Tuesday, 9 June 2009
Confidence in Government: Motion
That Dáil Éireann reaffirms its confidence in the Government.
The elections have given us all an opportunity to engage directly with the people in relation to the issues of the day and the question of electing people to our local authorities, the European Parliament and two by-elections, the results of which have seen Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Lee become Members of this House. I genuinely welcome them and offer them my congratulations, and I wish them well.
I have travelled the country and, despite what Deputies might otherwise suggest, I met many people during the course of this campaign and have listened to what they had to say.
This Government is intent on ensuring it discharges its mandate as the elected Government of this country which is, as I stated, facing an unprecedented economic and financial crisis. With the authority of this House, this Administration, under my leadership, has had to make adjustments during the past 12 months. Tomorrow, the House will decide whether this Government will continue to enjoy the confidence of the House. I am confident that the outcome of this debate will be that it does enjoy that confidence.
As I stated earlier on Leaders' Questions, I find it particularly disingenuous and not very democratic for people in this House to suggest that the Government does not have valid authority. For so long as there is a majority in this House who support it, the Government has valid authority, as in the case of any other Government. We acknowledge that the policies we have had to pursue are not immediately popular. They are policies that require us to raise taxes and to make savings in expenditure. The reason we do this is the collapse in tax revenues during the past financial year with expenditure, including capital expenditure, amounting to more than €60 billion and tax revenues amounting to only €40 billion. Clearly, that is not a sustainable public finance position. A Government would be in dereliction of its duty were it not to take whatever measures are necessary to bring about a sustainable path for our public finances. We do that not because we are aligned to any particular economic ideological philosophy but because it is fundamental to the recovery of this country. The one lesson of our economic history, if we are not to repeat the 1980s experience, is not to postpone those decisions.
The Opposition has opposed the proposals we have brought forward, whether in relation to tax or expenditure, by way of the four or five major initiatives brought forward since taking office last May when it became clear after the first six months' Exchequer returns that we had to make certain adjustments. If people continue to oppose in every respect, although they suggest in principle that they agree with the overall view that we must return our public finances to order, then they are opposing the prospect of sustainability of our public finances. They are postponing and prolonging the prospect of recovery by reason of their political actions here. If, as we all accept, the seriousness of our situation is such that we must bring forward such proposals then people who do not agree with the specific proposals outlined must come forward with alternatives that make up the figures in some other way. Everyone is entitled, be it individually or by way of independent party grouping, to put their overall position and case to this House in respect of every economic debate in this House. However, while on the one hand Fine Gael is suggesting we should be spending less, the Labour Party is, on the other, suggesting that we should be spending more. At the end of the day, we have brought forward a plan. We have brought forward proposals as to how we are going to get out of this problem. This year alone, the Government, with all of the impact it has in terms of political support in the country for obvious reasons, has made an adjustment of more than €8 billion, an almost 5% correction in GNP terms in this first year of correction of our public finances. That is a greater level of adjustment than any other Government in the euro area with similar problems, or, in some the case of Spain, problems worse than ours.
I acknowledge and accept that the national indebtedness of the country will rise from a low of 20% owing to the prudent policies pursued in different times and different circumstances with record investment in education, health and social welfare rates, and quite properly so. We looked after pensioners and surpassed the €200 per week limit we set ourselves in previous Administrations. While we did all that, we also halved the national debt and brought our GNP debt ratio to 20%. That is rising now to 41% this year and will rise to 59% next year. Deputy Kenny has suggested the economy is going down the toilet in toto. He is suggesting that is a level of indebtedness that is simply out of kilter with everybody else. We will still be the third lowest-----
The Deputy is saying he did not mention the word "toilet" to me. He is coming into this House week in and week out, saying that the banks are banjaxed and everything else is banjaxed and that the whole country is going down the tubes.
What I am saying is that the indebtedness of this country will continue to be third lowest in the euro area even after next year. That is not to suggest that there is any great comfort in that. I am simply making the point that when revenues are reduced to such an extent, so dramatically and quickly, a correction and an adjustment must be made.
We have to make a correction and an adjustment. We have not only set out an €8 billion adjustment for this year which, as I have noted, is the most significant of any in the euro area in terms of percentage of GNP but next year will see a further adjustment of €4 billion. An adjustment of €4 billion will also have to be made in the following year. We have put those plans to the European Commission and they have been accepted. They have also been accepted by ECOFIN and other Finance Ministers, the Central Bank and independent domestic commentators as the best way forward.
It has also been accepted by the social partners as the way forward. Deputy Quinn clearly has something to say about that but the framework agreed at the end of January gets the agreement of social partnership on the need to make this adjustment to our public finance position as a prerequisite to economic recovery. If the Deputy has a problem with that point, he is at variance with the facts. The policies being pursued are the policies which have to be proceeded with because they are the means by which we will reduce expenditure, raise some taxation and continue to find cuts in our public capital programme, which will be less in volume terms although similar in output terms.
The country can return to growth and we are seeking to build international confidence in our approach to ensure that, as a small open economy, we can continue to borrow and trade during this unprecedented period of international turbulence. In April's supplementary budget, the Government outlined a programme for restoring stability to the public finances for the period until 2013. That has set a clear pathway to a general Government deficit of below 3% by 2013 through a combination of taxation increases and expenditure reductions over that period. We have made a significant start while outlining how we will achieve further adjustments of $4 billion in 2009 and 2010. The greater part of the adjustment will be borne by expenditure reductions and informed by the ongoing work of the special group in public service numbers and expenditure programmes. The Commission on Taxation, which is to report in July, will inform Government choices and considerations on how we redesign our tax system for a sustainable way forward in terms of revenues which match the expenditure programmes we put in place. The Government's approach has struck a careful balance between international credibility in Ireland's fiscal position and borrowing to maximise economic activity in the short-term. Our strategy has been broadly endorsed by independent commentators at home and abroad.
The issue that has dominated economic debate in recent times has been the banking system. The Government's approach to the unprecedented crisis has been structured and considered. It is clear that we have to deal with this situation as we have been dealing with it. We sought advice and counsel from qualified sources and have at all times tried to protect depositors in Irish banks, the Irish financial system and Irish taxpayers. We sought to ensure the flow of credit, which is vital to the real economy. We have acted decisively to guarantee until September 2010 the liabilities of relevant institutions in order to ensure banks could maintain their normal liquidity positions in interbank lending and debt markets. The Minister for Finance, as part of the supplementary budget, has announced his intention to bring the guarantee into line with the way guarantees have evolved throughout Europe. The vast majority of guarantee schemes introduced by other EU states covered debt instruments with longer maturity terms of up to five years. We intend to introduce a scheme for a guarantee by the Minister of eligible debt securities with a maximum maturity of five years. That scheme will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas for approval in accordance with the provisions of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008.
We have also seen the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency. In order to strengthen the funding position of Irish banks and ensure the flow of credit to the real economy, the Government is conscious of the need to address the issue of impaired assets, in particular, specific asset classes currently perceived as carrying a higher than average risk in an Irish context which generally involve lending for land and property development. Strengthening the banks' balance sheets will considerably reduce uncertainty over bad debts and, as a consequence, ensure the flow of credit on a commercial basis to the real economy.
On the major issue of creating financial stability as a prerequisite for economic growth and ensuring that our public finances are brought into balance over the period until 2013, it is interesting to note that external observers are commenting favourably on the direction of Government policy. It seems in this House, however, that no credit is to be given to the Government. If that is part of the political game playing that takes place, that is fine and we can continue to debate it in these terms. However, the fact of the matter is that the macro-economic adjustment we are undertaking has been significant in its first year, is greater than that of any other Government in Europe and will continue on the basis of the plans which have been approved by the European Commission. Devising a mechanism like NAMA as a means of restoring confidence in our banking system is a precondition to restoring real economic growth as the external environment improves. That is something the Government defends and is a reason why one should maintain confidence in this Administration. The plan is in place and we have made it clear that we will proceed with whatever decisions are necessary to achieve the targets we have set in regard to it. This is the only way we can maintain credibility externally in the policies being implemented by the Government as a means of returning to a sustainable path in the future and the only way we can bring growth back to the economy.
There has been much talk about jobs, and rightly so. Many people are losing their jobs in this economy. Thankfully, even in the present circumstances 1.8 million people are working as we speak. The unfortunate reality this year is that employment will decrease for the first time in many years in terms of total numbers employed but it is also important to say that in historic terms many more people are working now compared to five, ten or 15 years ago because of the level of economic activity we are generating even in these recessionary times. The numbers on the live register, which have unfortunately increased to 11.8% according to last Friday's figures, are clearly a matter for concern. The only way we can return jobs to our economy is by restoring growth.
The only way we can restore growth is by making sure we continue with the public finance position outlined by the Minister for Finance in the supplementary budget. During the course of this debate there will be opportunities for Members who support or are in Government or are in Opposition to discuss the real choices. Whatever the choices people may wish to promulgate, they will have to be discussed on the basis that we will continue to ensure our public position improves, as has been outlined to and agreed by those with whom we work in the euro area. Any debate outside those parameters will not be real or honest because the only statement we can make frankly to the people is that if we spend €60 billion and take in €40 billion, we have to change the dynamic. The way of changing the dynamic is through restoring growth. During the course of this evening and tomorrow, we will outline in detail the Government's plans to achieve that end in the various economic and social areas for which Ministers have responsibility. Ultimately, the confidence that can be placed in this Government will be on the basis of our preparedness to take decisions which bring short-term unpopularity but which, when we complete our mandate and growth is restored and jobs returned to the Irish economy, will cause people to look back at 2009 and 2010 and acknowledge that a Government was in place which was prepared to take decisions in the immediate term to make the adjustments which gave our economy and people the prospect of growth and jobs.
That reminds me of the round of applause received by the Minister for Finance when he introduced one of the most disastrous budgets of all time. A Government can only govern with the permission of the people and can only continue if it has their confidence. This Government of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and a scattering of Independent Deputies was rejected by almost three quarters of the people last Friday. From that perspective, the Government has no mandate or authority to continue to govern because the people have rejected it. We, as Members of the national Parliament, have a duty to listen and respond to the clear verdict of the people; that is why the motion is before the House in the first place. Motions of confidence and motions of no confidence are not everyday issues.
Almost three quarters of the Irish people, by their decision last Friday, cast a verdict of no confidence in the Taoiseach and his Government to sort out the problems of the country. It was an historic day in many ways because it broke the dominance of the Fianna Fáil Party in Irish politics for the first time in 77 years and made this party, which I have the honour to lead, the largest party in all three elections. The voters responded to a call that we have been making for quite some time. In the streets and homes of Ireland people want change; they are fed up with a Government that has neither listened nor led and which has not been able to deal with the problems that the country now faces. From that perspective, they have given a vote of confidence to the one party that has put forward a series of progressive proposals that will deal in so many ways-----
-----from the public finances to banks, job creation, health, education, justice, social equality and a range of other issues. Minister after Minister will stand up and state we have nothing to offer only negative opinions. However, they do not listen because they do not want to read and hear what are good proposals from an Opposition party. The ethos of Fianna Fáil people in Government means they are unable to bring themselves to accept a good proposal from anybody else other than from the heart of their own party.
I feel very differently from the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, and by listening to the people I know what they are talking about. In every town from Castletownbere to Donegal and Wexford and throughout the cities they have the same predisposition; they want change and by that they mean a change of Government. This is why I say today that if Members have the courage of their convictions - if they have the courage to say they have confidence that the people support them - they would put their case.
We know about you. You fell down on the floor in front of the public. You are the performing artist at public meetings. You are the person who lay at the floor at a public meeting.
Deputy Gogarty should consider what happened in his constituency and roll through the lobby if he wants tomorrow.
I find it peculiar in an amusing way to hear Minister after Minister say that this is happening internationally, that every Government is faced with the gale force international recession and that they are all suffering. The fact is that they are not-----
-----and where Governments have faced tough decisions and made them in the interests of their people with equality and fairness in mind the public have understood and rewarded them. What happened here is that the Government floundered around from disaster to disaster since Deputy Cowen took over the reins of Taoiseach. He did not listen to anybody for the past 12 months but by God the people came out in their hundreds of thousands and gave their verdict through the only weapon that they have which is the most powerful of all: the vote through the secrecy of the ballot box. He now knows the answer to the question of confidence in the Government.
They have rejected it by three quarters; almost 75% said "No" to the Government, its ability to sort out our country's problems and its continuing in office and "Yes" to change.
It is time that the people were allowed to adjudicate on plans put before them by the various parties so they can make their decision, give their authority and give a mandate to a Government that can then bring stability to dealing with our public finances and facing the political problems we have. That should be a Fine Gael Government, which would create a fairer society, bear in mind what social justice is, develop an ability to deal with waste and tackle these problems in a fair and progressive way that the people would understand, unlike the mayhem caused by Fianna Fáil.
I note that today, an economic rating agency stated it may well be that an election is needed to give a new Government some moral authority; one does not have to accept the words of those abroad - the Taoiseach never does - but it is an observation. Ministers hide behind the ESRI report and state that it said we were on the right track. They do not read the full report where it is stated clearly that if the economic policies which were followed had not been followed we would be in a far better position than we are.
It is perfectly obvious that the Government intends to chase the economy down further with higher taxes on work and investment and cuts in front line services and capital spending. This is repeating the mistakes of the 1980s; the Taoiseach knows well, as a former Minister for Finance, that no country has ever taxed its way back to prosperity and this one will not either.
In contrast, the Fine Gael Party has published a root and branch analysis of reform of the way Government does its business, the cost of governance and the way waste and extravagance, which has been the hallmark of Government spending under Fianna Fáil, can be squeezed out. This means that instead of cutting FÁS apprenticeships all those extravagant credit cards, which were in the news for so many months, would be cut. When I talk to young people, be they in the constituency of the Minister for Education and Science-----
They say to me that they are in limbo and they cannot finish their apprenticeships and ask what they are to do. One talks to people who are cash-starved in business and despite all the hype about credit flowing through from banks to business it is not happening. I can outline myriad stories, as I am quite sure every Deputy can, of people who have been in business for up to 50 years who cannot even get an overdraft of €3,000 on their facilities. Day after day and hour after hour, silently and by stealth, jobs continue to be lost. There is no faith, trust or confidence in the Government to deal with it. This means that we must deal with the way the Government is run, the cost of governance and the way our governance systems have operated. We need radical change and a radical overhaul to the way it is done. This means ending the cronyism and the acquaintanceships which went through to appointments on State boards and following through on the Bill produced by Deputy Varadkar which would lead to an input from Oireachtas committees in examining people's credentials and what they have to offer.
The Government apparently remains intent on bailing out banks through taxpayer recapitalisation and the purchase by NAMA of toxic developer loans. I have challenged the Government in the past to debate the issues in the House when Deputy Richard Bruton raised the matter of an entirely different system of dealing with toxic issues in the banks which would not expose the taxpayer to a potential €90 billion on top of the national debt but would allow for recapitalisation and for credit to flow through to business, which is the lifeblood of every economy, in the shortest possible time. What the Government is going to do is waste billions of taxpayers' money nursing along what it knows to be in many cases dodgy developer loans instead of getting credit to the hundreds of thousands of small businesses which need it.
We have to rebuild international confidence in our public finances. The Taoiseach is not going about that the right way. He is not doing it in respect of Anglo Irish Bank. I recall a telephone call from the Minister for Finance at ten minutes past seven in the morning-----
I recall a telephone call with the Minister for Finance when he said we would have to introduce a guarantee scheme for the banks. I told the Minister we would support a guarantee scheme for the banks because he will need a banking system for the lifeblood of the economy to operate.
I did not know, and apparently nobody else knew, except members of the Government, that when he came into this House to speak on the Anglo Irish Bank issue he could have informed this House that there had been a serious run on that bank before that guarantee. We now know that there was such a run. We now know that other very serious issues arose that were not discussed in this House at that time. Proceeding with the setting up of the National Asset Management Agency, on the advice of one consultant, may well expose the Irish taxpayer irretrievably to a further potential debt of €90 billion, with dubious assessments of those valuations, for which their grandchildren will still be paying, when we could do it in so many other ways.
I have to tell the Taoiseach that across Ireland, in city and in town, businesses are crucified because they cannot get cash. They are cash starved, and despite all the hype about banks indicating they are approving this and that loan, it is not happening, and the evidence is before our eyes.
People have had overdrafts reduced from €20,000 to €3,000. People looking for short extensions on credit facilities cannot get them. Local bank managers are no longer entitled to make decisions and the decisions being made higher up the line are often by people who, with respect to them, have not created a job at any time in their lives.
It appears as if this Government will continue its relationship with big utility companies, regulators and senior public servants. The work of Government has been stymied by key network infrastructures in areas like telecommunications, energy and water, which is undermining our environment and our competitiveness.
Many public servants across the country have told me they would like to see this system reformed. As a public servant I believe that public servants should be able to go home in the evening happy in the knowledge that they have done a good day's work in the interest of progressing our country, but the current system strangles the initiative of many people who have creativity and ingenuity to offer our public service. The Taoiseach has done nothing about that, and it causes serious frustration among hundreds of thousands of our public servants. I am aware of the problem we face in dealing with our public finances. That is an issue that must be faced. We must debate the various forms in which we can deal with that.
Deputy Simon Coveney produced a proposal for Fine Gael called NewERA, an €11 billion financial stimulus for the creation of 100,000 jobs. If any of the Government Ministers were to read that they would see that it is not negative. It is forward thinking and progressive.
It deals not just with putting investment into infrastructure but those infrastructure developments will be an attraction for further investment across the country, not just location specific. When I hear Ministers saying the Fine Gael Party does not have any constructive ideas to suggest, I put forward that proposal as one the Government has not even considered because it does not consider proposals that come from other parties. I have made the point that the Taoiseach is afraid to consider any form of tax breaks to make it easier for small business to survive the recession and to get people back to work. The Tánaiste should know that intimately because businesses are talking to her on a regular basis. They are strangled because the stimulus does not exist.
We have suggested reducing the top and lower VAT levels. We have suggested the abolition of PRSI for new employees. We have suggested subsidised employment in cases where employers take on young employees to get confidence back into the economy and to encourage people to start spending money. We have made those suggestions but they have all been rejected.
The Taoiseach's Government wants to continue the centralised command and control two tier system in the health area. Deputy James Reilly has put forward what is a revolutionary and radical proposal to overhaul our health system. It is not hypothetical. It is not fantasy. It works in other countries.
We are spending €16,000 million of taxpayers' money on a system that is not working. It is a two tier system that is not patient centred and has gone down the road of building private hospitals on public lands. We know from our analysis of what we can bring in each year that those savings would be better put back into the front-line services of nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists and so on, but the Taoiseach will not even consider that.
I was in Cabra one morning recently with Deputy Brian Hayes when two women approached me to say that two days previously a 92 year old woman had fallen on the street. She lay on the footpath for 45 minutes before an ambulance arrived. Medics had to strip the woman on the pavement to attend to her bruises and other injuries. That is not the kind of system over which Deputy Brian Cowen should stand. That is not the kind of system the people of the country want.
I recall the letter from Susie Long. I recall the case that was argued here when the late Pat Joe Walsh bled to death. I recall the thousands of cases that have been raised by Deputy after Deputy about our inadequate health system, and the Government has refused to even attempt to reform this system.
There is no reason it cannot work in an Irish situation for a population of 4.2 million. That is a progressive, radical, futuristic way to deal with our health system which within five years would eliminate waiting lists, provide proper primary care systems and a health system of which we could be proud.
I know Deputies McManus and Reilly will get together, as they did in the past about issues on which we do agree. The Members opposite claim the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party cannot agree on anything but we agreed on that before the last two elections-----
Arising from the catastrophe for the Government last Friday - I am being serious about this issue - we now must deal with the consequences of the last Lisbon referendum vote. I hope the Irish people will pass the Lisbon referendum whenever it is decided to hold it.
I am concerned, however, that arising from the vote of no confidence by the people last Friday that the Taoiseach now faces a serious problem in attempting to lead our country to a point where its people will vindicate that in which we believe in terms of the Lisbon referendum and pass it. I am glad Mr. Ganley took up my challenge of standing in Ireland north west. I am glad that he had the truthfulness to say he is now finished with politics and that, like the organisation he started under many different guises, he will not be playing a part in that referendum campaign. I am concerned, however, that we have not gone about this process in the way we should. It is almost six months since we met. I would like to have had a constant stream of information on the Government proposals to deal with Lisbon and the sequential dealing with many of the issues that are important for our country and its future. In terms of credibility and authority, moral and governmental, the Taoiseach faces a serious problem arising from the decision of the people last Friday.
I have spoken in this House on a number of motions of confidence and no confidence over the years. Every Deputy, including Deputy Gogarty, should consider the verdict of the people last Friday. When he walks up those steps tomorrow, he is deciding, as is every other Deputy, whether he has confidence in this Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government to lead our country out of the problems we now face?
He must decide if he saying, by his vote, that he rejects the voice of the Irish people, given in their hundreds of thousands, against the Government last Friday? Deputies who vote with the Government are saying, "I do not respect the voice of the people given through the vote". They are saying the Government is doing a good job, which I reject. I therefore call on every Deputy to consider their position when they vote tomorrow.
The Government has lost it and will not recover. It is time for it to go. Before the vote is taken tomorrow I call on the Taoiseach to use his constitutional authority to go to the park, call an election and let the people decide what programme is in their best interests and which can be delivered by a Government that cares.
One of the greatest privileges and honours in any democracy is the privilege of being elected to one's national Parliament. It is an honour every Member of the House has had, sometimes on successive occasions. It is an honour and a privilege shared today by Deputies Lee and O'Sullivan who have joined the House. Each of us as a Member of Dáil Éireann is elected to represent our constituents. It does not always mean that we must follow every trend in public opinion. There are occasions when we must take positions as legislators which are not always the popular positions. However, I believe we have a duty as Members of the House to reflect generally the will and wish of the people.
Like Deputy Kenny I have been here for a number of motions of confidence. These are proposed from time to time when a Government or its members misbehave or when there is some major political event. One thing that has always characterised any motion of confidence in my time here has been the belief, or lack of belief as the case may be, on both sides of the House that the Government enjoyed the confidence of the public and that whatever decision might be made here, if it were put to the test outside, the Government would win. That has always been the Government's principled defence. However, that defence does not apply today. The one thing we know as we debate the motion of confidence is that if the Government were to take its case to the people today, it would be defeated. The motion of confidence in Dáil Éireann comes days after the people have voted no confidence in the Government.
When the Taoiseach calls on the members of the Government parties and the independents who support the Government to vote confidence in it, he is asking them to do something which flies in the face of what the people seek. The Taoiseach stated that this is the constitutional position. It may indeed be a very literal reading of the Constitution, but I do not believe that it is in the spirit of the Constitution, which does not provide for fixed term elections of the Dáil. It provides for a dissolution which a Taoiseach may exercise from time to time and he may seek a dissolution of the Dáil in any range of circumstances. I believe this is one of the circumstances anticipated by those who framed our Constitution. Where a Government had lost the confidence of the people and where there is no longer a sufficient mandate or authority from the people for the Government to continue, then the honourable thing for the head of the Government to do in such circumstances is to resign, seek a dissolution of the Dáil and ask the people whether that Government or combination of parties should continue or be replaced.
The Taoiseach stated in his defence that the reason the people voted no confidence in the Government last Friday is because it made hard choices. That is not the case. The reason the people voted is that the Government made the wrong choices over a period and, I suggest, provided bad leadership.
Since the Taoiseach had held office he has led the defeat of the referendum on the Lisbon treaty, although he had the support of the two main Opposition parties. He introduced a blanket guarantee for the banking system last September, a bad decision which has exposed the taxpayer to continued difficulties in the years ahead. Instead of dealing fairly with the problems in the public finances, he introduced taxes and, instead of being honest with people, called them income levies. These levies hit people on lower incomes most severely. The Taoiseach targeted disadvantaged and special needs children for education cuts. He abolished grants for children at risk of leaving school early and the grants available for Traveller children. He axed special needs classes for children with learning disabilities. He took away the book grant from disadvantaged children and increased class sizes.
The Taoiseach decided not to proceed with the cervical cancer vaccine which would have cost only €16 million. He scrapped medical cards for the over 70s, only to be forced to reintroduce them for some over 70s. He introduced an increase in VAT which has decimated trade and which has caused significant problems for business. Although not yet established in legislation, he proposes to establish NAMA or an bord bail-out, instead of dealing more effectively with the banking system. He got rid of the Christmas bonus, something valued by old age pensioners. I could go on.
It is not simply that the Taoiseach made the wrong choices over the course of the past year. On every issue he acted too late. This time last year the Opposition parties told him there was an economic problem. We told him people were losing their jobs, that businesses were having difficulty getting credit from the banks and he would not listen. Yet, the Taoiseach denied that there was an economic problem. As a result and because he delayed dealing with it he made the problem worse.
The reason people have no confidence in the Taoiseach is not simply because of the decisions made in the course of the past year, or that he did not see the problems when they were staring everyone else in the face, it is because the Taoiseach and the Government got us into the hole in the first place. It was the policies pursued by the Fianna Fáil Governments, especially that presided over by the Taoiseach in his capacity as Minister for Finance at the time, which have added to the effects of the global economic downturn, from which we would have been affected in any event, and which have made the problem worse in this country. It was the way in which the Taoiseach and he predecessor in the Department of Finance, Mr. McCreevy, operated. Instead of dealing with the downturn in export activity, he blew additional air into the property bubble and created the unsustainable level of construction activity. The then Government tax incentivised it and continued to inflate the bubble instead of letting it down slowly. This is what has created and given rise to the economic difficulties in which the country finds itself today.
The Taoiseach in his defence points at us and argues that there are differences in policy between Fine Gael and the Labour Party. That is the case and we will honestly address those differences. However, the real problem is not the policy differences on the Opposition benches but that Government policy continues to change from month to month and sometimes from week to week.
As we debate the motion we must reflect the wishes of the people. While campaigning during the local elections, European elections and the bye-elections, I discovered and found very heartening a very strong sense of determination among people that we can get through the recession. There was a strong sense from business people about their difficulties, such as customers not coming through the door, the difficulties in getting credit from the banks, the way in which they would like to keep their employees, but also their determination to stay in business, survive the recession and to get to the other side. The second consideration is the concern of people right across the country not just for themselves in immediate terms, but also for their children and the future of this country. Over and over again, I heard people saying: "We don't mind paying a bit extra, provided we know where it is going and provided we know what is being done with it." They say they are not prepared to accept that they have to pay disproportionately or unfairly or that in the case of those who were the great beneficiaries of the Celtic tiger years - those who benefited from the property speculation that took place - no action is being taken to get them to make their contribution now. There is a will among people to put their shoulder to the wheel, to move the country forward and restore the economy, to recover our fortunes and to get confidence back in the country again. There is also a wish among people that the international respect, which this country, our financial institutions and our economy once had, would be restored. However, in order for that to happen, there has to be a fresh start and that begins with a change of Government. In my view, the Taoiseach is doing a great disservice to the country by insisting on staying in office in circumstances where the people of the country want him out of office and where the country needs a new Government with a fresh mandate and a fresh start.
We all understand that difficult decisions have to be made in the years ahead and there is work to be done. For example, we have to get our banks operating again and get credit moving to business. The Taoiseach's Government and my party have differing views on this and those differing views go back to the night of 30 September 2008 when he brought in the bank guarantee scheme. We regarded this as the wrong way to go. Our view was that this was providing a blanket, unconditional safety net for the banks at the expense of the taxpayer and, as time has progressed, we have been proven right. The Taoiseach was the person who came into the House that night and told us we were wrong. He told us that if the guarantee scheme was introduced it would not cost the taxpayer anything, that there would not have to be any money put into the banks. He was wrong on that point because he has ended up repeatedly having to put forward money which, frankly, the country does not have in order to recapitalise banks. This is just an endless continuation of money being put forward when the guarantee scheme is in place and the taxpayer has to bear liability for the entire banking system.
There is a better way, which is the way the Labour Party has argued and which is supported. The Taoiseach referred today to the commentators who have commented favourably on the Government's actions with regard to the economy. A total of 20 leading economists said that the approach recommended by the Labour Party is the right action with regard to the banks, which is their temporary nationalisation and the setting up of a banking commission, and the establishment of a national investment bank which would provide the funding needed for infrastructure. That is a difference between us. There is also the urgent need to get people back to work and to protect existing employment.
In my view, the most significant figure to emerge from last Friday was not the number of votes cast for whatever party or the number of transfers that elected people late at night, but that we now have more than 400,000 people out of work in this country, and that number is rising. This gives rise to two actions we need to take. First, we need to stop the haemorrhage of jobs and get credit moving again to business and restore confidence in business so that employment can be created. Second, we have to do something for the people who are losing their jobs. There has been a concentration in the entire dialogue about the economic difficulties of the country, the public finances and the billions for banks and so on, but we should instead talk about the needs of people, particularly those who have lost their jobs. This is the reason the Labour Party has been arguing for some new active labour market measures which would provide some assistance to those people. We have suggested that the opportunity of the recession should be used to provide people with the training and education they need in order to be better able to take up employment opportunities and to start businesses as the economy recovers.
The Taoiseach has taken up some of those ideas in name. I refer to our idea of an earn and learn scheme, but the Taoiseach only provided 277 places. The Labour Party suggested a graduate placement scheme which the Taoiseach nominally adopted, but only about 2,000 places are being provided. The need is much greater than that and it would be a better use of public money to have people back in education and training, gaining experience in their relevant professions, rather than idle and on the dole. Those are practical things that can be done. A third action which needs to be taken is to have a fresh look at the national development plan and to reprioritise it in a way that brings forward the projects which will generate more employment. The Labour Party has suggested that the programmes of school and hospital building and of much-needed community facilities could be accelerated, because this is an investment in our future and a way of getting people back to work in the short term. If the Government can bring money forward to recapitalise the banks, then money can be brought forward to recapitalise the country, create employment and get the economy moving again and deal with people's real needs.
We have talked about reforming the public service. There has been a lot of abuse of the public service over the past year. Some of it has been very vulgar abuse directed at public servants who do good work and are decent people who are paid modest rates. This party believes in the delivery of good public services. We believe there are certain things that are best provided by public provision, such as education and health, the public infrastructure. However, we also believe that we can get better value for money from the entire public services and this can be done by reforming the way they are being delivered and the way in which they are structured.
The Labour Party has also argued that we should learn from what happened in this country such as the culture of crony capitalism and - with respect - over which the Taoiseach's party has presided for more than a decade. We should at least learn the lessons from what has happened. I refer to what happened in the banks and to the culture of "You sit on my board and I will sit on your board and somebody else will chair somebody else's board". This is an old boys' network which operates hand in glove with each other and where people know what is moving and what is shaking and are able to take advantage of it. That day is over, and it has to go. This is the reason the Labour Party has proposed a range of reforms of corporate governance so that what has happened with our banks and to our economy over the past year or more will never happen again.
For all this to come to pass, we need political change. We have a Government that has been in office for 12 years now with people who have been used to leaving the country on autopilot, who have been used to a culture where no matter what problem arose, there was always money that could be thrown at it and there was always another board or body that could be established to deal with it. A Government of that kind is not in a position to take the kind of decisions needed to grab the country by the scruff of the neck and deal with the problems the country has to address, to provide the kind of leadership to decent people all over the country who want to make a fresh start, who have a sense of patriotism and want a better future for their children, not a return to the emigrant boat.
Deputy Kenny talked about some of the people he met during the course of the election campaign. I want to tell the Taoiseach about a man I met in a shopping centre. He told me he was a building worker and had worked on building sites all his life. He was in his mid-50s and did not believe he would work again but that was not his problem. He had educated two sons and had put them through college. They were now engineers and his problem was that they would have to face the emigrant plane, as his brothers and sisters had to do in the 1950s and 1960s. He could not understand why, when he had educated his children and made the sacrifices that enabled them to become professionals, they must now face the same economic fate that generations before them had to face. He wants a future here for his children. They want a future here. That kind of future can only come when this country recovers its confidence, when we have got through the difficult times and have recovered the respect and trust we had abroad. That can only come with a change of political leadership here. The only people who can determine that are the people of the country.
We are elected to represent the people. Each Deputy in the House has a choice to make tomorrow. Even if in our hearts we believe there is confidence among the people in this Government, we are required to do more than come into the House, observe a party whip and vote for self-preservation as I believe some Members of the Government parties will do tomorrow. Every Member of this House has a duty to reflect and respect the will and wishes of the people, which, as demonstrated last Friday in ballot papers and in repeated opinion polls, now demands that the Taoiseach's Government should stand down, make way, hold an election and let the people decide who should run our affairs for the years ahead.
The Sinn Féin Deputies will vote no confidence in the Government in the Dáil tomorrow. The people clearly have no confidence in the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and have shown that by their overwhelming rejection of both parties in last Friday's local and European elections. This is a disastrous Government and it has no mandate. It has no political authority to govern and clearly has no confidence to do so. The 400,000 unemployed people and their dependants demand that this Government should go. The many thousands of workers whose incomes have been hit by pay cuts, short-term working and unfair levies demand that the Government should go. People hit by savage cuts to public services to health and education demand that this Government should go. The coalition of corrupt politicians, property developers and bankers brought this economy to its knees and they will not and cannot lead it into recovery. They should all be turfed out.
People have not punished the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government because a global recession has hit Ireland. They have done so because they know the recession is worst in our country as a result of the disastrous policies pursued by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats for more than a decade and the disastrous decisions made by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party over the past two years. The programme for Government was negotiated by three parties, one of which, the Progressive Democrats, no longer exists although its former leader remains a key Minister. The Green Party has been reduced to three seats in local government and Fianna Fáil suffered an unprecedented loss of 89 city and county council seats.
The former leader of the Green Party engaged in the charade of saying he would resign as leader rather than go into Government with Fianna Fáil. He did resign, not in an effort to prevent or oppose such a coalition but to facilitate it and that is exactly what happened. It was downhill all the way for the Green Party after that.
This Government is totally out of touch with the people. A couple of weeks before the election the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, claimed that social welfare rates in this State are,"far more generous than those in other countries". He suggested they are a disincentive to work. The suggestion is an insult to the tens of thousands of people dependent on social welfare who are struggling from week to week. The Minister should try living on the jobseeker's allowance of €204.37 per week, or, better still, try living on the new €100 per week rate for unemployed people aged under 20 after the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government's savage cutback in the budget last April. Thousands of people are joining the dole queues every month thanks to disastrous policies of this Government but instead of coming up with a real retention and job creation strategy the Minister, Deputy Lenihan, is preparing to cut social welfare on the spurious basis that unemployed people do not want to work because social welfare payments are so generous. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are to have more hardship inflicted on them to spur them on to find jobs that clearly do not now exist.
This is a clear example of how totally discredited this Government is in its attacks on the living standards of low income families. Some 400,000 people are on the dole queues but this Government has no strategy for the retention and creation of jobs. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, has allowed jobs to bleed from this economy and has stood idly by. The case of SR Technics is the classic example.
I do not suppose the Taoiseach has heeded my advice. He is now leaving the Chamber.
The Taoiseach is all right. It is the first step.
The case of SR Technics is the classic example but is only one such. The Government allowed a viable, strategic and world-class Irish industry to be destroyed - here is another one - to be destroyed by multi-national vultures.
Mr. Quigley said, " When SR Technics saw that the Government was not prepared to back a plan that would save around 900 jobs they knew they had a free run". The saga of these job losses did not begin with the recession. This company was once part of Aer Lingus and was then privatised. The result today is the unemployment scrap heap for workers and their families.
Right-wing policies pursued by a right-wing Government ultimately killed off these jobs. In the same way, in spite of the prosperity of the Celtic tiger years the telecommunications infrastructure in this State is substandard because right-wing policies pursued by a right-wing Government led to the privatisation of Eircom. That was one of the greatest ever swindles of the public and we are all paying the price today.
The causes of the economic recession here and the reasons for the disastrous decisions of this Government are deep rooted. Policies pursued by Fianna Fáil-led Governments since 1997 have led us to where we are today. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dick Roche, claimed today on radio that nobody in political life objected to the total dependence on the construction boom and the property bubble which was so clearly responsible for the depth of the recession in this State compared to other EU states. The Minister of State's claim is completely false.
His colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, made a similar claim in April when he said, "Some did warn that the housing market was unsustainable. Plenty did not". We in Sinn Féin stand on our record in that regard. In November 2003 at the Construction Industry Federation conference, the then Minister for Finance at the time, Charlie McCreevy, actually asked for advice on housing policy from the assembled developers and property speculators. I stated at the time that the Government, in tandem with the same developers and property speculators, was directly responsible for the spiralling price of houses.
It was at the behest of the Construction Industry Federation that the Government gutted section 5 of the Planning Act 2000, which required 20% of new developments to consist of social and affordable housing. The housing policy of the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Governments was totally market driven and as a result we had massive local authority waiting lists. Even people on above average incomes could not afford a home. Between 1998 and 2003, the price of a new house in the State rose on average by 177%. In terms of policy, nothing has changed. The recent budget slashed the funding for the provision of social housing by local authorities. Clearly, the Government has learned nothing from the failures of the past decade and acknowledges no fault. That is galling and infuriates many people throughout the country.
As well as mounting an assault on low to middle income earners, the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government is imposing savage cuts on public services that will have extremely damaging long-term consequences. Our public health services, already badly affected by cuts since autumn 2007, face nothing short of disaster, but the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, tries to maintain the fiction that she is maintaining services to patients while services are being reduced or removed altogether. The Government has placed an embargo on the filling of almost all posts in the public health service. In addition, it is expected that contracts for up to 14,000 workers in the health services will not be renewed. This is a recipe for disaster in our public health services.
HSE senior management has indicated it was not consulted prior to the Government's announcement of the embargo on 26 March, but it is required nevertheless to implement the decision. The Irish Nurses Organisation and SIPTU have indicated to the HSE that it will not be possible to run the public health service in the context of the recruitment embargo as announced by Government. Communities in Clare and north Tipperary have had 24-hour accident and emergency cover removed from the hospitals in Ennis and Nenagh, placing the regional hospital in Limerick under enormous pressure. Breast cancer services have also been removed from the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, placing Beaumont Hospital under more pressure. Monaghan General Hospital is about to lose its last remaining acute hospital services. Hospital services in Cork and Kerry are to be centralised in Cork city.
Waiting lists and accident and emergency queues are as bad as ever and will worsen with the massive cuts in jobs in the public health service. Those nurses who have not been laid off now face a doubled income and health levy as well as the public services pension levy. At the same time, the Minister has given a gold-plated guarantee to hospital consultants that their €250,000 per annum contract will not be touched. This contract is for a 33-hour week in the public system and consultants can still work up to 25% of that time in private practice. Even at that, hours are not properly monitored, leaving a question over time spent in and commitment to the public health system by some consultants. They in turn tarnish the public's view of all practitioners at that level.
The Government has repeatedly claimed that one of the factors that made us an economic success story was a young, well educated workforce, but what has the Government done to education? It has cut €30 million from the school building programme. This comes on top of the education cuts already introduced, which hit the most vulnerable, such as children with special needs. The cut in the school building is pure folly, not only in terms of education but of public spending and employment. Children will continue to be taught in overcrowded and sub-standard classrooms. There are 1,400 schools on the school building waiting list. Some 100,000 additional pupils will enter primary school over the next decade, but the question remains as to where they will be accommodated.
In the past three years, the Government has spent €113 million on the rental of school prefabs. The Minister for Education and Science has projected a further spend of €48 million on prefabs for 2009. The annual average cost to the Department for each prefab is €12,500. Therefore, the cut in the school programme is bad for the public finances. It will cost far more in the long run and will guarantee rental income to companies supplying prefabs but leave schools with deteriorating and, eventually, useless and worthless units. These already exist in every constituency throughout the country. The Government should increase and frontload the school building programme as part of a job creation strategy, as proposed by Sinn Féin in our comprehensive employment retention and creation document, Getting Ireland Back to Work.
I would like to speak about the situation in the Border counties. One would have hoped that the Cabinet in recent years, which included - reflective of constituency returns - Deputies whose roots were in Border constituencies, would have demonstrated an understanding and a concentration on the needs of Border communities. However, over the past 12 months we have witnessed businesses closing every week. Lights are going out in businesses for the last time and people's hopes, expectations and years of hard work and investment are lost to themselves, their families and their communities. This story applies in all large and small towns along the Border, but there has been no move to address it.
We are all aware of the difficulties that arise when we have two currencies on the same island and of what variations in currency can do to the movement of people and the attraction to shop on either side. However, the Government has not put any thought into a solution and there has been no engagement with the Northern Assembly representatives to explore with them, prior to exploration with the British Government, the potential that could be realised for the economies North and South of the Border by the introduction of a single currency, the euro, throughout the island of Ireland.
There has been no address of the benefits that could be gained by working towards tax harmonisation. We have huge differentials currently, between a 15% VAT rate north of the Border and 21.5% south of the Border. These issues must be addressed. There is no point in saying they will not be discussed. We must engage with civic society in order to build momentum for these essential changes. They are not only essential to the Border counties, but to explore the economies of counties further south than the Border, where the exodus is also clearly in evidence over recent months. This is in the interest of everyone and is not meant to arrest movement one way or the other. This is a cycle. People north of the Border are aware that while they currently face boom times in Border towns, in counties Derry, Fermanagh, Armagh and Down and parts of County Tyrone, they knew the other side of the coin not many months ago. They know that will return. How can people invest in business in the Border counties and how can they build on such uncertain foundations? These are foundations of sand, where people have no control and no certainty for the future. It is critical that the Government demonstrates an awareness of the acute difficulties that apply to establishing and sustaining business in the Border counties. I commend these measures to the Tánaiste in an appeal to start the process of engagement. She would be surprised to find people in business north of the Border, from very different political outlooks, who are open to discussion and exploration of these matters. They know that, for all our sakes, there is no other way. This is like the elephant in the room; everyone is ignoring it. Yet, this is what must be done.
There is also the issue of the duplication of bureaucracies. This ridiculous situation reflects itself time after time. Competing agencies north and south of the Border operate on the international stage in competition for inward investment and in a raft of other areas. We must work towards the creation of a common international presentation and commendation of the rewards that await inward investors on the island of Ireland, as we have done in the tourist field. We must recognise that back-to-back delivery systems in health, education and public transport contribute to an imperfect situation in which people get poor return for their tax payments. I urge the Government to look at the potential, which is realisable where there is political will. I believe there is the political will to engage and explore among people of a wide range of political opinion north of the Border. I have not seen a willingness to explore on this side of the Border. That baffles me.
The Government is bankrupt, not only in terms of Exchequer returns but in ideas and skills. It is time for its members to pack up their bags and follow the Taoiseach out the back door.
With the permission of the House I will share my time with Deputies Mary White and Ciarán Cuffe.
I join with other Members in congratulating Deputies Maureen O'Sullivan and George Lee. I wish them well in their future political careers. I congratulate all the candidates who ran in the European and local elections. It is difficult to be a candidate because one puts oneself on the line. This was a difficult election for my party. I welcome the fact that my colleague, Mr. Danny Forde, was elected in Wexford and I welcome the Labour Party transfers. I thank you for that, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I will not do so. However, this is a little silver lining in what has been a very difficult and disappointing election. I pay tribute to the men and women of my party, people of integrity and ability, who put themselves forward and many of whom were rejected. They suffered because of a national situation and the worst recession in the history of the State and because the Government has had to take very unpopular decisions.
I can understand the palpable anger among the public. People have lost their jobs and are standing in dole queues. Others see less money in their pay packets. They find it extremely difficult to access credit from banks. It is no wonder they are angry.
On behalf of the Green Party, I ask the following question. Could the Opposition do a better job? We are faced with the prospect of a chalk and cheese coalition and an Opposition which believes one can make an omelette without cracking an egg. I have not heard the alternative vision. I have not heard Opposition Members spell out, in any detail, how they would make up the €20 billion deficit. It is a monumental task for any Government. Whichever coalition is in power - and it will be a coalition - will have to face the same difficult choices and make the same unpopular expenditure cuts. If Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in Government they would have faced the wrath of the voters. They would have had to face the same difficult choices.
What I find most difficult to accept is that when the Government comes up with good ideas they are rejected. Deputy Ó Caoláin is wrong when he says we are bankrupt of ideas. We are not. We have come up with good policy initiatives. During the course of the election campaign these ideas were rejected once again. We heard the usual litany of negativity. The Opposition managed very well to tap into that negativity, hostility and anger. It disappoints me when I see good ideas, such as the reform of local government and a directly elected mayor for Dublin, rejected.
The Opposition steals our ideas even though its members say they do not like them. We have proposed a tax on second homes. I would have thought parties on the left would see that as a good idea.
The Labour Party has come forward with a climate change Bill. I took the opportunity to read its Bill. It is utterly flawed. People in the Labour Party do not understand how the emissions trading system works. They do not understand the post-Kyoto situation. They propose a climate change Bill but reject the idea of a carbon levy. That is not joined up thinking. This is the sort of contradiction we did not get the opportunity to explore during this election.
People must surely accept radical reform of the planning system. Deputy Ó Caoláin accused the Government of creating a housing bubble. I did not create any housing bubble. One of the reasons for it was excessive over-zonings and rezonings throughout the country. I see Deputy O'Dowd nodding in agreement.
The Government's planning Bill goes to the heart of the matter. It requires development proposals, which will make vast profits for individuals, to take into account the national spatial strategy and regional planning guidelines. When Fine Gael councillors over-zoned they were not taken to task by any of their colleagues in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party. This was disgraceful and was outlined in a "Prime Time" programme. From now on, they will not be able to do that.
Castlebar has been completely over-zoned by the Fine Gael Party and Deputy Kenny did not make a single intervention to address it. On the contrary, the Fine Gael Party leader indicated he would join with councillors in any action they may take against me, as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. These are the contradictions I constantly see in Fine Gael and the Labour Party.
Our colleagues in government support the planning Bill and we make up a majority in the House. Green Party Deputies will go through the lobbies because we believe the Government is doing a good job and will continue to do so. It is as simple as that.
As far as contradictions are concerned, and there are many of them, my colleagues opposite may not be aware of a development case last week where a letter was received by a number of constituents in the Stillorgan area condemning Fine Gael policy and arguing that its slash and burn approach would create dire economic circumstances. This letter was sent by the leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Gilmore. Likewise, on radio last Sunday, Deputy Kenny rejected the idea of nationalising the banks.
Notwithstanding these contradictions, what I find most difficult to take is the notion - a narrative which has worked very successfully - that the Government is bailing out the banks and builders. The Green Party has never accepted one penny from any bank or builder unlike the Labour Party-----
What did it do in return for the money it received from the banks? As Deputies will be aware, it abolished the banking levy. We will not do anything like that. On the contrary, we will impose a levy under the NAMA legislation because that is what is required. We need to address the position in banking. We will reform the banking sector and ensure credit begins to flow. We will also create jobs and a better future for society.
Our job in government is to take tough decisions to build a new and fairer country and we will continue to do it. For two years, the current coalition has continued to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances in our economy and society. These changes have been defined by domestic economic circumstances, a downturn of unprecedented pace and increasing devastation caused around the world by climate change. This has left us facing the immense challenges of unemployment, declining living standards, financial and banking scandals and incompetence as well as significant pressures on the public finances. The Government is working hard to address these challenges and while it has made mistakes, it has shown a desire to create fairness. The Green Party has played a key role in these decisions and is proud to stand over its record of creating a green economy, protecting our environment and working towards the reform of our banking and political systems. In addition, my party has produced a major plank for reform of the planning system.
In the past two years, as I looked across the Chamber and listened to the speeches and questions of Deputies opposite, I have not seen leadership or heard anything but opportunism and contradictory rhetoric. The parties opposite have become experts in denouncing every decision and putting opportunity before country, while basking in nostalgia for their most recent period in government, more than 12 years ago. I do not know if this nostalgia is for the rainbow coalition's lack of fiscal discipline, decision to prioritise tax cuts over redistribution or its approach to hepatitis C victims, disregard for the environment or scandalous cutbacks in education at a time of increasing revenue returns. Irrespective of the reason, this nostalgia becomes more perverse by the day.
To paraphrase Deputy Charles Flanagan's words about the then Opposition, there is a contradiction between motions condemning the curtailment of public expenditure and the day-to-day reality of party spokespersons calling for further resources for health, education, social welfare, agriculture and a host of other schemes requiring higher expenditure.
Deputy Flanagan would do well to remind his colleagues of his party's current hypocrisy.
My party leader informed the House about what Deputy Gilmore thinks of the Fine Gael Party and its policies. The letter he cited continues: "Nor can change be achieved by supporting independents or other parties that lack a coherent strategy". Deputy Gilmore referred to change and coherence in the same sentence, yet three Opposition parties have never been so polarised in policy terms or more incapable of providing a coherent response to a challenge. I remain confident that on this side of the House the Government will continue to serve the best interests of the people. It will not serve vested interests but the welfare of ordinary people.
My party fared badly in the recent local and European elections and I respect the verdict of those who voted for other parties. Nevertheless, Fine Gael and the Labour Party remind me of characters in Spanish picaresque novels, those finely dressed men who sprinkle bread crumbs on their lapels and feign signs of having dined and wined with the best when we know their very appearance is a total sham. They were men of straw, fakers and chancers who put on airs and graces to fool the public. The electorate needs to know what the Opposition stands for because it is not clear to anyone in this House.
No one ever said that being in government would be easy and I am the first to admit we have had one hell of a week. From the first day of this Government, I voiced my hopes, fears and dreams about being in government. These hopes, fears and dreams remain and I ask myself every waking day whether we made the correct decision. Despite the enormous difficulties we encounter in our work, I still believe the Green Party has made, is making and will make the correct decisions in or out of government. Part of that job is listening and we have to listen more carefully to all voices.
When I joined the embryonic Green Party more than 25 years ago we had a job on our hands trying to communicate what we stood for and wanted to achieve. This job remains, even if many of the issues we stand for have entered the mainstream. There is a danger that ideas will be open to misinterpretation, particularly when others try to steal our clothes. While I welcome the Fine Gael Party's conversion to the green cause, I am somewhat concerned that in assuming the mantel it neglects the substance. The Fine Gael Party's new-found conversion to the green cause has a touch of the zeal of a reformed smoker.
The expression, "all hat and no cattle", is used in Texas. Fine Gael may talk the talk on climate change but I am not convinced it yet has substance. While I welcome Deputy Kenny's stirring words on climate change and his criticism of giant gas guzzlers better suited to a safari than the school run being used in our cities and suburbs, he seemed to actively encourage his by-election candidates to use sports utility vehicles to navigate the treacherous off-road conditions in Dublin South and Dublin Central. I would welcome his party's new-found interest in proper planning if it was not still busy rezoning half of rural County Mayo for development. Clearly, proper planning in the eyes of half of the Fine Gael Party's front bench means building anything anywhere.
I would welcome Fine Gael's interest in abolishing quangos if the party did not propose to establish the mother of all quangos, a new State industrial holding company to be known as the new economy and recovery authority or NewERA, whose purpose would be to co-ordinate, restructure and finance existing and new State companies. Its proposal would create yet another layer of bureaucracy and red tape. I am not convinced it is the right way forward. While the Fine Gael Party has good ideas, I regret it runs with the hare and hunts with the hound much too often. It cannot knock every idea of the Government, good, bad or indifferent, and then shed crocodile tears about criticism of Ireland in the international media.
I am concerned about the cohesion, whether ideological or real, between Fine Gael and the Labour Party. For example, the moment the former announced its intention to table a motion of no confidence, the Labour Party indicated it may not be the right time for such a motion. If that is a sign of co-operation in the future, it does not bode well for co-operation and putting together a carefully agreed programme. Necessity is the mother of invention, but I am not convinced the policies dovetail. I accept that the role of the Opposition is to oppose but I would look back and say when the Green Party was in Opposition we proposed far more often than we opposed. Fine Gael proposes a new State company to co-ordinate water supplies. Is that the way forward? One cannot publish proposals expressing concern about 800 quangos and then suggest we need several new State companies to overcome this issue.
Labour and Fine Gael are quite often opposite in outlook, whether it be economically or socially, and I am not convinced they can meet neatly in the middle and propose coherent policies for the good of Ireland. The Green Party has had a strong influence in Government. We have a strong track record of achievement over the past two years and as long as we continue to make solid progress on implementing green policies, it is worthwhile being in Government. I, therefore, support the motion of confidence in the Government.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Reilly.
This is an important debate. We speak really out of the fire of an election, out of the anger of the people who have been hurt grievously by this Government, and facing a winter of discontent with a Government that has no mandate and no policies and does not know where it is going.
The people are extremely angry. They showed that to Fianna Fáil, and particularly to the Greens. When the Green Party walks up those 11 steps tomorrow to vote to stay in Government with Fianna Fáil, for each of those 11 steps it should remember the councillors it does not have. You have lost your credibility. You have no local government representatives. You are now a party of just six in the Dáil. It shows just how far you have gone from your core roots.
You have become the green mulch rather than the Green Party. You are caught in the grips of a party, Fianna Fáil, which some of them have opposed in the past. Some years ago during a debate here Deputy Gormley went to the Fianna Fáil side of the House and stated that he wanted to sit there so he could see what it is like to speak from the side with the stench of corruption in building and in planning. He has had plenty of it because he is sitting over there permanently and there is no sign of you guys moving.
-----nuclear power issues and all of the green environmental issues about which you and I were both equally concerned. As Opposition spokespersons on the environment, Deputy Cuffe and I agreed on many core issues such as planning and climate change policy
Hold on a second, I want to get this exactly right. The reason those guys are sitting there with no friends is that they have sold their souls to Fianna Fáil. They have lost all credibility. All they must think about is people like me who would always vote Fine Gael, Labour and Green. I would always vote Green. This time I said, "No way, no chance," because they have no credibility. They have sold their souls to Fianna Fáil and that is why people will have nothing to do with them. That is why the Green Party has done so badly.
The only way out is for them to say to this Government that they have principles by which they stand and that for the Green Party, for the cause of the environment and the future of this country they will walk from the dark side and give the leadership that the country needs. What the people want is a new Government. They want a Government with a new mandate. They want policies on which they have signed off. They want to know what will happen.
The people we met at the doors stated that they know times are tough and that there must be change but they had not been asked for their opinion. They stated that they do not agree with the cuts and that most of all they want change. They know the hard times are here and there are tougher times to come, but they do not want the Government to continue. They want a new Government under Fine Gael-Labour to bring about the change that is needed.
The people are worried and many are unemployed. They have not been consulted. They are anxious and they are angry. They are aware that there is no mandate for what will happen. They want to give a mandate to a new Government and, unfortunately, that will not happen here today because the Greens will stick with what they have. People want hope, not despair. They want work, not dole. They want a future. They do not want depression. Above all, they want choice and change. They are not getting the choice because the Government will not go to the country and, therefore, they will not get the change they so desperately and badly want.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Deputy O'Dowd would not give them the change.
Let us face facts. Let us look at what this Government and the Greens have delivered in terms of transport policy. In the programme for Government they stated they would cut travelling times, improve safety, deliver real commuting choice, reduce congestion and protect the environment. Instead of cutting travelling times, they cut bus services. There are more than 200 fewer buses in the city of Dublin providing services to the ordinary people. The Green Government is taking buses off the streets and leaving the public with a worse public transport system than before this Government took office. Instead of offering real commuter choice, which in Green terms means public transport, the people are not getting that choice.
Not alone are they doing that, but they are driving private operators, who would provide that choice, off the streets of Dublin. Why are there 30 buses lying idle outside the city? A decent honourable company was run off the streets of Dublin because Dublin Bus competed unfairly with it. Dublin Bus abused its position in the marketplace. That is what the Department of Transport found and Deputy Gormley has done nothing about it. He sits silent and shamed by his lack of credibility and lack of delivery on his promises. Those are the facts.
Let us look at improved safety. Let us look at the number of road deaths. Too many people die on the roads. At the beginning of the year, thankfully, although sadly nevertheless, the number was 20 fewer than the previous year. The outlook was better and the policies were working. What did Fianna Fáil and the Green Party do? First, they cut back €150 million in regional and local roads which carry most of the traffic. The Minister drove the country in his Mercedes.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Where will Fine Gael get the money? Deputy O'Dowd is talking about spending, spending, spending.
-----for the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. While you tend to you vegetables, listen to this fact. There is no budget for the road safety campaign. The Government has done away with the road safety budget for a campaign to save lives. Certainly, there must be cutbacks in expenditure.
Maybe I should slow down. I have only ten minutes to get this across. Deputy Cuffe has much time before tomorrow to think about it.
The facts are that the Government has cut back on the road safety campaign. That, to me, is unacceptable. People are dying on the roads because of the Government's policy.
One issue that was promised here almost two years ago was mandatory testing at the scene of accidents. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, represents Donegal. She personally has cut back more than €7 million on the roads in County Donegal. Sadly, the number of road deaths is high everywhere, but in Donegal it is particularly high.
The key point is that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, promised two years ago that there would be mandatory testing for alcohol and drug abuse at the scene of accidents. There is no sign of the Bill, no sign of the action. This Government has abjectly failed in all respects.
It was not able to hide from the electorate last Friday and, by God, it will not hide whenever the election comes.
I am disappointed by the lack of guts and credibility of the Green Party with its self-serving green mulch. It is a waste of space.
I want to correct a number of misapprehensions about this debate. Fine Gael sought to table the motion during Private Members' time, but the Government decided to make it a Government motion, thereby moving the discussion on the Ryan report to the following two days. None the less, this is an important confidence motion on the Government. It is time that Members on the Government side listen to the people, who have spoken clearly. People have had enough of the bungling Brians and the rest of the Government. It has lost its way and, a long time ago, it lost its moral compass.
Regarding the economy's situation, 500,000 jobs will be lost by the end of the year and, according to the ESRI, another 300,000 may be lost next year. This amounts to 800,000 jobless people, a truly frightening prospect. The public finances have suffered the worst deterioration of any EU country. This year, we will borrow €20 billion. Fianna Fáil has kept Anglo Irish Bank going instead of winding it down, which was suggested by Fine Gael some time ago and by me before Christmas. It is a salient point, given the stark choices that governments must make. It is during times of crisis and difficulty that one's priorities are discovered and core values are exposed. The Government's core values have been to protect the banks to the detriment of our health, education and many other services. In every attempt, it has failed to reform the public service. It has allowed a regulator to fall asleep at the wheel, as he took no action when action was badly needed.
This side of the House has been accused of lacking any real solutions. It is the most disingenuous accusation yet. Unlike many other parties that are long on ideologies and short on solutions, we have tabled solutions for the health service, third level education fees and the creation of 100,000 jobs through the green economy, which is not the preserve of the Green Party. Many people in industry are looking at it and have tried to erect wind turbines, but they must pay extraordinary fees to connect to the grid. For example, I know of someone who is proposing to build three turbines but has had a connection fee of approximately €1.75 million indirectly intimated to them. Such fees stymy any sort of effort at building a proper reserve of green energy. I will ask direct questions of the Minister in this regard.
It is important that the Government move on something of concern to the people, namely, its approach to the economy and NAMA. Some €7.5 billion has already gone to Anglo Irish Bank, which has more or less intimated that it will be back for more and that it will let the Government know when. The taxpayers' cheque book is to remain open at the bank's behest.
Let us consider the political reality of the situation. The people spoke loudly and clearly. Mr. David Healy, adviser to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, lost his council seat. Surely alarm bells went off. If they were not ringing in the Minister's office, his hearing aid must have been switched off. Perhaps he was asleep again or he has developed selective deafness, which is dangerous when one should be listening to the people. The Minister of State, Deputy Trevor Sargent, knows that he lost his councillor in Fingal.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Thanks for the reminder. The Deputy is as magnanimous in victory as ever.
He also knows that it was his party leader's comments on people voting for excessive rezonings that were the councillor's downfall. One thousand extra houses were to be built in Rush where there is no sewerage system to facilitate them, where they are not supported by the infrastructure and where the people oppose them. The Minister got his message.
I am happy to say that Fine Gael has a new councillor in the area. The plan will be reviewed substantially downwards.
The Green Party espoused great things in terms of education and reducing class sizes, yet it has presided over the opposite.
We have spent millions of euro on maintaining empty bus corridors, but the Green Party-aided Government has reduced bus numbers further. The party discusses running with the hare and chasing with the hound. It is chasing with the hound, but a larger pack is after it, namely, the Irish people, so the Green Party had better watch out. How much time have I remaining?
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Deputy Reilly is not concerned with finance anyway.
Consider the Government's promises. In 2007, the programme for Government stated:
The recent development of a cervical cancer vaccine opens up the possibility of effectively ending cervical cancer within a few generations. We believe it should be available as a universal public health entitlement once recommended by experts.
The experts recommended it and the Minister announced it, but she changed her mind three months later. The programme also stated: "We will work towards doubling the number of consultants to appoint an extra 2,000 and bringing the total number to 4,000." Since the consultants' contract was agreed in July 2008, 183 new consultant posts have been approved, but only 48 consultants have been appointed and fewer have taken up their positions.
The Government promised that the accident and emergency problem would be solved. In March 2006, the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, said that it should have been treated as a national emergency and set up a task force to bring trolley waits to an end. In reality, as many as 300 patients continue to lie on trolleys each day. The National Health Strategy 2001 stated that, by the end of 2004, no public patient would wait longer than three months for treatment following a referral from an outpatient department. The 2002 Fianna Fáil manifesto promised to end hospital waiting lists permanently within two years through a combination of bed capacity, primary care, secondary care and targeted reform initiatives. What is the reality today? Some 17,000 patients have been waiting for treatment for longer than six months. The National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, spends more than €110 million annually but makes no progress. Over 18 months and for £36 million, the North fixed its waiting lists. We can do the same, but the Government refuses to follow suit.
In the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, a renewed commitment was made by the Government to deliver 300 primary care teams by 2008, 400 by 2009 and 500 by 2011. Years have passed without progress. We are told that 110 teams are in place, but one finds them to be virtual teams when one looks for them. Approximately ten teams are fully staffed. It is live horse, eat hay, as with so much that the Government does. It promised to make general practitioner, GP, cards available to 200,000 people, but less than half have been delivered. The total number of GP visit cardholders on 31 March 2009 was 87,277. This occurred during a time when the qualifying income threshold was just over half of the minimum wage.
The 2007 programme for Government stated that the Government would implement "plans for co-located facilities because this represents the quickest and most effective way of ensuring that public capacity is both increased and ring-fenced". The Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, announced her co-location plan on 14 July 2005. Four years on, not a single one of the 1,000 beds which were promised is available. In fact, not a single brick has been laid or a sod turned in any co-located hospital. So much for speed and efficiency.
In 2007, the programme for Government promised to develop a freely available and personalised national programme to provide for the prevention and early detection of illness for men and women, that the expert group would be established in 2007 and report by 2008. The expert group still has not been established. On mental health, it was stated the Government would invest in and fully implement the vision for change strategy and provide further additional funding to support recovery of mental health service provision. Nothing has happened.
It comes down to a strong message. I must remark on the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen. He spoke about his Government in the context of its courage in making tough decisions, words that might impress if the reality matched them, but the reality today is the decisions taken were tough on the people, particularly the vulnerable, but not tough on the Government itself or tough on reforming the clearly dysfunctional systems of education, economic regulation or our health service, to mention but three areas.
This is the Government that has displayed its courage by spending billions of taxpayers money to defend a developers' bank, while at the same time refusing to spend a few million euro on other measures, which deprived our young girls of protection against cancer, children with learning disabilities of their special classes and our terminally ill of a medical card - they must now queue for the right to die in a hospice.
Ministers have come out in unison to say they are listening to the people. They may be listening, but they are not hearing what people say. The Irish people have had enough of the sort of courage and toughness displayed by this Government. Fine Gael wants to bring a new Government to this Republic which will have at its heart transparency, accountability and fairness across all State activity-----
The disingenuous nature of contributions and proposals emanating from Opposition benches over recent months served the parties opposite well last week. I congratulate them on their ability to play politics. The wonderland schools of Deputy Kenny's economics and Deputy Gilmore's spin gave the impression that the public would not have to face painful taxation, or spending and service provision changes under an Opposition Administration. It is a privilege of being on the other side of the House.
The election is now over, but the adjusted live register figure stands at more than 400,000. It is time for the superficial positioning to stop. The constant argument that we would not start from here does not wash. If the Deputies opposite are sincere about their desire to see Ireland return to the path of economic recovery and growth, it is time for serious proposals to be placed on the table which reflect the realities of our economic situation. If not, then motions like that proposed today are merely playing to the gallery at a time when there is much serious work to be undertaken by Government and this House.
The policies being pursued by this Government are the correct policies at a time of difficult policy choices. They are clearly not policies designed for short-term political gain. They are, however, policies that, in the medium to long term, will result in Ireland's course being righted. The public will recognise this and, having been on the doorsteps like everyone else over recent weeks, I know that many already understand the situation.
However, if this Government has had any failing in recent months, it has been a failure to communicate in simple terms to the wider public the steps we are taking, their rationale and the path on which they are taking us. In that context, while I consider today's motion a distraction from the serious work required by the House, I welcome the opportunity afforded by this motion to put on the record my work, and the work of this Government, to protect and sustain jobs, to assist those in search of work or in need of training and to sharpen Ireland's job creation and entrepreneurial offering.
I also welcome the opportunity afforded by this motion to set out some of my work, and that of this Government, to support the vital SME sector, to get credit flowing to business, ensure business are paid more quickly by Government, reform the public procurement process and support the expansion of Ireland's green economy. I only regret I do not have the time to set out my work on many other areas, such as business regulation, competitiveness, the knowledge economy, workers' rights, competition and consumer law.
All of these individual actions, together with many more that fall within the remit of my Department, are ultimately aimed at job retention and creation. It is the singular goal behind my work and the work of this Government, as it is only through employment and enterprise, and the income that it generates, that we can fund so much else that this Government wants to achieve. I want entrepreneurs, businesses, employees and those seeking work to know that this is my priority. I want them to know I have listened to their concerns and have acted on them.
As a result, over past months we have had initiatives such as the enterprise stabilisation fund to help protect jobs in our exporting companies hit by current difficulties. Due diligence is under way on a scheme for export credit insurance to further assist our exporting companies. A code of conduct for business lending to SMEs has been enacted, so our SMEs know where they stand regarding the banks.
A credit supply clearing group was established to tackle the credit supply issue, establish the facts and take on the spin and myths. There is a commitment by central Government to pay its debts to business within 15 rather than 30 days. A revamp is under way of our public procurement policy to make it more SME-friendly. A Companies Law (Amendment) Act to toughen our company law regime against potential abuse was passed. New tax changes were introduced to support job creation through the development of intellectual property assets in Ireland.
An unprecedented level of training and activation measures have been put in place to assist those seeking employment. New and innovative programmes were established to keep people in jobs deemed vulnerable and to get graduates work experience. A high level group on green enterprise was established and new FÁS courses to train people for jobs in the green economy were put in place, among many other measures.
We have not been slow either to act and engage on particular problem cases, such as the loss of jobs at Dell in Limerick, where we have established the mid-west regional task force and are ready to submit our application to the European globalisation fund; at Waterford Crystal, where we worked hard to find a buyer and salvage redundancy for the workers; and at SR Technics, where we intervened to ensure that skilled expertise is not lost to Dublin. There are many other lesser-profile cases where we have also engaged to save jobs, support the resolution of problems and protect viable enterprises, but this work often, of necessity, goes unspoken of.
All of this work is being undertaken at a time of unprecedented challenges for Ireland and our economy. All in this House know that stabilisation of our public finances and resolving the problems in our banking system are key to our economic recovery. While we have complete incoherence on the Opposition benches as to how these challenges would be met by an Opposition Administration, the Government has forged ahead and taken necessary decisions.
Without decisive corrective action, our public finances, already under strain, would quickly have reached unsustainable levels. A combination of taxation increases, expenditure reductions and efficiency gains were necessary and had to be put in place. More will also have to follow. Implementing these measures will not be without pain, but in the medium to long term, these, together with cyclical improvements in the economy, will restore the public finances below the required 3% of GDP and protect the long-term viability of this economy.
Difficulties in the banking sector are also being addressed through a series of targeted responses which include a guarantee of certain liabilities, nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank, a recapitalisation programme, the proposed establishment of NAMA and improvements in the regulatory regime. Again, incoherence on the Opposition benches leaves the public without any comprehension of a likely alternative to these decisive actions taken by Government.
Contrary to popular misconception, the Government's measures are not about the shoring up profits for banks and bankers. They are about maintaining a properly functioning and well regulated banking infrastructure, without which confidence in and the credibility of this country as a place in which to invest and do business would be lost, together with tens of thousands of jobs. Opposition proposals risk the alienation of foreign direct investment and the international credit markets, ranging from the Icelandic extreme of nationalising our banking sector by the Labour Party, to the creation of a zombie banking sector and their ultimate liquidation by Fine Gael.
The goal of this Government is to get credit flowing to viable businesses again. A further initiative in this regard is my decision to establish a credit supply clearing group. It will identify patterns of events where the flow of credit to viable businesses appears to be blocked and will seek to identify credit supply solutions relating to these patterns. Representation on the group includes the key banks, business organisations and State agencies, as well as departmental officials.
The banking sector is the recipient of substantial State support not for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the wider economy. I expect the banking sector to behave responsibly and to play a constructive role in providing credit to viable businesses.
As further support to small business, I recently introduced formal arrangements to reduce the payment period by Departments to their business suppliers from 30 days to 15 days. Departments have been encouraged to give priority to processing their payments and will report on their progress in complying. The commitment will have effect in respect of all valid invoices received on or after 15 June 2009. This measure should help ease cashflow difficulties for SMEs doing business with Departments. I am also looking at what regulatory changes might be required in the area of company law to address concerns that have recently come to light in the banking sector.
On foot of recent revelations about directors' loans at Anglo Irish Bank, I asked the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, whether he considered any amendments were necessary to the Companies Acts. His proposals are captured in the Companies (Amendment) Bill, which is currently on Report Stage in the Seanad. On the director's ongoing investigation of certain activities at Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Limited, I am providing additional staff to the ODCE from my Department for this complex investigation. The director has indicated that the investigation is progressing satisfactorily and that his office is working constructively with the bank, the Financial Regulator and other relevant parties in this matter.
The new enterprise stabilisation fund is further evidence of this Government's commitment to supporting business in the current challenging environment. The fund is targeted at vulnerable international trading companies to help them survive the current global downturn by supporting their drive to reduce costs and gain sales in overseas markets and to sustain employment. Sustainable economic recovery will be driven by enterprises focused on increasing their exports of innovative products and services in global markets. Since the launch of the fund in April 2009, there have been discussions with a wide range of companies to consider whether they are interested in developing business plans and in applying for the fund. Initial feedback from companies is that enterprise stabilisation funding would enable them to continue to operate and to sustain and build their businesses and ultimately grow in a very difficult operating environment.
Companies from all sectors are seeking support with the main issues of concern, namely, the sterling exchange rate, loss of sales, funding from the banking sector, competitiveness, construction industry and energy prices. Several hundred companies have been engaging with Enterprise Ireland on the fund and 60 companies are now being intensively assisted to develop definitive project applications to the enterprise stabilisation fund with a view to releasing such funding as soon as practicable.
Due to a market failure for some companies seeking export credit insurance, I asked Forfás and Enterprise Ireland, working with my Department, to undertake an analysis of the issue. An additional factor is that two other EU member states, Luxembourg and Denmark, have recently taken steps to introduce short-term State-backed export credit insurance schemes. The Forfás research established that the difficulties in obtaining commercial export credit insurance are closely related to the wider problem of credit availability for business generally. This latter issue is being pursued as part of the review of bank lending, being undertaken as part of the banks recapitalisation programme, and the issue of trade finance is also covered by the terms of reference.
In addition, the new credit supply clearing group that I referred to earlier will identify patterns where the flow of credit to viable projects appears to be blocked, which should help to address issues around trade finance and working capital that are all part of the problem. Following the Forfás research, which assessed the extent of the problem and associated issues, we have decided to initiate an accelerated tendering process to carry out forensic due diligence on the credit insurance market in Ireland. That tendering process is already under way and the due diligence will include an in-depth examination of the client databases of the main credit insurance providers operating in Ireland and will assess the extent and nature of market failure.
The due diligence will also assess the costs and impacts of possible intervention by the State in this area. While that is a significant and necessary step in the process, it is not, of itself, a decision to introduce a scheme. On completion of due diligence, the matter will be considered further. Issues such as default risk, Exchequer exposure to costs, value for money and the impact of any such scheme on business will be part of the exercise in hand, and will inform any future Government decision on whether to introduce a State-backed top-up export credit insurance scheme.
Ireland has a significant opportunity to secure a central position in the global environmental goods and services sector and has a growing company base to realise same. The sector is expected to grow due to a number of factors including, increasing waste generation, increasing cost of waste management, legal and environmental requirements, increasing demand for raw materials, and resource depletion. We are working hard to create the right conditions for the development of a new wave of entrepreneurial activity and employment opportunity in this growth sector. Unlike the proposals from across the House, we are working with private sector entrepreneurs to achieve that. That is why I have established the high level action group on green enterprise under the chairmanship of Joe Harford. It is tasked with advising on the right mix of policy measures necessary to ensure the development of a viable and sustainable green economy in Ireland. There is huge potential for the green economy to help Ireland meet its economic and environmental challenges. The latest estimates put the size of the global environmental goods and services market at in excess of €950 billion by 2010. That is a market from which Ireland must take a significant share and we can only achieve that by working closely with those entrepreneurs at the cutting edge. We do not want to create State-run monoliths, as proposed by the party opposite, in such a vibrant sector, which would crowd out private sector ingenuity, create dead weight and displace private sector investment to other jurisdictions. What we want to achieve is a comprehensive set of initiatives and flexible policy measures and supports that are responsive to the needs of a sector that has the potential to create much employment.
One of the Government's key priorities is to respond to the challenge of the rapidly increasing unemployment levels. The Government is determined to provide those who are unemployed with the necessary support services and training to enable them get back into employment as soon as possible. By providing those individuals with the opportunities to improve their skills and competencies we are not only increasing their employability but improving the skills level of the entire labour force, which will benefit us all in the years ahead. Since the end of last year the Government has taken a variety of actions to help those who are unemployed get back to work. In recent months we have doubled the capacity in the job search support, training and work experience programmes. In particular, the capacity of the job search supports system provided by FÁS employment services and the partnership-based local employment service has been doubled to 150,000 places per year. In addition, the number of people who can be offered training places under the auspices of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has been doubled to 128,000 places. That includes a quadrupling to 92,000 places in short-training courses, which are occupation-specific and will give individuals specific skills so that they can compete for specific job vacancies.
In addition, I have launched initiatives such as the work placement programme, which aims to provide participants with six months work experience and the short-time training programme, which trains people who are on short-time working. In both cases, participants are allowed to retain their social welfare allowances while participating in those programmes. In consultation with the social partners, we are also working on proposals to promote job retention and aim to implement increased supports in this area. The Government is continuing to explore all possible initiatives and measures that will further increase employment opportunities and enhance the provision of training and education activation places. It is clear from the range of initiatives identified by the Government that we have been proactive and positive in addressing the concerns of business as it seeks to weather the current turbulence in the global economy.
Last December, in response to the much more challenging economic environment, the Government introduced A Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal, Building Ireland's Smart Economy. That document set out a clear roadmap for Ireland's move back to economic growth and prosperity, with investment focused on those areas where we can build on our existing strengths, address weaknesses and make ourselves ready to grasp the opportunities when the upturn in the global economy begins. The Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal includes measures to secure the enterprise economy and enhance competitiveness, address innovation, environment, energy and infrastructure issues, as well as the pursuit of greater efficiency and effectiveness in public services and regulation. Our past success has been built on our agility as a small open economy to trade our way to economic success. Our policies are directed at assisting enterprises to be primed to take advantage of renewed growth among our main trading partners including Britain, Europe, the United States and Asia. The World Competitiveness Yearbook 2009, ranks Ireland, out of 57 countries, first for real corporate taxes, investment incentives, foreign investor freedom and skilled labour; third for flexibility and adaptability of people and fourth for labour productivity.
Let us not forget these fundamental strengths. This Government is building on these strengths and is committed to assisting enterprise and workers navigate their way through the current global economic downturn. We are continuing to support the enterprise sector through prudent and strategically focussed investment strategies. We are committed to a central and strategic focus in support of business and in releasing the talent and potential of our people. More than €500 million of my Department's Vote this year will be invested in support for enterprise, innovation and research and development.
We continue to invest in our people to ensure that we have the skills and knowledge to support the vision set out in our Programme for Sustainable Economic Renewal. In particular, more than €1 billion of my Department's budget will be invested in a range of labour force measures to assist those who have lost their jobs. These factors and the policies being pursued by this Government are positioning us for a robust recovery when the upturn comes. Under this Government's leadership, Ireland will again become one of the most competitive and successful open economies in the world, creating many new jobs for our people.
This is the goal of this Government, a goal to which we remain robustly committed for the months and years ahead.
If this Government remains in power any longer the economy can only worsen. In a time of adversity, a Government must lead its people and this Government cannot lead its people because the people have lost confidence in them. The people have been led up the hill and dropped over the cliff and simply will not follow them again.
I heard the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, and other Ministers state that the public will not accept the harsh measures because they have not fully realised the difficult situation our economy is in. That is absolute rubbish. The public know exactly the position the country is in. They know this from their reduced weekly wage packages, the loss of pensions and savings, negative equity, lost jobs and the loss of expectations for themselves and their children. They will not accept solutions from this Government whom they believe caused the problems. The Government can come up with all the schemes it likes, they will not be accepted by the people.
The Government would have us believe that our problems are the problems being experienced the world over but, they are not. Our budget deficit and unemployment rate is twice that of Britain. Contrary to what the Tánaiste said earlier, on almost every scale that we are measured we are at the bottom when we need to be at the top and are at the top when we need to be at the bottom.
The Government would also have us believe the rest of the world is following our example in dealing with the financial crisis. That is more rubbish; it is not. This would be laughable were it not so serious. Even the rating agencies as recently as yesterday passed their verdict on Government management of the banking and public finances as they further downgrade our credit rating, making our borrowing ever more risky and expensive. Financial markets look at us if not as one of the basket case countries then certainly one of the bad boys of Europe, accumulating a huge burden of debt to be passed on to our children. Much of this debt burden is to be used to protect the loans of the bond holders and international investors who funded the property gamble. The Government would have us believe that these risk takers cannot be allowed to lose and that they must get their money no matter what; that we have a national responsibility to repay them, even though they better than most, knew exactly the level of risk they were taking on. Again, that is rubbish.
The Government would have us believe every other country is protecting such lending. This is not so. Far from it. These are not Government bonds. This is not sovereign lending. Investors knew exactly what they were doing. They were taking a gamble, pure and simple. It was a risk that they knew would be profitable for a while but could only last for a particular time. The average tax payer played no part in this; they were victims. Now, the Government is asking them to pay for the risks taken by others, people whose job it was to evaluate those risks.
The Government would also have us believe NAMA is the only solution to the banking crisis. It is not. While it is one possible solution, it is a high risk and high cost solution for which, if it works, the taxpayer will pay for years. If it does not work, the entire structure of the economy will collapse leaving us facing a multi-generational recession. While the Government continues with this type of rhetoric, the economy is haemorrhaging jobs and self confidence. Please do not tell us the rest of Europe is in awe of the Irish Government's economic management and financial innovation. That is simply not true. The remainder of the world, and in particular the European Commission, are making the best of a bad lot and handing Ireland a lifeline. However, Ireland and its people are not willing to hand this Government a lifeline. It has pulled the rug from under the aspirations and expectations of every family and they do not want another day of its leadership. If the Government looks it will see it has lost the people.
It is clear that in respect of arts, sport and tourism the Minister responsible simply does not understand that the landscape has changed utterly. The days when all that was required of him was to open hotels and hand out grants are gone and gone forever. While jobs in this sector disappear daily the Minister sees no role for himself in this area. He has no sense of responsibility to champion the sector or to ensure his colleagues in Government understand the barriers to tourism their policies are causing. What Minister seeking to attract visitors who spend €50 million per annum here would allow a tax to be imposed on them when they arrive here? What type of insanity is that? Why did this Minister allow this to happen and why when everybody in the tourism sector is saying this is madness, does he not raise his voice against it? What Minister would stand by and see air access to this country contract and contract without even expressing concern? Why does he allow visas to visit this country to be dearer here than anywhere else and allow the OPW to close our heritage sites in high season? Why does he support decisions which disadvantage our tour operators and make their costs higher than in any other European country? This Minister is not strong enough to play, or even see, a co-ordinating role in all those other areas which do not alone impinge on tourism but are fundamental to tourism policy. He has stood by and said nothing about the fact that we have no direct contact from many parts of the world from where traditionally our long haul visitors came.
Aer Lingus is now acting as a cheap airline with no code sharing. It has moved its Heathrow slot to Gatwick to service other countries. Flights that previously departed from Ireland and brought people to Ireland are now departing from and arriving at Gatwick. The same happened in Belfast. Not a word was said when Aer Lingus silently moved its slots to Gatwick. Tourism is our biggest employer, or at least was until six months ago, employing almost 300,000 people. It is a vital industry for the country and too important to languish in a Department wherein the Minister either cannot or will not ensure it is at the centre of national economic policy.
It is time to close that Department, to create a new Department of culture and sport and to move tourism to a Department where economic and commercial considerations are to the fore. However, where there is no leadership, no accountability and no dynamism, that cannot happen. It will not happen under this Government. They are so out of touch I do not expect the Fianna Fáil members of Government to even see the relevance of what we are saying today. The Green Party, whose members are not in the House to hear us and who are only two years in Government, want, understandably, to focus on the green agenda and have persuaded themselves the prize is worth the price and that nothing else matters. However, they have been fooled. They have mistaken pathetically meagre concessions from Fianna Fáil for a total policy conversion. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are asking the people to pay too high a price for too small a green gain, a gain that can and would be delivered by any Government with sense. I say to them: "Withdraw, while you still have some credibility and while there is still something to be salvaged for the people and allow a Government with a vision, ideas and energy to get us out of the mess that has been created."
I join other Members in congratulating Deputies Lee and Maureen O'Sullivan on their election to Dáil Éireann.
The Tánaiste forgot to mention in her contribution regarding our ranking in the "World Competitiveness Yearbook" that our overall position of 19th represents a fall from 12th since her appointment as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Perhaps she might interrupt her self-congratulations to explain why we have fallen so fast during her tenure.
This motion comes in the aftermath of the local and European elections. Irrespective of whether this House votes confidence in the Government, the people have sent a clear message that they lack such confidence. Never has a Government done so badly in local and European elections. This extraordinary failure is a sign from the people that they no longer have confidence in the ability of the parties opposite to govern.
For Fine Gael, these were excellent elections. For the first time since I was two years old, my party received more than 30% of the national vote. It increased its vote by more than any other party and this is the first time since its foundation that it received more first preference votes than Fianna Fáil. In a sea change in Irish politics, we now have 340 councillors, or almost as many as Fianna Fáil and Labour combined. The Labour Party did extremely well in the European elections in equalling Fianna Fáil in the number of candidates elected. Although Fine Gael lost one MEP, we increased our share of the vote and are now the only truly national party in terms of having one MEP in each of the four European Parliament constituencies.
Several of my colleagues had harsh words for the Green Party but I am sorry its Deputies are not here for my words because they are softer than might have been expected. All three of the Green Party's councillors in Fingal County Council, namely, David Healy, Robbie Kelly and Joe Corr, lost their seats. As someone who has worked with them on the council, I take no pleasure in seeing this and do not think they are to blame. Their losses in the election are related to their colleagues' participation in Government rather than their work on the ground. Unfortunately, politics is cruel.
These local elections were very different from previous ones. We are regularly told that all politics are local but in these elections all politics were national. I could not believe how few local issues were raised with me on the canvass nor how many people wanted to discuss national questions. Even in the last general election, to the extent that national issues arose they were manifestations of local issues, for example, when a school would be built. This election was very much about the economy, jobs and national questions. In that sense, the public has used the local and European elections to give a verdict on national issues.
The Government likes to put about the idea that every government in Europe took a beating at the polls, but that is not correct. In Italy, the People of Freedom Party increased its MEPS, as did the UMP, French President Sarkozy's party. Despite taking limited losses, Christian democratic parties in Germany, Holland, Belgium and Poland won their elections. The success of centre right governments across Europe in holding or increasing their seats belies the spin from Government circles that European governments in general are taking the hit.
Several speakers have referred to popular anger at the Government's decisions. People are not merely angry because of unpopular decisions. Above all, they are angry that nobody in Government has taken responsibility. Ministers are not responsible for all our economic problems but they are at least partly to blame for the fiscal and banking crises and the over reliance on the property sector. The failure of the Government, and the Taoiseach in particular, to accept any degree of personal responsibility for the mess we are in has fuelled that anger among the public. The time has come for the Taoiseach, who as Minister for Finance introduced an expansionary budget which increased borrowing and spending while decreasing taxes even though the credit crunch was already underway, to accept some responsibility.
The public is also angry because many of the decisions being taken by the Government are wrong. Its tax increases, banking strategy and undermining of competitiveness are all wrong. Further anger has erupted because of the Government's failure to communicate. The Taoiseach, and the Tánaiste to a lesser extent, do not even believe they have to explain to the public why these hard decisions have to be made. It is a case of my way or the highway and support me or I will scream. It is a big mistake to approach the public with entirely the wrong attitude. They appear almost irritated at the public for not understanding or being thankful for the cuts and taxes they imposed.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, asked whether the Opposition could do a better job. I believe we can. It is being insinuated that Fine Gael and the Labour Party will have to agree on everything in order to form a coherent Government. Fine Gael and Labour are different parties. We broadly share the same objectives even if we differ on how we should reach them. Any Government that emerges from a general election will be a coalition of parties. It certainly will not comprise the present Government coalition. If Fine Gael does well enough, we may lead a Government with the support of a smaller party. Alternatively, it might involve a coalition of Fine Gael and Labour or even Fianna Fáil and Labour. The comments made by Deputy Burton on RTE last night reveal this is on the mind of Labour Party Members. Parties will be required to put their proposals to the people and to seek their mandate. Fine Gael will be asking people to vote for our plans and not for a coalition arrangement. We have already put forward our views on the fiscal crisis and that it should be addressed by reducing Government spending by 4% annually rather than through tax increases, which this Government proposes, or borrowing, which is the Labour Party solution and which essentially means sending the bill to our children and grandchildren.
In regard to the banking crisis, we have been clear that a new bank should be established with Government capital and ECB funding and that the hit should be borne by the existing banks and the owners of subordinated debt and bondholders who have taken this risk. This would minimise the risk to the taxpayer while freeing up credit to businesses and home buyers more quickly than the alternatives. Those who advocate nationalisation only need to observe the lack of success in nationalising Anglo Irish Bank, which has not lent any money in the past six months despite already costing us €7 billion. That is certainly not the solution. NAMA will lead to the inevitable nationalisation of Allied Irish Banks and possibly Bank of Ireland.
We have put forward plans on employment, supporting businesses, competitiveness and health care. Unlike other parties, we are not committed to the HSE and its bureaucracy because we want an entirely new system for funding health care. Through NewERA, we have also made proposals on how we will fund infrastructure.
One of the major issues that will confront all of us is the Lisbon treaty. It is important that the Irish people ratify the treaty and the best chance of ensuring this is by electing a new Government. When the referendum is held in October or November, I fear it will again be voted on having regard to this Government's performance. If that is the case, the referendum will be defeated. The longer this Government and Taoiseach remains in office, the fewer the chances of passing the treaty.
I support much of what the Green Party is doing in Government, including its work on sustainable development. I support some of the efforts the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is making to change the planning laws but not all of them. I support the efforts the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, is making to achieve energy independence. I recognise that there has been willingness on the part of the Green Party to take hard decisions and to be a party of Government. By and large, it also changed its position on the European Union with regard to the Lisbon treaty. However, other things could be done but are not. I believe the Green Party would like to develop such things as real local government reform and transfer power to democratically elected councillors. I believe they would like to change the way we fund politics by ending corporate and trade union fundraising for political parties, change the way we make public appointments, on which the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has taken action in the Broadcasting Bill 2008, and re-embrace our commitment to overseas development aid. I honestly believe the Green Party in Government would support these measures, which is why I ask its Members to consider their position in Government and to consider the possibility of forming a new one after a general election with a different lead party.
We face an economic challenge of enormous proportions to fix the banks and restore competitiveness; we face a budgetary and reputational crisis; we need to get the Lisbon treaty passed prior to the end of the year and we need to reform our public services. To do these we need a new Government with a new team, a new Taoiseach and a five-year mandate. This is why I oppose this motion and why I hope the general election will come sooner rather than later.
The political background to this motion is the outcome of last week's local, European and by-elections, which the Taoiseach acknowledged today produced poor results by Fianna Fáil's standards. It was an especially difficult campaign because we found ourselves in very difficult economic circumstances and the Government has had to take very tough decisions.
People are clearly angry about their changed circumstances. Everyone is paying more taxes than they were last year, many people have taken pay cuts and, worse still, thousands of jobs have been lost. The people have spoken and we will reflect on how we will address the concerns expressed during the campaigns. However, at the outset, I want to deal head-on with the Opposition's suggestion that the Government has no mandate as a result of the local and European elections and the by-elections. I do not accept that. The very suggestion is cynical and disingenuous and it shows scant regard for constitutional proprieties and the democratic traditions of this House.
All of us cherish free speech and open and transparent democracy but we should also respect the rules and systems that give us these freedoms and not seek to misuse them or misinterpret them for political gain. Under our Constitution, the Government is elected by Dáil Éireann. It is not elected by county councils or members of the European Parliament. This Government has the same mandate that every other Government had in the history of the State - the support of the majority of Deputies in Dáil Éireann.
As long as this Government maintains the support of the majority of this House - and I am confident we will when the vote on this motion takes place - we have a legitimate constitutional mandate to govern. Anyone who denies that is in conflict with provisions of Bunreacht na hÉireann is out of step, but Fine Gael and the Labour Party know that. They know the Taoiseach's mandate is precisely the same as John Bruton's was in the rainbow Government in which Deputies Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore served.
No one can deny the Opposition their performances in last week's elections but they would do well to remember that in Britain William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard each defeated Tony Blair in local elections and announced their impending national victory. Not one of them went so far as to buy shoes for a visit to Buckingham Palace. In Ireland, governments of all types have suffered defeat in local elections over the past 40 years. Incumbent Governments suffered bad results in local elections in 2004, 1991 and 1985 yet there was no general election as a result.
We must always remember that our duty in this House is to serve the people and their needs, not our parties and their ambitions. As an small open economy, Ireland is being hit hard by the global economic downturn and, as a society, we are finding the severe adjustment in living standards and employment prospects very difficult to accept. I acknowledge that what has been hit are not just wage packets or tax revenues; our national self-confidence has been shaken too. It is in the context of this national economic struggle that we debate this motion here this evening.
As families deal with the human toll of recession, the Government is taking decisive - though admittedly unpopular - steps to lead our nation out of severe economic difficulty. The Government is spearheading an economic response that has been unmatched in its breadth, speed and force. Our steps to tackle the worsening global financial and economic crisis have been measured and well planned. These include the €1 billion package of savings and efficiencies announced last July; the budget last October that arrested the growth in public service spending and imposed a discipline across all areas of expenditure; the series of emergency measures, including the public service pension levy in February; and the supplementary budget in April. The cumulative effect of these various rounds of expenditure measures has been an overall saving of at least €4.3 billion this year or 3% of GNP. Without these measures, the deficit would have been as high as 15% as against 10.75% of GDP. No other country in Europe has achieved this level of adjustment.
The Government has moved to protect systemically-relevant institutions and the stability of the Irish financial system while at the same time being conscious of the need to protect taxpayers. We have taken a decisive and measured approach to issues facing the financial sector. This approach included the guarantee on deposits up to next September; the recapitalisation programme for Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland and the commitment to look at the needs of other institutions; the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank; the proposal to put in place a State guarantee for the future issuance of debt securities with a maturity of up to five years; the review and reform of the structures, role and functioning of the Financial Regulator and the relationship with the Central Bank in light of the current situation; and the announcement of the decision to establish a National Asset Management Agency.
Our sole objective in all the actions we have taken is to ensure that householders can access credit for home loans and consumer spending; that small and medium-sized businesses can fund their enterprises; that deposit-holders have confidence that their money is secure and protected; and that international investors are satisfied about the stability of our banking system. As the economic situation constantly shifts across the globe, we must retain flexibility so that our response can be adapted to fit developments.
It is telling that the Government's approach has been endorsed in recent weeks by Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the eurozone Finance Ministers, who stated that Ireland is "making some very brave efforts" to address our economic challenges. Mr. Juncker and Commissioner Almunia stated the April supplementary budget was the correct approach to our economic and fiscal difficulties. The latest ESRI survey showed that Ireland is on track for a sustained economic recovery in the coming years if we stay the course the Government is taking. The International Monetary Fund has stated that Europe could turn the corner next year if we continue to take the right decisions and, in the words on one economic commentator we are moving from rescuing the economy to recovery.
Now is not the time to turn back. The Government's task is not easy and the necessity to take severe corrective action is impacting on public services and on people's take-home pay. However, there is no other way. There is no alternative to taking tough short-term decisions if we are to position this country for economic growth in the long term. We took these tough decisions mindful of the near-term political consequences but at the same time acutely conscious of our responsibilities to our country and to future generations of Irish people. If the price of short-term unpopularity is Ireland's future and our return to growth, it is a price worth paying.
In the power vacuum of Opposition politics, it would seem that such tough decisions are not necessary. For instance, Deputy Kenny and Deputy Gilmore do not operate according to the real life figures of Exchequer returns but it seems the temptation to sound out the political polemic is irresistible in that whatever our nation's economic problems, and there are many, it is more important to the Opposition to embrace the grubby partisanship of self-serving politics rather than seek to fight for the common good. If party is more important than country at this critical time for our nation, then the Opposition parties' words in this debate reduces genuine public service to a cheap commodity traded in the interest of boosting poll numbers.
The Opposition's motion has nothing to do with getting people back to work or with saving faltering businesses. It has nothing to do with closing the Exchequer deficit or inspiring public confidence but it has everything to do with courting populist plaudits with one eye on the next opinion poll rather than the next generation.
The job of the Opposition is not just to oppose. Rather, it is to oppose responsibly. This Government has a mandate that runs until 2012 and we're committed to leading this country out of the international recession.
Aside from the political instability a general election would cause, it is perhaps worth recalling what might be in store for the Irish people should Fine Gael and Labour form a coalition Government. The Irish people deserve to know how they would reconcile their differences.
Fine Gael calls for more spending cuts and a bigger reduction in the deficit than Labour. On the banks, they are fundamentally opposed, with Fine Gael rejecting Labour's call for nationalisation. Fine Gael's budget submission calls for a €500 million cut in non-contracted discretionary spending but it does not set out any specifics on that very issue. The party's finance spokesman calls for cuts in local roads funding, and when it happens it is condemned by its own transport spokesman.
Deputy Kenny tries to win headlines by saying we cannot tax our way out of recession, but apparently we can PRSI our way out of recession. His remarks are a flip-flop because his call for tax increases on the highest incomes-----
Meanwhile, Labour dodges saying where savings would be made and yet wants to spend more. From where would the tax revenue come? The party would risk putting Ireland at loggerheads with the European Commission and the European Central Bank and frighten financial markets. Labour lectures the Government on the banking system yet it opposed the bank guarantee.
The reality is that Fine Gael and Labour are trying to hoodwink the Irish people with a set of populist con-job policies that would drive the country into deeper recession. They are abusing their positions of responsibility by dodging the tough policy decisions that must be taken to get this country out of severe economic difficulties.
In times like these, Ireland does not need fair weather supporters. We need credible, realistic alternatives and politicians who will stand up and be counted. This Government is standing up for the Irish people and for the generations who will follow us.
As a Government led by the Taoiseach, we have achieved much in the past 13 months, not least in education. It might be news to Sinn Féin but we are already investing €614 million in the school building programme and €162 million in new on-campus buildings in third level institutions. In addition to dramatically improving our physical educational infrastructure, we will create almost 5,000 much-needed direct jobs in the construction sector through these projects.
Take-up is strong on my initiative to use grant aid for the purchase of temporary accommodation to instead build permanent classrooms. It is now the case also that if temporary accommodation is required for more than three years the Department will offer a school a grant to buy it rather than to rent it.
For the first time an expert group is developing a national strategy for higher education, and I have increased the income limits for student grants for the 2008-09 academic year. Last year, I announced the provision of the extra 1,500 post-leaving certificate places from September as part of the Government's response to the education and training needs of workers who face unemployment or who have lost their jobs. The extra allocation means that the total number of PLC places on offer now for the 2009-10 academic year will be almost 32,000.
Earlier today I heard Deputy Gilmore trying to smear our record on special educational needs but the reality is that this year the Government will spend more than €1 billion on special needs - almost one ninth of my entire education budget. There are now more than 19,000 staff in our schools working solely with children with special needs, including more than 10,000 special needs assistants. It is timely to remind the Opposition that when it was in power, the figure was 300. More than 8,000 resource and learning support teachers work in our schools. It is timely to remind the former rainbow coalition that there were 2,000 in 1998.
Last December, the Government published a blueprint for economic development to build Ireland's smart economy. Such an economy will support a thriving enterprise culture, ensure the highest quality standards, reward entrepreneurship and ultimately secure our energy supplies. We have implemented a number of initiatives to support this new strategic direction for the economy which will provide quality well-paid jobs to current and future generations.
Earlier this month I announced a call for proposals worth €300 million under cycle five of the programme for research in third level institutions. That was an important signal of the Government's continuing determination to lay the foundations for our future competitiveness, create and protect high level jobs in the smart economy and accelerate our recovery. Our capacity for innovation relies equally on the quality of undergraduate provision across the sciences, arts and humanities in our third level institutions.
In these more difficult economic times, we must ensure that we can protect and enhance the quality of provision and the growth in participation rates in higher education that have been so proudly achieved in the past decade. The continuing development of our higher education system will be critical in placing Ireland at the forefront of international innovation, embedding high-value jobs in the Irish economy and encouraging international investors to continue to consider Ireland as a location that offers a highly skilled, creative and flexible workforce.
The national strategy on higher education, due by the end of the year, will be important in identifying the means of achieving these objectives and when the global upturn comes, as it surely will, we will be well positioned to take full advantage because we are taking the right decisions now and invested wisely in our nation during the Celtic tiger years.
As a direct result of the policies pursued by Government in those years, we recorded budget surpluses in ten of our 11 budgets; invested 80% of our resources in health, education and welfare; more than halved our national debt; put 3,500 extra gardaí on the streets; 10,000 extra nurses and doctors in our hospitals; 7,000 more teachers in our schools; invested heavily in our schools and public transport infrastructure; cut direct taxes; protected the vulnerable with the most generous social welfare system in the world; and put money aside for the future in the pension reserve fund which is now proving invaluable in our current financial crisis.
These are just some of ways in which the dividend of a decade of economic growth was invested in communities across this country.
The fact is that no one predicted that Lehman Brothers would crash and that Northern Bank would fall.
No one can claim that Ireland, as an open and small economy, should be immune from a 13% fall in world trade or that we could have avoided the impact of the credit crunch arising from a global banking system in crisis and the changes in the exchange rates between sterling and the euro.
Greed and gross irresponsibility in some quarters of the private sector make our task today much more difficult than it ought to be but now is not the time for the backward look. The truth is that we are much better prepared to adapt to the international downturn now than we were when the last recession hit during the 1970s and 1980s.
We must not repeat past mistakes by postponing necessary decisions or embroiling ourselves in negative campaigning. Now is the time to press ahead in the common good. At this time in our nation's history we must have statesmen and stateswomen on both sides of the House take the road of post-partisanship. We must have a higher purpose that transcends narrow political self-interest and our common cause should be country, not party. Our higher purpose should be the future of Ireland and all her people not the short-term gains of political expediency. The Government will hold firmly to its decisions and will see them through. When this period of Irish history comes to be written, it is my firm belief that it will be recorded in favour of those courageous enough to do what was right by our country and at the expense of those who shirked their responsibilities as Irish citizens.
I propose to share ten minutes with Deputy Joe Costello. I add my voice of congratulations to the newly elected Deputies George Lee and Maureen O'Sullivan. I welcome them to the House and I congratulate them on their magnificent elections over the weekend.
I have spoken on several confidence motions through the years and, normally, they fall into one of two categories. The majority are probably pro forma motions because of significant or individual events. However, others are profoundly important and serious and without a shadow of a doubt this debate falls into the latter category. It is one of the most important confidence debates in which I have ever participated. The country has never needed a change of Government more than now. In the Government motion the House is asked to express its confidence in this Government. If the House, which in its English form is the House of representatives, is to truly represent the will of the people, clearly expressed, then it has no option but to defeat the Government motion. The people have spoken loud and clear, not only in opinion polls but on ballot papers. Millions of people have spoken in three different elections, those being, the local elections, the European elections and two by-elections. The people have no confidence in the Government. If we are to reflect the will of the people and to be their representatives, Theachtaí Dála, then we must use the power we have to convey the people's view tomorrow evening.
Certainly, the country is in a serious and dangerous position. A new Government with fresh ideas and an appropriate mandate is required to lead the nation forward, to give the people confidence, to give business and enterprise confidence and to give the country a sense of purpose and a sense of direction. Anyone - the Minister for Education and Science is not immune from this - who has asked people their view on what the Governments is doing in recent weeks will have been left in no doubt of the view of the vast majority.
The argument from some Government Deputies that we cannot afford an election is spurious and wrong. The fact is that we cannot afford not to have an election. Every month and day in which this Government is in power diminishes the capacity of the nation to recover. The scale and nature of the challenge is truly daunting. Some 400,000 people are on our unemployment list, which is increasing daily. This is truly staggering and frightful. In individual terms, there are horror stories for families throughout the country. The Government policy of drastic economic contraction can only add to the growing dole queues. One priority above all else must be paramount, that is, maintaining existing jobs and creating new ones. If this one area in not addressed then all the other fiscal policies and measures are futile. The policy of taxing to pay an ever-increasing demand for jobseekers' benefit is a downward spiral of disaster.
Labour has set out a ten point job creation plan, although I am sure the Minister has not read it. He is too busy dismissing the Opposition, but then he calls for what amounts to a hollow expression for a national unity of purpose. This is from the people who have led us into disaster after 12 years and who squandered the economy they were given in 1997. It is an affront to the people and it takes some cheek to call now for solidarity from the people who left the economy in such a good state at that time. The economy was handed over to them and they destroyed it in ten years with such wantonness.
The Labour Party has set out its policies, which may be debated on another occasion. Whatever the Government may say, the debate on this motion is not whether we have confidence in the Opposition, its policies or what we can do from these benches. It concerns whether the people and the Deputies elected by them have confidence in the Government.
The Minister for Education and Science stated that Ireland does not need fair weather friends. The Minister is confusing the country with his party. Fianna Fáil has grown so used to power that its arrogance now confuses the Fianna Fáil party with the nation. We have great confidence in our nation and we are not fair weather friends of it, but we have no confidence in the Fianna Fáil, Green Party, Progressive Democrats and Independents Government that has led us to disaster.
It has been said that this side of the House does not wish to be in Government at this time. I admit some of our supporters argue that this dreadful Government should be allowed to stew in its own juices. That is an understandable view, but it is quite wrong. As the Minister for Education and Science correctly stated, our country must come first. The country simply cannot afford to allow the Government to remain in office. The economic failure of the Government is clear for all to see. However, other areas are equally disastrous for our people.
I refer to the health services and the Government policy of colocation, which has thankfully been halted by the economic catastrophe. One positive element of the economic catastrophe is that the policy of colocation has somewhat slowed. The notion that we create a two-tier acute hospital system is scandalous and wrong. For this reason alone, the Government should be thrown out.
As the Minister for Education and Science will be aware, this morning the HSE published a report on acute services in the southern region. The same attitude is being focussed on my region in the south east. The national newspapers, including The Irish Independent and The Irish Examiner, have published extracts from a leaked report that would attack the acute services throughout my region and reduce my general hospital in Wexford, which caters for the largest population base in the south east, to a minor medical centre. All these issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency, but they can only be addressed with fresh thinking, new ideas and the vigour of a fresh mandate from a new Government.
I refer to the Green Party and I was in the House when the Green Party Deputy spoke. I have some regard for Green Party policies and the individuals within the Green Party. However, their contribution to the debate tonight reminds me of nothing more than "Comical Ali". As the tanks were rolling through the streets of Baghdad, "Comical Ali" with the tanks in sight was still pretending that nothing was wrong and that all would be well on the night. Their contribution in normal circumstances might have been amusing, but the Green Party's propping up of this Government is no longer funny. We will have economic debates and we will have policy debates but tonight's debate is a simple matter. The people of Ireland have spoken. No amount of obfuscation or explanation will deny that fundamental fact and it is a requirement on each of the 166 Deputies elected to this House to act on the views of the people and dismiss this Government.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, for sharing his time.
This is a very timely and important motion coming as it does immediately following the people having spoken in the European elections and in local elections. These were very extensive elections involving every constituency. In every constituency except Laois-Offaly, the message has been the same; Fianna Fáil has been rejected and the Greens have been decimated. Fianna Fáil now has only three MEPs, one quarter of the total number of 12. The party has only 218 out of 883 local authority seats and this is less than one quarter of the total number of available seats. It has no MEP in Dublin and the Green Party, God help it, has lost all its local authority seats in Dublin, retains only three local authority seats in the entire country and it has no MEP. Deputy Michael Lowry in Tipperary with four county council seats and three urban council seats is now a much bigger political entity than the Green Party.
Deputy Howlin and I listened to Deputy Gormley as he directed some snide remarks at the Labour Party. He should get his facts right. He referred to the Labour Party having abolished a levy in some budget but the statistics show that the only levy abolished was in 2005 and it was abolished by the person with whom he is in coalition, the current Taoiseach, who was the Minister for Finance and who abolished the bank levy. This was a modest proposal at the time which took €103 million in the previous year from the banks because of their significant profits of €4 billion a year at that time. Now the banks are making no profits and there is very little to take off them while in fact the Government is now distributing largesse to them. I remind the House that in the 2005 budget, Deputy Brian Cowen abolished the bank levy. If Deputy Gormley has other information, I invite him to come to the House and give it out.
The electoral turn-out in last week's election was 57.7%, a statistic that is not to be sneezed at as it is not a minimal turn-out. It was a substantial turn-out as elections go. It is clear the people have agreed a motion of no confidence in the coalition Government of the Greens and Fianna Fáil which now has the support of only one quarter of the electorate and has no mandate to govern. It is as simple as that. Every constituency voted against this Government and rejected it. In the two by-elections, the people rejected the Government parties. Fianna Fáil came third in Dublin South and a mere fifth in Dublin Central. The brother of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern who had been Taoiseach up to 12 months' ago and had served in that office for eleven successive years, was destroyed in that election in Dublin Central, losing both the by-election and his council seat. We are all people who operate in the field of public representation and therefore have a certain collegiality and I sympathise with the human and family tragedy created by such a downfall. However, this was a political dynasty which was the strongest in the country and it is now crumbling and falling apart. It was a sad day for Maurice Ahern but it has been a traumatic day for Fianna Fáil in its political heartland. It is disingenuous of any Government Minister to argue that these were not the real elections and to say as the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Hanafin, said on Sunday night, that a general election would produce what she termed, a different result. For the first time in my 20 years in politics, the local elections were not fought on local issues but on national issues. This election was fought on taxation, levies, corruption, cronyism, education cuts, job losses and the demise of small businesses and these were all the order of the day, not to mention the Christmas bonus. The Minister, Deputy Hanafin, is right; the result would be different but it would be a far worse result for this dysfunctional Government if a general election were to be called now. This is a clear case of the two beaten parties hanging together - as can be seen from their contributions today - rather than hanging separately. This is a case of personal survival or rather the personal interest being at stake. The reference to the public interest and tough decisions is mere lip service. If one makes tough decisions they must be the right decisions and they are not being made.
The reason for the collapse in support for the Government is quite simple; the Government failed dismally to confront the present economic crisis in any meaningful way. It has become obsessed with bailing out the banking system; it has failed to protect small and medium enterprises by ensuring a regular cash flow and has therefore caused a continuing haemorrhage of jobs which has had a traumatic effect on family life and on the fabric of Irish communities and it has undermined people's jobs and careers.
I refer to the Small Firms Association, ISME, which for the past nine or ten months has been shouting from the rooftops that the Government has been sitting on its hands. ISME members employ 800,000 people, a total of 50% of the entire private sector workforce yet they cannot get credit or a cash flow. They cannot keep people in jobs even though they want to. These are the companies which are haemorrhaging jobs because the Government is failing to put the pressure on the banks to lend the money. The most recent survey last month shows that the majority of small and medium enterprises who have been ten years with a bank are not getting a cash flow. The Government is guaranteeing the banks and recapitalising them and giving them the support of the €90 billion NAMA overhang debt bail-out but yet it cannot crack the whip and demand that they lend to those companies that need to employ people to keep exports and production moving. The Government should tell the banks to go to Europe where money is available at a low rate of interest and to bring that money back into the Irish economy to be distributed. The European Investment Bank is dying to lend the money to us and yet the Government will not take action.
As the Labour Party spokesperson for European affairs, I have a particular concern about the prospect of the Government leading this country into the forthcoming referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The same Government's mismanagement of the previous referendum last year was directly responsible for the failure to present a coherent campaign and contributed significantly to the rejection by the electorate of the treaty. Deputy Martin is now the Minister for Foreign Affairs, although he was not at the time of the last referendum, and he understands the importance of this issue. There is real danger that a second referendum presented by this same dysfunctional Government will be rejected because the people simply find this Government more and more untrustworthy. A second rejection of the Lisbon treaty could have calamitous effects for the economy, for funding and finance from Europe, for foreign direct investment and for Irish exports. These would be dealt a huge blow and with knock-on effects on our economy which is one of the most fragile economies not only in Europe but in the world and which is already virtually on its knees. There is no way this Government could survive a second rejection of the Lisbon treaty in October.
I issue a warning that a furious, angry Irish electorate would take advantage of the opportunity presented by a second referendum to kick the Government again just as it did last week and vote accordingly. This would be understandable in the present circumstances but it would be disastrous for the country and it could happen. For Ireland's future in Europe, for its economic future and for the good of the people, the Government should go to the country now. It should let a new Government with a fresh mandate lead the country in the second campaign to have the Lisbon treaty ratified and lead the country into the future.
That is the honourable action for the Government to take now. I ask this of the Minister, who understands perhaps better than most what this entails and what a destructive thing it would be if we were to have a second rejection of the Lisbon treaty. The Government should do the honourable thing in the national interest.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and thank the Fine Gael party for the manner in which it tabled the motion and approached the debate. If there is one thing that party has made absolutely clear it is that it sees this primarily as an opportunity for political grandstanding and not about the future governing of our country.
Last night the deputy leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party confirmed on national television that they do not believe the Government will lose the confidence of this House, either this week or any time soon. However, they have ensured that two days of our proceedings are being dedicated to a motion they neither expect nor want to see succeed.
We are seeing in this debate another demonstration of the biggest divide in Irish politics - between those who think only of campaigning between general elections and those who believe we have a responsibility to govern between elections. Having just toured the country giving party political speeches-----
-----it is the choice of the Opposition that we should put aside more constructive business to repeat those speeches in Dáil Éireann. There is no effort to provide anything other than a rhetorical alternative, with cynical politics and ever more aggressive attacks and shallow empathy. There has been much talk from the Opposition about mandates and the will of the people. There is not even the softest constitutional principle backing up the ridiculous idea that local authority elections can confer or remove a mandate to govern. There is only a short leap from this to government by opinion poll, something that Fine Gael has believed in at least since the accession of Frank Flannery to the leadership of the party.
-----in Deputy Gilmore's remarks concerning the major change on this occasion. I ask the Deputies to cast their minds back to 1985. Does anybody remember the headline on what happened the Labour Party on Dublin City Council? Does Deputy Costello remember how many seats the Labour Party ended up with then?
The bottom line is that the Labour Party was wiped out in 1985. Did that precipitate a general election? It did not. Was there any suggestion that Fine Gael and the Labour Party should go immediately to the polls?
The party was wiped out also across the country. I checked the headline which read, "Fianna Fáil sweep back to power in local authorities. Labour wiped out in Dublin". It was a seismic shift then, in terms of what was going on.
I acknowledge there was a major recession. My point is that it was the same in 1991 and in 2004. Local elections have never been used as a catalyst for a general election, not since the foundation of the State. A great "try-on" has been going on during the recent days.
We have heard representatives of the Opposition continue their personal attacks on the Taoiseach which has been a constant presence since last year. It is true he has refused to engage in the model of constant campaigning, followed by others. He has not run quarterly poster campaigns or "Evenings with Enda", or published daily statements praising himself. What he has done is what we need from our Taoiseach at a time of the most serious recession in 70 years, namely, he has got on with doing the people's business.
-----with the people about the policies that will affect them but the hard work of finding and implementing the right policies is what matters most.
As the Taoiseach said when he spoke in this debate, nobody in this Government denies we can and do make mistakes.
Considering the scale, pace of change and complexity of the issues which must be addressed, this is inevitable. What is important is that the overall thrust of policies be what is required.
Right now, nothing matters more than restoring the foundations for growth. The fiscal measures required for this are not only tough but they are having a direct personal impact on most people.
This is the case in respect of both taxation and services. The Opposition has taken the position that it is in favour of dramatically reducing the deficit but it disagrees with the Government's actions to achieve this objective. This is a perfectly legitimate position. However, what is not legitimate is the constant refusal to offer an alternative set of actions. Yes, there have been many general statements of support for being tough but these are never followed by specific measures which add up. There are many policy soundbites but never a full alternative. This is consistent with the fact that for seven years Fine Gael has refused to publish a comprehensive alternative budget. There have been many documents published with aggregate figures but the hard decisions and a programme by programme basis have been avoided constantly.
This is how a party can announce it wants to cut the public service pay bill and then send its leader to a union conference during a general election to promise members more money and positions. This is also how we have the cynical game of Deputy Bruton posing as the champion of fiscal restraint while all around his colleagues demand extra spending.
We have been hearing speeches about the need for new Government but it would be nice if we could hear some specifics about what exactly this new Government would do. In recent weeks we have seen the Labour Party and Fine Gael try to distance themselves from each other. They have taken very different approaches to fundamental economic and fiscal issues.
I was on a programme with Deputy Ruairí Quinn recently. Deputy Lucinda Creighton was speaking on it too, describing Fine Gael as a Christian Democratic right-of-centre party. I do not know how Deputies Liz McManus or Ruairí Quinn could be comfortable about that but that is only one example of the widening divergence-----
The Labour Party and Fine Gael have been trying to distance themselves from each other in recent weeks. They have taken very different approaches to fundamental economic and fiscal issues. Now, when the issues which we must all confront have never been more serious, the very people who are loudest in demanding a change in Government will not say what change their Government would implement. We hear a great deal of general talk or new attacks but the specifics are always missing. When this debate ends, this House and the Government will continue to be faced with a long agenda of work.
The House will agree that our relationship with the European Union is of fundamental concern. Next week the Taoiseach will lead our delegation to the European Council meeting at which formal agreement will be sought for a series of measures which respond to the concerns raised by the people during last year's referendum campaign. We have taken the position that there can be no simple re-run of the defeated proposal. We sought and received agreement from our colleagues in the European Union to a substantive process of working to understand and address the people's concerns. We are in the middle of the final round of discussions and there will be a successful outcome.
With regard to the remarks made by Deputy Costello, I would tell him to stop playing games with Lisbon. We should stop playing political games with it from here on. Using this vote of confidence-----
We sought, and I believe we will have, a successful outcome to those discussions. At that point, it will be up to all parties that believe in active, positive and self-confident Irish participation at the heart of the European Union to take their case to the people. There will be a lengthy debate in the Oireachtas and we intend this to be held in a very constructive atmosphere. In addition, we intend that the public will be kept fully informed at all stages of the process. At the same time we will continue to intensify our work across Government to show the international community that Ireland remains a strong country with which and in which to do business. Together with the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance, I have been working to ensure we use every possible opportunity to promote Ireland internationally. The staff and agencies of our Departments are working together closely and the feedback is very positive. There have been many difficult areas but we have found that people are willing to listen to the details of what has happened and what has been done in response.
My Department has made strong efforts and has worked hard through our embassies and consulates to promote a positive picture of Ireland. We also attach a high value to developing Ireland's relationship with its diaspora and communities across the world. It is vital we harness that resource. As Members know, I am proceeding with a new strategy for engaging productively with the global Irish community. A key element of that is the global economic forum which will be held at Farmleigh from 18 to 20 September. The convening of the forum constitutes a major and innovative undertaking by the Department. It is a national effort of outreach to and engagement with the most successful members of our global diaspora. We will bring together for the first time the most influential members of the Irish community worldwide with a record of high achievement in business, politics, culture and sport, as well as a number of individuals with a strong business connection to Ireland.
The primary purpose of the forum will be to explore how the Irish at home and abroad and those with a strong interest in Ireland can work together and contribute to our overall efforts at economic recovery. Our discussions will also focus on the practical initiatives that will bring stronger, mutually beneficial links between Ireland and its diaspora. It will also have a broader idea-generating remit, examining ways, for example, in which Ireland can become a leader in innovation and how we can harness to our best advantage Irish culture as a global brand. We have received a very positive response to the initiative from those invited and look forward to a significant weekend for the country in September. The initiative is an illustration of the kind of work we are doing in terms of responding to the economic crisis to move the country forward towards a position of hope and recovery. Eventually, we hope to enjoy a strong position as an export oriented economy.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric of the Opposition has demonstrated it takes, and will continue to take, the worst possible interpretation of every development. However, the unprecedented measures which have been taken to tackle -----
The unprecedented measures which have been taken to tackle this unprecedented crisis are being recognised. Institutions and companies which matter to this country have seen decisive action being taken. They have seen the Government is willing to take the right choices, even if they are the toughest ones. The concern last year that the action required was simply too tough for the Government to undertake no longer exists. It is obvious we are not at the point of recovery yet, but no fair person can deny that the foundations for recovery are being put in place and there are positive signs of what will happen in the future.
Fundamentally, the people are angry and disillusioned. It is easy to try and exploit this, but the only way of addressing their concerns is to deliver action and recovery. These are politically volatile times and Fianna Fáil has taken a hit. However, it would be a huge mistake for anyone in the House to believe the situation today is the same as it will be in a few years' time. The very purpose of representative democracy is that government and legislature reflect long-term, not short-term, opinion. The declarations of impending victory and constant spinning of opinion polls are great for news cycles but have a poor record when it comes to electoral cycles.
When the people next go to the polls to elect the Members of this House and determine the make-up of a government, a major part of the debate will focus on what we all did when the crisis was at its worst. We will all have to say where we stood when the most important decisions were taken. We will have to say who took the path of empty populism and who took the path of responsible action, who focused on blame and who focused on solutions, who put party positioning first and who put the country first. The Opposition should be aware that of all forms of human emotion, election euphoria -----
The Opposition should be aware that of all forms of human emotion, electoral euphoria is often the shortest lived. There are three years left in which every Member has the duty to fulfil his or her mandate. When we all seek a new mandate, I am confident that this side of the House will be able to show the people it took the right decisions when it mattered most.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the winners of the by-elections and welcome them to the House. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan would have been a formidable candidate at any time, but the widespread sentiment and respect for Tony Gregory and her part on his team showed itself in what was an exceptional result. Deputy George Lee is our best known new Deputy in many years. Nobody could doubt his skills as a communicator and inquisitor. I wish him well in mastering the august, calm constituency politics of Dublin South Fine Gael. I look forward to working with both Deputies during the remaining years of this Dáil.
This debate is founded on a view of politics as a never-ending campaign, where every decision and word is viewed solely through the lens of electoral calculation. The Fine Gael Party has not sought to outline the details of an alternative government, but merely to provide another opportunity for its partisan speeches. These are the same speeches which were delivered on the first day of this Dáil, when Deputy Kenny announced that even though he had lost the election, he had a mandate to govern.
Our country is in the middle of an international recession of unprecedented scale in the modern economy. We have moved rapidly to deal with the unprecedented nature of that and to respond in terms of the public finances, the banking situation and in terms of developing a smart enterprise economy which will return the country to export oriented growth.
Many speakers have spoken about the past ten years. One of the great myths that has been peddled is that all of the past ten years was a waste or lost opportunity or that growth was spurned or spirited away. That is not the case. The past ten years witnessed an incredible transformation of Ireland in terms of physical, education and health infrastructure. I invite anyone to cast his or her mind back ten years to recall what any hospital, institute of technology or university campus was like then compared to now. There is no comparison in terms of the transformation that has taken place in scale expansion.
On the national debt, the Government provided 1% of GNP each year and put it away towards the pension fund, which was a prudent move. I recall the Opposition criticising that move at the time.
In the 2002 election Fine Gael and the Labour Party proposed we change the legislation so we could raid the fund. We are now being accused of having wasted and spent everything. We took 1% of GNP aside and put it away for a rainier day. Thanks be to God we did that. We also, through cash surpluses, reduced the national debt significantly over ten years. We reduced it to the low €20 billions, but now it is increasing again because of the current unprecedented economic recession.
Much was done to reduce the national debt in the mid 1990s and much was done in terms of the physical transformation of the country and the putting away of the 1% pension fund.
Many other significant initiatives were taken right across the board. I do not fall into the category of people who seems to want to obliterate everything that happened over ten years and use particular descriptive terms to describe it as wasted opportunity and so on. The country advanced significantly. We are now in the middle of a deep international recession.
The challenge now is to come forward with the right policies to take us through the present crisis. We are doing that. I am satisfied that in the long run people will look back and say that while it was a politically difficult and traumatic situation, the right economic decisions were taken in terms of the fundamentals. That is what matters.
We can and will get through to recovery. This matters far more than short term politics and will decide the mandate of the next Government.
Fine Gael threatened to put down a motion of no confidence, but the Government's motion today responded to that. Ireland needs a new Government. Despite what the Taoiseach said today, it is clear the public has lost faith and trust in the people who have been governing Ireland for nearly 12 years.
The election result was no minor mid-term protest intended to give the Government a wake-up call. It was more fundamental than that. It is dishonest of Ministers, such as Deputy Martin and others, to dismiss the result as nothing more than a mid-term go at the Government. Many government parties in countries throughout the European Union which are experiencing recession did not get the response the Government received last Friday in two by-elections and in local and European elections. We cannot continue as before with the approval of the public, as the Taoiseach proposes to do.
Government spokespeople are peddling the myth that Fianna Fáil is being punished for taking brave and correct decisions in response to recession. It should not treat the electorate like fools. The electorate are angry because they are sophisticated enough to know that the governance of the country in the past four or five years added significantly to the country's woes. The international recession has contributed to our difficulties, but the management of our economy and financial system and the Government's reliance on a property boom for revenue was utterly irresponsible. It has resulted in our floundering and trying to deal with a deficit of at least €20 billion this year. We do not have the capacity to respond as we should to recessionary times by putting in place stimulus packages and creating financial support systems that would create jobs. It is dishonest of the Government not to recognise the significant mistakes which are making life more difficult for working people and families.
It is because of that realisation that people are angry and frustrated and have lost faith in the Government's capacity to deliver recovery. The public experienced this Government in the past. People were sold a pup in the past four or five years. They were given the impression by the Taoiseach himself that the good times would last forever. They were told we could continue to borrow and spend forever and to invest in property because it would increase in value forever by 5%, 10% or 20% per year. The Government fuelled that expectation, knowing the boom could not last. That is why people are angry. The Government should not spin these facts by claiming it is taking hard and courageous decisions to bring about recovery or that decisions are being taken in the interest of country and not of party. That is not why the Government is unpopular. It is nonsense and does not wash with people.
We require a national debate on how Ireland should bring about recovery. That can be facilitated only by a general election. This would force all parties, including my own, to put their cards on the table and to outline their policies to create jobs, to reduce the deficit and to limit the risk to taxpayers from banks' bad debts. In the absence of a general election we will not have such a full debate on how Ireland should recover in the next four or five years.
The political system, like the banking and financial regulatory systems, needs to cleanse itself by getting rid of the people who are responsible for making the mistakes and replacing them with new people who will bring about recovery. I listen to Ministers rightly attack the way decisions were made in banks in the past five or six years. They criticise the Financial Regulator for failing to do his job and condemn the relationship between the regulator and the banking system. All parties make the case that we need to start afresh with new people and structures. Ministers do not apply the same rationale to politics. They think it is acceptable for the Minister for Finance to make a hash of last September's budget, requiring 42 changes before Christmas. He takes no political responsibility for that. They think it acceptable for the Government to get its projections entirely wrong, to have to bring in emergency budgets and find an extra saving of €4 billion before the end of the year. There has been no political accountability for that.
This is why people are angry. They have had enough of the hypocrisy of politics and of the Government, which applies different standards to other sectors of the economy which have made mistakes and are suffering the consequences of them. Those consequences are not suffered by politicians who have, equally, put Ireland in a perilous financial and economic state.
The Taoiseach says he intends to be courageous and to continue along the tough path he has chosen to bring about recovery. To be courageous would be to go to the country, to put his plan to the test and to force my party and others to do the same. Let the people choose how Ireland should bring about recovery. It will not be easy to do. The nation needs to make sacrifices because of the mistakes we have made in the past, combined with international recession which is also making life difficult. Irish people will accept hardship and sacrifice if they see it as part of a road to recovery. They will not put up with hardship if they do not see a plan for recovery as part of the pain process. They do not see that from the Government. They do not trust it to bring about that change.
The Government's problem is one of communication and trust, as much as of policy. Ireland is on the floor. We must begin by being honest and truthful with people, tell them how bad things are and have a contest of ideas as part of a general election where all parties would present their solutions to the banking, unemployment and deficit crises as well as the crises in the health and education systems. We must have the courage to go out and do that.
The Government was given a mandate by the people. It has a constitutional mandate to continue if it wants to. It does not have a political or moral mandate to continue. It was elected under totally different circumstances. We are in a different situation from when the Government was elected. In 2007, Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party presented election manifestoes based on figures which are now fantasy. We must be honest enough to say that. We need to start again. We need a new programme for Government. We need a Government with a new mandate based on plans of action which parties should be forced to put on the table.
That kind of renewal cannot happen in the absence of a general election. Otherwise, even if the Government does not put a step wrong between now and the end of the year, or between now and the end of the Dáil's term, it does not have sufficient political capital or trust to carry off that. That is the Government's problem. It is like a manager who has lost the dressing room. People no longer trust the Government to be able to deliver in difficult times. For this reason, it is necessary to return to the electorate for a new mandate for a new government. Even if the new Government were led by the Fianna Fáil Party, it would at least have a moral and political mandate to demand sacrifice and pain in the process of bringing about recovery.
The Fine Gael Party has ideas and people in whom members of the public will believe.
Our proposal on health care is not fantasy. A similar approach is being delivered successfully in the Netherlands and such a model can be delivered here. My party has also made proposals on job creation with the NewERA policy, on which Government members have taken a cynical position. Last night on "Questions and Answers", for instance, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, deliberately misinterpreted the proposal by arguing it would result in the creation of a new set of quangos. Are the ESB and Bord Gáis quangos? Our proposal would result in the establishment of new State companies. In response to well thought-out, costed and good policy ideas, the Fianna Fáil Party chooses to spin the truth, giving us a flavour of what we can expect from it in opposition.
The Minister has probably not read it.
Since last January, the Fine Gael Party has deliberately focused on producing new policies and ideas and has done so in the areas of job creation, job protection, health care and third level education. The Government refuses to accept this is the case. My party wants to go directly to the people to have our ideas tested because we are confident the electorate, unlike the Government, will believe in them.
It is tradition in the House for Ministers to circulate copies of their speech to members of the Opposition. When I was on that side I always brought copies of my speech into the House for circulation. We should have been provided with a copy of the speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin.
I ask that the point I raise be conveyed to Ministers.
The reason Deputies are discussing a motion of no confidence in the Government is that last Friday, when the people of Ireland spoke, only 25% of them voted for Government representatives, while 75% of the electorate across the country rejected members of Government parties at municipal, county, Dáil and European elections. For this reason, the Fine Gael Party has a responsibility to table a motion of no confidence. The House must discuss the economy and the reason the electorate rejected Fianna Fáil and the Green Party at the elections.
The current economic decline is without precedent. The Great Depression at the end of the 1920s did not compare to what is currently taking place. While I am not a pessimist, I note that all economic indicators show that Ireland will experience negative growth for a further four years. The Economist Intelligence Unit, the Economic and Social Research Institute and OECD have all suggested that negative growth in Ireland will continue for some time.
While I concur with speakers opposite that the Government is not fully to blame for the current crisis, it has contributed to it by having the highest energy costs in Europe. In addition, the costs of employment in Ireland, as opposed to wages, are among the highest in the industrialised world. Ireland's loss of competitiveness is evident in many areas. One of the last remaining manufacturing industries in County Kerry, Beru Electronics in Tralee, is considering whether to relocate to Germany where the costs of employment are much lower than in Tralee. The migration of manufacturing industries will continue because we have lost our competitive edge.
Ireland is heavily dependent on American corporations. While we all welcomed Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election, it is clear the new President's tax policies will have an effect on this country. I have spoken recently to a number of individuals who are concerned about the threat posed by his proposals.
The Government is borrowing €70 million per day to keep the country afloat. For how many years must this continue? Clearly, we will not be able to continue borrowing money at this rate in Europe, especially Germany, and the problem will need to be addressed. I concur with the Taoiseach that our economic problems must be tackled to establish a platform for future development. However, the reason we are borrowing €70 million per day is the manner in which this country was managed for a long time. The Government anticipates annual taxation revenue of €34 billion this year but has reached only 37% of its target almost halfway through the year. It is possible, therefore, that tax revenue will be below €34 billion this year and we may have to borrow more to keep the country afloat.
Our experience of the economic crisis has been significantly different from that of other countries. While Government borrowing was minimal for a considerable period, individuals borrowed substantial amounts and Irish banks borrowed large sums on international markets. Much of Government revenue was, therefore, borrowed money and not the result of sustainable development. The Taoiseach's statement that the fundamentals were right is inaccurate given the large amount of revenue based on borrowing by individuals and the banks rather than productivity gains.
I accept the point made by Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, that improvements have been made. For example, the road system is superior to what it was 15 years ago. While some improvements are evident, one must also accept that broadband penetration in County Kerry, for example, is abysmal and the county is losing out as a result. During the recent period of economic prosperity, the Government did not fund a single wastewater treatment system in County Kerry.
We received some useful statistics today. Irish households and firms owe almost €400 billion, of which mortgages account for €148 billion, company borrowing accounts for a further €168 billion and credit card debt accounts for nearly €3 billion. This accumulated debt is crippling. If the Minister were to walk from the House to Grafton Street, he would see that a large number of retail outlets have closed down. Many offices and businesses have closed on Merrion Square, a trend reflected throughout the country. Deputies who canvassed during the local elections will have noted that shops in town centres are closing down daily.
It is forecast that 500,000 people may be unemployed by the end of the year. The ESRI has also forecast that as many as 300,000 people will be made unemployed in 2010 bringing the unemployment figure to as much as 800,000 in two or three years, a frightening prospect.
The reason the Government parties performed so poorly last Friday was that people are not satisfied with their performance. The bottom line is that people do not have confidence in the Government. As tough decisions must be made, each party should set out its stall.
Parties should go to the country and ask the people for their verdict. I am convinced that whenever the Government decides to go to the country, there will be a change of Government. That is inevitable. That is why the Government is hanging in there as long as it can just to stay in power. It should give the people an opportunity, as reflected on Friday last, to express their view at this stage and that is why this motion was tabled.
I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate and vote confidence in the Government.
Let us be clear why we are here. My party had an extremely bad day recently in the local elections. Neither was it a great day in terms of the European Parliament in that we lost our seat in Dublin. I offer my commiseration to a very good friend, Eoin Ryan, who was a great MEP and I congratulate the others who were elected.
Let us be clear that we have been involved in a local election and in a European election, not in a general election. The leader of Fine Gael on Saturday last, in a rush of blood on looking at good results coming through for his party in the local elections, decided to hold a press conference at half past seven and call for a motion of confidence in the Government.
Clearly, Deputy Kenny even wrong-footed his colleagues, so-called friends or potential partners in the Labour Party by doing so. It was an ill-judged move but one I welcomed.
Earlier I listened to Deputy Coveney whose premise was that we should govern in good times but, because there are great challenges facing the country, we should cut and run. Of course the real challenge of any political party, and of any Government, is to face the obstacles, particularly the difficult ones that arise in the type of economic circumstances prevailing, not only nationally but internationally. It would be an appalling abdication of responsibility if the Government were to succumb on the basis that the two political parties opposite suddenly want an election on the basis of a good day at the office on the local elections. At the many doors I called to I, my party and the Government received much criticism. People were hurting, people were losing their jobs, people were seeing their salaries cut and were very upset. However, one of the striking features of all of the discussions in many households, even those that told me they would vote for Fine Gael, is that if a general election were called, they would not vote for an alternative because there is none.
Deputy Kenny should be aware of the thin ice and the high moral ground on which he is trying to stand in pretending, even in the House today, that somehow the country is about to rush to the saviours that he sees in the Fine Gael Party, the Labour Party and whoever else - possibly, from his point of view, Sinn Féin - who may coalesce with them because that will not happen.
We will deliver this country out of this economic recession.
We have a mandate, constitutionally achieved only two years ago, to govern this country for five years. It has been an extraordinarily difficult two years but not one of us on this side of the House is fearful of the challenge before us or the mountains that must be climbed to deliver to this country socially, economically and politically the benefits that will accrue when the tide turns, as it will inevitably, not only nationally but also internationally.
The Opposition should take great care in the way that it has been presenting so-called arguments aided and abetted by others outside the House who have delivered nothing but rhetoric and, indeed, bluster about our economic situation, and the solutions that exist. It is quite extraordinary that in all of the corrections the Government has taken since the middle of 2008, not one of them has been supported by the parties opposite. In fact, almost on a weekly basis, they come into the House with the latest ideal of what I can only determine as the sort of kindergarten economics that prevails in the Opposition. No real substantive solutions are being offered, except to say that they will do it better and the gap in resources will be bridged somehow from savings. I congratulate Deputies Lee and O'Sullivan on their election and on their arrival into the House today, but I was struck by the direct question asked recently of Deputy Lee, a celebrity economist. When asked directly where he would deal with the challenges in terms of the reduction in expenditure and tax, he stated Fine Gael will get it from savings.
I smiled to myself immediately when he stated that because I saw instantaneously a continuation of the sort of rhetoric that Fine Gael has been putting across, not only in this House but throughout the length and breadth of the country.
-----of the potential of the Opposition because not one substantive policy has been put forward for the resolution of the financial crisis that faces this country or, indeed, the banking crisis that faces this country at present.
-----but it is wrong to promote this rhetoric, this cliché that is being used by the Opposition, that somehow our approach to stabilising the financial system in this country has to do with some relationship between the politicians in Government, bankers and developers. It is simply untrue, it is a falsehood and there is no basis to it, yet it has been perpetuated on the doorsteps over the past number of weeks by both Fine Gael and Labour without them offering any solution in terms of the stabilisation of our financial system.
Economic recovery - which is about creating sustainable jobs in the future and building on the high base of the social services that we have developed - will not be possible unless we stabilise the banking system and get credit released into the markets to sustain our businesses to create jobs. Not one proposal that this Government has put forward has been supported by Fine Gael or the Labour Party.
All they have offered is a lie to the public about our efforts to stabilise the Irish banking system, with all its faults and flaws. Despite all of those who have wronged the financial system, who have, in my view, committed fraud within the financial system, that does not remove the duty upon Government to sustain a financial system in this country that can keep the economic situation flowing. When we recapitalised the banks and had to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank, we did so not as a favour to any banker or anybody involved in banking. It was about stabilising the financial system. It was about protecting all of the small depositors in this country. It was protecting major deposits in the bank.
The reality of the investment that we have put into Anglo Irish Bank, for instance, is that if we did not do so the catastrophic bill that would fall upon the taxpayer of this country would be enormous in comparison to anything that we have invested in the banking system.
If the Deputies opposite do not want to take my word for it, I take great comfort in and great confidence from what has been stated by the European Central Bank, the German Finance Minister and the French Finance Minister about the Irish Government's approach. It is time the Opposition stopped undermining our economic approach to the financial system in this country. Sending a continuously negative international message will do nothing to help us to recover economically. If Opposition Members have something to say, they should set out a policy that offers a coherent approach capable of delivering a sustainable and stable banking system so as that we can grow our way out of our economic difficulties. However, they have not done so. I would go so far as to say that some of the remarks made by Deputy Kenny and the leader of the Labour Party have almost been treasonous-----
-----in terms of the message being sent internationally. Deputies Gilmore and Kenny are constantly doing this. They have helped those abroad who would seek to undermine the economy by fostering a message that, somehow, there-----
-----is a cosy club between the Government, the development and construction industries and the banking sector. That message is grossly untrue.
I will move on to other areas. Clearly, economic, social and political cohesion are crucial ingredients in regrowing the economy. No matter what anyone says about savings, the achievement of which is important, we have a pay and pensions bill and a social welfare bill this year of €43 billion. We will have a tax revenue of approximately €32 billion or €33 billion. We are borrowing to pay wages and social welfare. If we stopped all other expenditure, we would still be left with a €10 billion hole in the finances.
There is no point in the Opposition dancing on a pinhead to avoid the reality of what must be challenged. As the Taoiseach stated in the House today, we have taken more than €8 billion out of the economy. No other European government has faced up to its responsibility like the Irish Government, a fact that has been acknowledged internationally. In the December budget, we need to face the substantial challenge of removing further expenditure from the economy because we do not have the income to match it. We will need to consider the requisite balances. It is clear that if we revert to the mistakes of the late 1970s and 1980s, we will crucify the country for another generation. The sooner we face up to taking the pain on the chin and moving on, the sooner we will recover when opportunities arise nationally and internationally. The Opposition's rhetoric seeks to ignore entirely the change in our tax revenue and expenditure bases. The sooner that it comes to realise and accept these changes and contributes something substantial to the debate inside and outside the House, the sooner we will be able to move on.
I will refer to an ironic benefit of what is occurring. In recent years, our competitiveness suffered greatly. Given the economic crisis, demand and decreasing costs, our competitiveness is improving, which is not bad. This is evident in the tourism sector, for which I am directly responsible. Where we were once going out of the market, we are now fighting hard to maintain our tourism base. We are making substantial investment in the tourism marketing fund and are holding our international market share, albeit in difficult international circumstances. We are sustaining nearly 300,000 jobs. While there have been job losses in the sector, the attrition rates witnessed in other countries are worse than our rate. Our policies, through State agencies, are clearly the right ones if we are to sustain the market. We can take heart from the fact that post 9/11 and the BSE crisis, we were the first economy to recover and return to the sort of tourism numbers. We did so in a better way than any of our European competitors.
As we look to the future, it is equally clear that we will need to take financial decisions in the next two or three years if we are to demonstrate to the public why pain must be taken now and where recovery will occur. Doing so is possible. The classical Labour and Fine Gael rhetoric has surprised me. I remember the elections of the 1970s and 1980s, but it is extraordinary that the rhetoric has not changed. As per usual, it is all about smoke and mirrors. They claim that we do not need to increase taxes, but that we can continue to spend. At the same time, the Opposition will not identify what we need to do. I would like to pose some questions.
We have employed 3,500 extra gardaí. Do Fine Gael and Labour claim that we must reduce those numbers? We have employed 10,000 extra nurses and doctors in hospitals. Are Fine Gael and Labour claiming that we must reduce their numbers?
-----we give people more than they might get elsewhere, but we are right to do so. I would like the Opposition, Fine Gael and Labour in particular, to identify from where in the resources that have been spent well and that have raised the quality of life in recent years to heights never achieved previously-----
Yes, we have stepped back from that position and lowered living standards. I must accept that fact. However, this has been done to allow the economy to grow again. One cannot sustain social services and massive investments in health, education and welfare-----
-----it has nothing to contribute to the country's development. It can take its left-wing politics back to where it got them because it has no role to play in the types of policy that I have espoused. Its policies offer nothing to Irish men, women or children in terms of the country's development.
The parties opposite purport to want to govern this country-----
They will wait three years to get it because this Government and I are imbued by the challenge lying ahead of us. When I am challenged most in my life is when I will stand up most. This is the time. To listen to Deputy Coveney suggest we were great to stay here in the good times, but should run away because there is a challenge in front of us, is utter nonsense and rubbish.
It is not what Fianna Fáil is made of and it is not what politicians that I stood for and stand for are made of. One believes in what one is doing or one does not. I believe in what we have achieved, the adjustments we made and what we will achieve over the next three years.
I will guarantee one thing. If Fine Gael thinks, based on the policies it has espoused to date - which are non-existent - that it could win a general election in this country, it is absolutely codding itself.
My contribution will change the tone of the debate. I welcome Deputies Lee and O'Sullivan to the House. Deputy Lee has very strong connections with my constituency and we are pleased to have him here.
I will tell the House why we should have a general election and a change of Government. We should have a change of Government because of the neglect of mental health services during this Government's time in office. It espouses to invest in resources for those suffering from mental illness and has failed to do so.
Three years ago, the report on mental health services, A Vision for Change, was adopted as Government policy. Yet, it has failed to put any resources into the area and has neglected it, despite the fact that one in four people will suffer from a mental illness at some stage of their lives. Tomorrow, the Joint Committee on Health and Children will launch a report on suicide. Three years ago, there was a two hour debate in the House on the 33 proposals contained in the committee's report on how to reduce suicide. Tomorrow, the committee will show that, of the 33 proposals, only seven of them have any reasonable level of implementation.
This Government will not at any stage, and has no intention of, giving anything but lip service to dealing with those who are seriously mentally ill and in need of community service because of their mental illness and those who are suicidal and self-harming - there are 11,000 who self-harm - and is totally ignoring the fact that 600 people die by suicide every year. The Government has no interest whatsoever in those issues.
It has proved that during its time in office again and again.
Last year, €3.5 billion was allocated to reducing suicide, but the Government has reduced it by 12.5% this year. That is its attitude to those who die by suicide, those who attempted suicide, those who are suicidal, the families who suffer the trauma of bereavement by suicide and the organisations who deal with them. The Minister should not shake his head. The facts are there. He does not know them because he is not interested in knowing them.
In 1984, some 12% of the total health budget was allocated to mental health services. This year, 6.7% of the total health budget will be allocated to it and the percentage has dropped each year since the Government went into office. The Government has no interest in or commitment to this area, and will continue to have none.
During this Government's time in office, we on this side of the House have repeatedly requested funding. We did not give dramatic speeches as the Minister did. I ask the Minister sincerely, for the sake of those who suffer from mental health issues, who are suicidal and those bereaved by suicide to go and let another Government deal with the matter.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. It is, beyond question, time that this Government went. Clearly, given what the Minister, Deputy Cullen said, it will not go because it is totally out of touch and afraid. The Minister referred to the need to sort out the banking problems. We all agree on this and Fine Gael supported the first proposal on banking. However, when we got some idea of the situation in Anglo Irish Bank, we raised legitimate questions. That is the job of Opposition.
Farmers now have total borrowings of €5.5 billion, an increase of €700 million from last year. Yet, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, failed to provide the grant aid farmers were promised and guaranteed when they started to work on various schemes. The Minister, Deputy Smith, failed to allow the farm waste management scheme to proceed past 31 December so farmers could have time to get their jobs done and builders would have opportunities to work.
He closed down the building trade and increased the cost to farmers. Farmers were able to get jobs done for almost half of what they would have cost, but they are not paid. If farmers had received the money instead of being paid on a 40:40:20 basis, the banks would have been re-financed.
Many farmers are still paying very high rates of interest because they did not think they would have to borrow money on a long-term basis and instead used their overdrafts. It is a critical situation. The collapse in beef prices, due to bad management, and the collapse of the dairy industry, which the Government has totally failed to deal with at European level, are crises that affect the whole farming industry. Deputy Neville referred to problems regarding mental health. The problems suffered by farmers is causing mental health issues and there have been, and will continue to be, serious consequences.
Regarding cuts in education grants, we all know cuts were needed. However, how was it that the minority community in this country, which had been looked after in a realistic way since the foundation of the State, had its grants cut? The only grants which were cut were those provided to Protestant schools. That was clear and absolute discrimination and there is no justification for it.
If one is in a fee paying school, the ratio is one teacher to 20 pupils, compared to one for 19 pupils in other schools. There are many other issues which I do not have time to go into. Schools such as the Collegiate in Monaghan, the Royal School in Cavan, Sligo Grammar School, Bandon Grammar School and others have been penalised by this measure.
There have been cuts funding for special learning, which is against the long-term interests of the children concerned. There has also been a withdrawal of support from some of the institutions which deal with children who have problems such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. I spoke to a parent today who is scared stiff and does not know where their child will go next year.
Health is the main issue as far as the people of Cavan and Monaghan are concerned. I do not know how the Government can retain the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, when she does not represent a party or anything else. She has no mandate. She is completely out of touch with reality and spins whatever she thinks is the right thing to do. She is spending more on spin doctors than on many other sectors of the health service. Home helps are being taken from people who are more than 90 years of age. When home helps are on holidays they will not be replaced. When I raised that matter in the Dáil recently I received an utterly ridiculous answer.
The situation may be funny for the Ministers who are sitting opposite but it is not funny for the people on the Border. That area has been completely devastated because of the Government's policies. We pay 21.5% VAT when it is 15% across the Border. We pay more for electricity, gas and many other items. Our costs at Government level are far higher and nothing is being done about it. The loss in revenue from the movement northwards this year is causing much of the problem. The Minister for Finance admitted that he had made a mistake in increasing VAT. Yet, when we had another budget he failed to do anything about it. I have no confidence in the Government. The people of Cavan-Monaghan have no confidence in it. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Smith, has called a third recount to try to save one seat on the county council. That is an example of the pressure he is under in that area. It is time the Government went to the country and got a proper mandate.
The Government has failed to understand why we are debating a confidence motion in it. I welcome the opportunity to have this debate. The reason we are having it is that two years ago when the Government was elected it signed a contract with the people to do X, Y and Z. It made commitments and promises and people accepted them and voted in the Government. Last Friday people voted in a totally different way. People went in their thousands to the polling stations and voted against the Government. In the heartland of Fianna Fáil in my constituency its members got elected by two votes in the last seat in five seaters. That happened last week because the people were angry and frustrated with the Government.
If democracy means anything, an election should be called and people should be given an opportunity to have their say because the contract has been broken badly. Some fine people, including members of Fianna Fáil, lost their seats across the country, not because of their hard work but because of the Government. That was the reason people in their thousands voted against Fianna Fáil last week. People no longer want this Government. In every second household to which I called between Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Cahir and other places across the constituency people were waiting for members of the Government parties because of the Government's mismanagement of the country. The Government has failed totally to accept the voice of the people.
A huge number of people are unemployed. In my constituency alone, 7,699 people are on the live register. The Government has no plan of action to get us out of the recession. It has no plan to make necessary improvements to services or to attract tourists to the country at a time when many hotels across the country are closing down. Two weeks ago I stood outside Tipperary Co-op with 300 angry farmers who are now getting only 17 cent a litre for milk when they were getting 40 cent. They were frustrated. The banks are on their backs. The Government is doing things the people do not want. If democracy means anything, and if we mean what we say about listening to the voice of the people, we must listen to the people who voted in their thousands against the Government last week. People would give the Government a chance if it admitted its failure, apologised and said it would do things differently. However, the Government is not prepared to do that and that is what is killing it.
Local authorities are strapped for cash. The roads are in disarray. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism spoke earlier about all the money that was invested in infrastructure. That will all go to waste because there is no money in any of the local authorities to do their basic work. The Government is very sure it will win the confidence motion. If it does, it should do things differently and tell the people that, because that is what they want. The Government would be reneging on the contract it made if it does not change the way it does its business.
The date of 5 June will go down in Fianna Fáil history, not just because of last Friday's elections but also because seven years earlier on that date Fine Gael chose a new leader, Deputy Enda Kenny – a man I was proud to carry out shoulder high on his by-election victory for the Fine Gael Government of the day in 1974. On the day he was elected leader he made one promise, namely, that he would electrify the Fine Gael party. I think the Government knows now what he meant. He did not promise to electrocute the Fianna Fáil Party, it did that itself. I wish to say a few things today to the gentleman opposite who must be very disillusioned after the elections on 5 June. It is time to change the captain and the team because the Government has come to the end of the road as far as people are concerned and there is nowhere to go. The Government does not even know where it wants to go.
Let me point out the futility of the Government's situation. If in the forthcoming general election the Fianna Fáil party were to receive the 24% it received in the ballot box last Friday it would have only 40 Members sitting in the next Dáil. I repeat, there would be only 40 Fianna Fáil Deputies after the general election we are asking the Government to call tomorrow. Those Deputies who are not re-elected would be joining the other 400,000 people who are on the dole due to the Government's incompetence. If Fianna Fáil got the vote it received in Dublin Central, Fianna Fáil would have only 20 seats after the next election.
I thank the Fianna Fáil party for consuming the Progressive Democrats, the remnants of which are now clinging on to the deckchairs. This week the Green Party is in terminal decline. I heard the Taoiseach say earlier that he would continue as he has been doing because he will have the confidence of this House. How can he judge whether he has the confidence of the people when he is being protected from them and them from him? He came to my constituency two days before the local elections. His visit to my constituency involved a drop from the sky in a helicopter after which his State car took him to several other destinations. He met only a select few who are still loyal to the cause in Schull and Bantry before taking flight again into the clouds. Many people wanted to meet him to discuss issues such as Bantry Hospital. I remind the Minister that a report today indicated that hospital will now become a referral unit for Cork University Hospital. How can one call it confidence when one has to hide the leader of this country from people who wanted to meet him to ask about the future of Bantry Hospital?
I have served the people of west Cork for more than 40 years. I am a realist and I know that we do not have the numbers on this side to win the vote on this motion tomorrow or to force change. However, the people opposite have that choice. While they may not do so today they will have to do it soon. If the Government walks the plank now it may be possible for it to swim to shore. If it waits any longer the water will become deeper and much more choppy thus ensuring it will not survive.
I will conclude with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: "What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself". There is no doubt this Government stinks and the stench is getting stronger with each day. The Government's time is up. It should go now before it does more damage.
I welcome this debate. I believe it is a good idea to hold a debate like this every now and again so that we can tease out issues in terms of where we should be going. Mar adúirt mé i mBéarla, tá áthas orm go bhfuil an rún seo curtha síos ag an Rialtas. Ar ndóigh, tacaím leis an rún go bhfuil muinín againne sa Rialtas agus san obair atá ar bun ag an gCeannaire.
I was interested to hear what Members opposite had to say about their leader, Deputy Kenny, a man I know well and whom I admire. While he lives in a neighbouring county, he lives closer to me than many of my colleagues in Galway city who are Deputies. I admire Deputy Kenny. Fine Gael has quite rightly resisted the temptation when called upon by the media time and again to ditch their leader because he is not doing well in the opinion polls. They have, I believe justifiably - the results speak for themselves - resisted the temptation to dump Deputy Kenny as leader in favour of the myriad of other suggestions put to them by the media. I can assure Members we are of the same mind. The captain of our team is a very capable Taoiseach. We will work with him to ensure renewed growth in this country despite the huge challenges facing us.
There have been many debates in regard to why this or that was not done in the past. I came to the conclusion many years ago that one should learn from the mistakes of the past. I can assure Deputies that any decision made by this Government was made in good faith based on the best information available on any given day. Much of the debate in this regard reminds me of the tourist who when he asked a man from west Cork the way to Skibbereen was told, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here". We have all heard that story. The reality is that every day we go into Cabinet to make decisions, we are where we are. Wondering why-----
I will tell the Deputy what got us here. A lot of issues caused us to be here. If the Deputy wants to debate that issue I am more than willing to do so in detail another day.
What is disappointing about this debate is that people are not teasing out where we are going to go.
There has been much comment in recent months in regard to the bank guarantee scheme and the reason it was introduced. I can assure Members of this House, as a person who knows no bankers, not even my own bank manager, that the decision was a no-brainer. The Government had no choice but to secure the banking system. Had it not done so every household in the country would have been affected, directly or indirectly. Anybody who seriously believes that the banking system should not have been saved does not know anything about the complexity of modern financial transactions. Financial transactions in every financial institution are linked in ways people do not realise.
That is a very good question. An interesting aspect which nobody appears to be teasing out is that our banks were loaned hundreds of billions of euro by the European banks. One would have thought that in the commercial world the lender, namely, the European banks, with all of their risk analyses, would have been able to ascertain that they were creating loss situations for themselves. The obvious question arises as to how it happened that they got it so wrong and managed to buy worthless paper in the US that has no asset backing whatsoever. I will explain later my understanding of how it happened. At least what the European banks invested in here, while impaired, are asset backed.
My understanding is that the reason the banks did this is because much of what they off-lay is off-layed a further 50 or 60 steps. The reality is - this is an issue we need to examine in the context of our banking system - that the situation not alone in Ireland's financial world but the financial world in general had become so complex that nobody really knew where the aggregate risk was. An issue that needs to be examined not alone in Ireland but worldwide is that of bubble creations by banks and the purchase of worthless assets. One would have expected that those banks would have had the expertise in risk management to manage their own affairs.
I can understand the Opposition wanting to engage in the blame game. Examining how things happened-----
What is amazing is that one would think listening to the Opposition that what happened was unique to the banking system in our country. It happened throughout the world banking system. As I stated, the situation in most countries was worse than here because the banks there bought worthless paper.
One of the problems we now face is that people do not want constructive debate. As I stated, we are where we are.
The second decision, one which in my opinion was a simple and correct one, was the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank. If we had not done so the consequences for every man, woman and child in this country would have been unthinkable. I have listened with interest to the Fine Gael proposal in relation to the good bank-bad bank. I would like to have time to discuss that issue with those in Fine Gael who are proposing it. What I do not understand in terms of that proposal is what would secure the money in the bad bank once created. Will the people in the banks who created the problem continue to manage the assets and, if not, who will do so? I do not think Fine Gael has fully teased out the logic of its bad bank proposal.
In regard to the Labour Party, I appeared on a television programme with Deputy Quinn, whom I have known for a long time and for whom I have the highest regard. I am aware that NAMA is not official Labour Party policy but he fully supported the concept. He believed, however, that NAMA would have to ensure it did not pay above value for the assets, with which I agree, and that the people who make the decisions should be completely independent of outside interference, which is crucial.
I would love to engage in constructive debates on these issues. I have never been a politician who spends time scoring small political points because I try to be positive and constructive in creating employment.
Reference was made to tourism, which I agree has huge potential. The new rural development programme will receive €425 million, compared to €150 million in the past. The challenge is not getting the money but spending it in order to get the highest multiplier effect.
Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present.
I thank the Opposition for letting me get my breath back. Given the significant amount of funding invested in the rural development programme, a debate on how we spend that money would be worthwhile. We have not yet taken full advantage of the huge opportunities available in rural Ireland and the money will create at least 1,200 front line jobs as well as considerable spin-off employment. The programme could create confidence for the future in rural communities and a number of people have already come forward with innovative ideas.
In recent years, there has been a huge increase in rural recreation in Ireland. It is interesting to note, for example, that Bord Fáilte has indicated that the number of foreign visitors to Ireland who include walking in their activities is at a record high. Hardly a week goes by in which a group does not invite me to open a new walking route or other rural development. We have a fine countryside and many natural resources but we have not invested sufficiently in rural recreation projects which would maximise the potential of this industry.
As a Galway Deputy, the past several weeks have demonstrated the untapped potential for marine leisure activities. In the past two weeks, 600,000 people visited Galway for an amazing event. We should build on that success by developing the marine leisure sector to its full potential. There are great opportunities along our coasts to create jobs in this sector, and there is no part of Ireland too far from the coast.
Despite media reports that nobody in the Cabinet has worked in industry, I have worked in both manufacturing and services for many years. I was involved in setting up manufacturing operations and stores with limited resources and from the bottom up as the manager and first employee of a co-operative. All during this time, I explored the untapped resources of my area. This was done at a time when, according to the historians, nothing was happening. The late 1970s and early 1980s were barren years during which we were building up industries and I was not the only one at it. I know many people who started businesses in those times. They saw niches and opportunities that had not been exploited previously and established industries. I also know that they worked with the statutory agencies but I have to say the help available now far exceeds anything that was available at that time. Therefore, I believe that part of the employment fightback has to come from motivating by example, discussion and debate, opening up new sectors, having national plans for such issues as rural recreation and tourism and marine leisure, and motivating individuals to invest and develop.
The recent Volvo race in Galway was a perfect example of what statutory agencies and people with vision can achieve. We have to go along this route. Talking ourselves down all the time makes people dispirited whereas showing realistic opportunities creates sustainable employment. Many of the industries established in the 1980s survived and grew in all parts of the country. They were established by people who did not lie down when it got tough.
I fully recognise that people are hurting. I realise that it is not easy for public servants to take an effective drop in wages through the pension services levy. I particularly empathise with those who are made unemployed. To be true to those people, we have to work to restore balance in the Government finances and create employment at the same time. I am determined to maximise my resources to achieve these objectives. I know all other Ministers are working in a coherent manner in the same direction with the resources they have.
We have heard much from Fine Gael, which wants major cutbacks but it never tells us from where. Its Members come to the Estimates debates but never tell the Minister he or she is wasting money; all they ever ask is whether more could be spent on the various programmes. This is a pity. If Fine Gael really believes there are many savings to be made, it is time it spelled out where are the 5,000 they will let go from the public service. I am more aligned with the Labour Party on this issue than I am to Fine Gael. I do not know too many public servants who do not have a job of work to do. I know public servants who go way beyond the call of duty to do their work and who do an honest day's work. I know some public servants who perhaps do not perform as they should but I do not know of many jobs in the public service that are surplus to requirement. I am very anxious that if Fine Gael has a policy of letting public servants go that it spells out where all these surplus jobs are because every time there is a cutback the Fine Gael party, which wants major cutbacks, tells us not to do it.
One of the most recent interesting proposals from Fine Gael was to abolish the integrated Leader partnership companies we established throughout the country. They are stand alone companies with partnership boards and strong community representation which deliver a wide range of programmes. I agree there was a need to rationalise and we reduced the number of companies from 94 to 54. We also made the local development social inclusion programme nationwide and gave it charge of the rural social scheme and Leader companies. I would not agree with Fine Gael's proposal to abolish all of these companies, take away local empowerment and put them under the aegis of local authorities.
This is the wrong way to go. Local authorities would be better focusing on their existing areas of operation and ensuring the work they do there is done well rather then becoming so multi-functional that they become like an octopus with so many arms that it is impossible for ordinary people to interact with them and to get the community buy-in that we have in the integrated companies. However, I accept that Fine Gael is of a different view and I would be very interested in debating with its Members at committee meetings and teasing out these issues. Perhaps there is merit in their views but I cannot see it to be honest. However, I am of an open mind and if the Opposition comes up with good ideas, I am never averse to taking them as Deputies Ring and Wall know. If I disagree I will also say so. We can all learn from each other in this interaction and progress the country.
With regard to our mandate, general elections-----
-----are held at a minimum of five yearly intervals. The system of the nomination and election of Taoiseach is by the Dáil. I have no doubt that tomorrow Dáil Éireann will vote confidence in the Government.
I wish to share time with Deputy Seán Sherlock who will speak tomorrow.
The Acting Chairman never said a truer word than that the Minister's time was up and not only for this Minister but the whole lot of them. Unfortunately, they will win the vote of confidence tomorrow not because the people who normally sit behind the Minister, the Green Party Members who occasionally come to the House, the two left-over Members of the Progressive Democrats and the couple of Independent Members who are hanging in there have confidence in the Government, but because they are terrified to face the statistic quoted by the very wise Deputy P.J. Sheehan, who spoke about the 24% of the vote that Fianna Fáil got and the fact that they would return after a general election with 40 Deputies. That is why the Government will win the vote of confidence tomorrow.
I listened to two Ministers speaking this evening and the second was slightly more realistic than the first, but not by much. The Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Deputy Martin Cullen, was in a state of complete denial. He came in and gave a load of bluster and guff and that is precisely why the people have no confidence in the Fianna Fáil Party and the Government it leads. The Minister who is still in the House blamed the international banks for the fact that the banks in Ireland are in trouble. He then blamed the Opposition, but I did not hear any blame falling on the Government and that is precisely the problem.
The Bible says not to worry about the mote in the eye of everybody else but to look at the beam in one's own eye. The problem is that the Government is not looking at the beam in its own eye. I was listening to Deputy Mattie McGrath on Newstalk on my way up here today and he expressed the real fear and views of the backbenchers. I do not know whether he will come to the House and repeat what he said about the Taoiseach on air today. It is not that they have confidence in the Government, but that they are terrified of the consequences of not voting in favour of the motion tomorrow.
The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, said we are where we are and spoke about the fellow in west Cork who said to the tourist looking for directions, "I wouldn't start from here", but we have been led up the highways and byways for the past 12 years to precisely where we are now. Twelve years ago we were much closer to where we want to be in that we were creating 1,000 jobs a week. Deputy Ruarí Quinn was the Minister for Finance and previously the Minister for Enterprise and Employment. The Irish economy was functioning very well. We were in the black, not in the red, but we are where we are because we have been led here by the Minister's party. We must get real about that.
We must also get real about the Opposition's plans and proposals. We have put forward many proposals but the Minister has not listened to them or has not been interested. He criticised us for not having any proposals but then proceeded to dissect one or two of the proposals he has heard from the Opposition. On the one hand he is saying we do not have any proposals and on the other he is saying our proposals are wrong or that Fine Gael and Labour do not agree with each other.