Dáil debates

Thursday, 5 May 2011

EU-IMF Programme: Statements (Resumed)

 

10:30 am

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal South West, Independent)
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The revised memorandum that is before the House represents the further entrenchment of the IMF-EU deal and the handing over of sovereignty by the Government. As has been mentioned frequently in the House in recent weeks, during the election campaign we heard about Labour's way, not Frankfurt's way. We heard also that a Fine Gael member said not a cent more would go into the banks. Through the publication of the document on the EU-IMF programme, we know that what was said during the election means nothing. When the parties went into government they picked up the baton from Fianna Fáil and ran with its proposals.

In its dealings with the troika, the Government has made the EU-IMF deal its own through the programme. The Government's statement refers to how the benefits of greater engagement have been demonstrated. However, the deal is largely the same as the one Fianna Fáil agreed in November 2010. It is the same deal that the troika, the IMF, EU and ECB, foisted on us at that time. The Minister indicated that the conditions have been largely met, which confirms that it is the same deal. The Government has rolled over. Contrary to what was said during the election campaign, the Government parties have not been able to negotiate a deal with better terms. The Government can no longer blame Fianna Fáil or the previous Administration as it has done many times in the Chamber in recent weeks in the context of the bailout, bank recapitalisation and austerity measures that were foisted on us in the deal. The Government has made the deal its own through the publication of the programme. I hope to see an end to the attribution of blame to the previous Administrations and that this Administration will take ownership and recognise that it is continuing with the failed policies of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in the previous Administration.

Under the terms of the deal the Government is making much of the fact that it has agreed to bring the minimum wage back up to €8.65 per hour. The changes will be completely undone in budget 2012 and budget 2013 by changes in the tax bands and tax credit system for working people. The effect of the increase in the minimum wage will be that people on lower wages will just pay extra taxes at the behest of the EU, IMF and the Fine Gael and Labour parties.

The programme makes much of the changes in social welfare. Other speakers referred yesterday to the fancy language used, but what it really means is that there will be cuts in social welfare rates which will affect the most dependent people in the country, those who have the most difficulty in surviving. Their rates will be further reduced in the budget at the end of this year and in 2012.

The programme is a continuation of the Fianna Fáil programme and the EU and IMF's punishment of this country for what they perceive we have done. The programme does not accept any European responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves in spite of the fact that the bubble was fuelled by European banks lending so much to our banks. The programme of austerity has been firmly adopted by the Fine Gael and Labour parties and it will be foisted on the people in the coming years. The programme is totally in the Government's ownership. It has failed to renegotiate the deal. Unfortunately, we will be facing further austerity, home repossessions and unemployment, all at the behest of the IMF and the EU.

11:00 am

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Independent)
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Last December, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, then Opposition spokesperson for finance, said the deal was a downright obscenity. I agree with him. It represents a real loss of independence for the Irish people. That independence has been ceded to a group of economists who, at best, have a shaky track record in helping countries to rebuild their economies. Nearly half the money from the deal is being used to bail out unguaranteed bondholders. Those loaning us the money are making significant profits by lending to us at a much higher interest rate than that at which they are borrowing the money. It is an austerity-based approach, which from economic history we are aware does not work. The deal represents a transfer of wealth from the most vulnerable people in society to the super rich around the world.

One could ask where we are six months later. Yesterday, the Minister indicated that we are meeting the targets, as nominally agreed by Fianna Fáil in the previous Government. Let us look at what is happening in the real economy. Government debt has been downgraded to one notch above junk status. Bank debt has been downgraded to junk status. Unemployment is due to rise by tens of thousands and the growth forecast, unsurprisingly, has been halved.

What will happen next? The Government states in the report that it will meet the 3% deficit target. It has consistently said it will not raise taxes and over the past weekend, the Taoiseach said he would protect public sector pay at all costs. With growth halved and with us still having to meet the 3% target, there are only two options left open to the Government. It can cut social welfare and cut services. Therefore, what we are saying is that in the coming months and years, we will take, yet again, from the most vulnerable people in our society. We will take from education and will allow class sizes increase. We will take from health and will close wards and cancel operations. However, we will continue to pay tens of billions of euro to private companies that invested in Irish banks. We will continue to pour tens of billions of euro into these failed banks and will continue to pay millions to their failed leaders. We will also continue to pay billions of euro in profit to those who are lending us the money to pay these bankers and lenders.

I agree that when made in December this deal was - it still is - an obscenity and I have no doubt it hurts the Minister to have to come into the House and report on its progress. The Government claims repeatedly to have a mandate, and it does. It has a mandate to stand up to foreign powers and to fight for the Irish people and to regain our independence. It has a mandate to stand up to powerful investors and bankers. However, it does not have a mandate to continue to implement Fianna Fáil policy, nor does it have a mandate to do the opposite of what it said it would do during the general election campaign. Many Government Deputies spoke in the House yesterday of the Government being in a straightjacket and of it having its hands tied by the failed policies of the previous Government. This is true to a point, but there are options which are not being used.

We can assemble a team and go out to Ireland and abroad and get some of the finest academic, economic and financial minds together to help the Minister. We can get some of the finest negotiators and assemble a world class team rather than rely on the same policy advisers who advised the previous Government which got us into this position. We can call the Europeans out on their threats. If they insist that all senior bondholders must be paid so that the bond markets in Europe do not get spooked, we should say fine but insist that we all pay, because that will benefit everybody.

Or we can be creative. We can agree we will pay back the €35 billion, but not for ten years, because we do not have the money because the Irish people are bleeding and scared and there is no cash to pay. If the Europeans threaten to increase the cost of funding to the banks should we not pay them back, which we understand from Professor Honohan they are doing, we can call them on that. We can tell them to go ahead because we are prepared to let some of the banks fail. The core European countries do not want any European banks to fail. Therefore, we should all deal with the issue together. We should not just leave it to the Irish people to deal with it.

We can communicate with the French and German public. They believe that they are bailing us out and their politicians are acting accordingly. We can explain to them that the reverse is true and that it is the Irish people who are bailing out their investors and banks. We can use debt for equity swaps to both stop the payments of our money to bondholders and to move the banks back into private ownership.

I suggest the Government can do far more than it is doing currently. It can be braver. It should remember that sometimes we need to fight and incur short term pain to protect the interests of our people and our independence.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Since September 2008, the people of Ireland have been suffering traumatic stress due to what is basically an economic war. The stress, anxiety, fear and irrational thinking is not much different from what would be seen in a real war. The big difference is that in a real war the anxieties are worse, the suffering is greater and the post traumatic stress remains forever.

The first casualty of any war is the truth, and we are seeing that here. The previous Minister for Finance finished his Budget Statement in December 2009 with the phrase, "We have turned the corner". The truth, as a casualty of our economic war, hit a low point in the weeks preceding the arrival of the IMF in Ireland. The Minister's denial of the arrival of the IMF was the lowest point reached. However, it was clear to many of us there was something wrong. At the time, the sudden conversion to consensus politics by the former Minister, John Gormley, was the first sign on the wind of this. It was only on Fine Gael's first visit as a parliamentary party to the Department of Finance, led by the current Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, that we were informed that the budget adjustments required to be made a few weeks later would not save €3.5 billion, but €7 billion.

The arrival of Mr. Olli Rehn, the Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, was the first public sign that Europe had lost confidence in the previous Government. Things were so bad at that time that the people felt the IMF could do no worse than Fianna Fáil. Many people on the streets were delighted the IMF was coming in because they had lost all confidence in the previous Government. The awful mismanagement of our economy at that time is the reason for this debate on the IMF and the European Central Bank, two organisations people here knew little about a few short months ago.

For the sake of the future of this country, we must regain self belief and confidence and believe that we can get out of this situation by working together. When the Second World War ended, Germany was ruined both physically and economically. However, within two decades, Germany was once again an economic powerhouse within Europe. We have a job to do. We must repair our battered reputation in Europe. Everybody who understands European affairs, knows our reputation in Europe is in tatters. We must also regain our international reputation. For that reason, our Taoiseach and senior Ministers are travelling throughout Europe and the world. They are trying to regain the reputation this country had just a few years ago.

We must also protect the most vulnerable people in society. The decisions we make must ensure we can pay pensions, gardaí, nurses and teachers in five years' time. We need the people to show the resilience and motivation the people of Europe showed in the aftermath of the Second World War. Therefore, we must put a stop to the attitude that has become prevalent of not being responsible for causing the crisis and therefore having no responsibility to pay for it. We are not shareholders in Ireland nor are we employees of Ireland. We are citizens. In Government, Fianna Fáil abused the trust of its citizens and we have been left with that legacy. As the new Government, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, along with the people, will not default on their responsibilities to the country. We must work together to put ourselves back on the path to recovery rather than blame each other for what has gone wrong.

Some Opposition Members have a constant chorus demanding we default on our obligations to repay our loans. That surprises me, because it is the poor, the less well off and the most vulnerable who will be hardest hit if we default. I cannot understand why Opposition Members continue with this demand. They may lack understanding of what happens when countries default on their international obligations but history demonstrates what happens. If Opposition Members can demonstrate clear outcomes resulting from taking the default path, they should explain to us the position of the people following default. They should explain what happened in Argentina following default, when the numbers of less well off increased. There was an increase in the number of people in a worse position and that situation lasted for a significant number of years.

If that is the collateral damage the Opposition Members would like they should explain to the people that is how they want to go. If we default in the future it will be the least well off in society who will suffer the most. As it stands, paying for the legacy of Fianna Fáil's ruination of our reputation and our economy means that our schools, hospitals and social services will be receiving less funding for the next decade regardless of what we do. Already people are suffering and we do not need to compound that with half-baked ideas about defaulting and walking away from our responsibilities as a nation. We have taken that responsibility on ourselves and we should grow up and act like it.

There is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding macroeconomic projections for Ireland. Nobody quite knows what future growth will be. Even the best economists have repeatedly got it wrong over the past decade. We have a better idea of what tax receipts will be but again that is unpredictable and we need to work with the best knowledge available to us now. Government spending is more predictable but is not fully predictable. As we have seen, social welfare costs and other costs of supporting the less well off in our society will increase in times of recession and we are trying to protect these people. What has happened for the new Government and the Minister, Deputy Noonan, in recent weeks? The two parties that have been in power for less than 50 days are putting their shoulders to the wheel in trying to sort these things out. We are getting control of the banking situation. We are not out of the woods yet and we still have much to do. We need to look at regulatory mechanisms within the banking sector and we will bring those forward.

Next week we will have a jobs initiative. We will do our best to get people back to work. We will consider everything that will reduce the burden on the least well off and the lowest paid in our society. In the next few months we will have a comprehensive spending review of every Department and we will reform how we frame budgets. It would be more useful for the Opposition to take on the mentality that we are fighting our way out of an economic war, to work with the Government in putting forward proposals and to look at the Government proposals and see how they can work. I sat on the Opposition benches for five years, two and a half of which I acted as Fine Gael spokesperson on health. While it is much easier to give out about Government policy, I tried to be as constructive as I could when dealing with what I regarded as some of the most flawed health policies proposed by any government. The Opposition needs to take up that kind off spirit. It is easier to give out but if that is the role it takes, it will be ignored not just by Government but also by the people.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on the stability programme update. It is nearly a year since the Greek deal, followed by our deal and this week the Portuguese deal. Throughout that year regardless of our specific situation one gets the impression that there is no European-wide response to the contagion facing the eurozone. There is a sense that the rules of the game are being made up as we go along. Next week there will be a meeting of finance Ministers. Given that we have Europe day on Monday and as it is now a year since the first bailout, I hope we start to draw a line under the confusion of policy there has been in the ECB and Commission response to this. The sooner we can do that the sooner we can bring the stability Deputy Twomey mentioned to our national debate rather than what is happening at the moment whereby we are waiting for the possibility of the interest rate to be reduced.

Regardless of how frequently the Government or any Minister reiterates the fact about our corporation tax, there is still a doubt over it. There is considerable doubt and fear among multinationals here not so much about the corporation tax but about the common consolidated corporate tax base and the lack of any direct response from Government on the issue. We need to draw a line under that issue and be absolutely clear in that regard.

As has already been announced, the document published this week commits the Government to a comprehensive review of expenditure, which is welcome. There was a discussion about committees on the Order of Business this morning. This morning's excuse over the delay in setting up committees was that we had to wait until the Seanad elections were completed. There is no more important committee to be established than the one on finance so that the comprehensive review of expenditure can be debated within and articulated through the committee structure. I say to Deputy Twomey that if people have ideas, that is the forum within which they will be discussed. A comprehensive review of expenditure in our current state should focus on those areas that create and sustain employment. Those expenditure areas that can be linked to job-creation and infrastructural projects should be prioritised in the context of that review. The Government will get support for such an initiative.

While I know it is the responsibility of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, perhaps the Minister for Finance might get an opportunity to outline the process for this expenditure review. Will it be an entirely internal Government process? Will it involve the Oireachtas committee system? Will it seek the view of members of the public? Many people have good ideas and as Deputy Donnelly said, now is the time to get everybody on board and put a good team together on the issue.

The original programme committed to a review of a number of issues that are causing serious competitiveness problems in the economy. I understand the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has received a copy of the report into joint labour committees and the various restrictions they place. I had understood that the reform of joint labour committees and everything that goes with them was to have been part of next week's jobs initiative, but it now seems that will not happen. I ask the Minister to update us on the matter. The original stability programme made considerable commitments to the reform of the legal system and reform of many areas of the economy that are in need of reform and are anti-competitive. There is a lack of detail as to when that will get under way. I do not have as rosy a view of activity in this area in the so-called first 100 days as does Deputy Twomey.

The Taoiseach has made several commitments to Dáil and constitutional reform to allow for an inquiry into the issues that led up to this. If we are to have a constitutional referendum to reverse the Abbeylara judgment that process needs to get under way immediately so that the proposals can be teased out. One presumes that if we are to have a referendum as soon as possible, the presidential election in October would present an ideal window of opportunity. There are only a few months to do that, which is another reason to get the committees established as quickly as possible so that we can tease out the implications of the judgment and address them. Once a referendum has been approved in terms of giving the powers back to this House, an inquiry into all the events surrounding this matter can get under way as soon as possible.

Deputy Twomey is the latest in the chorus to claim we are constrained by the straitjacket left by the previous Government. If the Deputy thought he could, he would probably try to pin responsibility for the kidnap of Shergar and several other incidents on the previous Government. The zeal of some of his colleagues in their conversion to the deal is striking. Yesterday the Minister, Deputy Burton, criticised Members of the Opposition for talking about default and for running down the country. Those of us who have listened to her for the past four years - this is the lady who described Ireland as banjaxed - found it one conversion too many. People have fears about the deal and not everybody fully understands why we are not burning bondholders. It was a policy signed up to by members of the Government and was used as a rallying call during the general election campaign. People now want to know why it is not possible. We are not all financial experts but we need that information to be put forward as clearly as possible. If Members of the Opposition want to ask questions or give views on that matter, they should be facilitated, at least in terms of the provision of information. They should not be ballyragged for putting forward general policy reviews. I agree with Deputy Twomey that default would be a disaster. The people we are all committed to protecting in this House are those who feel the brunt of it in terms of services and welfare payments. There is a need for intelligent, constructive discussion on our options for the stability programme. It is impossible to have the discussion in this large Chamber. The discussion should be held in committee whereby one could invite experts to make submissions and consider the options in a constructive, business-like manner. A committee could point the way forward by providing answers for people's genuine questions on the stability programme update.

Next week we will begin to see the colour of the Minister's money. He has inherited a big burden, which I accept, but the jobs initiative, which started out as a jobs budget, became revenue neutral. It will be the first chance for the Government to put its stamp on economic policy and to say what it feels. From the leaks that have emerged thus far, I am not overly inspired. It appears the Government is to get rid of the travel tax and do something on research and innovation. There is a considerably large and superb budget for research and innovation and every cent of it is well spent. However, what will it do for those in manufacturing and construction who are now looking for leadership and direction indicating they have a future in this country? During the election campaign, they were told that the Government, within its first 100 days in office, would announce a big jobs budget. The Taoiseach was rolling back from this yesterday and the five-point plan is now a five-point U-turn in terms of jobs.

The Minister for Finance is to make a statement next week. The Minister responsible for jobs will not be involved in the delivery of that statement, or take questions thereon. I hope that what is put on the table next Tuesday evening will offer some sort of direction and roadmap for those seeking employment, and not only for those who are lucky to have qualifications to be able to specialise in research and development.

If we are to abolish the travel tax, let us get the airlines to commit to some sort of jobs initiative. They are not necessarily the easiest organisations to deal with. There is no sense in our cutting revenue off in the hope extra tourists will come to the country. I do not envisage employment being created from the abolition of the travel tax but I look forward to seeing how it will work out.

I genuinely wish the Minister for Finance well. Both he and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, bring considerable experience to the Department of Finance. Nobody in this House doubts that both have the best interests of the country at heart. While I do not agree with Deputy Twomey's reference to an "economic war", we need all our weapons to be finely tuned. We need our army to be fully trained. The way the House is operating at present in the absence of a committee structure is disabling us in this regard. The sooner we have a committee structure, the sooner we can have the required constructive debate.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Dublin South, Labour)
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I very much welcome what Deputy Calleary said. I refer as much to the tone of what he has been saying as to the content. Many of us in the House are savouring or waiting for the opportunity to participate in the new committees, be they finance committees or otherwise, to which they will be assigned. There will be an opportunity for genuine debate on the issues that confront the country and for claim and counter-claim to be teased out.

I detect from Deputy Calleary and some of his colleagues mounting frustration over the extent to which Members on the Government side and, perhaps, public commentators argue that policies promulgated by the previous Government are at the heart of our problems. That argument is unanswerable. I will not repeat it; suffice it to say it goes way beyond the normal rhetoric people somewhat cynically expect from any new Government, the kind in which every new Government allows itself to indulge for a few weeks or months.

What happened over the past 12 to 15 months and also the past 12 to 15 years creates a legacy not only of incompetence but also of manifestly failed policies. These were then matched with even worse failure in the attempt to reverse the effects of the decisions that were made. We have discovered that every decision made from the guarantee onwards was not only substantially wrong in itself but actually had the effect of reducing the options the Government would have subsequently in rectifying what had been done. This was the case right up the bailout. Yesterday Deputy Michael McGrath said that before Christmas the then Opposition parties described the bailout as an obscenity and disaster and stated those parties are not saying that now they are in government. It remains the case that what was done did constitute an obscenity and disaster.

There is no use in criticising people for using the word "straitjacket", which is not a word discovered only after the election. I distinctly remember the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, and myself using it prior to the election when assessing what had been done in respect of the bailout and agreement. We stated the bailout would constitute an enormous constraint on the economic independence of the country for years. Deputy Brian Lenihan, who was Minister for Finance, told me in the Seanad that he had written the next four budgets for this country. He was revelling in this. Let me quote him almost exactly verbatim: "I have written the budgets for the next four years in this country and you will depart from them at your peril." He did not tell us at that stage what he told us later, namely, that he was not actually holding the pen when writing those budgets, and that the budgets and economic decision-making were being done outside the country. He had surrendered the economic independence of the country on key budgetary and economic issues in the course of the bailout he had entered into.

The Government is criticised in the belief it has embraced the bailout and decided it is great. This is not the case at all. What the Government must do is live in the real world. That is what it is doing in addition to setting up a track of renegotiation, pursuing changes in the agreement and seriously raising the question of burden-sharing. It was told burden-sharing would not be countenanced by the European Central Bank, or our "Frankfurt masters" as Deputy O'Dea described it yesterday, but it pushed it in a robust way. Whose fault is it that the phrase "Frankfurt masters" was used? We will have to return to the issue of burden sharing because the level of debt is not sustainable in the medium to longer term. This is my personal view from what I observe and read. The debt will not be sustainable without serious concessions, be it through restructuring of the interest rate or the payback time. Addressing this is the challenge the Government is confronting.

The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, is absolutely correct that it was never believed there would be a sprint and that renegotiation could take place in 24 hours, and that everything would be delivered. It is a marathon not a sprint. Deputy Donnelly made the fair point that we should put together a team and work together - we should get going on this – but prolonging engagement in the rhetoric that the Government parties are acquiescing in the bailout, as suggested by some Opposition parties, is not beneficial. Living in the real world is what we are doing. In addition to keeping gardaí, nurses and others paid and the State functioning, we are seeking to turn our attention to bringing about serious change and surmounting the problem we face. I hope we will have an opportunity to tease out these issues at committee meetings.

There are three broad areas we must address, which areas I do not want to over-simplify. First, we must address how we reached the current position, be it through committees or the banking inquiry mentioned by Deputy Dara Calleary, on which the Government has started the ball rolling. Second, how do we get out of this situation? The Government is turning its attention to this question. I heard two colleagues describe the jobs initiative to be introduced next week as a damp squib. I could not describe anything I have not seen as a damp squib. Deputy Willie O'Dea said he thought it would be, but, to be fair to him, he said he hoped it would not, which is something. Let us wait and see. The key element of what the Government must do is turning its attention to the jobs initiative. That is the beginning of getting out of this position.

The third issue is how to ensure we never return to this position. That is a challenge for the Government which is also being addressed, whether it is through a change in the way the Houses operate and scrutinise business or constitutional change. All of the areas the Government has indicated it intends to pursue will be addressed.

The notion has been put forth by some Sinn Féin Members that the Government has comfortably slipped into the chair of governing and decided that this deal is wonderful and that it will just sit back. That is not the position and I do not believe Deputy Pearse Doherty really believes it. However, his position appears to be reduced to the following proposition, that if we remove Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, whom Deputy Dara Calleary has fairly indicated as very experienced people, from the negotiating table in Frankfurt and replace them with Deputies Pearse Doherty and Mary Lou McDonald or Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, their great negotiating skills will be of such strength and power that they will overwhelm the ECB and the European institutions and that when they return from Frankfurt 24 hours later, everything will be grand. The proposition with which the Deputy has sought to persuade the House on more than one occasion is that the Government lacks negotiating skills and that its members should take a crash course from Sinn Féin on negotiating. I thought he was joking, but his face was serious.

Photo of Michael NoonanMichael Noonan (Minister, Department of Finance; Limerick City, Fine Gael)
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This from the people who took 30 years to get as far as Sunningdale.

Photo of Alex WhiteAlex White (Dublin South, Labour)
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The party would want to do better than that. I have no wish to offend anybody, but Sinn Féin had leverage in the negotiations that took place ten years ago which presumably is not available to it now.

This is serious business for serious people. I acknowledge Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin is a serious contributor to the economic debate. Let us have a serious debate instead of this nonsense, whereby people think we can wish something away. Every time Deputy Mary Lou McDonald stands to speak, she seeks a vote on this issue. Will voting make the problems go away? She wants to see the Labour Party Members walk through the lobbies, the same lobbies her party's Members walked through to support the bank guarantee in September 2008. They now say they had to do it to maintain money in the ATM machines. It is a new found interest in ATM machines. If we were to pursue the policies advocated by Sinn Féin in recent months, that we should turn our backs and tell the ECB to shove it, there would be nothing in ATM machines.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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How would one describe that contribution?

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has ten minutes to do so.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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It was certainly not as insightful as the speaker might have intended.

I will start my short contribution by expressing deep disappointment not only on my own behalf and that of my parliamentary colleagues in Sinn Féin but also on behalf of the many thousands who will be bitterly disappointed with the document we are discussing. As was pointed out by Deputies Pearse Doherty, Mary Lou McDonald and Peader Tóibín yesterday, the current draft of the EU-IMF support programme is in substance and spirit, despite claims to the contrary, the same document as that agreed by the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government last December.

I listened carefully to the speeches of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, yesterday and did not hear one substantive policy proposal or initiative indicating that the programme agreed by the last Government had been renegotiated in a meaningful way. What I heard from the Minister for Finance was little more than a justification for reintroducing the same failed policies of a bank bailout and austerity measures promoted by the last Government. He said he was happy with the flexibility shown by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund which allowed the Government to introduce "important policy measures". He proceeded to list these measures, including the reversal of the cut in the minimum wage, the comprehensive spending review, the jobs initiative and so-called important changes to banking policy. However, when one examines the text of the EU-IMF programme, one realises none of these measures departs from the substance of the original Fianna Fáil and Green Party deal with the so-called Troika.

The reversal of the cut in the minimum wage is undoubtedly welcome. Sinn Féin campaigned with others against the original cut when it was imposed. However, Fine Gael and the Labour Party have balanced this decision with a clear commitment to attack the wages of up to 300,000 low paid workers in the State. The revised EU-IMF programme clearly indicates that significant changes to the wage rates set through the registered employment agreements and employment regulation orders are to be delivered this year. Let there be no mistake that when changes are spoken about in this context, what is meant is cuts. Such cuts will not only drive thousands of families deeper into debt and poverty, they will also further depress the economy, particularly local and regional economies, resulting in increasing levels of private sector unemployment.

The revised EU-IMF programme also contains a commitment to reduce the public sector payroll either through cuts in the number of staff or cuts in wages. Not only will these measures continue to undermine the ability of front-line public service providers to cope with increasing levels of demand in schools, hospitals and community services in general, they will also further depress the economy, particularly local economies, resulting in further job losses.

The cuts do not stop there. Yesterday the Minister lauded the introduction of the comprehensive spending review as a sign of the Troika's flexibility. The spending review is about introducing further cuts in spending on public services, particularly health, education and social welfare. None of this represents a departure in any shape or form from the parameters of the agreement reached by the previous Government.

What is probably the single largest disappointment in the document is the paragraph on the so-called jobs initiative. Throughout the general election campaign both Fine Gael and the Labour Party told the electorate that the only way to get the economy back on track was by creating jobs. I agree that creating jobs is an essential element if we are to turn the economy around. The Taoiseach had a five point plan to get Ireland back to work, while the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, promised a strategic investment bank with substantial funds to invest in employment. Despite these promises, the 41 page revised EU-IMF programme contains only a single sentence on job creation, promising that the now downgraded jobs initiative will be revenue neutral. While we will not know the full detail of this initiative until next week, there is little doubt in my mind and in the minds of many other people that it will pale into insignificance when set alongside the hefty pre-election promises of the parties which form this new coalition Government. That will be a bitter disappointment to the hundreds of thousands of men and women across the country who are unemployed, who are struggling to find work and who are waiting to see what the Government will do to assist them.

The final matter to which I refer relates to the banks. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, suggested that the Government had secured significant changes in this area of policy. However, the truth tells a very different story. The banking policy contained in the revised programme continues the failed approach of the previous Government to pump billions of taxpayers' euros - including up to €10 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund - into toxic banks without any social or economic reward to the State or its people.

Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, and his Government colleagues have neither the will nor the ability to secure the kind of change in policy they promised the electorate in the run-up to polling day on 25 February. The simple reason for this is that they have never offered a real alternative. There is no evidence of such an alternative. Despite the rhetoric and the empty promises, those now in government were always committed to implementing the same failed policies of bailing out the banks, imposing public service cuts and promoting austerity pursued by those who preceded them in office, namely, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

I will comment on the remarks of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. The previous speaker also referred to the Minister's contribution. Unable to respond directly to the criticisms levelled by my party colleagues, Deputy Burton again tried to deflect those criticisms by misrepresenting decisions taken by Sinn Féin in respect of the bank guarantee of September 2008. The Minister is well aware - she was a Member at the time - that the version of events she recounted is neither accurate nor honest. More significant is that while they opposed the guarantee when in opposition, the Minister and her Labour Party colleagues are not willing to reverse that guarantee now that they are in government. The real test of a political party is not what is says in opposition but rather what it does in government. On the basis of its ongoing support for the blanket guarantee, the Labour Party has clearly failed the test in this regard.

I reiterate the views expressed by Deputies Doherty, McDonald and Tóibín to the effect that the revised EU-IMF programme presented to us yesterday by the Government represents nothing more than the same failed policies agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in 2010. It will do nothing to address the social and economic problems the State faces; neither will it do anything to get people back to work, to reform our public services or to restructure our banking system in the interests of society and the economy. It again demonstrates that the parties in government may be different in name than their predecessors but that, in substance, they are exactly the same.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Listening to Deputy Ó Caoláin reminds me of reading the Desperate Dan comic strip. He offered no solutions and all he put forward was a criticism and a rejection of the programme. I remind the members of Fianna Fáil that it was not the Fine Gael-Labour Government which capitulated on behalf of the Irish people, rather it was their party which surrendered our economic sovereignty. It was also their party which abandoned the principles of good governance and which failed the test with regard to oversight and regulation of the banks. It was Fianna Fáil which helped to propel us to the position in which we now find ourselves.

There is no ambiguity on this side of the House with regard to corporation tax or seeking a lower interest rate from the EU and the IMF. I agree with Deputy Calleary's assertion that we need a review of expenditure. Said review must be carried out in a manner that is honest and transparent.

Those opposite have commented on our dealings with the EU and the IMF. There is no one in the House who wants this country to be beholden to others for financial support. However, from where would the money we require come if it were not being provide by the EU and the IMF? What does default actually mean? How would those opposite make the necessary choices in respect of closing schools, not opening hospital wards, making gardaí redundant or not employing additional teachers? What would they do? It is not possible to traverse Europe waving one's flag and stating that one is for everything and against nothing. Sinn Féin has served in government in the North. Its members have made choices, negotiated and been responsible. Its representatives in this House should also be responsible and should work with us. They should assume the mantle of collective governance and work with the rest of us in the people's interests.

I am becoming tired of those who sit in the uppermost tier of seats on the far side of the House stating that it is they who have the concerns of ordinary people at heart. Those of us on this side are ordinary people. Every day we meet individuals - family members, friends, neighbours, relations and constituents - who are experiencing financial difficulties. You do not have a monopoly on care for the concerns of ordinary citizens. We all have a responsibility for it, so stop preaching to us on this side of the House.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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You should stop preaching to me.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I will preach on behalf of the ordinary people who voted to elect me to this House and I will stand up for them.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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You will not preach to me.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Ceann Comhairle; Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputies should address their remarks through the Chair.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I apologise, a Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am for solutions, whereas those opposite have offered none. Let us engage in a debate on that matter. Those on the Opposition benches should show us the colour of their money. How do they propose to bring about a renewal and a reform of our country? We are all seeking a society where people will be employed, where their homes will be protected and where small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs will be rewarded so that they might renew their operations and take on additional staff.

The measures the Government is implementing will lead to a period of recovery. I was heartened by the Taoiseach's remarks this morning to the effect that any increase in our rate of corporation tax would be a breach of trust, particularly in the context of foreign direct investment from America. He is right: there must be no capitulation regarding our corporation tax rate. Within its first 100 days, the Government will have introduced a jobs initiative. The latter is due to be unveiled on Tuesday next. The Government has been in office for ten weeks. It has already addressed the banking system, which was about to collapse under the previous regime, restored the minimum wage and will, as already stated, introduce a jobs initiative next Tuesday which will assist in the creation of employment and in placing a value on work.

This Administration has also begun a process of reform across the entire structure of government. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, has courageously spoken about public sector reform. I am a public servant and I will defend the public sector. However, the Croke Park agreement must be implemented and it must be honoured by everyone in the public service because we must deliver value for money to the people. I am confident that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the remainder of the Cabinet will engage with their European counterparts. I am also confident that there will be reduction in the interest rate being charged by EU and the IMF, that our rate of corporation tax will be protected, and as the Taoiseach stated yesterday, that our economic sovereignty will be returned to us by 2016.

It is important that the Government should be honest with the people and that it should tell the electorate the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. While unpalatable, the deal with the EU and the IMF is necessary. It will lead to the creation of a better Ireland where all citizens - be they involved in central or local government, those who work in the banks, developers or ordinary people - will be more prudent in the context of what they do. There must be accountability in Irish life and this Government has brought it back. There must be transparency and this Government is doing that. There must be regulation and this Government is doing that. I am looking forward to having a debate in two and a half years, at the midway point for this Government, when we will see a positive reflection of the Government's actions on behalf of the people. If Members want to go back to the general election, we must remember that the people sought change. They asked for a different type of government and a different style of governance. They want to have the unemployed back at work.

Job creation will be at the core of this Government's actions. We have already seen the creation of two new pillar banks as an important plank of Government policy. It is equally important that we protect the homeowner and the ordinary citizen. The chosen few can no longer be allowed to dictate policy in this country. The common good of our citizens must be at the heart of government.

I am happy that the political reform announced by the Government and repeated yesterday by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, will demonstrate the leadership that is wanted by the people. It is not just about the abolition of the Seanad or about the reduction in the number of Ministers or TDs, but about political reform and change in the structure of government. We have seen it already and I hope it continues.

Like many Members, I was at the 1916 commemoration mass in Arbour Hill yesterday. I was struck by a paragraph in Archbishop Martin's very fine homily:

The dream of 1916 was a Republic. A Republic is one where power is vested in the people. But a real republic is one, not just in which power is vested in the people, but one in which responsibility is assumed by the people. Just as in 1916, our modern day Republic requires leaders of vision, but it requires above all the tears and fears, the dreams and commitments of our citizens and families and communities who decide that they do not wish to belong to the disinterested or the distracted or the self centred.

I am confident that following Tuesday's jobs budget, there will be a period of prosperity for our people. The vision, the leadership and the responsibility of the Government are about ending emigration, creating jobs, protecting homeowners, rewarding entrepreneurs, and protecting the most vulnerable in society. In doing that, it must be responsible. The Members opposite have sometimes not been responsible. They want to abandon everything and spend, spend and spend. Where will that money come from? If one spends €100 per week on the household budget but one does not have that, then what does one do?

Let us recognise that we are not in an easy place. A recovery will not be led by developers or bankers, but by all of us as citizens. It will be led by the Government through rewarding entrepreneurship, through our export-led recovery, through tourism and through agriculture.

Many people today are living on the edge. They are barely surviving. They do not want to be kept in the dark like they were under the previous Government. If we are bringing in a reduction in spending and new taxes, let us be honest, fair and upright with the people. I challenge the Members opposite to show me a better way than what we have at the moment. Let them show me the colour of their money.

12:00 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I would first like to refer to the extremely silly remarks made by the Minister, Deputy Burton, about the technical group voting for the bank guarantee. The Minister knows very well that the composition of the technical group in this Dáil is different from that of the last Dáil. There are very serious issues at stake and we could do without this type of silliness. The five ULA Members opposed the guarantee, were in favour of the nationalisation of the banks and the establishment of a State banking system. This is still our position. The fact that the Labour Party voted against the bank guarantee is now irrelevant, given what it has signed up to in the coalition with the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission. This is one coalition Government where the tail certainly will not wag the dog, as the Labour Party has quickly found out.

It is quite insulting for the Minister for Finance to come into this House and present the most cosmetic of changes as something that has any significance. We are being challenged by a number of Labour Party and Fine Gael Members to provide an alternative if we were not able to pay our gardaí, civil servants, hospital staff and so on. However, the reality is that the current Government has just taken the purse from Fianna Fáil and has kept dipping into the same purse. We are arguing that there is money outside of that purse in the hands of the very wealthy of this country and that this money has not been touched. They are responsible for contributing to the economic crisis in this country, yet they have not been touched. The Government is continuing with the same policy of going back into the pockets of ordinary people.

The programme of austerity, which the Government intends to continue, has squeezed any prospect of growth out of the economy. This is the key factor in why we are heading towards an inevitable sovereign default. There have been cries that the minimum wage has been reversed, but that has not touched the coffers of this Government. In the meantime, the Government is looking at making an impact on the lives of more than 250,000 low-paid workers in the hotel and catering industry, by attacking the EROs and discussing the JLCs. While pay packets have been absolutely hammered by the introduction of the universal social charge, the Government has not reversed that decision. It intends to bring in more taxes that will impact on the pockets of ordinary people. This will curtail growth further, because when people do not have money to spend, that affects small local businesses and the jobs they provide, and it ends up impacting on the lives of ordinary people.

There are to be cuts to our hospital services and our education system, with a cap on SNEs and other resource teachers. What might happen in the event of a default is happening anyway. It is like the slow strangulation of our economy. The fact is that we are going to default. Even the right wing economists are saying that there will be a default. It is a question now of whether we default on our own terms or on the terms of the IMF and the EU. We should default as soon as possible on our terms and discuss what we can do in that case.

The Portuguese have already got a better deal than ourselves. This came out over the last few days, but we will have to see the devil in the detail because they are going through an election and much of the detail will be withheld until afterwards. We can look at a different deal for Ireland. We can put in place alternatives that keep our economy and public sector ticking over. We will continue to outline them. We have called for the reorganisation of the banking system into a State banking sector. We want to close budget deficits with wealth taxes and end tax exemptions. We have seen a Minister, already a very wealthy man, avail of a tax exemption for stately homes and people like him line their own pockets. There is around €11 billion in tax breaks at the moment.

There should be caps on wages of anything earned over €100,000. There should also be a tax on pensions over €100,000. We do not have to renegotiate these contracts, we can bring in a tax of 95 cent on the euro to deal with this. It can be applied to civil servants.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Is it 95% on everything over €100,000?

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Yes, everything over €100,000 at 95%. That would bring a massive amount of money into the economy.

We are in a serious situation. We are in a crisis situation and those who have the money should be putting into the economy what they need to over the next period of time rather than the Government coming back repeatedly to the blind, the disabled and the low-paid worker. There should be higher taxes on higher incomes.

We should take control of our natural resources and develop a national jobs plan for economic recovery. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Government brought into play the ESB and Bord Gáis to redevelop the economy. Every home and part of the country was supplied with electricity. There is now an opportunity for every household and company to be retrofitted with water supplies, insulation and the like. That can be done through a public jobs plan to get people back to work, to fix the water supplies and to build schools where children are still in pre-fabs for which the Government is paying large sums on rent every year. We should be building proper schools for children for now and for the future. All this can be done and the Government can play a key role in creating jobs in this regard and have a proper public jobs plan to be driven by it.

There are alternatives and we have put them forward, time and again. We are not preaching. We are merely putting forward an alternative way to raise money. That is not being cocky in any shape or form.

These are the issues that people raised with us at the doorsteps when we canvassed during the general election campaign. I am sure they are the issues that were raised with others who were elected as Deputies. The last election should have been a referendum on the EU-IMF loan. The message we must get out to Europe is that it is a loan, not a bailout.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy has two minutes remaining.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I would be interested to hear what the Government has to say in this regard, and whether it will continue dipping into pockets of ordinary people or turn its face to the wealthy who have not contributed to the resolution of this crisis.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the chance to say a few words on this debate. We need to bring some realism to it because information is being disseminated and people are forming their own opinions on what will happen in terms of the review and suggested renegotiation of the EU-IMF programme. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, did not claim a victory yesterday.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I did not say that.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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That is the impression people are trying to give.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I stated that the changes were cosmetic.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The Minister gave the facts, stating that there have been some benefits from greater engagement - nothing to get excited about - and that progress is being made. All we will ever do when a review is undertaken is to make some progress. Neither of the Government parties claimed that it would do any better than that.

We, in Fine Gael, were clear from the outset in stating that we agreed with the targets and the aim to get the budget deficit down to 3% of GDP by 2015. We wanted to reach it earlier and we were the first to say so. We never veered from that in the course of the general election campaign. However, we always stated there are different ways of reaching the targets and that remains the case.

Built into this programme are many changes. A major change is the comprehensive spending review, which, I am sure, the next Minister to speak will address. That is key. The more progress we make and solutions we find there, the less pain must inflicted in other areas and the less money must be charged. If there are more savings made and new practises brought in to save spending money, then the Government will have to raise less money off the backs of people through ways we outlined and which, unfortunately, will inflict pain.

The figures can be changed in different areas once the end target is achieved. That is what we must do. It will be the work of the Government over the next four, five or six months and beyond. It will involve every Deputy giving his or her ideas. In this regard even the proposals made by Deputy Joan Collins should be considered. Nothing will be ruled out because the Government has stated clearly we will review the programme and make changes where we can.

There is no point in kidding ourselves here, expecting that the Government would change this entire document in its first six or seven weeks in office. It does not work that way. While we would wish it were otherwise we are stuck with the agreement, therefore, it wold be good if were able to change some of its terms.

As a result of the failings of the past couple of Governments led by one party, Fianna Fáil, it is the case that, as they say, "We are where we are". We are in serious debt. Apart from the banking debt, to run this country for the next three or four years we need over €60 billion on top of the money we raise through taxes, etc. Even if taxes on high earners were increased we would still need €50 billion or €60 billion. It is why this support was accepted from the IMF. We need the money to run the country.

With respect, and I debated this with Deputy Adams after the election, Sinn Féin is not clear on where it would raise the €60 billion. It has answers on how to raise the first €10 billion to €15 billion needed for the first year but there are three or four years involved. If one defaults or does not take the support, one would need to raise such funding to run the country or else cut the deficit in the first year, which means being short almost €20 billion this year and each of the next two years. That is where the problem lies.

Our job in Government is to close that gap and get the deficit down. No doubt we will do so but it will not happen overnight. It will take time. It will take everyone's efforts and ideas on all sides to get the deficit down through spending reductions, savings, bringing in new practises and applying common sense in terms of how we do our business.

In the period 2001-08 expenditure was let go mad in nearly every Department, by up to 140% in most cases, 150% in others. It was lunacy. It should not have been let happen, but it did happen and now we must correct it. While it is being corrected money must be borrowed and that is why we are stuck with this agreement. Hopefully, every time we go back for a review we will get more changes and the pain will ease.

There are some successes in this review, if one wants to call them that, which we had signalled before the election we had intended to implement. There is to be some kind of jobs initiative. The agreement and the last budget did little for jobs. We have secured agreement to address that aspect and our initiative will be announced next week. It will not solve everything but it will be a start in the right direction to restore confidence and give businesses a chance to employ more people. All it will involve is a start, with small initiatives in different Departments to give us a chance. Hopefully, we can do more in the budget at the end of the year and also next year. It will only be a start but it is better than what was there previously and it will give some hope to people.

The Government parties have stated they are committed to the targets and guidelines set out in the budget for 2011 and 2012 following which there will be a review to see how we can manage the other couple of years in the light of economic growth and other factors. That was agreed in this review. We now have agreement to review progress half way through the programme and to make changes as we proceed with it.

The other important issues involve the proposed changes to NAMA. I had a serious difficulty with NAMA when it was set up and I was one of the few to speak about it in this House. NAMA was wrong from day one and it is still wrong. However it, too, is now in place. We gave a commitment that we would try to make it work better and more transparently and provide greater tax savings and we will do that.

We also stated that we would make NAMA kick-start the property market or let it bottom out, by making NAMA sell assets. If NAMA holds onto everything, everybody else is waiting before making a move because it is one of the major players in the market. It is built into this document that NAMA must sell at least 25% of what is on its books by 2013. That is another achievement in terms of getting the market moving again.

We have also stopped the transfer of loans of €20 million or less into NAMA, which is a good idea. Those loans should remain with the banks because they contain some assets that others might want to buy and they might be worth more than what NAMA would pay for them. If they were to be transferred to NAMA they would crystalise more losses in the banks. That is another small achievement. These are not big measures but they are measures we stated we would take. We did not promise we would turn the economy around in one day because one cannot do that.

What is most important is that we used the review to try to regain some credibility. Ireland's reputation is mud all over Europe because time after time Ministers came in here and issued figures and plans and spoke of hopes of turning the corner, etc., none of which was true. Every time a Minister made a statement here that turned out to be untrue three or six months later, our reputation was further eroded.

The Government has a major job to rebuild that reputation. It will do it over a couple of years by negotiating, playing the game, meeting people and putting Ireland's case by explaining what we are trying to do as a new Government and how we will try to fix matters. Over time, one rebuilds credibility and trust, which will give more opportunities to receive better reductions in interest rates and greater changes in restructuring debt, and to have even more change than is in the document to try to ease the pain for people who cannot take it. Our job is to rebuild our credibility.

Yesterday evening, I had to laugh when I heard Deputy Pearse Doherty speak about crack negotiating teams renegotiating this in a week. Sinn Féin would be the first to admit that negotiations can take a long time and do not happen in eight weeks. It takes years to effect real change. We have made a small impact in a couple of weeks to put the banking situation on a sound footing and bring some clear direction by making decisions and taking action. This will help us regain our credibility to negotiate further. It is a joke for a member of Sinn Féin to speak about negotiating as if it were something one can do in a week. It is expert in negotiations and I will admit it is good at it; it had different ways of doing it but it achieved results. However that took a long time. Likewise, this will take us a long time as it cannot be fixed overnight.

It is essential that we approach it correctly and do what we stated we would do. We are doing so and we did not misrepresent anything. What is key is to find where money is being wasted in every Department and correct it. To achieve what we stated we would achieve we must reduce the numbers employed by the State. When the numbers increased in 2001 and 2008 so did employment, as more than 70,000 extra people were employed in the public service. These people were given false hope by the previous Government through higher wages and lower tax. This was wrong. People borrowed money and got into debt because they were given false hope. This is where the pain is. As we close the gap and return to the spending and employment levels we should be at people will suffer. We must try to do this as best we can. We know money is being wasted in every Department and that money can be spent better.

We have to change our work practices and what we do, and effecting this change will be the job of Deputy Brendan Howlin. This is how we will put the country back on a sound footing so that we can borrow from the markets as we should be able to do, be in control of our own affairs, be able to decide who we tax and what services will be reduced. I do not like being told what to do either, but we must get ourselves in a position whereby we can take control of this. This will happen only with honesty, credibility and action. We cannot sit back and hope the problem will go away. We must deal with it, which is what we have been discussing in recent days.

I ask everyone on the other side of the House to be realistic and work with us on it. We will have different policies when it comes to taxing people, but there are many areas on which we can agree. We can debate who to tax. It is an issue that if the wealthy are taxed too much they will move their money. We must have balance. It is not as simple as whacking a large tax on people. If pressed, they can move their assets and money. We need to try to work this out. However, it is correct to state that those who can pay should take more of the hit than those who cannot pay. We have to try to achieve this.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Measaim go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuilimid ag labhairt ar an gceist ríthábhachtach seo agus go bhfuil deis againn páirt a ghlacadh sa díospóireacht seo. Gan aird ar an méid atá daoine ag iarraidh a chur trasna, níl mé míréasúnta. I am reasonable in my approach. Sinn Féin has put forward reasonable and costed alternatives in the past. This Government and the previous Government rejected them and it is their gift to do so. However, their Deputies cannot stand up and state alternatives were not put forward because they were.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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There is the four-year plan.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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They were costed. A stimulus package was put forward, which used the Department of Finance's model at the time. I and my party accept that things have moved on since then. However, at the time it was put forward based on figures presented by the previous Government. This Government has continued the policy of Fianna Fáil and has committed to the black hole of the banks some of the money we identified as being useful to create a jobs stimulus package. This means for us as a party and for society as a whole that we must find another source of funding because the money that could have been usefully used-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Once.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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----- over a period of three years using the Department of Finance's stimulus projections would have returned a profit. One invests to return a profit.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Where is the €60 billion for four years? That is the bottom line.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I can argue that point.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Well, do.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am not disputing that there is a huge amount of waste and that we need savings. However, the savings in terms of the money that will be raised will be a pittance in comparison to the €60 billion or the €120 billion or whatever figure one takes. Yes, savings will be made, but savings alone will not dig us out of a hole which was created by the previous administration, and I accept that.

I look forward to the introduction of a job stimulus package on Tuesday because we need one. I do not think the Minister, Deputy Noonan, will go far enough. More radical proposals need to come forward to get people back to work because unless our society gets back to work the black hole will deepen. The austerity measures taken and the wages people will be on will not stimulate local economies or bring back retail, manufacturing or supplier jobs. Next week, we will debate whatever is created on Tuesday and we will put forward proposals.

Major problems exist in our present situation and the alleged stability programme states on page 8, "The global economy recorded stronger than expected growth in the second half of 2010, and the expectation is world growth will continue to expand at a solid pace in the coming years." This is to be accepted and I do not think anybody will dispute it. Unfortunately, the problem is that this is not the case for Ireland because the State will continue to be dragged down by the unsustainable debt taken on by the taxpayer on behalf of the failed banking sector. While exports are predicted to rise, the report admits - and this is key - that domestic demand is set to remain lacklustre for some time to come. Not only will it be lacklustre but it will continue to recede. The programme also states that disposable incomes are likely to decline in real terms and this is also a key issue. Perhaps this is to be reasonably expected but one might ask who is benefiting from the increase in exports. It is not the Irish taxpayer.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Thousands of workers.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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They are by virtue of the fact that they are working. However-----

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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It is a help.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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-----they are not benefiting from increased profits. These profits are not being translated into increased wages.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Jobs.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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How in the name of God can you come up with an argument like this? Do you think you are going to have increased wages in the present climate?

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am not making an argument. I am stating that companies in Ireland are increasing their export levels which means their profits are increasing but no new jobs have been created in these fields. I am not giving out about these companies; I welcome that fact. What I am stating is that the workers in these companies are not benefiting additionally. They are benefiting by the fact that they have a job but they are not benefiting additionally because they are not benefiting from increased wages in those companies.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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We cannot afford that.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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This has always been a problem and I am surprised at the Labour Party. The whole idea is that workers have-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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We like successful companies.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Yes, and we also like that the workers, those who create the profits, should benefit most from it and not just through jobs.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I never heard an argument like this in my life. It is ridiculous.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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If profits increase, wages should also increase. This is the definition of socialism and I am surprised-----

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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That is not how business works.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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We have seen previous forecasts for growth rates last year and this year which were totally off the mark. We might be advised to take the current forecast of modest growth in the economy in the coming years with a grain of salt. Again, this will be determined by budgets and whatever proposal the Minister for Finance brings to the House on Tuesday. I think that prediction of modest growth over the next few years is far off the mark. There is a connection, of course, with the fact that people's incomes are in decline with a resulting decrease in domestic demand. There is a continuing stagnation of local economies in many areas, with shops and factories closed and accompanying dereliction. Except for the welcome increase in exports I do not see any proposals for getting local economies back to work. If the Government continues with austerity measures there will be fewer pennies in people's pockets. A drop in spending will result in local shops and companies being put into receivership. To date, we have not seen evidence of the major steps which are required. Some may be planned for the future but the urgency is not evident. I acknowledge the Government has only been in place for a few months but some of its decisions thus far are not in tune with what I believe is required to be done.

One does not need to be a Nobel laureate in economics to realise that if billions of euro is taken out of people's pockets, the economy will be further depressed. People must be encouraged to release their savings. I do not blame people for saving their money but money must be spent for an economy to be active. It is a scandalous fact that significant sums of money - I do not have the figure to hand but it may be two trillion or three trillion euro - in Irish pension and investment funds are invested abroad.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The figure is €75 billion.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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There is a lot more than €75 billion being invested abroad by Irish pension and investment funds. However, whatever the figure, it is unpatriotic at a time of crisis. We must find a system to encourage Irish money to be invested in Ireland rather than being invested in Germany or elsewhere. If such moneys are not invested in this country we must find a way to impose a levy so the Irish people can obtain a benefit from such moneys. Levies have been imposed on Irish taxpayers and this would be another method of levying moneys which are floating outside this economy. This is Irish money which needs to be invested in Ireland.

The Minister asked for proposals and I made this proposal before Christmas.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Has the Deputy read the programme for Government? It is in the programme for Government.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I may have missed it and I look forward to the day it is introduced.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I am pleased to have another opportunity to speak on this subject. Any person observing our position from abroad would come to the conclusion that somewhere along the line we have missed something and we do not seem to have recognised the awkward and difficult situation in which we find ourselves. I reiterate that this is a very difficult situation.

I have great respect for the previous speaker, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, who has been a Member of the House for some time. However, I am worried about his naivety as regards the situation. A famous man once wrote that no man is an island. Ireland is geographically an island but we have commitments elsewhere and we did not do the job we were supposed to do. I am not attempting to blame previous Administrations but it is a fact that we are in this situation as a result of a variety of reasons. Reference was made to the various information from the Department of Finance. I do not intend to be disrespectful to any Department or anyone who negotiated on behalf of the country over the past ten years but whatever information was given and whatever action was taken, they were insufficient and unsoundly based and they did not have any beneficial effect on the economy.

Benefits for the people and the workers of this country will come from a strong economy and from employment. This does not mean that those who were in a particular employment, whether in the public or private sector, should be rewarded. Sadly, we are not in a position to reward ourselves at this time. We all meet and know people who are really pushed to the wall. They did not contribute to the country's downfall. I agree they accepted whatever was going because everybody told them that we were the richest country in the world. Where did we get that information? Who told us? It was all a farce and we were codding and deluding ourselves.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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It came from the ECB.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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People arrived from across the world to find out how we have come to this conclusion. They were here almost every week wondering about the Celtic tiger - the myth of the Celtic tiger as has been clearly illustrated. They do not come anymore because they see that we were deluding ourselves. We were living in a land of myth, leprechauns and fairies. That is all over now and it is time that reality dawned upon us.

It has been reported that property prices have now bottomed out but I disagree. A European Union colleague referred to this country as being one of the most expensive countries with the highest wages in the eurozone but no reference was made to the fact that our high property prices were the highest in Europe for some considerable time, both inside and outside the eurozone. I do not know how we came to the conclusion that this was sustainable. Whether we like it or not, there is a gap of €20 billion which we must address. It will mean hardship for every citizen and for a long time to come. It does not make any difference what any economist says because we have to pick up this baton and run with it by ourselves. It will be down to us and not down to any expert opinion or advice from any quarter.

Having listened to what we were told over the past ten or 15 years, I am horrified that so much was taken for granted by people who should know better. What happened over that period cannot be reversed in ten or 15 days or even in ten or 15 months but it has to be resolved. The biggest single contribution we can make is to show those outside this country that we are capable of taking on this project because the alternative is political oblivion. This may not be realised by people. We will either sink or swim. We will either prove we are ready for it and capable of delivering or we will succumb and be swamped. It is very easy for the Opposition to say we have been in government for the past two or three months and we have not solved the problem. I am tired of us being lectured by leaders of other countries. I am also tired of lectures from potential leaders of this country as to what we should do. We have arrived at a very difficult juncture and we are now paying the price.

The banking system has been discussed on many occasions. We all have experience of constituents at various levels of society who ran into difficulty with the banking system. This applies to the small business sector in particular. People ran businesses well and did not over borrow and ran their show as it should have been run. However, when they applied for a renewal of their overdraft, they were told by the bank that it was time for the banks to look over their business. The banks called in part of the overdraft and offered it as a term loan over a period. That was the end of the discussion. That is not how this is supposed to work. A great deal of money has been provided to the banking system in this country and it is time for the banking system to prove it is capable of doing the job it has been given. All of this happened while they were on watch. The time has come for the banks to show they are capable of so doing their job, having particular regard to the fact they did not do a very good job over the past ten or 15 years. They resented any attempt by anyone to suggest they might have been wrong. What an appalling thing it was to suggest that ordinary human beings might be wrong.

We must address the situation, engage with it and overcome it. If we do not do that, our position will get worse. We must also engage with our European colleagues in the national parliaments of other member states because they think we are a bunch of delusionists who believe in magic. They believe we have been avoiding the issue for several years. They have listened to us carefully and they have come to a conclusion. The time has come to address the issue, to stand up and be counted and to avoid saying popular and populist things. We must address this difficult situation and, most important, we must not mislead the people. We must not pretend there are easy options because there is none. If we do our job, difficult as it may be, ultimately we will come through.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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The word "bailout" has been bothering me for some time so I looked up the meaning of the term. The EU-IMF deal does not refer to a bailout. In economic terms, a bailout is an act of loaning or giving capital to an entity in danger of failing, in an attempt to save it from bankruptcy, insolvency or total ruin, or to allow a failing entity to fail gracefully without spreading contagion. I am not sure what we got but what we got practically guarantees we will fail. There is very little prospect of doing so gracefully. How can a country with almost 500,000 people unemployed and 1,000 of the brightest and best leaving every week pay a debt of the magnitude of the debt we face? How can we do this when our so-called friends and partners impose an interest rate of 6% at the same time as they insist we take billions out of our economy, which means there is no prospect of reinflating the same economy? The answer is that this cannot be done. Does anyone believe it can be done? I wonder whether the Government believes it can be done.

At the time, the Labour Party was forceful about the situation facing Anglo Irish Bank. It was a private entity and there was no obligation on the taxpayers of this country to put tens of billions of euro into the bank to save it. What exactly were we saving it from? Many of us sought to burn the bond holders and I do not mind what people call this. It was not a sovereign debt, it was a bank debt. What did it have to do with sovereign debt? Who will pay the nurses, teachers and pensions in 2013? After 2013, burden sharing will be imposed and it will be a requirement. This will only take place after we have paid back the German, French and British bondholders. We will have burned our bridges by that stage. The ECB is the foremost authority on, and has ultimate responsibility for, the euro zone. We are members of the euro zone. It was not screaming from the rooftops about our AAA-rated banks before the collapse. A single A rating is how the ECB defines the rating that underpins high credit standards. Indeed, many of the ECB papers produced prior to 2008 used international rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's and Moody's, which are hugely discredited and which attached the AAA rating to the Irish banks. This includes Anglo Irish Bank before the collapse. The ECB were experts then and they are the experts now. They told our then Minister for Finance not to allow Anglo Irish Bank or other Irish banks to fail. Did the Minister know that saving the bank would be the exclusive responsibility of the Irish taxpayers? If one is told that the banks cannot be allowed to fail and that they are not sovereign entities, the instruction brings with it an obligation to have some burden sharing at the very least.

Over recent years there has been talk of a two-speed Europe. People can look around and see countries such as Portugal and Greece in the same boat as ourselves and Spain, where unemployment is above 20%. Like us, they are on the slow train to nowhere. We have a two-speed Europe in the making. The ECB interest rate policy was partly responsible for inflating the property bubble. Now, when peripheral countries need a lower interest rate, the ECB imposes the very opposite. Europe is unravelling at the edges. It is like picking away at a garment. The whole thing will come apart unless there is a comprehensive solution. I do not want to see good countries like Spain having to seek EU, IMF and ECB support or bailout before a comprehensive solution is provided at European level. It seems obvious that the European Council meetings are dominated by a monetary crisis.

The success of the euro is far from certain at this stage. It is obvious that it lacks a political dimension. How many Europeans would like to have more rather than less Europe at this stage? Next week, we will debate a jobs initiative. In addition to cutting out waste, growth and employment were advanced as the ways we would improve our fiscal situation. Some €2 billion was to be put into a strategic investment bank. Now we will have a jobs strategy that will be finance neutral. How many jobs will it create? I hope it will create jobs but I have my doubts when we do not have the other side, the strategic investment bank. It is difficult to see how it would produce the numbers we need if democracy is to mean anything. What is said at elections must mean something. The citizens have had their revenge on Fianna Fáil, rightly so, but we are seeing a continuation of the policies for which they were punished.

Next week we will have a debate on Europe. Monday is Europe day. We look forward to it but in the coming years we will commemorate the awful events of the Great War. The Menin Gate lists the names of more than 50,000 men killed and buried without graves. This was hardly constructed before the Second World War had started. People were still mourning those who were killed and it was still in living memory when the Second World War started. A. J. Cummings, an infantry man, wrote of the horror in the following words:

Every yard of that featureless slab of landscape held the menace of death. If you were not there, the war films would have told you what it was like. If you were there, the war films would have made you laugh. For those few miles of ground, north and south of the terrible road that runs from Ypres to Menin, bear lasting witness to the indestructible tendency of the human spirit. After the nightmare of Passchendaele there is no conceivable cataclysm of war or nature which civilised man might not endure.

The basis of the European Union grew out of those conflicts, yet what we are seeing is a retrenching back to narrow national interests and a movement away from a single Europe. We must see what is occurring in the peripheral regions of Europe as a threat to the European Union. The European Union has led to European stability. We must recognise that the countries on the periphery of Europe are in serious trouble. We should look beyond ourselves and ask what would happen if one or more of those countries fail. Will we go from one bailout to another? Will we continue to have European Council meetings dominated by crisis after crisis? Will we see those countries impoverished? I campaigned actively against both the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty. They were sold on the basis of Structural Funds and I do not believe the substance of those treaties was properly debated.

We must recognise that Europe, not just Ireland, is at a crossroads. It is in our interests and in the interests of Europe to look at the big picture and find political solutions because I cannot see where they are coming from, and I do not see where the leadership is coming from in Europe. This is not just about Ireland. This is not just about the bailout.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I had been scheduled to speak on this matter next week but events have moved forward somewhat.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I am sure the Deputy is like the boy scouts. Ever ullamh.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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This is an exercise in profound humiliation-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Profound.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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-----for the Irish Parliament, Dáil Éireann, a supposedly sovereign Parliament elected by the people of Ireland, and yet the document before us, the Programme of Financial Support for Ireland and the report on the first and second quarters, addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, the Eurogroup President of the Financial Ministry, Olli Rehn, the Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Jean-Claude Trichet, the European Central Bank president, and others, could be the report of a consul in the ancient Roman empire sent to some far distant place to exact tribute from the natives and then obliged to make regular reports on the rate of extraction of tribute with the threat of force and the power of an empire behind him. That is what this document reminds me of.

There is huge detail in this document with regard to the burden put on the Irish people to pay off the tens of billions of euro of bad gambling debts by European bankers, speculating with Irish bankers and developers in the Irish property bubble to reap massive profits when the going was good but then transferring that onto the shoulders of the Irish people by a treacherous decision of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government, and an equally treacherous continuation of that decision by the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition. Page 15, however, is the nadir of the entire document and it is an issue that has not been commented on to any great extent. This relates to the changes the Irish Government is proposing in the retirement age for social welfare pension purposes. It states, humiliatingly, that we are taking proactive measures to reduce our long-term pension liabilities. It further states that the next few months will see significant changes to pension terms put into law and that the most important of these changes is a three step increase in the retirement age for social welfare pensions from 65 to 68 over 2014 to 2028. Page 28 of the document specifies further that under the national pension framework the age at which people will qualify for the social welfare pension will be increased to 66 years in 2014, 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028.

The struggle for the shorter working day, week and year, and shorter working years in the lives of workers, was a defining struggle of the organisations of the working class going back almost 150 years. As a result of the heroic struggles of working men and women, tremendous progress had been made in that regard including the eight hour day, the 40 hour five day week, etc., to allow people to have time for rest and recreation with their friends and families, and it became a norm of what we considered a civilised life.

What we have in this year of 2011 is a pushing back of those huge achievements of the organised working class over almost a century and a half. It speaks volumes-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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We are living longer with the health services.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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-----for the real nature of capitalism and of the financial markets.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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You are caught in a time warp.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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No, Minister. You are caught in the iron laws of the capitalist financial markets of Europe-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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We are living longer.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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-----before which you bow down in adoration. It is the wild speculation and the profiteering in those markets by unaccountable, unelected, faceless entities - hedge fund operators, vampire banks, etc. - and those who connived with them for profits that has reduced many countries in Europe, including this country, to the position we are in today.

We welcome that people are living longer-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is very decent of the Deputy.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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-----but people should not be forced against their will to work till they drop. How many thousands more will not even see retirement? That is the reality of the situation. That is what the Minister is doing. Can he tell me what this means otherwise?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I will explain it to the Deputy.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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What is a pension? We consider that people who have worked all their working life should have dignity and security when they retire.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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They are living longer in retirement now than their entire working life in some instances.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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So.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That is the new reality, thank God.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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No, that is-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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That has been paid for.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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I welcome that but the fact is that society as a whole can create enough wealth that will keep everybody in reasonable comfort-----

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Forever.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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-----both working and when they move out of work to retirement, if that is their wish. It should be voluntary. The problem is that the wealth is apportioned unequally in our society and that is the reason the Minister's Government, under the edict of the EU-IMF and the ECB, which are in turn under the edict of the financial markets, which are the real dictatorship, is dictating that working people will not be given retirement pensions because they do not want to commit sufficient wealth that is created to do that. That wealth must instead go towards the profits of financial markets, the bankers and so forth.

This alone shows the brutality of the system, but it also shows the extent of the betrayal involved, particularly by the Labour Party. Just behind me there is a bust of that great man James Connolly. What would he think now of the party he founded with Larkin and others to stand and fight for a socialist society where wealth would be democratically socialised and owned, so that it would be at the disposal of society and the people? It would have created a much more humane and comfortable life. Connolly would find it truly shameful that the party he founded is now lending itself to the programme dictated by financial markets, including unknown bankers, hedge-fund operators and speculators.

There is a different way, of course, which is that those financial markets should be taken into public ownership, under democratic control and accountability.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Did the Deputy say the markets?

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Yes, the hedge funds, big banks and major conglomerates should be taken into public ownership. They should be put under the democratic control of the majority, thus using their resources to develop society and create further wealth. That would advance solidarity and society, so we would have an entirely different situation. We would not have an Irish Government humiliating itself in order to carry out the diktats of the markets, whose system has created the crisis with which our people are saddled and from which they are currently suffering.

1:00 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I am glad to get a chance to contribute to this debate. In the last Dáil, I voted against the so-called bailout because I believed then, and still believe, that it will only worsen this country's financial problems. That sad fact has been proven by every issue that has arisen since then concerning our inability to take action as a sovereign nation. The EU has failed to make foreign bondholders take a hit on losses from toxic real estate loans. That is the kernel of the problem in my humble opinion. Irish taxpayers are instead being asked to pay the bill at a punitive interest rate of 5.8% to ensure that foreign creditors will get their money back, rather than face any losses. This is totally inequitable, unfair and morally wrong.

I have been a small businessman since 1982 and the word "default" is anathema to me and to most right-thinking people. This system is set up for default, however, because we just cannot pay it. Thankfully, the IMF part of it is not as expensive as the part from our so-called EU friends. We had a high standing in Europe where we punched above our weight. I welcome the initiative of the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, to travel around Europe and meet with our ambassadors and others in order to promote our good name again. We are a race of good, honest people who can be trusted, but we cannot pay our debts when we have been blindfolded, with our hands tied behind our back, and are being beaten with a whip. I do not want to use emotive language but that is how I see it. We are being asked to do something, yet we have been put in a straitjacket and cannot do it.

In my business, if I have a contract I must carry out the job by all reasonable means. If so, I will be rewarded by being paid the agreed price. This contract, however, was signed up to by the previous Government without consulting the people. On two occasions during those discussions at the EU, I was in contact with the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. I pleaded with him not to sign the deal and to come home. I felt bad when the deal was done. These greedy, faceless people would have been back here on the first plane the next day because at that time the euro was unfortunately on the brink. Everyone knows that now, but we were given very limited information at the time. I was a Government backbencher then, as a member of the party without taking the Whip, and I always had a good relationship with the then Minister for Finance. We were told that we had no choice and that we had nothing else. I asked the then Minister afterwards "Who did this deal? Who was out there on our behalf?" We had the wrong people out there with him, including the Minister, because they had no understanding of business deals, or of the ability or inability to pay. They were depending on public officials. I am not condemning all public officials, but we need business people who understand the real world of money and how hard it is to repay. It is a question of knowing whether one can or cannot repay debt, even with growth in the economy, not to mind the situation we are in now. Unfortunately, a bad deal was done which also coerced us to dig into our National Pensions Reserve Fund. It was always quoted as a €85 billion deal, but €17.5 billion of our own money was put in first. We were forced to use up to €30 billion of our own money, so it is a clean-out and should never have been described as a bailout. That terminology was used despite the fact that we used our hard-earned pension fund that was so badly needed for other matters. It was a real bullying job, despite the fact that we voted for Lisbon 2. I know what the Irish people will do with any further EU treaties because they were denied the opportunity to vote on this issue. I cannot understand why that vote was denied because it would have strengthened the new Government's hand. It got a huge mandate from the electorate and I supported it in the vote for Taoiseach and other posts. I wished them well and still do, but they must utilise public support. The Government claims the vote it received in the election was a mandate and so it was, but they did not use it. They seem to be using the very same policies as before. It seems that we are helpless in a straight-jacket with our hands behind or back, blindfolded and the whip is out again. They are telling us what we must do, but we are unable to do it.

We have had debates on suicide prevention and financial institutions, but the lifeblood is being taken out of the economy. People do not have the wherewithal to maintain their own standard of living. We have also discussed residential mortgage debt, but many people cannot repay their home loans even though they are trying their best to do so. In such circumstances, they cannot spend money on day-to-day expenses, such as putting food on the table, clothing their children and sending them to school. We can see the result of it in shops and elsewhere.

It has been proven that the ECB pushed this situation onto us in order to protect the euro. That currency had to be protected, but not at this cost to us. The agreement had more to do with saving the euro project than it did with saving Ireland. Current interest rates will saddle us with unsustainable debt, which will see our economic circumstances deteriorate further every year. That situation is untenable and frightening for ordinary working people and the unemployed. It is also frightening for small businesses, which are the lifeblood of the economy. While we welcome the multinationals - there are a lot of them in my constituency - they come and go. Many of them have shown that when tax reliefs go they will depart. Given the competition from eastern Europe and elsewhere, the multinationals are voting with their feet and with their hands in their pockets. That is the way it is.

We are not allowed and we do not have the wherewithal to transact business.

I have a small business and I renewed my insurance in recent days, but insurance premia have gone through the roof. It was a complete racket for a number of years but thanks to the action of various Governments, premia were reduced. They have increased again and this is being blamed on inclement weather and so on. It is not possible to get a loan to even finance the insurance payments and, even if one gets one, the cheapest interest rate is 7.5% because the banks do not want to give out money. They do not have the credit.

I was a member of a Government which promised 18 months ago that both AIB and Bank of Ireland would release €3 billion each into the economy to be aimed at businesses and, in particular, small business. When their plans were eventually submitted to the Minister for Finance, they were returned because they were not good enough. The issue was avoided and not a cent was provided to business. Banks are lying through the teeth. They do not have the money and they are not giving it out.

Their loan statistics are total nonsense. No account is taken of people such as myself who walk up to a bank counter or who telephone the bank manager only to be told not to bother coming in because there is no point and it would be a waste of time. Others are called into the bank to discuss their overdraft and before they leave, the overdraft is taken from them and converted into a term loan and this is included in their statistics as a new loan. They are taking away overdrafts from good business people who have built up credit over the years. An overdraft facility is the lifeblood of any business. Some people have worked for 25 years to build up their credit but when they are called in, it is wiped away and converted to a term loan, which is considered to be a business loan and a new transaction. We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can continue like this. We have to change.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I call the Minister without Portfolio.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Independent)
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On a point of order, this is an important debate and there is not even a quorum in the House. What is the point in having a debate if Members are not present to listen to it? It is important to call a quorum.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I sincerely thank Deputy Murphy for getting me an audience.

I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. We need to have more discussion but it should be predicated on honesty. Both Government parties said during the election campaign that they would tell the people the truth about our economic circumstances and that we would not give them false hope or pretend that there was an easy way to get ourselves out of the terrible economic mess into which we have been plunged over the past number of years. That level of reality must be embraced by everybody who made contributions to the debate.

The principal issue raised by Opposition Members is that there is no substantial difference between the renegotiated programme and that negotiated by our predecessors. Let me be blunt and honest about that. A bad deal was negotiated last year but it was a solemn deal negotiated not by Fianna Fáil, but by the Government at the time and it was voted on by the Parliament and we are stuck with it. A number of Opposition Members think we should tell the EU and the IMF to take a hike. I have listened to, and debated with, Sinn Féin members on this because their view is simple. They want us to tell the EU and the IMF, which are providing us with money to pay our bills this year, to take a hike and to keep their money, which they want to lend to us at 5.8%. Their strategy is to use up our national treasury and the National Pensions Reserve Fund, but then what? That will probably give us a little short of a year. I raised this in a debate on radio during the election campaign with a Sinn Féin representative and the attitude was, "Then we'll go back to the markets".

We will tell officials who are giving us money at an interest rate of 5.8% to take a hike and we will go back to the markets, which are charging an interest rate of more than 10%. God knows what they will charge when our treasury is exhausted. The only solution then would be to spend only the money we can generate from our own resources, which would mean cutting public expenditure next year by €20 billion. Guards, nurses, and everyone else across the system would have to be annihilated to do that. Let us be honest with the people in this regard.

The programme before the House is not monumentally different from that which went before it but it is substantially different. We have managed to renegotiate a number of aspects but this is the start of a process. This is not the last time we will renegotiate and the stronger our economy becomes, the greater the leverage we will have to secure better deals. In my negotiations and those of the Minister for Finance with the EU, IMF and ECB, they want us to succeed but they want to us to be in a fiscally strong enough position to pay our way and to get back to the markets within a specific timeframe. They will give us flexibilities as long as we tell them the truth and part of our job is to restore acceptance that the word of the Government can be depended upon to deliver. There are, therefore, substantial differences.

Deputies opposite said the national minimum wage could not be restored but we will restore it as part of the jobs initiative to be announced next week. This will not be an end in itself but it will be the first step in an incremental series to put jobs and job creation at the heart of all Government activity. We will start that process next week. We have the flexibility within the programme to do that.

The comprehensive spending review on which I have embarked is to look fundamentally at the way we deliver services here. I spoke to every Secretary General and finance officer in every line Department yesterday. It is not business as usual. It is not the status quo. It is not the old processes of interaction between the Department of Finance and line Departments; it is looking to see what is essential to deliver to maintain decent services and, as we discussed during the general election, a floor of decency, in this country, but on the basis of what we can afford. We would love to continue to provide into the future what we are currently providing but we cannot do it for the next few years because we do not have the money. These are substantial changes but, in essence, it is correct to say that the core of the document is what was negotiated.

I will deal with one or two points made by the Deputies to whom I had the privilege of listening. It is important for us to debate that. The solution of Deputy Joan Collins, whom I believe is sincere, is to nationalise the banks. We have already nationalised the banks. The problem is that the previous Government nationalised their big debt and it is now on our backs. That is not a panacea. That is the problem. The second leg of her strategy is to tax the very wealthy whom she describes as anyone earning more than €100,000. She wants a tax levied on them at 95%. Does she and the Deputies of the United Left Alliance believe that doctors, researchers or managers will work in the economy if, in effect, no one can earn more than €100,000? That is not reality. She is opposed to all other taxes.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh's alternative is to tell the EU-IMF to take a hike. That is just not a viable alternative. The truth is that he knows it.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Let us be honest with people about where we have to go, what we have to do and the level of pain people are enduring and will have to endure.

I disagree with very little that Deputy Catherine Murphy said. She is absolutely correct about Anglo Irish Bank. We should never have nationalised its indebtedness.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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It was a disastrous strategy, but we are stuck with it now. It has already cost the taxpayers and people dearly. We need the strategic investment bank and we are determined to have it. Her attitude to Europe is correct. I re-read as part of a debate earlier the speeches of the founding fathers of the European Community. We have gone a long way from that. We need to have leadership in Europe that offers real solidarity to bring us out of the hole we are in.

I served long with Deputy Higgins on the administrative council of the Labour Party. I know his rhetoric very well.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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Before we threw him out.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Does Deputy Higgins remember that?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I waited to see what his first sentence would be in his best, dramatic Kerry tradition, whether the Labour Party's treachery was "profound" or "monumental". It is always one or the other. Today it was "profound". I could refer to parts of the document I would criticise. The one thing he criticised was the increase in the age for the old age pension between now and 2028. It is going up in increments to 66, 67 and 68. The old age pension was set at 65 by Brendan Corish in the mid-1970s.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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It was in 1973.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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Does Deputy Higgins have any idea how much life expectancy has increased since then? Many people now live longer than their working career. There is an economic reality about the affordability of pensions into the future. It was designed for a different time but on this as on so many issues Deputy Higgins is caught in a time warp.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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No.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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People deserve to hear a different rhetoric in 2011, one based on the realities they face now.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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We could pay pensions if we were not paying tens of billions to European bankers.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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In his contribution, Deputy Mattie McGrath said the deal must be abandoned as it is a bad one. It was not a good deal. It is not a good place for us to be in but we need money at affordable rates now to pay for our services and to provide for the things we need to do and to incrementally get ourselves out of that hole and out of those clutches. I say to all of those who suggest we should abandon the deal because it is a bad one, "What then?" How are we to get the money to provide the goods and services? It is not good enough to hear the cliché of "Tax the rich".

Anyone on the Opposition side of the House who has a proposal on taxation or anything else should send it to me and I will have it costed and publish the result. I will see how many people are in the brackets to which the Deputies opposite refer, what the yield would be and what it would be against the level of money required to run the economy and to keep the floor of decency which the Government is determined to do. I did not deliver the concluding remarks that were circulated. It is important that we have many more debates anchored in reality to tell the full truth to the people.