commitments under Towards 2016 and sets out a new multi-annual integrated blueprint for the implementation of these and other commitments.
The new plan adopts a whole-of-Government and cross-departmental perspective to resource allocation, following the successful format which has been the hallmark of previous EU-funded plans. The plan sets out an integrated strategy under the five priority areas of economic infrastructure; enterprise, science and innovation; human capital; social infrastructure; and social inclusion. An investment of €54.7 billion in economic infrastructure will include the completion by 2010 of the major inter-urban road routes; significant enhancement of the Atlantic road corridor; a quadrupling of investment in public transport compared with the previous plan, including major expansion in rail capacity in the greater Dublin region and enhanced rail services outside the greater Dublin area; 15% of electricity supply will be generated from renewable energy by 2010; and significant ongoing investment in the electricity network is envisaged.
Some €20 billion will be invested in the promotion of enterprise, science and innovation and will include a radical enhancement in the quantity, quality and commercial use of research and development. There will also be investment in potential start-up and growth-potential companies. We intend to invest in attracting more tourist visitors; and a more efficient, competitive and environmentally friendly farming sector and agri-food sector is a necessary objective.
A total of €25.8 billion will be invested in training and education under the human capital priority. This will support the continuing up-skilling of the workforce and improvement of employment prospects for groups such as lone parents and people with disabilities, the provision of new schools in rapidly developing areas and a comprehensive information and communications technology programme for schools are planned. There will be a further increase in the numbers attending third level colleges, especially from disadvantaged areas and there will be major reform and modernisation in the third level sector.
A sum of €33.6 billion will be invested in the area of social infrastructure to include 60,000 new social housing units and 40,000 new affordable housing units as per the NESC report; 500 primary care health teams will be established by 2011; there will be an expansion of the range and quality of sports facilities throughout the country, including the Lansdowne Road and Abbotstown projects; and there will be nationwide investment in arts and cultural facilities, including a new National Concert Hall in Dublin and a new National Theatre.
Approximately €50 billion will be provided to promote social inclusion, particularly for the creation of an additional 50,000 new child care places by 2010, and there will be progress towards the target of halving the proportion of children with serious literacy problems in primary schools serving disadvantaged communities. We will seek to assist 7,000 additional people with disabilities into employment by 2010 and to provide an additional 550 teachers as language support for the integration of migrants. A total of €9.7 billion will be provided for older people, both to support them living independently in their own homes and, when they can no longer live at home in independence and with dignity, to support the provision of high quality residential care.
The plan also sets out a strong framework and commitment to investment in key horizontal policy areas including regional development, rural economy, all-island co-operation and environmental sustainability. The regional development strategy set out in the plan will give a major impetus to the implementation of the 2002 national spatial strategy, although investment under the previous plan also reflected, and was consistent with, that strategy. With the regional planning guidelines adopted, the national development plan provides the specifics in terms of programmes and resources to implement the vision of the spatial strategy.
We need to invest to assist all the regions to reach their potential. Lopsided economic growth which sees the capital and its hinterland as the primary driver of all activity is not in anybody's interests, least of all those of the people of Dublin and its surrounding counties. Balanced regional development is a precondition to sustainable national development. If we are to enjoy a high quality of life alongside, and in support of, a high level of national income, every region and every community must be able to reach its potential for success. It is vital to delivering a better quality of life for all.
While recognising the importance of maintaining Dublin as Ireland's international gateway, the plan sets out an investment strategy for the development of the other gateways with a view to promoting better balance in economic development. This approach is about a better quality of life for citizens in all regions, including the greater Dublin area. The plan sets out investment priorities in each of these gateway areas. This investment will be complemented by appropriate planning and land use strategies to maximise the sustainable impact of these and other investments. In this way the regional development strategy will complement the goal of environmental sustainability. We must optimise the use of our improved infrastructure. In particular, we must promote settlement trends that allow people to live nearer their workplace and have access to excellent public transport, schools and other facilities.
A special gateways innovation fund will be established to assist development of the gateways in line with the spatial strategy's framework. An initial €300 million is being provided by the Exchequer for 2008-10 for this fund. This funding is intended to leverage significant additional funding from the private sector and or other parts of the public sector so that the total quantum of investment will be greater than the Exchequer contribution. The fund will finance local infrastructure such as urban regeneration projects, transport initiatives, in addition to those under Transport 21, and quality of life projects. A key consideration will also be the existence of close co-operation between local authorities in gateway areas.
The regional development strategy will support and complement the development of the rural economy. The plan sets out a general framework and key initiatives to develop the rural economy. The broad objective is to sustain the continuing process of growth and diversification in rural areas. Priorities include enhanced accessibility, communications infrastructure and activation of potential in areas such as local enterprise and services, tourism and the natural resource sectors. Key plan interventions to assist the development of the rural economy will include investment in the modernisation and enhanced competitiveness of the farming sector; the roll-out of broadband in rural areas, particularly those areas where the commercial provision of broadband would otherwise be uneconomic; investment in non-national roads and rural water services; and an expanded rural transport initiative.
The promotion of environmental sustainability is a more central theme in the new plan than in previous plans. The framework for action in this area is set out in Chapter 6. We face major environmental challenges over the period of the plan and beyond, including climate change, waste management and the maintenance and improvement of water quality. The plan provides for investment of some €25 billion in programmes which will directly protect the environment. We are more than quadrupling public transport investment as compared with the period 2000-06. Other key investments in the context of the climate change challenge include a major commitment to the promotion of renewable energy sources for efficient energy use. This is complemented by the regional development strategy based on a land use strategy which will be more environmentally sustainable.
The plan sets out a major new proposed framework for all-island co-operation. The plan contains proposals for significant Irish Government investment in North-South projects, notably in the transport area, and initiatives for mutual benefit. The Government wishes to agree and implement these with the British Government and a restored Northern Ireland Executive in the period 2007-13.
Value for money is also a central theme in the delivery of the planned investment. Most of the capital projects, notably in the key area of transport, are being delivered on or below budget and, in some instances, ahead of schedule. Building on this performance, all expenditure under the National Development Plan 2007-2013 will be subject, as appropriate, to a robust value for money framework. Among the key elements of this framework are that all projects will be subject to project appraisal, all capital projects over €30 million will require a full cost benefit analysis, the introduction of new procurement arrangements which will deliver greater cost certainty and evaluations under the value for money and policy reviews will be published and submitted to the relevant select committees of the Oireachtas. In the coming period, my Department will be elaborating on the monitoring process to be put in place to measure progress under the plan. We envisage a streamlined, focused approach whereby progress can be readily assessed by reference to relevant financial and physical indicators. We will avoid the bureaucratic, committee-laden reporting process under previous plans, which was a source of dissatisfaction as expressed in the consultation process. The emphasis will be on efficient delivery and transparent reporting. A key new feature is the formal submission of an annual report on plan progress to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The plan can only become a reality if the economy generates the necessary resources. The success of the plan will be determined by the continuation of sound economic and budgetary policies. A strong economy is the bedrock on which this plan can be built. That is why the Government is emphasising the importance of continuing the successful and stable economic and budgetary policies of recent years.
This plan addresses Ireland's current development needs directly. It sets out a roadmap for the next phase of our country's transformation and will deliver a better quality of life for all our people. Its implementation will help to secure our prosperity and make Ireland a better country, with stronger communities throughout the island. We have the plan and the resources. We must now proceed with the work of delivery, thereby improving the quality of life for this and future generations.
There can be no doubt regarding the level of need in the context of building a successful infrastructure for the future. In every area one might care to mention, be it buses, houses, hospitals, ports or schools, there are huge needs and these continue to grow. The real issue that arises in respect of the NDP is whether the Government has the capacity to deliver. Judging by its record, one would have to strongly question its capabilities in that regard. For example, the Government produced the health strategy in 2001 and less than 30% of it has been delivered to date. Less than 40% of the targets relating to the housing strategy produced in the context of the previous NDP and other policy statements have been met. Up to last year, less than 50% of the projects under the roads programme had been delivered. Less than 25% of the commitments relating to the programme of PPPs introduced in the previous NDP have materialised. Only 40% of what we were promised under the water programme has been delivered. In the area of e-commerce, only 15% of what was envisaged has been delivered. Ireland is now one of the worst countries in Europe in the context of access to broadband as a result. The list goes on. Less than 7% of the commitments made under decentralisation have been met.
Where are the grounds for believing that the Government has suddenly changed and that it can deliver strategic planning when it has failed to do so for a decade? It has also failed to deliver in areas of great importance, such as health and housing, to the people we are here to serve.
This plan is not a gift from the Government. It will be funded, in its entirety, out of taxpayers' money. Approximately €120,000 for every family will be invested in the plan. That is a substantial amount. A major change is required in the way strategic planning is carried out in order that we will not look back in five or six years and behold the same litany of failed promises that marked the end of the previous NDP.
There is a serious lack of strategic vision underpinning the Government's approach to planning in areas in which we face major challenges. Anyone who engages in even a casual examination of the economic situation could not fail to perceive the looming challenge we face in remaining competitive. A total of 50% of IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland jobs that were in place five years ago have since disappeared. That is a massive rate of attrition. There has been a decline in manufacturing and the once unassailable elements of manufacturing, such as Pfizer and Motorola, are being affected. Huge infrastructural gaps are emerging and we have fallen behind in areas that are crucial to our competitive sectors. The National Competitiveness Council outlined some of the areas in which we are lagging and its statistics are startling. Out of 30 countries, Ireland is 28th in respect of port infrastructure, 26th in respect of energy infrastructure and 23rd in respect of broadband infrastructure. These infrastructures, which are the responsibility of Government, are the bases on which we seek to compete. Ireland has not, despite the Minister's boast regarding €55 billion of investment in infrastructure, kept pace with other countries and has, in fact, lost ground.
We have also failed to address the serious strategic challenge of breaking the link between economic growth and increases in carbon emissions. This matter was highlighted again recently when the latest figures showed that Ireland's emissions are increasing more rapidly than those of any other country. We have manifestly failed to deliver on our Kyoto commitments. In addition, we are repeating the worst errors of urban sprawl. The Minister stated we must make changes in this regard but the Government has not put forward any solid policy changes that will transform patterns of development. Developers choose the cheapest greenfield sites, pay no regard to the lack of transport infrastructure and commit people to endless commutes that are extremely burdensome in terms of resource use. In so far as the Government has done anything, it has been to encourage more one-off developments, which it knows run contrary to what it is supposed to be promoting under a policy that addresses the issues of urban sprawl.
The Government permitted tax reliefs that did not focus on strategic priorities to remain in place in the construction sector long beyond their sell-by dates. No cost-benefit analysis was carried out until the Minister entered office. The Government allowed these reliefs to remain in place for at least five years too long. The most recent figures indicate that approximately €5 billion in taxpayers' money was used to fund the reliefs to which I refer. The subsequent cost-benefit analysis — I give credit to the Minister for undertaking this — showed that much of this money was wasted.
The review of the previous plan, which is contained in its successor, does not, by any stretch of the imagination, represent an honest appraisal of what happened on the last occasion. It reads more like a PR brochure than anything else. For example, reference is not made to underperformance on projects, failures in respect of cost control, the failure to carry out proper cost-benefit analyses in order to rank projects and apply a strategic framework in respect of the choice of such projects, the manifest failure to put in place accompanying policy change in some areas to ensure we obtained value for money from the investments made, or the fact that the national spatial strategy arrived as an afterthought. As the ESRI's mid-term review illustrated, no change was made to the strategic direction of the NDP after the spatial strategy was introduced. These are serious issues and I do not know how it was possible to produce a chapter which was supposed to review the past but which failed to address any of them. If we are to learn anything, we must examine the mistakes that have been made. There is no evidence that the latter has happened.
In my view, a new NDP must operate within an entirely new framework. As stated previously, we must publish the cost-benefit analysis before we commit to allocating the funds. The Minister is wholly wrong in keeping information in this regard secret. There must be a gateway system under which people will be held accountable for the performance of these projects. This must be done in public in order that we can see what is happening.
A new set of strategic priorities is required. I do not see any evidence that breaking the link between carbon emissions and economic growth, addressing the decline we are experiencing in competitiveness or planning sustainable communities are to the fore in this plan. No strategic thinking has been done in respect of these serious challenges.
It is extraordinary that under the programme for climate change contained in the plan, only one sub-programme of investment is mentioned, namely, the €270 million to buy carbon credits. In other words, the only purpose of this programme is to delay the serious decisions that must be made in this area. In the meantime, areas in which there are many opportunities to perform better are being left unfunded.
We must get to grips with this matter in a way that the Government has failed to do. This is a major global challenge and the countries that are slow to respond — Ireland is proving to be one of them — will pay a much higher cost. There is a clear advantage for those who move quickly to respond to these challenges. However, nothing is happening in that regard in this country. We have made no efforts to make our patterns of development sustainable. Under those patterns of development, approximately 500,000 homes were built in the past decade. The level of emissions per house, even when one adjusts for climate, is almost double the EU average. The emissions per car are 50% higher than the European Union average. Despite our natural advantage in renewables we are trailing in the development of renewables. There is no evidence that the Government is addressing this in a serious or concerted way. The plan states that the Government wants all developed countries to commit to a cut from 50% to 30% by 2020. It is hypocritical to call for that when we are not taking the measures at home that must be taken to address that problem.
We must get real on this issue. Firm targets must be set as to what we will achieve and decisions must be made such as, for example, that on the interconnector. There is no public money committed to the interconnector. Everyone knows that is the key to expanding the renewables in our generation sector but there is no commitment to the date or the money. Reference was made to 2012 but there is no explicit commitment of funds.
Energy research will be a key element if we want to make our homes, traffic and systems more energy efficient. Less than €1 in every €40 goes to energy research. It is near the bottom of the list. The Minister referred to the shift to public transport but under the next programme five times as much money will be spent on road as on rail. We must set serious targets, which are absent, and have policies linked to those targets. That thinking, which is the core to a proper strategy, is not in evidence in the plan.
Competitiveness is the other major area we must square up to but I do not see it in this plan. There is reference to all the traditional sectors taking the lion's share of moneys that will go under enterprise, research and innovation funding but there are no plans or programmes for the areas where we must look to the future — financial services, software, biotechnology, audiovisual, nanotechnology and so on. Those are the areas where we ought to develop the programmes of the future that will provide employment for the young people in our schools now. Instead, the programmes are for long-established sectors and they dominate the moneys.
On the research funds, it is right that we should invest more in this area but only €1 in every €5 of the research budgets the Government is providing will be for enterprise-led research and innovation. That is the defect because even foreign owned companies are devoting less than 1% of their turnover to research and development where best practice would indicate it should be close to 4%. Irish companies are not much better in that regard. We must drive the notion that industry and networks of employers must be at the heart of these research and development strategies. It is all very well to fund programmes in universities but we must ensure that trickles down to where it is needed but we have failed in that regard. A recent Competitiveness Council report stated we are one of the only countries that has seen a deterioration of the linkage between the ivory towers-type university and enterprise in research and development. We have deteriorated while all the other countries are improving.
The other major challenge is broadband coverage. The metropolitan area networks have not achieved the reach intended. They are not reaching ordinary homes. They may be available to multinational companies in these towns but they are not getting the broadband reach. Northern Ireland made the investment and decided to opt for 100% coverage. There are no new ideas in this national development plan about how we will achieve broadband coverage on the required scale. Everyone realises we cannot continue to lag at the bottom of those league tables.
I am disappointed in this NDP. There is much that is welcome. No one will complain about commitments to social and affordable housing or any of the other areas but we must get the framework right. We must build social and affordable houses in sustainable communities and we must have strategic thinking about the development of areas, including schools, but that has not happened.
On the strategic development zones, about which Deputy Burton would know more, Adamstown is the only case where the SDZ power has been used. We are not using the planning framework we passed in this House to impose the coherent and sustainable patterns of development we need.
This is a case of one cheer for the NDP. I welcome the investment commitment but we have much to learn about taking a strategic approach to the use of public money, ensuring we deliver value for money and the necessary changes in key areas. We must face up to the challenges in competitiveness and climate change early. If we do not, we will face them at huge cost.
I understand the launch of the national development programme cost in the region of €300,000 for the brochures and leaflets accompanying the plan. At the staging of the launch, we saw the ambassadors to Ireland, the social partners, the great and the good lined up. It reminded me of the politburo in the 1950s when they lined up to listen to the next great five year plan. If there was an official artist to the Government, as in Stalin's day, the artist would paint the event in all its glory.
The national development plan is a collection of party political election promises dressed up in the language of national rather than party targets. At 400 pages, it is probably the longest election leaflet in the history of the democratic world. As election leaflets go it is pricey, at €300,000, but despite containing 400 pages of electioneering, surprisingly, it has less than ten pages of costings. In that context it should be judged as a political document because its motivation and timing is entirely political.
We should bear in mind that if the previous national development plans and the proposals of Ministers opposite had been believable in terms of the rhetoric delivered, we would have a functioning metro serving the airport, which was announced for 2007 by the then Minister, Deputy Brennan. We would have the longed-for reorganised functioning hospital system. We would have a decentralised public administration in addition to the hubs, the gateways and so on, all of which were promised for 2007. The guarantee given for the 90th anniversary of the rising that all children under nine would be in classes of 20 or fewer would be implemented. That was another target for 2007. Our young people would have the reasonable expectation that they could aspire to buying a home of their own. After nine and a half years of Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, much of the nation's infrastructure, to quote the letter the Taoiseach wrote to Brussels on the Civil Service, is not fit for purpose.
On the costing and funding of the programme, we debated the Moriarty report yesterday. Do the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil operate in a world of blank cheques? The crucial difference between this plan and others is that it is the taxpayer who will foot almost the entire bill. I note the Minister acknowledged that today when he stated the plan does not have to be approved by Brussels. There has been no external evaluation of the costings and the reasonableness of what is contained in the plan. The plans in 1989, 1994 and 2000 were effectively submissions to the European Union on the way Ireland planned to spend EU money within a Community support framework. That does not apply now.
There are no seven year tax projections in the plan. I asked the Minister about that and he gave me tax projections for the next two years. I was delighted to find they were largely in line with the projections the Labour Party used at the conference at the weekend about which the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, appeared to have a problem on "Questions and Answers". An inflation impact study should have been done because Ireland now has the highest cost of living and we are joint second in the euro inflation league with Slovenia, behind Greece and drifting upwards.
Neither were there carbon costings to the plan. Ireland faces a serious challenge with carbon costings. In 2013, at the end of this plan, the full impact of our Kyoto agreements will kick in. The €270 million set aside in the plan will be peanuts compared to the penalties we will incur unless we get our act together. Before the budget, I put forward a proposal that all public spending should be carbon-costed for its carbon imprint. The Minister will be aware of the notion of examining the carbon footprint. He is Minister Bigfoot when it comes to the size of the carbon footprint he is leaving. Ultimately, the taxpayer foots the bill for Kyoto fines. If the Kyoto process is expanded, Ireland may face charges that could well constitute a new and severe national debt on our children and grandchildren. This is not included in the plan.
Who is Mr. National Development Plan? Is there a plaque in the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Finance or the other various Departments which states the responsibility for the national development plan stops here? Are there rewards if matters go well or punishment and change if not? There is no evidence of who has ultimate responsibility for the plan.
Of the €184 billion proposed spending over the next seven years, some €78 billion or 42% of the total expenditure, is capital spend on infrastructure, the real meat in the sandwich. That is what will allow us to buy and spend on a functioning public transport system, improving the hospital infrastructure and addressing the carbon fund issues. It will allow us to address issues such as ensuring a couple or single person, working and paying tax, can look forward to purchasing a home.
Social housing, public health and education all feature in the plan but after ten years of a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government, we now have the first well-educated and hard-working young generation, on modest and moderate incomes, who cannot purchase a home. This generation are up at six o'clock in the morning and returning home at seven in the evening. That generation's work ethic leaves that of many Members in the shade. Although they belong to a hard-work culture, where does the plan state young people can reasonably expect to have a home while the builders and developers are coining it? What about those parents of children of four years of age in west Dublin, Meath and Kildare who ask me where will their children go to school?
What is the Minister's response to the recent report published by Urban Forum? It correctly stated that a series of high speed rail links between Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick are needed. Where is the visionary thinking that will stabilise the growth of the Dublin region and improve the growth of other major cities? The plan implies that the decentralisation programme announced by the former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, is dead. There is a proposal for renewed centres and gateways but the flesh on the bones of the proposals is weak.
Labour, as part of an alternative incoming Government, will go through the plan to determine what is in the public interest and what is socially just and equitable. The plan will need dramatic revision to develop the country to the standards our young people deserve.
The Minister for Finance must be disappointed so little attention is being paid by the House to the national development plan. I would like more time, before and after the election, to debate the plan.
I am saddened we have learned nothing from the first national development plan. The new plan fits into the straitjacket of the expenditure profiles that Brussels demands. It has even adopted a seven year timeframe, which is an arbitrary timeframe related to the EU budgetary process and not to Ireland's needs. This is not a plan but a series of programmes of expenditure. The plan contains three maps of a loose and non-indicative kind. Is it possible to examine an overall map of the integration of all local authority development plans in the Department of Finance? Is there a collective picture of what Ireland might look like if those plans were implemented in the next five years? If the Minister cannot answer these questions, then it cannot be called a plan.
As Deputy Burton has pointed out it seems no one is in charge. Is it listed in the IPA yearbook or any other directory? The Department of the Taoiseach is supposed to have nominal responsibility for the plan. Deputy Martin, when Minister for Health and Children, indicated that the real project manager of the implementation of the plan is the Taoiseach. However, he is a busy man and project implementation at this scale is a full-time job.
The main reason Members on this side of the House are critical about this massive amount of expenditure is the failure to properly implement the last plan. The main reason for that lay in the lack of project management. The Minister claimed the NRA had got its act together and improved its project management. It will, however, not get its act together until it communicates with the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science and the energy sector. Some 42% of the plan is capital expenditure. The synergy required for such large scale projects will not be created unless the planning of the expenditure is connected between the various agencies involved. There is no connection between the plans of the Department of Education and Science and population forecasting sections in local authorities. There is no connection between the Department of Health and Children and the provision of health facilities ahead of demand.
The key revealing phrase that has bedevilled successive Administrations is contained in the report. It states:
. . . removing the remaining infrastructure bottlenecks that constrain our economic development and inhibit balanced regional development and environmental sustainability.
It is the bottleneck culture that has created the monster referred to by the Urban Forum. We are following the traffic jams. As Dublin expands further, more land is released for development. The plan must be fundamentally reviewed. The Department of Finance must recognise that its method of integrated physical planning has failed. There is no synergy and it must be reconnected. Is the Department of Finance the right body to act as the financial controller and the innovator of the plan? That is an inherent contradiction and it does not work.
The global climate conditions in which the plan was formulated have dramatically changed. The plan does not refer to the Stern report or the UN scientists' report on global warming. It does not refer to the unsustainability of current development trends. The plan represents an unsustainable economic and physical model unless it is radically altered. I do not know whether the Minister intends to review this or how that might be done.
The document comprises a series of programme spending proposals but there is no accountability or methodology for assessing results. There is no indication, for example, that the Department of Education and Science will be informed in advance when new roads are being constructed. There is no mechanism whereby that Department could be informed of planning permissions for new housing so that it will not be surprised, four or five years later, that 300 or 400 young children need places in local schools. There is no initiative to link such issues. That lesson was clearly not learned from the last plan.
I hope my party, Fine Gael and the Green Party will be in government after the next election so that we can completely rewrite this plan in a manner that makes sense in the context of present needs and the wonderful background of limitless resources the current Government enjoys. Managing those resources in the wrong way introduces unlimited costs that will be unsustainable into the future.
This debate is inadequate, consisting merely of statements and no motions. Given the scale of the plan and the proposed expenditure, a two-day session should have been allocated, including a vote on a motion. This would impart a sense of ownership that what is before us has been scrutinised to some extent.
What the Government has presented as a national development plan falls far short of such. This is a nakedly political document, the longest election manifesto in the history of Irish politics. For this reason, it must be treated cynically. There has been no meaningful engagement with social and political actors. This is the plan of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government; it is hardly a plan of the Irish people for the Irish people. That would become more clear if we were to have an effective debate.
What was presented by the Minister in his speech as a fully costed document is nothing of the sort. A recent question I put to him on the lack of a strategic environmental assessment of the plan, something that is a feature of the national plans of other EU countries, met with the response that such was not required because the costings were purely indicative. The Minister cannot have it both ways. It is either a fully costed document or it is purely indicative. This is the flaw at the heart of the plan. The assessments that underline it in terms of future inflation trends mean that the total figure of €184 billion will likely be exceeded.
The main problem with the Government's proposals is that the balance which the last national development plan failed to put in place is also missing in this plan. The underspend on regional development in the last plan was disgraceful. The imbalance in terms of transport infrastructure is a price we continue to pay. The Minister may point to the figures for the roads and public transport elements of the plan. An examination of the proposals for public transport, however, show they are not being brought forward as a mechanism for improving regional development. There is little in the national plan that allows public transport infrastructure to be developed in Galway, Limerick and Cork. The summary document of the national development plan contains the legend, in the second sentence about public transport, that the money will be spent especially in the greater Dublin area. How can a Government present a national development plan that contains such clauses? The Government either believes public transport is something the entire country needs or it will continue to make the mistakes it has made in the last ten years.
I repeat calls made by other speakers in this debate that this can only be seen as a working document. If and when a new Government is established, once the people have been consulted, there are many elements of this plan that must be modified or deleted. The essential factor is that this development plan represents business as usual. Despite the Minister's boast, there is no give on environmental sustainability. It is merely ráiméis and public relations talk. That the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government repeats this ráiméis shows that the Government's interest in the environment and sustainability is merely a cynical exercise in reheating press releases about actions it has not taken and continues not to take.
Although the proposals to finance infrastructure spending in Northern Ireland are welcome, why are all those infrastructure links based on roads? Why does the national development plan not seek to enhance public transport links between the two parts of this island? The Government still does not understand what sustainability is all about and how it can be achieved. This, above all else, is the reason that the people will make the decision to elect a new Government. This is a flawed document that fails to meet the needs of the State in the coming decade.
I do not have sufficient time to address this plan in any substantial way. Instead, I will address a local issue that arises from this plan and its predecessor. I am sure I will be accused of being parochial but I make no apology for that.
I make a plea to the Minister for Finance on behalf of the people of Carrick-on-Suir, which was absolutely abandoned in this and the previous plan. Some 890 people are unemployed in Carrick-on-Suir — an unemployment rate of25%, or six times the national average. The Minister's party has been in government for 18 of the past 20 years and this is simply not good enough. Despite the hundreds of billions of euro allocated under this and the last plan, 890 people are unemployed out of a total population of 5,000. This is unacceptable.
I ask the Minister to prioritise Carrick-on-Suir by creating a jobs task force that will help put some of these people back to work. They were annoyed recently when the Minister for Social and Family Affairs suggested that they should start signing on for training at an earlier date. These people are blue in the face from signing on for training. They want the Government to create employment for their town. We cannot allow the situation to continue where there is a rate of 25% unemployment in a small town like Carrick-on-Suir.
I absolutely support planning that is effective in the sense that there is a connection between where people live, how they travel and the support services available in their communities. This plan, however, essentially offers a system of individual development plans on a county-by-county basis. I cannot see any relationship between those individual plans and the delivery of critical services. There are lists of schools, public transport projects and other community projects, but the only amenities that are delivered are those that are attractive to the market. It is basically a system of development with some planning controls rather than a system of planning.
Unless we deal with the underlying problem, we will not find a solution. The definition of madness is taking the same action repeatedly and expecting a different result. I do not have any expectation that this plan will be delivered in full because it offers no change in how we plan and implement development projects. If changes are not made to rectify the pattern of non-delivery, costly overruns and time delays that were a feature of the last two development plans, we will not reach a solution.
The largest single public transport initiative in the greater Dublin area is the interconnector. Provision is made for this in the plan under Transport 21 but there is no expectation it will be delivered for a further two years after the plan is completed. I see no reason that key public transport component, which would make such a difference to Dublin and the surrounding counties, cannot be advanced.
Child care is heavily dependent on building facilities but the underlying costs have not been addressed. Schools are provided on the basis of crisis management. In the area of disability, an amount of money has been identified without an assessment of what we need to spend to give people the rights to which they are entitled and, in many cases, to turn them into taxpayers.
Transforming Ireland — A Better Quality of Life for All is ironic when one considers that for many people, their quality of life has not improved significantly during the Government's time in office. That is why the new national development plan and all its promises must be approached with extreme scepticism. People's quality of life has not improved precisely because of a failure to manage economic growth and to plan for, and meet, the needs of a changing State.
There has been a failure to make the necessary interventions to prevent urban sprawl and to ensure employment is created outside the greater Dublin area. Delivery of infrastructure has been delayed by the insistence on using public private partnerships. The sell off of State assets has continued apace regardless of the future implications for the State's strategic interest. While the population has expanded rapidly, public services, such as health, education and public transport, have not been expanded to meet our population's needs. Commitments in respect of public transport are among those not met in the last plan.
Policies pursued by the Government have contributed to a situation where, in most families, both parents must work to pay enormous mortgages. We have failed to develop child care infrastructure and a system of pre-school education which these new parents need.
While action to tackle climate change has begun to be taken elsewhere across the globe, this Government has again done almost nothing. Urban sprawl has accelerated and we have become a society ever more dependent on cars. Traffic congestion is choking this city and the recent upsurge in emissions output has been linked to the transport sector.
Employment remains concentrated in the Dublin region and we are precariously over dependent on foreign multinationals. Our competitiveness is being undermined by the failure to roll out key communications infrastructure, namely, broadband, as a consequence of the privatisation of Eircom. Our manufacturing base continues to decline with the food sector coming under increasing pressure from foreign multiples.
Privatisation is also a part of this plan. It is proposed that public private partnerships comprise 39% of spending on public transport. Such partnerships make no economic sense if a structure delivered in this way costs more and takes longer to deliver because of the complex procurement procedures.
As we look at this plan, we cannot be expected to forget that many of the targets in the previous NDP were not achieved on time or on budget, that many programmes remain unfinished and that it failed, in particular, in respect of the objective to achieve balanced regional development and tackling inequality. The latest UNICEF figures, which rank Ireland 19th out of 21 industrialised countries in respect of the proportion of children who experience poverty and hardship, confirm the findings of other reports. The gap is widening between rich and poor and Ireland is one of the most unequal societies in the world.
Other speakers spoke about the all-Ireland dimension to the plan. Sinn Féin lobbied for an increased focus on cross-Border development. We look forward to the implementation of commitments such as re-opening the Ulster Canal and the construction of the bridge at Narrow Water for which Sinn Féin has actively campaigned. While the plan is not a genuinely national, fully integrated all-Ireland development plan, which we would like, this must be a goal for any future plan.
I thank those who contributed to the debate. We have a sustainable and achievable framework. Programmes in the past were maintenance rather than capital ones. We now have a substantial capital investment framework going forward. It is not only a capital framework in that this structure of the plan is in keeping with the Towards 2016 ten-year framework agreed with the social partners. They are meeting in plenary session this morning and the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are attending. I was surprised that there was some criticism of them not being in this House this morning. I do not believe anyone would contend that they should be anywhere else this morning other than at the social partnership plenary forum.
It is a question of pursuing economic policies which will also bring us a greater degree of social justice and social inclusion and greater participation by everyone in our society with people contributing to their greatest potential. A vision is outlined within the social partnership context of an internationally competitive economy which seeks to promote social justice, increase participation and deal with the historic infrastructural deficits that can be addressed in the window of opportunity which presents itself before higher social costs, particularly in the areas of pensions and health, will perhaps deny us the opportunity to move forward.
As a percentage of GNP, we have set out an annual capital investment programme of approximately 5.4%. That is not a ratcheting up to the extent one saw at the beginning of the previous plan when we did not have a programme of this magnitude. With the increased capacity in the construction industry and the ability of international consortia to bid and tender for and carry out major complex jobs, particularly in the transport area, due for completion during the course of this plan, one would not expect to see the inflationary impact on the construction side which unfortunately was a feature of the early years of the last plan given that tender inflation on construction contracts has been 3% to 4% in recent years.
The Government strongly contends that we can proceed with the five priority areas identified, namely, economic infrastructure; social infrastructure; human capital; enterprise, technology and innovation; and social inclusion.
On the level of integration, the spatial strategy came out in 2002. Regional policy guidelines are now in place. As people know, there is an improvement in development planning at county and at local area planning levels. At all times, cognisance has been taken of the larger strategic framework that has informed the decisions which have now been finalised at local government level so we can proceed.
We have a gateway formula for the purpose of creating critical mass in the regions. It is undoubtedly the optimal fashion in which we can effect regional development more effectively and efficiently than has been the case in the past. We have reached a stage in our economic and social development to make that an attainable objective on the basis of the resources we are creating and the objectives which have been agreed in terms of a shared vision at social partnership level.
I thank those who contributed to the debate, some of whom have been critical. I do not accept the contention that this is a party political document. It is the result of a consultation process. I attended consultations and I spoke to people and listened to what they had to say. The social partnership process ensures we have a far wider consultative and structured process than may have been the case in the past.
The process works and is recognised for its value in terms of ensuring we get the greatest possible buy-in to the strategic objectives we have outlined and the cross-cutting objectives, for example, in regard to all-island co-operation, which was mentioned. These are important new facets of this plan which we hope can be partnered with a devolved administration in the North and the British Government because many of our strategic interests coincide. I hope that during the course of this plan, we will see a deepening of that shared approach so the logic of an island economy can complement the social and policy objectives both sides of the island share.