Seanad debates

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Economic and Recovery Authority: Motion

 

5:00 pm

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to implement a new economic stimulus package by establishing a state holding company called the New Economic and Recovery Authority to oversee targeted investment in a series of key infrastructural areas designed to generate 100,000 jobs over the next four years, while also re-structuring existing Government agencies dealing with these areas.

The NewERA will oversee investment in:

green energy power generation, including electric transport

next generation broadband roll-out

upgrading water distribution and treatment works

Unlike investments financed by the taxpayer, the New ERA investments will not count as Government expenditure as they will be financial investments seeking a commercial rate of return.

An additional €11 billion in investment funds will be managed by the NewERA, on top of the outstanding €7 billion worth of NDP projects in the relevant areas.

The NewERA will be funded from a contribution of sources, including:

the National Pensions Reserve Fund

additional forms of borrowing by the NewERA and

sale of existing state assets no longer serving the strategic goals of the NewERA initiative, subject to Oireachtas approval.

I welcome the Minister of State, who is a regular visitor to his former haunt. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the motion. Fine Gael has published four detailed policy proposals over the past four weeks, despite Senator Leyden's assertion on the Order of Business that the Opposition had no policies. We are positively brimful of policy over the past number of weeks. This policy was published last week by Deputy Coveney, our spokesperson on communications, energy and natural resources in the Dáil. It outlines a plan of action for direct stimulation of a number of key areas in the economy going forward.

The House has had a number of detailed debates in recent months on our economic position and more will follow in the next few months. The Government will have to examine two key issues, among others, in the context of next week's budget and its policy going forward. The first is job protection, to which Senator Butler referred on the Order of Business, and the other is job creation. Fine Gael considers that the Government needs to focus its attention on these issues over the next week, in particular, in drafting the budget. This proposal is our effort to unveil a specific targeted policy for job creation in the medium term. Over the past ten years, expertise was developed in construction, engineering and related fields and we are in danger of haemorrhaging this expertise over the next few years unless the Government makes a serious effort to replace jobs, particularly in construction.

Fine Gael proposes a new economic and recovery authority under which 100,000 jobs will be created over the next four years in a number of key targeted areas relating to infrastructure such as the provision of broadband, improvements in the national grid, the provision of water and waste water treatment facilities and the provision of renewable energy and bioenergy sources. A number of detailed proposals are outlined in the motion.

The Government's amendment highlights its difficulty with investing money from the National Pension Reserve Fund, NPRF, in the Fine Gael initiative. The NPRF is an investment fund, which invests significantly overseas, and I do not know what the problem is with the fund making investments in the State at this juncture when a cash injection is needed to stimulate the economy to provide jobs into the future and ensure a commercial rate of return is achieved. The last thing Fine Gael wants is the establishment of a new quango. The new ERA will be a State holding company, which will oversee the existing portfolio of businesses in State control and the establishment of a number of key new businesses in areas not best served currently. It will not be a new quango or "a new HSE", as it was referred to last week. Its structure will be completely different from that of the HSE.

The authority will be based on the ideal of achieving a commercial rate of return. Moneys invested by the NPRF and raised privately or through the new national bond scheme proposed under this initiative will generate a commercial rate of return. This has the added benefit from the Government's perspective of removing a borrowing requirement from its books in providing a stimulus. Most countries in the developed world are in the process of implementing a stimulus package. Our current financial position means we cannot hope to provide such a package from the State's resources but money is available privately, which can be tapped into, and this proposal also seeks the setting up of a national bond scheme through which citizens will be able to invest. Their money will be guaranteed and they will receive a return on their investment. That will appeal to many people in a position to invest in such a scheme.

These proposals from Fine Gael come hot on the heels of proposals for Oireachtas reform, which were made some weeks previously, proposals for reform of the funding of third level education and proposals this afternoon for next week's budget and what Fine Gael would do to bridge the appalling gap in our public finances if it was in government.

We are undergoing an industrial transformation based on global warming and peak oil. The public realises that we must do our bit. Many of the investments under this initiative will be aimed at renewable and bio-energy. The Government's amendment states that six new State companies would be set up if this proposal were implemented. That is not the case because the proposal states specifically that several existing companies such as Coillte, Bord na Móna and the forestry research company would be amalgamated if it were put into practice and that other State companies, such as Bord Gáis, could be sold off resulting in a rationalisation of existing State provision as well as the creation of several new companies aimed at areas that badly need investment.

We have had a series of debates here on broadband since I came into this House. One of the companies that Fine Gael proposes to establish would aim to give 90% of the population access to next generation broadband. In my area there are places that do not have first generation broadband but this initiative is important to stimulate the economy and ensure that small local businesses have access to international markets and ensure the creation of several job opportunities.

The motion also contains a proposal to establish a new company called Irish water which would be responsible for ensuring the provision of safe, clean drinking water. I do not need to mention what happened in Galway a few years ago, and the same has happened in other parts of the country. The company would have responsibility for administering funding for waste water treatment.

Another initiative is the greener home bank which would help tens of thousands of homeowners to upgrade their energy supply and waste water standards. A crucial component of the proposal is a company called SmartGrid which would involve the investment of €3.3 billion in the electricity network and take over the role of ESB Networks. It would be split off from the ESB group. That needs to happen if we are serious about competition in the energy supply sector.

There is no reason that Ireland cannot become a world leader in green energy. Senator O'Toole spoke earlier today about the potential for green energy, particularly on the west coast, which holds some of the greatest ocean energy potential in the world. The Green Party spoke a great deal about this before entering Government and there are initiatives investigating that energy. It is waiting to be exploited and the Fine Gael proposal would see us embark on an ambitious new plan in that direction.

Another key component of the proposal is to power our cars with domestically produced renewable energy rather than spending billions of euro importing fossil fuels whose supply is uncertain both because the source is running down and because the supply chain is politically unstable. The Government should embrace this proposal.

Most of the potential for job creation in this proposal is in construction, engineering, scientific research, plumbing and electrical technicians, insulation and home energy experts, forestry maintenance and timber processing. Many of the existing sources of employment in those areas have been badly affected in recent months and it is necessary to provide alternative employment for the people who have lost their jobs in those sectors. My part of the world is not very different from that of the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Mansergh. The Celtic tiger was a myth there, apart from construction-related employment. It did not exist for other sectors outside Dublin and its environs and other large urban areas. If we are serious about protecting the fabric of our society and the many people who live in rural communities we must ensure that they are able to get jobs, provide for their families and live in their communities.

The most worrying aspect of what has happened here in the past few months is that we might return to the days when young people had to leave the country for economic reasons. I know many people who have already left and many more who are contemplating leaving. I regret that the Government has not sought heretofore to discuss possible methods of job creation. We have talked a great deal about what we need to do to bridge the gap in our public finances but have not said enough about what we will do to create jobs in our economy. That is the only way we can pull ourselves out of the present economic mess, not by massive tax hikes across the board but by expanding the economy which has contracted dramatically in recent months.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Progressive Democrats)
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I second the motion. It is a most welcome development in allowing us to debate the options open to us in tackling head-on the challenges we face. The proposal to implement a far-reaching economic stimulus package, overseen by a new economic and recovery authority, is welcome because it is real, tangible, looks past tomorrow and next week, can be implemented and, if it is, could create the sustainable jobs our country so badly needs. As I mentioned during our statements on the budget last week, we need exactly this sort of long-term planning in our time of crisis. That would allow our people to have real faith in our ability as politicians to work our way out of our difficulties. Increasing revenue through tax increases is the unimaginative option but doing so through increased economic activity is the only way we can survive in the long term and is exactly what the motion proposes.

I am particularly pleased that this motion sets out the significant potential in green energy technology, a facet of our economy that so far we seem to be intent on neglecting. Several Members of this House, in particular Senator O'Malley, have done very valuable work in setting out how we as a nation could become world leaders in research and manufacturing in this sector.

We have always looked with some degree of deference to the former economic powerhouses of Japan and Taiwan for indications of where the new cutting edge developments in technology should be. It is interesting to note that only last week the president of Taiwan insisted that green energy technologies will be the top priority on his Government's list of new industries to promote. Taiwan is looking for new areas to invest in for the future, and clean environmental technologies have become a popular target. The US, Germany and Japan have named green energy technologies as key investment areas and have been working to promote the use of energy saving devices, including solar panels. Clean technology was the third highest sector for investment by venture capitalists in the US last year. A number of prominent multinational companies located in Ireland are already using new technologies for the management of energy use.

In the area of green energy we might reflect on what one of our European neighbours has been able to achieve. Three decades ago, Sweden relied on petroleum for 77% of its energy needs. Today, that figure has shrunk to 30%. Sweden's use of renewable energy has increased steadily. No other European country provides as large a proportion of its energy needs from such sources. Sweden now has a large number of small power plants serving large towns and some regions. It is a decentralised but effective system that provides most homes with heating and many with electricity. Of these plants, 60% are run from biomass. The community of Enkuping, 60 km west of Stockholm, which a friend of mine visited recently, is the first community to provide 100% of its electricity and heating needs by processing wood. This community of 38,000 people has also managed to solve another problem thanks to its power plant: the sludge and carbon dioxide-rich water from the local sewage processing plant serves as fertiliser for growing more wood fuel.

The Fine Gael NewERA proposal focuses in particular on green energy technology. Ireland could become a world leader in wind and wave energy technology. We are a small windswept island on the edge of the Atlantic. On a daily basis we are bombarded by limitless and powerful natural forces that, if properly harnessed, could lead to the sort of advances that have been made in Sweden and other countries. With smart electricity metering we could see individual householders selling excess green power into the national grid, as already happens in other countries. However, our experience to date has been to import the know how and the technology to harness this energy. I read last week that the ESB is to begin a smart metering pilot project across 60,000 homes in this country. However, we are importing the technology for that pilot project from the USA and Germany. With a little ingenuity and commitment we could be the country leading the way in research and development in this area.

This is the first time in a number of months that such a long-term view has been adopted by any party. Of course, there are elements of this policy that must be discussed and teased out, but it most certainly provides a starting point that should be entertained by every Member of this House who hopes to play a part in our economic recovery.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Seanad Éireann" and substitute the following:

acknowledges the very substantial investment in infrastructure the Government has made in electricity, including renewable energy sources, and the very substantial investment in infrastructure the Government has made in upgrading water distribution and treatment works;

expresses concern that such proposed investment under the Fine Gael plan will not yield a commercial return and would result in a depletion of the National Pensions Reserve Fund;

notes that the proposal would result in the setting up of an additional six State companies;

invites the Government to continue to invest, with due regard to the economic and budgetary challenges facing Ireland, in those infrastructure priorities that will assist economic recovery; and

invites the National Pensions Reserve Fund to continue to manage its assets with a view to making the maximum contribution to the cost of future pension liabilities in a manner that will maintain this country's commitment to long-term fiscal stability.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and am delighted to have the opportunity to make some points on this issue. I thank Fine Gael for using their Private Members' time to bring forward these proposals. It is a positive move for us to debate this matter and that proposals are made. We may agree or disagree as to their merits but the important point is that we engage and come up with real suggestions that some people believe will make a contribution towards putting us on the road to recovery and laying down a foundation for a sustainable growth path for the future.

I have read the Fine Gael document and there are points in it that I commend. There are items I like and others I do not like. I will begin by being mildly facetious. The document bears a remarkable resemblance to the one in my hand, namely, A New Governance Structure for State Companies, an ICTU document from summer 2005 which contains the diagram seen in the Fine Gael document.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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It is completely different.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I understand I can refer to documents provided I leave a copy for the Cathaoirleach afterwards. Is that the case?

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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That is true. The Senator can refer to documents but cannot display them.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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The documents, which must not be displayed or held up in the House, bear two diagrams which are remarkably similar.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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They are different.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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ICTU issued a statement to the effect that it considers the adoption of its proposals of 2005 to be the ultimate form of flattery. Perhaps Fine Gael will raise that issue with ICTU.

Fianna Fáil acknowledges the substantial investment in electricity infrastructure made by the Government in recent years, including in renewable energies. No Administration in the history of the State has invested more than this one. In addition, a very substantial investment in infrastructure was made by the Government in upgrading water distribution, treatment works and networks. We express concern that the proposed investment under the Fine Gael plan will not necessarily yield a commercial return and would result in a potential depletion of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. This is a risk.

My party believes these proposals would result in the establishment of an additional six State companies. I take the point that some exist already but the document mentions a holding company as well as some existing and some new companies. I worry about that. I will not use words such as "quango" but we should look for consolidation and the bringing together of people, as do some of Fine Gael's other proposals in respect of Oireachtas reform. That area needs to be refined further.

As our amendment states, our position is to ask Government, having due regard to the economic and budgetary challenges facing Ireland, to continue to invest in those infrastructural priorities that will assist economic recovery, especially those that will contribute most to our competitiveness. Concerning human infrastructure I would like to see us increase investment in certain aspects of education as envisaged by the smart economy. Investment in entrepreneurship should be our approach to the entire educational system, from primary school to fourth-level education and industry.

I would also like to see further investment, for example, in Science Foundation Ireland, from which body, at a cost of approximately €180 million per year, we see a very substantial return. We might not read so much about this in the media but I was greatly encouraged at a recent briefing that some of the world's biggest companies, such as Glaxo Smith Kline, engage through Science Foundation Ireland.

Deputy Cannon mentioned renewable energy. In his constituency, IBM is heavily engaged with the Marine Research Institute off the coast of Galway with sensors in place that feed into IBM's technology. It is also trying to develop photonics as a method of communication for future telecoms. These enterprises all came about from awards made under the auspices of Science Foundation Ireland. I would like some of our investment budget to increase funding to such concerns. I do not know if this is possible but it is certainly the kind of investment we should prioritise, given the limited resources it is clear we will have. I would like us to focus on investing to the greatest extent possible in the aspects of our physical infrastructure that will contribute most to our competitiveness. I will say a little more about green energy presently. This would also encourage the National Pensions Reserve Fund which continues to manage its assets with a view to making the maximum contribution to the cost of future pension liabilities in a manner that will maintain the country's commitment to long-term fiscal stability.

Many of the proposals in the Fine Gael document replicate the Government's document on the smart economy, published in December, particularly with regard to investment in energy efficiency and new technology. We broadly welcome the publication of this proposal and of further proposals from Fine Gael or from other parties concerning ways in which we might tackle the biggest crisis faced by the world economy, including ours. The Government welcomes this document as an acknowledgement of its positive initiatives in these areas and looks forward to the publication of similar proposals by other Opposition parties. The Fianna Fáil position is that the Fine Gael proposal is not fully thought out in respect of large-scale borrowing.

An article in The Sunday Business Post claimed it was a good idea to have agencies separated from Government whose expenses, in that way, avoid appearing on the balance sheet. I am not an accountancy wizard but it seems to me that such is the approach that got the world into its current mess. The article claimed that no borrowing is made because it does not appear on the balance sheet but of course borrowing is taking place. That is a personal view.

The Government has invested significantly in infrastructural improvements in the area of green energy, as my colleague, Senator Terry Leyden, suggested today. Last week the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, announced that €50 million would be provided for the home energy savings scheme. The response has been phenomenal, with 94,000 calls to Sustainable Energy Ireland, which is very welcome. There is a call for even further contractors to register with Sustainable Energy Ireland and give, as the Minister said, a boost to their businesses. This is a very positive move which shows that green innovations in the smart economy are beginning to work.

EirGrid is proceeding on target with the east-west interconnector due for completion by 2012. ESB's strategic framework to 2020 will see a total capital investment of €22 billion by the company with 50% of the overall investment package geared towards investments in renewable energy. I refer to the issue of water which is contained in the Fine Gael proposals. Since 2000 a total of approximately €4.8 billion has been allocated to the provision of infrastructure, delivery of water and waste water services throughout every constituency and every corner of Ireland. The programme for Government includes a commitment to continue to invest in water infrastructure to ensure public water supplies comply with drinking water services and to ensure waste water discharges meet the highest international standards.

Subject to the fiscal and budgetary position, the Government remains committed to further infrastructural investment which would add to the productivity and capacity, support and maintain employment, increase competitiveness and contribute to our Kyoto commitments and President Obama's proposed follow-on from Kyoto.

I welcome the fact that positive proposals are coming and we must all redouble our efforts to come up with the most innovative and productive proposals to meet the great challenges facing us.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I wish to share time with Senator Feargal Quinn.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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Agreed.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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I think we should be more creative about amendments to motions in this House. The kind of amendments tabled here all the time would not be allowed in any other organisation and they are probably seen as a direct negative. Like Senator MacSharry I welcome the fact Fine Gael moves closer to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions position which is a very healthy development and which, no doubt, is threatening to those on the Government side of the House. It does Fine Gael no harm at all.

I want to focus on one aspect of what is a very progressive document which is more progressive in its proposals than what the Government has proposed in the areas of energy and energy storage, for instance. The Green Party might have a good look at it and just make sure the Government moves along these lines.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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Where does the Senator think Fine Gael got it?

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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Senator John Paul Phelan referred to a conversation we had previously. I took as an example the case of County Mayo. It is my belief that County Mayo, properly organised and harnessed, could be supplying Ireland with a substantial amount of its energy needs in a very short time indeed. First and foremost we need to get the Corrib oil on shore. This demands and requires political leadership. There has been too much shilly-shallying about this. We have gone through the process. Whether I like it or dislike it, this is a democracy. We set up a structure and put in place the obstacles and put it through the systems. We demanded all the health and safety requirements and they have met all those requirements. Whether I like it or not, that is the end of the matter and we should now decide to get the oil on shore. Anyone looking at Ireland's energy requirements and considering that Kinsale will be going off-line within 18 months, knows that we have to do this. We should be courageous and tell people that this is the action required and the patriotic action is to bring it ashore. The position of any supposedly left-wing person in this country should be in support of it, not to mention anybody on the business end of the Labour spectrum who will, I am sure, share that view.

I wish to make a slight correction to the point made by Senator John Paul Phelan. I was in fact referring to wave energy rather than tidal energy when I said off the north-west Mayo coast is the most energy-rich wave source in Europe. The average wave height is an unbelievable 2.5 m for the whole year. There is no place else in Europe with such waves. There are people down there tearing their hair out because they are not getting the kind of support they need. It requires three or four pieces of legislation to be revisited and changed rapidly so that licences can be issued.

The Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security has made proposals which the Government should take and run with. There is not a proper quantum of research and development on this issue happening in our universities. Wave energy is being developed very successfully in University College Cork and to a lesser extent in two other places. I plead with the Government. I know the Minister of State's views on these issues. I plead with him to set up a bursary in a number of universities on this island for doctorate-level research on the development of wave energy. We are close to leading the world on this but Scotland is marginally ahead of us at the moment. We could be a world leader.

The second issue is that of tidal energy. There are places on the west coast such as Bull's Mouth, Achill Sound and the Shannon Estuary and the Blaskets Sound where there is a tidal current of four to five knots. It can also be done down by Wexford and along by north Antrim and off Arklow. Wind off the west coast is an extraordinary resource. There is currently a proposal to establish a wind farm of 5,000 MW in Mayo. These are issues which can be moved forward.

I have spoken many times in this House about the lack of broadband which is crucial to development and which is mentioned in this Fine Gael document. Does the Minister of State realise that the Bord Gáis pipeline going from County Galway to north Mayo carries alongside it a conduit for fibre optic which could convey broadband to every town in the west? The only reason it is not filled with that fibre optic is because there is a piece of regulatory legislation which does not allow it to be carried. Such a situation brings the country into disrepute. I compliment Fine Gael's proposals about the relationship between storage and the electric car and wind energy. Three or four pieces of legislation need to be unblocked and small amounts of money invested. Fine Gael is correct when it states there are many positive actions which can be taken.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I thank Senator O'Toole for allowing me time to contribute and I welcome the Minister of State. The Minister of State has been in here before and I do not want to repeat myself. I have a concern about more quangos and more organisations being set up, the objective of which is very worthy. However, my real concern is the belief that we can create jobs; jobs will be created by entrepreneurs and not by us nor by setting up a new organisation. I have a great concern that some of the proposals made in the past will not create wealth.

When I studied economics in university I was reminded that the country could be likened to a family. If father and mother are doing the knitting or doing the washing for one another and if the son is selling to the daughter, unless some wealth is brought in from outside, they will not survive. Many of the proposals made in the past do not give us extra wealth. We have to find a way of either producing something or exporting something, whether that is intellectual property or whatever. Some of Fine Gael's proposals are very worthy but I have a fear that we believe we can create jobs. It is not the job of Government or of the Oireachtas to create jobs. They will be created if we can create the right atmosphere.

I met the American minister for employment who said that her job was to create the environment to enable entrepreneurs to create the jobs and that should be the objective. When Senator O'Toole talked about the different kinds of energy such as wave, tidal and wind, I agree we should be finding a way but it is not happening nearly fast enough. We must properly discuss and debate our energy future. The proposal discusses how we will become self-sufficient in energy but this does not seem possible unless we look at more proven sources of energy. It is easy to pander to the populist view that nuclear energy is simply bad and almost taboo when green energy has such positive connotations. It is much deeper than that. Let us look at what is happening in other European countries. Senator Boyle will be interested that last month, four of the leading Greens who were opposed to nuclear energy changed their attitude. The head of Greenpeace and others said they have taken the viewpoint that nuclear energy is worthy of discussion. We have not taken that first step here.

Nuclear reactors are to be built in Sweden for the first time in nearly 30 years after the Government there decided to abandon the commitment it made in 1980 to phase out nuclear power. In this country we still cling to that outdated condemnation of nuclear power through our Electricity Regulation Act 1999. Sweden is just one of a number of EU countries that have chosen nuclear energy under pressure to diversify from fossil fuels and meet tough climate change targets for cutting emissions. Some two thirds of the world's population live in countries that have nuclear energy. We may have been doing the right thing back in 1999, but we are not doing the right thing now by excluding nuclear power from our discussion. Sweden is just one of a number of countries that have done that. Sweden recognises that renewable sources are not being developed quickly enough to decommission nuclear power sources. Nuclear energy is seen there as part of an energy solution strategy. We must find a way to do that. I am not sure I am right, but I am sure we are right to at least discuss it and I would love to see nuclear power discussed as part of our objective.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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I like to think that when I contribute to Private Members' time I am open to presentations made by Opposition parties and there is much in today's motion to welcome, but I cannot accept that any of it is particularly new. I had a wry smile when I heard Senator Cannon say Fine Gael is the only party with long-term vision on these issues. I can understand Senator Cannon, from his new vantage point, might need to readjust his vision and that might be the best action for him.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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Senator Boyle's Government is doing such a great job of everything.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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I reject the idea that Fine Gael is a repository of novel ideas and looking into the long term——

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The Senator should take the log out of his own eye.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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——particularly in terms of the issues mentioned here. My party has long advocated these issues.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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It has not delivered.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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My party is delivering on these issues in government.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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People in glasshouses——

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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The Government has already put in place new building standards for houses, increased support for research and development into wave energy, increased the tariffs for wind energy and brought about ideas on micro-management. To claim nothing is happening is politically false. Fine Gael is trying to attach itself to a zeitgeist that exists despite it. Fine Gael wants to be part of it because the political reality is that the future is in these ideas and being in Government delivering these ideas is the challenge for anybody interested in political office. I welcome that aspect of what Fine Gael is saying today. Although the ideas it articulated are not its ideas or new ideas, we need to pursue them. On that ground there is much to welcome in the motion.

Given the economic situation and the need for public sector reform, I am intrigued by the idea that we need a new agency. The idea of public service reform is that we examine our existing network of agencies, many of which are not performing as they should, and ask how can they be rationalised and reorganised. The last thing we need is a new body to implement measures that are part of a policy agenda this Government is implementing. If there is a valid political criticism, Fine Gael could say things may not be done as quickly or as competently as they could or they may not be articulated or formulated as well as they could, but those are not the arguments being made this evening.

We are hearing that a vacuum exists and that as the main Opposition party Fine Gael alone can fill it. I cannot accept that, particularly in a political context where we need to address these issues collectively. I hope that as reality dawns on all of us in political life about the need to develop a new economy, these ideas will become common currency among us all.

I can articulate in two companies the type of support I already see bearing fruit in terms of our future economy. OceanEnergy is a Cork-based company doing testing for wave energy off the coast of Galway. It is already on to a three quarter-size model of a turbine which will turn into a full-size model, which will turn into a nest of turbines, which will generate alone half of what we hope to produce in renewable wave energy. We have set a very ambitious target that 40% of our electricity will be generated by renewable energy by 2020.

The other company worth talking about is OpenHydro, a group operating from Cooley in Dundalk that specialises in tidal power. It is producing a turbine that attaches itself to the sea bed and is testing it off the coast of Scotland, but it is being produced in Ireland. The beauty of such developments in formulating a new economy is that the investment is going in producing jobs in research and development and opportunities in technology that can be sold elsewhere, not only producing energy here, and that is the experience of OpenHydro. The ultimate advantage of these technologies is that they require heavy engineering solutions. The production of turbines for wave and tidal energy give an alternative use to old ship yards and dry docks and could employ hundreds of people working with heavy engineering to produce the new hardware of the future.

This is where Fine Gael's ideas as it articulates them need to be fleshed out. We are in an era where we exist with our economic situation and have to deal with our environmental reality that has a global impact, but we also have to flesh out ideas. We are beyond the time in the global economy and the world environment when we can talk about mere aspirations. This is about putting one's money where one's mouth is and pledging oneself to long-term goals. If that is where Fine Gael is coming from it will have my support in helping it flesh out that activity, however it cannot claim to do so in the vacuum in which it operates. These are not new ideas. They require new thinking.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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Let us hear it.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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Senator McFadden is seeing it. Returning to Senator Cannon's vantage point, these things are happening and the fact that Fine Gael is choosing not to see them, not only the reality on the ground but the potential created by their happening, is churlish in the extreme. I hope that not only through the opportunity of a debate such as this evening's that will become more apparent. I hope that in future motions such as this will be produced with the critiques needed about time, commitment and energy but more importantly flesh on the bone. Walter Mondale was the candidate in an American presidential election in the late 1980s and he turned to his opponent when making a political point and said, "Where's the beef?"

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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He lost that election.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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That is what tonight's motion says to me. We are still a largely agricultural country and these are issues we also need to take care of.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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These are the basics.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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Fine Gael prides itself as a party that likes to think it represents the agricultural community. This is a question the party members need to ask themselves when promoting motions such as this and trying to define them in a way that makes them better currency.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I support the motion proposed by my colleague, Senator John Paul Phelan. I thank him for bringing it forward for debate. I also thank and congratulate my Cork colleague, Deputy Coveney, on putting so much work into this Fine Gael policy, which was launched last week and is a major step forward in the sense of an Opposition party presenting a series of options that are well thought out, fully costed and which, if enacted, could make a difference.

The previous speaker, who has left the Chamber, spoke of vacuums and said there was a vacuum on this side of House. If there is a vacuum currently in the political process and in the broader political debate, it is a vacuum of hope on the Government side of the House and more pertinently on the Government benches. Members of the public fully understand the economic crisis facing the country. There is a clear level of public acceptance and understanding of it but there is a lack of hope among the public because there is no confidence, energy or optimism emanating from Government. That vacuum of hope needs to be filled and it can only be filled by political parties, and from the Fine Gael Party perspective, by presenting a series of ideas and options as to how this country can be turned around and what types of projects can be presented that can make a difference, can ensure people get back to work and that will work in practice as well as in theory. The type of thinking behind this Fine Gael motion is pertinent. It is what the public is demanding of all of political parties.

There was a time when it was enough for an Opposition party simply to oppose Government measures but now it is demanded of us that we present our own ideas, solutions and suggestions. We were invited to do so by the Government. In a sense it was demanded of us. This document, our proposal to set up a new economic and recovery authority, is part of our package of replies. It is not only worthy of debate but of acceptance and implementation. It reflects the type of thinking that is demanded and expected of political parties. Whether the next election is six weeks, six months or two and half years hence, I hope during that period there will be a battle of ideas between the parties. It is incumbent on all political parties to present what they stand for, how they would change the State and what proposals they would implement. We have a solid document in this our policy platform, which we are now discussing.

I wish to refer to some of the issues at the core of this Fine Gael policy. I believe everybody would accept the need for progress in green energy power generation, electric transport etc., but there has been limited progress in those areas in recent years. I am disappointed Senator Boyle has left the Chamber. He has often spoke about the Green Party's aspirations in this regard, but we have seen little action from it in the almost two years it has been in the seat of power.

From a Cork perspective, in terms of green energy, electric transport, fuel systems etc., we must reflect on the now disused, virtually dismantled, decayed sugar factory in Cork and sugar beat industry in Ireland. There is still an opportunity to produce a fuel mix of bioethanol, biodiesel etc. That must be brought back on to the political and economic agenda. The Government has examined such proposals in the past three or four years. We have the necessary capacity for such development and a number of recent seminars on this topic were held. We have the capacity to grow a significant level of fuel crops without impacting on our core agri-food need. This issue is worthy of urgent Government attention. It is part of the Fine Gael proposal and it is something that can work.

Our document covers the rollout of broadband. It has been discussed in this House on numerous occasions and it is very much part of the political agenda but now we want to make it work. Far too many areas of the country do not have sufficient broadband access. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, made a number of announcements on it, the most recent being a few weeks ago. We need action now rather than announcements. Such provision is very much at the core of this Fine Gael policy document that we will invest significantly in the rollout of broadband to ensure that not only every town but every townland across the length and breadth of the country has access to broadband with the advantages that would bring from a commercial, industrial and domestic perspective. I fully support our policy in that regard.

The cost of the measures I briefly outlined and of all the measures contained in the document is substantial. We recognise that the country is currently economically disadvantaged from a financial perspective. That is the reason the thinking behind the Fine Gael document is new and novel but it is also realistic in the sense that we present an equation of financial measures which will ensure the whole programme will be funded from a number of sources, including the National Pensions Reserve Fund, additional forms of borrowing by the new ERA and the sale of some current State assets. The State is investing money in the National Pensions Reserve Fund, which is currently resulting in a loss of value in the fund. The fund's performance during the past 12 to 24 months, like every other pension fund worldwide, has lost a significant share of its value. It is appropriate that some of this money would be invested in a series of projects that would work and make a difference. Our suggestion that we examine State assets, consider the sale of a number of them and plough the resources back into this type of thinking and project is sensible, understandable, workable and can make a difference.

I express the hope that the type of thinking behind this set of ideas will continue to flow from this side of the House. There is currently a vacuum in Irish politics. It is a vacuum of hope and vision on the Government side. There is a demand on us to fill that vacuum with policy proposals and ideas that are workable and which the public demand of us. This document and our motion represent a positive step in that direction.

6:00 pm

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Fine Gael Party for putting a good motion before us on which we have had a good debate, but I will be supporting the amendment to it. I am delighted Fine Gael has put forward some good ideas with which I could certainly agree. It is a much more positive approach for an Opposition party to put forward proposals, with many of which the Government can agree and is already implementing. This Government was the first to devise a Government green energy policy. This is part of what the Government will do over the course of the next five years. I am glad Fine Gael wants to dovetail its ideas into that policy and many of the ideas put forward are already part of it. That is a positive approach.

I proposed a number of weeks ago when the Minister responsible was in the House that the National Pensions Reserve Fund should be extended. The Government was prudent to ensure the provision of such a fund. We are lucky it provided it as it has facilitated the recapitalisation of the banks and such moneys invested in the banks at a substantial return. That is the way to go.

It is important to realise that while there will be upward adjustments in taxes and so forth to meet present day spending, we need to recognise the significance of the insulation grant and public demand for it. The public is buying into this and we should extend the initiative, thus boosting job creation. That would be a welcome investment.

It is important as well to recognise that nothing needs to be added to the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The Government could decide that a dividend payment could be made by that fund to incentivise investments mainly being made in the country. While we could invest outside the country, one can see from the performance of investments outside the country being made by companies such as Canada Life, Hibernian Insurance, etc. that they are not managing people's pensions funds very well. Anything between 25% and 50% this year will be lost on pension schemes. We would be far better off offering a smaller dividend to keep our money at home and have it invested in the economy. That should be the way forward and Fine Gael seems to be agreeing with that.

Wind, solar and wave energy were mentioned. We should be leaders in this regard and I am sure we will be, but this is in its infancy at the moment. I do not believe wave energy has been developed in any economy. We are further advanced in that regard than most other economies. We should be doing more with micro-wind and solar energy in the context of housing. I believe there is enormous potential in that for investment in renewables. Smart metering, which the Minister is introducing in a scheme of 60,000 or 70,000 houses, will be a great boost to the economy. If such houses are producers of solar and wind energy, they will be able to sell it back into the grid. However, this requires every house in the country to have a smart meter. I believe this would be a major step forward. That is part of the policy and this is why the Fine Gael motion is very welcome because it supports that policy.

It is encouraging that when our backs are to the wall we are not scoring political points. It is incumbent on other parties to do what Fine Gael is doing, namely, putting forward solutions. If one puts forward solutions one cannot be criticised. However, when one criticises without offering solutions, that is not a very political way of finding answers for the problems we now have.

With the budget coming on stream, it is important as well to look at the possibility of having a directory of skills available to us, as I mentioned on the Order of Business. The Minister might look at compiling such a directory of skills through the unemployment system to see precisely the type of people we have who might need to avail of upskilling. Most of them will not need to upskill, however, since a good many are professionals. We could use those professional skills if we knew their extent. Such people perhaps could do improvement schemes through FÁS.

We should remember that FÁS has €1 billion at its disposal and we should examine how that money is being spent and whether it might be diverted towards other objectives. Should we have an entrepreneurial section to promote small business starts? That could be a worthwhile move instead of looking at the negatives. Instead of the €21 billion payout every year, we might examine how this could be used more intelligently while ensuring the unemployed have a better chance either to upskill or start new businesses. Perhaps the Minister might consider that as part of any new budget initiative. We have to come up with ideas. Taxation is only a small part of the solution, so I would suggest this is important.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, a former Member of this House, to this very important debate. More frightening figures were released this morning by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, with another 20,000 people having lost their jobs. In February it was 1,000 jobs a day. The Taoiseach has said that the trend appears to indicate that the rate of unemployment is slowing down, but either way this is terrifying. It is terrifying for the people who have lost their jobs as they turn to social welfare after a period of unprecedented economic growth when they were gainfully employed, earning money and had become accustomed to a certain standard of living. Now, all of a sudden, they find themselves without work and must face unacceptable delays in obtaining social welfare. That process is very dispiriting for the persons concerned. It happened to me in the past, where I lost a job because of a decision taken by a company. It is enormously traumatic for any individual. The current figures, when seasonally adjusted, come to 372,800, the biggest live register statistic on record, following the February figures, since records began in 1965.

Much has been said about taking money out of the economy and we have debated the economy continually in the Seanad for the past six months. A point that has been put forward by the deputy leader and economic spokesperson of my party, Deputy Joan Burton, is that there is too much emphasis on restoring the public finances. Obviously, it is a critical mechanism by which we may recuperate and it is to be hoped the economy can recover. None the less, we have not discussed sufficiently or meaningfully the issue of job protection and creation. These are every bit as important as restoring the public finances.

That brings me to a point I have raised several times in this House. I know from experience in my area — and I am sure no Member is indifferent to this — that the Department of Education and Science is spending hundreds of thousands of euro renting prefabricated buildings which are de facto schools in my constituency in west Cork. It is quite appalling given that the money spent on rent could have been better used had the Department decided to build the extensions and the schools. This rent is dead money. That point has been made on several occasions to the Minister for Education and Science.

It is time for the Government to show action in this particular regard as an initiative. Not only would it put in place a decent education infrastructure, people who have lost their jobs because of the downturn in construction would be taken off the dole queue and put back into the workplace. Each job lost to the economy costs the State around €20,000 in terms of the social welfare bill and lost taxation revenue. Taking people off the dole queues and putting them back into the economy serves to stimulate and reboot that economy. The Government must look seriously at this proposal. It is just not good enough to waste resources while giving money to the unemployed in the form of social welfare. It ignores the underlying issue. We do not want a return to the levels of long-term unemployment that obtained throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s. We need to ensure those who lose their jobs are adequately retrained and upskilled so that when the upturn comes, they can go back into the workforce more qualified and better able to contribute in terms of employment. That would be very worthwhile and I would like to see a lead being taken in that area.

Figures released to Deputy Shortall on waiting times for jobseeker's allowance are not good enough. The social welfare office in my town of Dunmanway was closed in July 2007 because the branch manager unfortunately passed away at a rather young age. We tend to concentrate on urban areas but people in my town of Dunmanway must commute to other towns in west Cork to have their applications for jobseeker's allowance processed. That is not good enough. Two years ago when this office was closed, there was a strong hope it would reopen but that has not happened. I accept the point the Government may have made at the time. The demand for the service then was nowhere near what it is today. We must be very mindful of that and that in rural areas, there is not the same level of transportation. That is making an already difficult situation more difficult for those concerned.

Bandon has one of the longest waiting times to process a social welfare claim. That is simply unacceptable. The people in those queues are feeling the brunt of the mismanagement of this economy over the past ten years. It is bad enough that they must face unemployment without having to experience unnecessary delays.

Much has been said about consumer confidence. I agree with the point made by a Deputy recently that some people may be better off than they were last year or the year before. However, they are afraid to spend. The issue of consumer confidence is important and the Government needs to be very cognisant of that when trying to address the current situation.

Much has been said about Opposition co-operation, which amuses me politically. We have been told the Opposition can have access to the Department of Finance. I am not entirely convinced it has the same access as Ministers, although I would not expect it to. However, let us be clear about Opposition co-operation. The Government is trying to share the blame with the other side of the House. The spokespersons on finance need full access to all the up-to-date information, figures and statistics readily available to the Minister for Finance and the Minister of State. If that information is not made available, it is pointless discussing Opposition co-operation in a meaningful way.

The pension and income levies are making an already difficult situation worse for those on low incomes and we have debated at length the repercussions of that.

I raise the issue of mortgages about which I have written to the Minister for Finance. I will continue to make the following point until action is taken. Over the past two or three years, the mortgage advice available to most young couples and young single people in the fortunate position to obtain a mortgage was to fix their rate because the rate was going up. That was good advice at the time and pertinent if one was cognisant of economic trends. The ECB is as close to zero as it ever has been and those on tracker mortgages, because they are tracked to the ECB rate, benefit immediately. However, those with variable mortgages, like myself, are left to the discretion of the banks. The banks have been allowed to get away with too much. I do not want to give them anything else, never mind discretion in passing on interest rate cuts for variable mortgages.

Thousands of young people are on fixed rate mortgages and the reduction in the ECB rate is of absolutely no benefit to them. The Government guaranteed the banks and bailed them out but we saw the shenanigans and the blackguarding that went on in regard to chief executive officers and boards of directors. They literally creamed off the system on the backs of those who were less fortunate than them. It was appalling to find out lately that Mr. Fingleton's pension is a €27 million or a €28 million deal and that he was paid a €1 million bonus.

When the legislation was discussed in the other House, Deputy Burton tabled an amendment to cap the salaries and bonuses of bankers. An assurance was given that they would not get away with this but it was quite a hollow assurance when we saw what happened. We found out through the media that man got a €1 million bonus. That is adding insult to injury and it is quite an expensive lesson.

Will the Government consider the position of those on fixed rate mortgages and try to do something for them? That is my question to the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh. It is not good enough to say the variable rate is at the discretion of the banks and that they are fixed. If we can recapitalise banks, we can expect some quid pro quo in regard to young people whose rates are fixed. The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, is a decent individual, a constituency politician and has experience of this. He is in a position to do something about it and I urge him to do so.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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While I register that last point, needless to say, the Senator would not expect me to either anticipate or pre-empt any budget measures relating to mortgages.

The Government amendment refers to the substantial investment already made in energy infrastructure and water services. It invites the Government to continue to invest in those economic priorities that will assist economic recovery. It also invites the National Pensions Reserve Fund to continue to manage its assets with a view to making the maximum contribution to the cost of future pension liabilities in a manner that will maintain this country's commitment to long-term fiscal stability. I will come in due course to those elements of the Government's amendment that specifically address the Fine Gael motion.

The Government welcomes the publication of Fine Gael's document, Rebuilding Ireland — A New Era for the Irish Economy, as a contribution to public debate. As Senator Bradford said, it puts forward options and perhaps the comments made here will help the party further refine its ideas. Given the economic and budgetary challenges Ireland faces, the Government is open to considering any alternative constructive proposals for financing public capital projects. Ireland still has particular infrastructure ambitions and objectives which need to be progressed. We must continue to invest in key infrastructure, if we are to position ourselves for a sustainable economic recovery and build an economy that will be competitive and support employment into the future.

Many of the proposals in the Fine Gael motion replicate the Government's smart economy document which was published last December, in particular in the areas of investment in energy efficiency and new technology. In that context, the Government welcomes this as an acknowledgment — implicit anyway — of its positive initiatives in these areas.

As well as stabilising public finances and improving competitiveness, supporting those who become unemployed and supporting Irish business and multinational companies, the key elements of the Government's smart economy document published last December include investing in research and development, incentivising more research and development capacity in Ireland, implementing a new green deal to move away from fossil fuel-based energy production through investment in renewable energy to promote the green enterprise sector and the creation of green collar jobs.

I have some experience in the past of working on economic policy documents in Opposition, so I am familiar with the genre. They are designed to answer the question, "What is your alternative?" in a plausible and popular way and, in present circumstances, to sound tough without specifying anything that would seriously frighten any interest groups. Very often such policies involve repackaging or restructuring existing Government activities to make them look new or in effect shifting around the deck chairs without necessarily adding value.

Turning to the Fine Gael proposal, it is a very incomplete answer in terms of what needs to be done now with perhaps the tough bits left to a separate document published this afternoon but with which I am not yet familiar. I do not believe that it is thoroughly thought through. It is aspirational and the job numbers proposed are unsubstantiated. Some 100,000 jobs is a very round number. This type of promise is reminiscent of a previous era in politics in the western world where politicians made dramatic promises about precisely how many jobs their policies would create in a specific timeframe. Furthermore, the Fine Gael proposal is based on further large-scale borrowing and envisages a new quango-type structure with no clear mandate.

I agree with Senator Quinn's reservations, in particular that politicians do not create jobs, although with some limited exceptions. They create conditions in which jobs can be created. Establishing a body called a new economy and recovery authority does not necessarily mean it will deliver a new economy or recovery.

It does not mean that it will not either. I remember in 1987 Fianna Fáil's programme for national recovery with the social partners brought about national recovery.

The Government certainly does not propose to set up another State body, at a time when we are committed to reducing the numbers and improving efficiency and effectiveness through rationalisation of State bodies, a move for which Fine Gael previously indicated strong support. Fine Gael proposes to fund half its programme, €9.2 billion, from the NPRF and believes that its proposals would be off balance sheet. In principle, establishing companies to provide services on a commercial basis would bring such investments off balance sheet but it would be important to ensure that this was implemented properly. To the extent that the NPRF was used to fund new expenditure and this expenditure was on balance sheet, it would need to displace other elements of the NDP in order to maintain the general Government deficit at the required level. I note that in the fairly recent past the Fine Gael leader simply said that the NDP would be scrapped. The question arises as to the extent to which the jobs are additional or in substitution. To be fair to Fine Gael, parts of its document specify that these are additional to what would be already anticipated. Otherwise, the Fine Gael proposal would increase the general Government deficit, which is the last thing that Ireland needs at a time of severe budgetary stress and when we need to guard our reputation.

The current structure of the NPRF operating under a commercial investment mandate with a view to making as great a contribution as possible to the cost of social welfare and public service pensions from 2025 to at least 2055 has been commented on favourably by international commentators and the credit rating agencies as an indication of the country's commitment to long-term fiscal stability. A large-scale raid on the kitty in current circumstances in a manner in which the money would not flow back into the fund as was the case with the banks' recapitalisation would not impress the markets, on which we depend for our ability to borrow at reasonable rates. At a time of heightened sensitivity about Ireland's fiscal and economic positions, the existence of the NPRF is taken very positively as a sign of our determination to maintain a fiscal policy which takes account of the potential difficulties posed by longer-term expenditure trends.

I regard the Fine Gael proposals in their present state as lacking in rigour. I am not convinced they bear much, if any, resemblance to what Fine Gael would actually do with partners in government. A short while ago the Fine Gael leader spoke about selling off semi-State bodies, although this is a particularly poor time to do that if one were trying to realise the value of, in many cases, a long investment by the people in such bodies. That proposal would prevent any danger of what Senator O'Toole referred to, getting too close to the trade unions——

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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Eircom comes to mind.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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—— or indeed the Labour Party for that matter.

I would like to address some of the infrastructural improvements in the areas of green energy power generation, broadband, and water treatment and distribution in which the Government has invested and the results of which can be clearly seen throughout the country. Building and maintaining our energy infrastructure is a key strategic priority for the Government. The most essential part of that infrastructure will be the development of our electricity grid to increase the security and reliability of electricity supplies, improve competitiveness by connecting us to the UK and Europe and enable the uptake of dramatically increased renewable energy.

The key role in this development will be played by EirGrid, which has set out the roadmap for the development of Ireland's electricity transmission network for the next 17 years in the recently published GRID25. Overall investment of €4 billion in the infrastructure over a 17-year period in GRID25 will double the capacity of the national grid and allow for major increases in the amounts of renewable energy we can take on to the system. The upgrade of our grid will mean that citizens, businesses and international investors can be assured of the reliability of Ireland's electricity supply. This is essential in a world where we are competing for international investment.

EirGrid is proceeding on target with its east-west interconnector due to be in place by 2012. This project will contribute to security of supply and competitiveness as well as providing increased potential for the export of wind-generated electricity. Following Government consent, EirGrid has signed a contract to construct the interconnector, once the relevant planning consents are obtained. The EU also recently signalled its strong support for this project with an allocation of up to €110 million for the east-west interconnector. As a young energy official in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach in the early 1980s, I remember trying to advance this project, which has taken 30 years to come to fruition. Increased North-South interconnection is also critical for increased security of supply and will play an important role in the context of the all-island electricity market.

The ESB has a strong and proud history of creating much of the infrastructure which has underpinned economic and social development in our country. In its strategic framework to 2020, the ESB prioritised investment in sustainable energy, particularly in the areas of emissions reductions, renewables, energy efficiency and smart metering. The company intends to halve its carbon emissions within 12 years and achieve carbon net-zero by 2035.

Bord Gáis Éireann also made significant investment in the development of a natural gas transmission and distribution network. This includes the completion of the North-South gas pipeline which linked the gas markets North and South on the island. The natural gas network has been extended to a considerable number of towns to their great benefit. It continues to invest in energy infrastructure in the context of its expanding role as an energy company. I agree with what Senator O'Toole said on the subject of bringing natural gas ashore on the west coast. We live in a democracy where the rule of law should apply and all procedures have been abided with.

Sustainable Energy Ireland plays a key role in the Government's investment in the development of renewable energy. The renewable energy Ireland proposed by Fine Gael would merely be a rebranding of this already very successful body, which runs programmes in both renewable energy and energy efficiency, and has a substantial complement of applied energy research programmes. It has already established an ocean energy development unit, which is funding a number of different elements of the Government's ocean energy strategy. Senator Boyle updated us on this and tidal energy.This includes an industry programme designed to ensure that maximum use is made of the opportunity presented by our ocean energy resources and a dedicated grid connected test site.

SEI energy efficiency schemes include the €50 million home energy savings scheme, an insulation programme designed to assist home owners in making their dwellings more energy efficient. I was somewhat puzzled to hear Senator Cannon refer to the views of the president of Taiwan on the subject. This Government, or any previous Government, does not recognise any such person with that title or indeed political entity.

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is developing plans to enable 10% of all vehicles in the transport fleet to be powered by electricity by 2020, which would represent 250,000 cars.

Senator Quinn raised the issue of nuclear energy. As I was once on a nuclear working group and on the atomic energy group in Brussels in the late 1970s, I have some familiarity with this question. I remain sceptical of its value in an Irish context. From an economic point of view there is the relative smallness of the energy market and major safety concerns still remain. When it was last raised, I remember the previous Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, expressing puzzlement. One could see that what was going through his mind was the question of in which constituency it would be proposed to locate a nuclear power station.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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NIMBY.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I do not really have time to go into broadband even though it is mentioned in my script. The widespread availability of broadband is a major priority for the Government. The Irish market has taken major strides forward since 2000 when there were only 4,000 broadband subscribers, whereas today there are 1.2 million. We are now seeing the beginning of next generation broadband.

The Government has made extensive investment in water infrastructure in recent years and the programme for Government includes a commitment to continue that investment. By its nature, it is highly capital intensive and there is a continuing need for extensive upgrading of distribution and collection networks. It is not proven that one new State agency as proposed by Fine Gael would deliver better value for money. There is no costing in the proposal to show how this new agency would deliver more efficiently or the scale of the charge the State would have to pay to the new agency.

I hope the Fine Gael Party will take these comments in the spirit in which they are made. As with all policy documents made by an Opposition party in mid-term, the party will use whatever time there is to the next election to refine those proposals further. It may be that some of these comments will assist them to do that.

The Government has invested substantially in green energy, broadband and water treatment in recent years and this will provide the necessary infrastructure to improve Ireland's competitiveness, make us a more attractive destination for foreign investment and enable us to return to normal growth rates as soon as the current financial and economic downturn recedes.

I commend the Government motion to the House.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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I take the Minister of State's last comments. While I assume he meant them to be a great support to the next Government, I did not intend to start bickering when I began my contribution. However, the tone of the Minister of State's and Senator Boyle's comments have been less than helpful. Whether the motion has some points that are in the Government programme does not matter. The bottom line is that we have a huge haemorrhage of jobs. The public at large would not appreciate the kind of silly bickering that is going on in the House between the Minister of State's party and the Green Party, which is most unhelpful.

Each job that has been lost is costing the Exchequer €20,000 per annum, and 372,800 people have lost their jobs. While I hate referring to these people as percentages, 11% of the workforce have lost their jobs. These are individuals with mortgages and car loans who are trying to put their children through college and put food on the table. They would not appreciate the Minister of State pointing the finger at our very helpful job creation proposals. The Minister of State should bear in mind that the Government has been in control for 12 years. What has it done, particularly with regard to green energy? What has the Green Party done? Hurlers on the ditch is how I would describe them.

I worked in the ESB and I know it was established in a crisis in 1927. We can see how it has evolved, how, in the Minister of State's words, it has adapted to extraordinary technologies and is able to provide the national grid with reliable energy. However, it is extremely expensive. Yesterday, I visited a manufacturing company in Athlone which has had to let go 50 people from its employment base of 193 due to unsustainable energy costs. It is an issue we must examine. It is referred to in our proposals as well as in the Government's glossy proposals, to which the Minister of State alluded. We need to address the infrastructure deficit that is costing so much money. We must allow people to maintain jobs, which is what this motion is about. I appreciate the idea of smart metering. I know the Government and the Green Party spoke about this but some measure must be put in place.

The Minister of State glossed over the issue of broadband. Fine Gael had a Private Members' motion on broadband some weeks ago. Broadband access in this country is a disgrace. Senator Feargal Quinn noted that he does not have broadband 15 miles from this city centre. That every person does not have access to broadband at this stage is a disgrace.

We propose to go a step further and introduce next generation broadband, which would make speeds of up to 100 megabytes per second available to 90% of the population. This would make education, health and entertainment inclusive for our people and would create jobs. The idea of clean bio-energy and ocean-related wave energy is the way forward. There must be more investment in research regarding this type of energy, which must be made available and accessible to the public.

The other part of our motion relates to powering our cars with renewable energy, which would be domestically produced rather than spending millions importing fossil fuels and continuing the dependency on such fuels. An infrastructure must be developed for a grid whereby we can store renewable energy to power our cars. This would not cost much and it is an issue we need to begin to consider.

I also wish to refer to transport and water services. The Athlone area has been waiting for a main drainage system for I do not know how long. The River Shannon is now very polluted. We have come out of the Celtic tiger era but the Government has failed the people of the midlands by not providing a main drainage system. Our source of drinking water is polluted because there is no system to clean the water from domestic housing and business, which is an outrage.

That the Minister of State criticises our efforts to support and encourage the Government, when it still has two years left in office, although I am not sure about that——

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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Three years.

Photo of Nicky McFaddenNicky McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The Minister of State did not take the good from what we are saying and did not accept it in the spirit in which it was delivered, which I regret.

As I am spokesman on social and family affairs, I wish to refer again to unemployment. While Senator McCarthy spoke about Dunmanway, Athlone is no different, and I am sure the Minister of State's area is no different either. The dole queues are getting longer. It is sad that we have lost our AAA rating and that we have the highest unemployment figures in the eurozone, which is scary considering we had an €8 billion surplus last year. Where has the money gone? What is happening to the Government? The Minister of State did not answer one question as to how the Government proposes to solve the problems. He only criticised what Fine Gael put forward.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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When positive proposals are put forward, they should be welcomed. However, it is difficult to expect that they would be taken on board in full when many aspects are already being implemented. I am very conscious of the fact that part of the proposal is probably unacceptable in light of what my colleague said in connection with off balance sheet lending. Off balance sheet lending has been responsible for a major part of the Irish banking crisis. Perhaps it would be timely if a proposal came forward to ensure that in future banks could only lend a certain percentage linked to their actual reserves in mortgages and commercial loans.

I am also conscious of the fact that there are very positive proposals to go before the Government. It is not as if we have not been here before. We have already been around the houses in the 1980s and we came up with very positive ways of creating employment. Taxes will be increased, property based incentives will be reduced — they will certainly over time pass their sell-by date — and more incentives will be introduced in terms of ensuring employment. When one listens to positive contributions it is then difficult to listen to illogical contributions and to hear at Ard Fheiseanna and in this House people suggest that fixed rate mortgages can be broken as easily as a ministerial diktat.

If a financial institution offers a fixed rate mortgage at a rate of 4% or 5%, it must have, correspondingly, a guaranteed income stream of between 6% and 6.5%. Otherwise, when the European Central Bank, ECB, reduces rates to 1.5% the banks which issued loans at the rate of 5% will not be able to fund them. This process is funded by mechanisms that include fixed rate mortgages. Rather than assisting the banks in the current situation, we would be ascribing a non-financially viable situation to them. It is surprising to hear the Labour Party continue to make impossible suggestions that fixed rate mortgages of 5% be reduced to 3%, and the bank could make up the difference. That is not feasible.

Wind energy provides a wonderful opportunity for Ireland. Having seen the Arklow bank wind park and the turbines in the sea, the potential for wind energy in this country is evident. Ireland and north UK are best placed to ensure we obtain wind energy. I suggest that because Europe now claims a competence in the area of energy, in the same way as it claims competence in the area of agriculture — in other words, subsidiarity at European level is reflected at national level — we would now see a major input from Europe in terms of substantial funding to ensure a back-up supply to Europe in its energy needs. We have seen twice in the past year the Ukraine cut off the gas supply into Europe from Russia. Whereas Russia may be a reliable supplier, its transit network is not reliable. Up to 10% of Europe's energy requirements could be supplied from Ireland and paid for by the EU. I would like to see that happen.

The ESB will in the next couple of years invest up to €22 billion in projects, half of which will be in the area of renewable energy. While this is positive news, there is no doubt but that we have paid significantly for our energy costs and that this in turn has impinged on our competitiveness. However, the good news is that there will be a 10% reduction in electricity prices for all customers in April and May. Gas prices for domestic and small and medium enterprises will be reduced by an average of 12% in April. The €100 million national insulation scheme will unlock great potential for energy efficiency and employment for those employed in the construction industry moving away from the construction of houses. Households can expect to halve their heating bills, with reductions of €700 per annum. The total number of jobs created from this initiative will be 7,000. The proposal regarding on-site generation of electricity in homes and farms across Ireland is to be welcomed. There is no doubt but that the Government has good green credentials. Since 2000, the Government has invested €1.6 billion in water schemes alone.

As regards broadband, Ireland will have 100% coverage by September 2010. Half of the area involved in the scheme will receive coverage by the end of this year. Positive initiatives are being undertaken by Government in a wide number of areas. The price of oil today was $49 a barrel. Interest rates are currently 1.5% and are expected to fall to 1%. It is disquieting to hear Standard & Poor's has reduced Ireland's AAA credit rating. In the 1980s when we had a 130% debt to GDP, only half the current number of people at work and sky high interest rates of 18%, we managed to pay everybody in full and on time. The same Standard & Poor's gave a AAA rating to the sub-prime lenders that almost brought down the world's financial systems. It is also disquieting to hear the comments of some UK commentators in regard to the euro. For some reason, they downplay the euro and Ireland's role as much as possible.

I have no doubt we will come through this crisis and that the same elements that made us stronger in the past remain in place to enable us catch the upswing in the world economy whenever it comes.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I wish to share time with Senator Doherty.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I do not intend to take any excursions into Standard & Poor's given I exercised myself quite freely on that subject on the Order of Business. Although I agree with the points made by Senator Hanafin I will concentrate this evening on issues I believe are more relevant.

I am disappointed the Opposition and the Government were not able to put forward a motion with which they could agree, given that they appear to agree on a lot. There has been a fair amount of point scoring during the debate. The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, gleefully engaged in this when he said that while he welcomes the support of Fine Gael, the good ideas were Government ideas and that others had not been properly costed. That is the state we are at. Obviously, we have not comprehended the nature of the crisis and the two principal parties are not prepared to get behind ideas rather than partisan interests, which is a pity. There is a great deal of sentiment, coincidentally, in the area of green energy in particular.

This afternoon I met a man who was wearing an interesting pin in his collar, which I thought was an aeroplane. I asked him what the aeroplane represented and he told me it was not an aeroplane but a symbol for wind energy. The man concerned is a Minister's adviser. Obviously, this matter is being taken seriously. A couple of weeks ago, I was the guest of a friend of a neighbour, Mr. Clarke, at Westbrook Motors and was permitted to drive the new Mitsubishi all electric car, which costs €1 million. I drove the car around Merrion Square.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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I hope Senator Norris was careful.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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While I was a little nervous, I was very careful. It was fantastic. It was silent, with tremendous acceleration and one had good control of the car. That is green energy. It was interesting to hear that one of only 11 prototypes was made available to a local garage in north central Dublin.

I want principally to speak about wave energy. I believe we have an opportunity to get involved in and become a world leader in this area. As with food, we have the best national resources. We are one of the four principal areas in the world wherein wave potential exists, including the Atlantic coast of Europe, in particular Ireland, the west coast of North America, San Francisco to British Colombia, Hawaii and New Zealand. We are one of four countries with the richest potential for harvesting this energy source. We have the capacity and innovation to make it.

I wish to put on the record, as other Members did, that various companies are doing well in this area. The company to which I refer is Wavebob, which is involved in developing this energy in consultation with other major international companies. It seems that the single flaw in the Fine Gael proposal is that we do not need the extra level of bureaucracy advocated in it. We need to clear away the dead wood and red tape and allow the most energetic promotion of new ideas on the part of the Government.

Wavebob is important because it has solved a number of problems. The Wavebob structure is an axi-symmetric buoy on slack moorings, which makes it inherently seaworthy. Its ability to de-tune, or switch off, in seconds is vitally important in a resonating energy absorber. As waves change all the time, a particularly sensitive and flexible response is needed to collect their energy. The Wavebob structure is able to respond to high waves of long duration. The natural frequency of the Wavebob, unlike many other buoys, may be set to match the typical ocean swell, thereby facilitating good energy absorption. The Wavebob structure can ride large waves of up to 40 m high. A structure of this type must be sensitive enough to respond to the variability of wave systems. The Wavebob structure, which has low operating costs and high availability, can be made fairly simply. The fact that it can stay in the sea for 25 years — its components are changed on a regular basis — means that it attracts low capital and maintenance costs while retaining a high level of output. It can produce enough electricity to supply up to 700 households. I remind the Minister of State that many innovative products of this nature are available. We have good technology. Wavebob, which is an important company, is collaborating with Vattenfall, a Scandinavian company that is at the leading edge of a technology that needs to be encouraged.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Norris as ucht a chuid ama a roinnt liom. While I do not intend to support the Fine Gael motion this evening, I welcome the focus of the debate it has initiated as it is important to make progress in finding solutions. Last week, Sinn Féin was the first party to publish a job creation strategy. We announced 80 proposals that would have a direct impact on the jobs crisis in 2009, at a cost of just over €2 billion. One of the reasons I am not supporting Fine Gael's proposals is that they are too closely aligned to Fianna Fáil's current policies. Now that Senator Cannon has joined Fine Gael, perhaps it intends to promote the privatisation agenda in a more aggressive manner. It needs to learn from the mistakes of the past. Privatisation has never helped this country and will not help us in the current economic climate. It makes absolutely no sense to advocate the sale of strategically important State companies such as Bord Gáis Éireann, ESB International and Aer Rianta, all of which are making profits for this State. While such proposals are reckless in the extreme, I welcome other aspects of the Fine Gael document, such as those relating to next generation broadband and the green economy. When it launched this policy document a week ago, Fine Gael placed particular focus on such investment. This document has been proposed as a means of fostering job creation. The reality is that 184,000 people in this State have lost their jobs over the past 12 months. It is estimated that a further 100,000 people will lose their jobs by the end of this year. Although Fine Gael's proposal involves an investment of €18 billion over three years, the only jobs it would create would be the directors' positions in the new quangos.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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Nonsense.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Sinn Fein)
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Those jobs are the only ones that the document proposes to create. When I examined the timeframe that would apply to Fine Gael's expenditure, I was surprised to note that it would all be done by 2010. For example, the chief executive officers would be appointed by June of this year. We need solutions if we are to get the people of this country back to work. We need a long-term vision. While I welcome some of the proposals in Fine Gael's document, I do not agree with the manner in which Fine Gael proposes to finance them, which involves the sale of this country's jewels, such as Bord Gáis Éireann. People in County Donegal and many other rural areas cannot access the gas network, just as they could not access broadband services ten years ago. We still do not have broadband today as we cannot force Eircom to provide broadband. Under the Fine Gael proposals, we will be unable to force Bord Gáis Éireann to extend the gas network. It would be misguided to sell this country's strategically important assets, particularly at a time when they are making a profit for this State. I will not support the Fianna Fáil amendment, which is an exercise in back-slapping. If the Fine Gael document has done anything, it has pointed out the significant flaws in Government policy. The Government has not invested in what is needed. While there is much to be welcomed in the Fine Gael document, I oppose its central politics. It would not create jobs this year, with the exception of the directors' positions at the new era company. It would be wrong to allow a quango to run State assets worth €18 billion as part of a privatisation agenda.

7:00 pm

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Fianna Fail)
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I am pleased to contribute to this Private Members' debate. I congratulate Fine Gael on tabling the motion before the House. Aspects of some of Fine Gael's proposals are very worthy. We are all aware that the country is facing huge challenges. We live in uncertain and anxious times. The national debt, which is spiralling out of control, is expected to reach more than €50 billion in 2009. It was €35 billion in 2008, but it is likely to double to over €70 billion next year. At a time when the global economic recession is taking a real grip, this country's economy is contracting. It is a serious situation. There has been a massive increase in unemployment in Ireland, especially as a result of the collapse of the construction industry, which has had serious consequences for associated industries. In other areas of industry, there have been widespread factory closures, job losses, pay cuts and reductions in working hours, so where are we? The economy is contracting, the national debt is growing, employment is declining and the global economic recession is taking a firm hold. Politicians, community leaders and the social partners need to display a unity of purpose during such an unprecedented set of circumstances if we are to defend our economy, stabilise the public finances, protect employment and explore new areas of employment opportunity, especially ones that would have a beneficial impact on the economy.

This country's scope for growth and development was outlined in the Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal, which was launched by the Taoiseach in December of last year. The document in question, which is known as the "smart economy" document, sets out a number of priorities and actions that the Government will pursue in the short and medium terms. The Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, has set out a number of additional measures this evening. Under its new leader, Deputy Cowen, the Fianna Fáil Party has a new approach to economic renewal. We are focusing on ensuring that Ireland becomes the world's leading location for the knowledge-based society, innovation and research and development. Fianna Fáil's policy approach involves new thinking, greater creativity, innovation and improved productivity. As a country, Ireland has enjoyed a good run in its short history. While we have had our ups and downs, especially over the past ten or 12 years, it has been up all the way under Fianna Fáil-led administrations.

Ireland has undergone a massive transformation in recent years, from a country with low wages, restricted products and limited markets to a high value, low tax structure with diverse markets and established trade links. Our well educated, entrepreneurial and determined population has an abundance of ability. There is no doubt that the next stage of this country's development will involve an equally big transformation. If we are to meet the challenges that are ahead as successfully as we met the challenges of the past, we will have to come up with new products and services. As I understand it, one of the key features of the smart economy document focuses on the need to develop the innovation and ideas component of the economy. We need to use the knowledge, skills and creativity of our people if we are to effectively translate ideas into valuable processes, products and services.

A great deal has been said this evening about green issues, such as renewable energy. The smart economy plan that was launched by the Taoiseach answers the call for a new green deal to stimulate and benefit the Irish economy. It will help to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy pollution and costs. I do not have time to go through the Fine Gael policy proposals in detail. It indicated cuts in the public sector, reduced earnings for people earning in excess of €100,000, a carbon windfall tax, tax on power companies, switching to generic drugs from branded products, reduced spending on decentralisation, a reduction in CIE's subvention, a reduction in various allocations to various State agencies etc.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator's time is up.

Photo of Ivor CallelyIvor Callely (Fianna Fail)
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Whether it is this document or other documents, the public does not really care but it recognises that we have a genuine and serious problem. The public expects its leaders, whether they be politicians, social leaders or trade union leaders, to help get us out of this. I welcome any and all proposals that may help to bring about solutions in the process of our recovery.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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With the permission of the House, I wish to share time with Senator Twomey.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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Agreed.

Photo of Liam TwomeyLiam Twomey (Fine Gael)
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I want to say a couple of words on this document and the responses received in the House. I am amazed that this document has proved to be too right wing for Sinn Féin and too left wing for some of the Government and Independent representatives. In the spirit of a party going to the trouble in opposition of presenting a document, I would expect a little more from the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, and some of the Government representatives than to mock it as being aspirational and not thought through. On the whining and griping that comes from Government continuously about this document, if it has proposals to change and improve its provision we are in favour of that.

If there is one party for which I want to reserve my particular displeasure, it is the Green Party. It reminds me of the pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm, when they used to go around saying "Two legs bad, four legs good" until they got into the farmhouse themselves and became in charge. They are starting to tell us, "Four legs good but two legs better". Senator Boyle has nothing to offer only constant criticism of any policy offered. He will never learn anything about an Opposition party's policy documents if he arrives into the House two minutes before he makes his speech and disappears immediately afterwards. The quality of his researchers is good and no doubt he is getting good briefings from Government, but he needs to stay here for a little longer and learn a little more about what is happening.

I would like to think if we go to the trouble of presenting these policy documents to the House the Government will say that there are good points and state what it will or will not take out of it. The Government has been copying Fine Gael policy for some time, which we do not mind — that is not a problem — but I would like to see these debates, when we go to the trouble of having them, a little more constructive for the benefit of the people.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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On the whole, this was a good debate. I listened to most of the contributions and there are a couple of matters I want to mention. I am not familiar with the ICTU document that has been referred to by previous speakers.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I will give it to Senator Phelan.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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I must get a copy. I understand Senator MacSharry will lay it before the House, and I must take a quick look at it afterwards.

I agree with the view expressed by Senator O'Toole about the Government's amendment. It is disappointing it contains no proposal whatsoever. It is completely negative. It expresses opposition to the Fine Gael proposal but provides no positive Government suggestion whatsoever.

A few points were raised that I want to discuss. Senator Doherty spoke about the need to keep Bord Gáis Éireann in State control because there is no gas supply in Donegal. The company is in State control and is not supplying gas to Donegal, and privatising the company will have no effect on that position. In terms of exposing the company to the full rigours of competition, it might ensure the provision of gas in County Donegal.

Senator Twomey is correct, it is interesting that we are being criticised for being too left wing and too right wing, but nobody else seems to be coming up with any proposal as to how we could inject a stimulus into key areas of the economy.

This is not about establishing new quangos. Senator Doherty was completely wrong in suggesting that the only jobs created would be on the board of new quangos. No new quangos are proposed under this document. A number of new State companies is proposed, which will replace existing companies that would either be sold or amalgamated because the harsh reality is that many of them are not suitable to the current economic climate and there is a need for reform. The idea that State institutions should remain in perpetuity makes no sense in a financial situation and a global economic situation which is changing rapidly.

A good example of rationalisation and of where this NewERA national holding company would come into practice would be in the existing provision of broadband. Bord Gáis Éireann is involved in broadband provision, as is the ESB. These two separate commercial entities which are involved in broadband provision do not ensure that we get the best return for the taxpayer and the citizen, but instead work independently of one another, and that is why the new holding company is essential.

On the contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, the Fine Gael initiative removes the requirement for investment under the stimulus plan from Government borrowing. That is vitally important given the current position of the public finances.

A reprioritisation of the national development plan, up to €7 billion, from existing provisions under the plan, will be particularly focused on labour-intensive sectors of the economy.

There will be no depletion of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The investments under the fund will be made purely on a commercial basis. That is what the National Pensions Reserve Fund is for and I do not see why it should not be invested in this country rather than overseas.

There is also the provision, which other speakers mentioned, on the potential of homes and business to provide energy for themselves and to sell into the national grid. There are a number of other provisions, although I understand the Cathaoirleach wants me to finish up.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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The time is up.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Fine Gael)
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Senator Callely was supportive, but he spoke about the Government's policy on the knowledge-based economy, about which I have heard a great deal but the delivery of which I have not seen. This Fine Gael document at least is something that proposes concrete changes that would lead to an improvement in our economic position. We have not yet seen any of that from Government. I urge the House to support the motion.

Amendment put.

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 29 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Peter Callanan, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Shane Ross, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)

Against the motion: 20 (Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Alan Kelly, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Eugene Regan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)

Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and John Paul Phelan.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

The Dail Divided:

For the motion: 29 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Peter Callanan, Ivor Callely, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Déirdre de Búrca, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Cecilia Keaveney, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Shane Ross, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)

Against the motion: 20 (Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Maurice Cummins, Pearse Doherty, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Alan Kelly, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Eugene Regan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)

Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and John Paul Phelan.

Question declared carried.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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Ag 10.30 maidin amárach.