Confidence in the Government: Motion (Resumed).
I had two minutes left when the Dáil adjourned last night.
As far as my information goes the Deputy had exhausted his time.
He was asked to move the adjournment of the debate.
I am sorry but I had two minutes left.
Very good. Deputy Callanan to resume.
I spoke for nearly 45 minutes last night and during that time there was nobody here on the Government side who has any interest in agriculture. They do not give a damn. I am not blaming the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries who was probably otherwise engaged, but the others who represent the same type of people I represent do not give two hoots about their predicament. I should now like to quote from this morning'sIrish Independent:
A cow changed hands at Ballymote Mart, Co. Sligo, yesterday for what must be the all-time record low price of only 20p—the price of a pint of stout in local pubs! Other culled cows at the same sales were sold for £2, £4 and slightly more.
A farmer who has been attending fairs and marts in the West for over 20 years told me he has never seen such poor demand, particularly for store cattle, which were knocked down at giveaway prices.
Cattle prices this week slumped to the lowest since we joined the EEC, with the national average market prices, as calculated by the Department of Agriculture, falling to £11.26 per cwt, compared with £11.53 last week.
A huge gap has now opened up between the prices farmers are getting for their cattle at livestock marts and factories, and what they should be getting for good-quality cattle under the EEC intervention system.
For instance, the price for prime bullocks in the week ended last Tuesday averaged £15.28 per cwt. (Class I) and £14.11 per cwt (Class II). In liveweight terms, the intervention price for this type of animal is approximately £20.87 per cwt.
This bears out a lot of what I said last night. I have not the time to explain that quotation which, fortunately, speaks for itself. I said last night that we cannot take this lying down because if this situation persists producers of young cattle will be nonexistent by next spring. Unless there is direct payment, such farmers cannot exist.
Summing up, I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries to make direct payments in three ways. Let there be a doubling of the beef subsidy on the first £20. We must set up a marketing board, non-profit making, so that money will be available to fund these direct payments. For God's sake do not hand this job over to the factories. Let the profits be used to buy young cattle on behalf of the State and give the farmers the difference between what cattle are going at and the economic price—at least £60 for a 5 cwt. animal.
The Deputy must conclude.
I am thankful to you. I ask the Minister to give an acreage payment on tillage for up to five acres to try to get the farmers back to a balanced economy. I am sorry I have not got a few more minutes because I notice the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries is here. I hope he will read what I said last night. I was not talking from theory but from experience of having worked on the land.
This is a debate of confidence in the Government. We have heard from the other side of the House criticisms of the Government's performance. The first genuine Opposition speech I have heard came from Deputy Callanan. It was a speech made from deep concern, sincerity and knowledge of the problems. That does not mean necessarily that I agree with him on the feasibility or even the desirability of some of his suggested solutions but it was a first-class Opposition speech and I commend it to my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, because of its genuineness.
This debate relates to the personnel of the Government, individually and collectively, and to their performance. On the basis of personnel, we are, of course, on this side of the House somewhat inhibited by characteristic modesty from saying too much about ourselves. We are content to let the records stand and to leave it to the people to decide whether the alternative team currently available are to be preferred as individual appointees. It is not a matter I want to dwell on. It is something that can be left to the people.
Will the Minister accept the verdict of the people of north-east Cork?
We will always accept the verdict of the people. That is what democracy is about. On the basis of the collective responsibility of the Government, this is a matter that has been referred to and one which we can come back to on a less contentious occasion. There seems to be considerable confusion in regard to collective responsibility of Government. I have no doubt whatever that the principle is vital to the parliamentary system and any inroads into it should be very carefully watched and guarded against. We had, of course, the very bitter experience of the winter of 1969-70 when it collapsed completely with tragic consequences for this country.
I do not accept the official interpretation which has been put on it here in the last few years which interprets collective responsibility in a very narrow way for which there is no constitutional authority here or anywhere else. Collective responsibility does not mean that Ministers should be unable to express personal opinions. It means that in respect of points which are matters for Cabinet decisions and matters of Government policy, the Government must be collectively responsible.
This, however, does not mean that there is not room for the expression of personal opinion by Ministers in other areas. When I became a Minister I did not feel I had given up my right to express personal opinions in areas outside the framework of Government decisions and Government policy. If I had thought that was involved I might have thought twice about taking the job. Therefore, we should consider seriously what is meant by collective responsibility. We should insist that it be maintained, that there should be no inroads into it, but we should not define it so narrowly as to diminish the quality of politics in Ireland by shutting people up and preventing them expressing views they are entitled to express and which they feel at times have a certain value, even if they are immodest in having that feeling.
On the question of the achievements of the Government one has merely to look over the type of things mentioned by the Taoiseach, but I want to consider them in a way he did not quite put, that is to consider how many of them would have been achieved, would have happened, had the Government not changed. I make no assertion about this I merely leave it to the people to decide for themselves. They have the record of the speeches of the shadow Minister for Finance on our last two budgets in which he said they were too expansionist. Obviously, he is suggesting if they had been in power and he had been Minister for Finance, which I suppose is quite probable, he would have brought in budgets which would have let the economy decline and we would have had less employment and less growth, when in fact, we have maintained one of the highest growth rates in these difficult times. The improvements we have made would not have been achieved had they been in office during that period.
On the question of social reforms we know that if Fianna Fáil had remained in office they would have resisted the changes we made and they would not have brought in the additional schemes we brought in during that period. When we were in Opposition they stone-walled on all those schemes. Had they remained in office in the months following their reelection, had they been re-elected in February of last year, there would have been, for example, no provision for unmarried mothers, no improvement in the provision for deserted wives, none for single women aged over 58, none for wives of prisoners, no vesting of responsibility for children's services in a single Minister, no reform of national assistance and none of the other improvements which we have brought in. Many of those things would not have happened had Fianna Fáil returned to power.
When we come to agriculture we have the Fianna Fáil shadow Minister urging that we ignore the rules of the Community and that we go ahead on our own. They completely ignore what we have obtained for the farming community. Certainly the benefits we have got would not have been obtained if Fianna Fáil had remained in office, as they would have, on their own account of it, reneged on the Community system and alienated opinion in the Community.
We also know that the rates would not have been transferred over the period we hope to transfer them, from local funds to the central fund, had Fianna Fáil been in power, because they had resisted that during the previous 16 years they remained in power, despite continuous pressure from the then Opposition.
We know that the housing target would not have been reached if they had remained in power. They resisted all pressure from us during the period when the former Deputy Boland was Minister for Local Government and going on through the other Ministers until they left office. There was a complete breakdown in local authority housing in that period.
Had Fianna Fáil remained in power there would have been no tax reforms. They were not willing to change the tax system although they knew it needed to be changed and was, in fact, undermining the confidence of the people paying tax who knew that it should apply to the better off people in the farming community. We have now brought those people within the range of the tax system.
I do not want to dwell too long on our achievements since we came into office, but none of these things would have been done if Fianna Fáil had remained in power. They now tell us what they would have done if they had been returned to power but I know that the people now do not believe them. I know that the people have confidence in this Government because of our achievement since we came into office.
This debate is taking place two weeks before an economic debate.
The Opposition chose to have it that way and they are entitled to do so. I think it is a good thing to have two separate debates because it may mean that the more contentious issues can be dealt with in this debate and that when we have the economic debate it may be a much better one for having got many of the points which are being discussed in this debate out of the way. At the same time, it must be realised, and I think the people understand this, that if we are to have this debate now before the White Paper and before the Government's views can be put forward, inevitably some economic points will come up during this debate. I do not blame the Opposition for wanting to have two separate debates. As I said, I am sure the economic debate will be a better one because we have had this debate.
Certain things in relation to the economy have come up in this debate already. I think it is clear that the people now appreciate that the increase in the price of raw materials and the vast increase in the price of oil have been responsible for the vast increase in the price of goods and that this has caused the vast increase in the cost of living.
This debate is providing us with an opportunity to prepare the people for some of the proposals that will be developed more fully and some of the solutions that will be put forward in the White Paper and in the economic debate that follows. Deputy Haughey said that this problem must be tackled over a three- or four-year period, and I agree with him substantially on this, although one could, of course, argue about the precise period. Our task is, in singularly difficult circumstances, when the great economies of Japan, the United States and Britain are declining, when living standards are declining rapidly there, to maintain growth in this open economy and to spread this whole process of redistribution of wealth to these oil and raw material producing countries through the price mechanism, over a period in such a way as to prevent living standards declining.
There is a corollary to this. I cannot dwell on it, as it is a matter more for an economic debate but the point must nevertheless be made. If in the next couple of years—three or four Deputy Haughey may think; I may think it will be shorter—if within this period the amount available for living standards at home will not increase, because any increase in wealth would have to be transferred to pay the extra price involved in these products, then if we are to have a static cake at home, it is arithmetically evident that if anybody gets a bigger share of that static cake, somebody else will get less. The only way to maintain living standards in these circumstances is to ensure that all are treated equally, that everybody's living standards are maintained and that it will not be possible for particular groups to push ahead and to secure larger shares of the cake. If that were to happen the alternatives would be that either some, or more probably many, would be disemployed, thereby cutting them out of the national cake except for social benefits, or that others would fall behind and get lesser increases in income than the increase in prices and would lose ground. These are arithmetic consequences of a situation of a static cake where you are trying to preserve employment and living standards.
I shall not develop this further but I want to refer to a remark of Deputy Haughey when he referred to the last budget as disastrous. I mention this now because there were very few here last night—there are not very many here now but they are different people. I challenged him to say whether it was disastrous because it was too expansionist or not expansionist enough. Deputy Haughey fell silent but a voice from about where Deputy Brugha is now sitting—it was not Deputy Brugha—said "Neither". If it is not too expansionist and not too little expansionist it must, by definition, be just right. There are the two voices of Fianna Fáil, one saying that it was disastrous without being able to say which way it was disastrous and the other saying it was just right.
The fact is that Fianna Fáil, and Deputy Haughey would not say it, favoured more deflationary budgets. They criticised them as being too expansionist. I am not saying that Deputy Haughey agreed with Deputy Colley on this, or indeed on anything else; I am only making the point that Deputy Colley, speaking for the Opposition, said these budgets were too expansionist and Deputy Haughey was not prepared to comment as to what was wrong with them other than that they were disastrous for some unspecified reason.
A final economic point before turning to other matters relates to the question of confidence in the broadest sense. What is vitally important is for us to maintain public and international confidence in our economy which has kept growing this year and for many years past at a rate of growth beyond what we could have achieved on our own because of a very significant inflow of capital. For some years this inflow was running at over £100 million a year and has recently risen to a much higher level. If anything were done to disturb that confidence, and if those capital flows were halted as can happen, or as has happened on a previous occasion, were reversed, our ability to retain control of our own affairs would disappear. Therefore, the great test of confidence in our economy and in how it is being run is the inflow of capital. I have extracted some figures from the Central Bank report on this which I think are very interesting. In the first half of 1973 the net capital inflow was at the rate of £5½ million per month. In the second half of the year it was at the rate of £9½ million per month. In the first half of 1974 it was at the rate of £24½ million per month and, as far as I can judge on my own figures—not the Government's because there are no official figures yet —and on the basis of the limited data available the rate must have been of the order of £40 million per month in the third quarter of this year, from July to September. Put another way, the net capital inflow last year was about £90 million in 1973. In the first half of this year it was £148 million and would appear to have considerably exceeded a further £100 million in the third quarter of this year.
Somebody may say that this is Government borrowing. But it is not primarily Government borrowing. If we examine the figures for the first half of this year, the latest period for which there is a breakdown, we find that while last year approximately the whole of the capital inflow was accounted for by borrowing by Government and State agencies, the private, autonomous flows netting out at about equality, in the first half of this year over 40 per cent of the net capital inflow has been through private channels, not Government borrowing. There has been a very large inflow through the banking system, direct investment and other channels the details of which we have not got at this stage but which are not Government borrowing. In fact, it is this very large capital inflow in the first half of this year that has enabled us to keep the economy going and it is a reflection of confidence and it is vital that that confidence should be maintained. This is something that has not been brought out sufficiently so far and much depends on it.
Turning to the EEC, it is clear from some of the speeches of the Opposition that on the other side of the House the European Economic Community is rather naively regarded as some kind of bonanza from which you can take everything and give nothing. Were this to be the attitude of the Government or were the Opposition in Government and were they to adopt such an irresponsible attitude—I do not say they would; in Opposition one may say things one would not necessarily stand over in Government—but if the Opposition in Government were to adopt that attitude we would suffer severely within the Community because the Community is not simply a source of handouts for countries like ourselves. It is a group of countries working together towards a common end and loyalty to it and towards that common end is important and is regarded as a test which is relevant when one's own problems come to be considered.
Let me recapitulate the benefits Community membership has brought us. There is much public confusion about this partly because of the idea abroad that the price increases that have been suffered have been due to Community membership. While I have not precise figures now, I would say that if one could analyse how much of the price increases of the past one and three-quarter years have been due to Community membership it would be a tiny fraction of the total amount. As regards grain and sugar, membership of the Community is keeping the cost of living down and keeping the cost of feedingstuffs down for our farmers very substantially, far below world level. In the case of other products like milk it has helped to increase these prices to our benefit. In the case of beef, whatever the difficulties may be they are certainly much less than if we were outside the Community.
We heard Deputy Callanan speaking with sincerity and passion on cattle prices but can he imagine what the position would be if there were no possibility of our exporting any cattle or any beef to Britain or any of the continental countries which is where we would be today if we were outside the Community with the import ban that was imposed last July. Whatever difficulties there may be—and they are very grave——
I did not say that we should not be in the EEC.
I am not suggesting that Deputy Callanan advocated that; I am only making the general point that the Deputy showed the great difficulties there are in the cattle trade. This I accept, but I am making the general point that if we were outside we would be far worse off. Community membership has enabled us to diversify our trade and has dramatically reduced our dependence on the British market. That dependence is still far too high for comfort but it is very much less than it was two years ago and very much less than in the more distant past. That is vitally important economically and politically. It is dangerous for us to be as dependent on one country as we have been through our time as an independent State. Thank God that is changing rapidly. We now have other markets; we have trade diversification helped by the efforts of CTT on a very substantial scale. Secondly, we have better prices for key farm products, not for grain or sugar where prices have been kept down, but far better— bad as they may be—for cattle than they would be outside the Community, and far better prices for milk.
Thirdly—although this is not true of the livestock area—in respect of other farm products we have a measure of stability in prices which the common agricultural policy as operated has not secured in livestock matters. But it has secured it for other products and this is important for confidence in the future.
Fourthly, it has brought an inflow to the Exchequer directly as a result of the common agricultural policy, the social policy and other policies, which is approaching £60 million a year. In the first half of this year we got £30 million in Exchequer inflow from the EEC and this, of course, has helped us enormously in this period to keep our economy moving ahead and to achieve the measures of social reform which we have achieved. These benefits are not confined simply to the agricultural area. They include grants for industrial projects connected with foodstuffs and social fund benefits for industrial training and other purposes.
Apart from the clear benefits to us and the fact that were we not within the Community today our position would be disastrously different, the community has shown itself remarkably flexible and willing to take into account the special problems of member countries. The Taoiseach listed half-a-dozen different areas in which special arrangements were made to help Ireland, as distinct from other countries. There was no attempt to say that it must be the same for everyone. The Community recognises the immense diversity of problems in member countries which must be tackled differently from time to time. What it requires is that this must be done in common. Countries must put their problems fairly and sincerely and seek assistance and support when they need it and do not try to pretend they need help when they do not. And the member countries are willing to abide by the system of decision-making which is flexible and makes provision for individual state's problems. We have held to that and have benefited substantially.
Our ability to influence general policies in our favour in special ways —as we have been able to do through the work of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Deputy Clinton— to secure special provisions, do not depend solely on the negotiating skill of the Minister, although this is a primary factor. His ability to secure these things depends also on our position in the Community, the respect in which we are held and maintaining the rules of the Community. Because we cannot be faulted in this respect, because we have not broken the rules, a favourable climate exists for special treatment of Irish problems, including—and this has yet to come to fruition—a favourable climate for the special Irish problems of the Regional Fund. The hold-up there is not because of an unwillingness to face the fact that we have a special problem but is because of a disagreement between Britain, France, and Germany on the overall structure of the fund. There has also been an evident willingness to recognise that we have a special problem. Indeed, the last proposal of the Commission— which I still regard as quite unsatisfactory—nevertheless recognised that we have a special problem. We will continue to work to have it recognised sufficiently to ensure that the regional policy, when it comes into effect as I hope it may in the next few months, will be one which will clearly and adequately recognise our special difficulties.
Ireland is respected in the Community. Whatever doubts there seem at times to be at home about our national identity—we are a curious people constantly worrying about our national identity—nobody else in the Community or in the rest of the world has any doubt about it. Nobody in the Community has any doubts about it. No official of the Governments or of the Commission is confused about the difference between Ireland and Britain. On the contrary, our position is so distinct and different from Britain on so many issues—although we have some common interests, including our interest in keeping Britain in the Community—that these people are very, clear, indeed on the differences between us. Our identity is clear.
We stand in an independent position. We have something to contribute to the Community. It is not money. We are not in a position to contribute financially. The contribution now and for some time to come has to be in another direction. We can contribute to the Community our dedication to the Community system and its preservation and development. We, in Government, can resist all pressures coming particularly from the Gaullist Party—with which the Fianna Fáil Party is allied—to turn the Community into an inter-governmental organisation in which, of course, the big countries would dominate. This stand we have taken as a Government. It has won us the respect and support of all the smaller countries of the Community and the respect, but not always the support of the larger countries, some of whom would like a very different system —the Gaullist model of an intergovernmental system, where the bigger countries push the others around. The protection given by the Community system, and the fact that that Community can act only on proposals of the Commission, would be gone if the big countries had their way.
Before we joined the Community I was convinced that this system was to our benefit. The only way a small country can secure its interests and prevent itself from being dominated is within such a system. That conviction which I held from outside has been absolutely confirmed as a result of membership. Everything I have seen, everything which has happened and every meeting which I have attended has confirmed that belief. We share in Government the belief which is shared by the Benelux countries which have long experience in the Community, and another new member, Denmark, that the Community operates to protect the interests of smaller countries in its present form. It must not be watered down to satisfy any demand by any party or group, such as the Gaullists in France, with whom Fianna Fáil are in uneasy alliance on this point.
Apart from our commitment to the system, which has won us respect and support from the smaller countries on many issues, there is also the fact that in the Community's relations with the rest of the world we have a role to play. It is a small but significant role. As a country we have experienced colonialism ourselves. We are the only European country which has had that experience in recent times. We can understand and sympathise instinctively with the feelings of the countries in the developing world. Some of the member states do not always show sensitivity to the feelings of these countries. Although they are now trying to eradicate the damage done by colonialism, their manner of approach is not always sensitive and they still have great interests to pursue in respect of these countries. We have no private interests to pursue.
Therefore, within the Community we can and do fight their battle as best we can. We try to ensure that the Community shows sensitivity to their needs, wishes and feelings. Our contribution, though small, is significant. The Community would be perceptively less sensitive to these countries were we not a member. We can take some pride in this contribution. We are not the only country making such a contribution. The Netherlands has taken a lead in this matter, shown the same kind of sensitivity and has helped to ensure an improvement in relations between the Community and the developing countries.
We know, from our relative poverty in Europe, something of what poverty means, although we cannot imagine the poverty of the countries in the developing world whose standards of living are a fraction of ours—one-twentieth in some cases, if they are lucky. But we know about that poverty and that the problem of starvation is looming. Our own folk memories of the Famine are still sufficiently alive for us to feel in our bones what famine means. We know there are countries facing famine. We in the better off countries, whatever difficulties we may face currently, have duties here. We know that if in the community we press on a particular occasion for a special fund for this purpose to be somewhat greater, it will cost us something to do so. But if we succeed in getting our proposal through, we know that our contribution is multiplied over 200 fold because of the Community financing system. If we are willing to provide £200,000 more for a special purpose and this is agreed, that means that the fund will be almost £50 million bigger. This is because our share of the finances of the Community at the moment is .45 per cent of the contributions.
Our conscience, experience, history and sensitivity to the problems of the developing world are such that we have an incentive to make the effort to give that little bit extra from time to time knowing that if we succeed in our efforts to get the Community to be more generous at some cost to ourselves, that what we press for will be multiplied more than 200 fold in the size of the total fund. We have taken that responsibility on ourselves and acted in that way. In the period since we came into office, we have quadrupled our development aid, because of our involvement in the Community and the amount which must be provided through the Community for this purpose. But the fact that there is this relatively small increased burden has not inhibited us from pressing, in a number of cases, for more to be given, because even if we have to pay more, we know what enormous benefits can accrue for these countries through the Community financing system if we do so.
I think we can take pride in our role in the Community; we can have a sense of Ireland having taken its place amongst the nations of the world, playing its part, on a basis of equality, within the Community. I myself, when there, often have the sense of the extent to which Northern Ireland loses out through not sharing with us in this. I feel this very much because of my part Northern Ireland background. I am very conscious of the fact—when issues come up to be debated and we take a line because it favours our interests, and Britain takes a line which favours hers, that more often than not the line we take is that which benefits Northern Ireland. The line Britain takes, for the best of reasons, is that which favours the 97¼ per cent of its people who live in Great Britain. That is, necessarily, the attitude of the United Kingdom Government. But we, in pursuing our interests in agriculture, regional policy and areas like that, are, in fact, pursuing the interests of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has no effective voice, no influence, on British policy. In the long run, when normality returns, when peace, with justice, is restored and the people of Northern Ireland, with whatever help we can give them— and, I hope, the British Government can give them—find a form of regional government that will work and provide peace and justice, then, when normality returns, in time, this will be an important factor—the sense of deprivation; the sense of having no role in the Community; the sense of decisions being taken over their heads; the sense that, in so many cases, Britain is pursuing, naturally, its own interests, not those of Northern Ireland, and that it is our Government who are, in pursuing their own interests, pursuing those of Northern Ireland too, that sense will, in time, bring us closer together, will help towards reconciliation and will provide a basis, in time, for a different political relationship between North and South. The Community, in the very long term—and it is the very long term—has a major role to play in that way in North/ South relations.
Coming now to Northern Ireland, to which I have been referring in relation to the EEC, I want to say, first of all, that we should be clear on what is our role in the North. We have an infinite capacity to do harm there. Almost anything that we say can be twisted on the one hand to strengthen support for the extreme Loyalists, or, on the other hand, to undermine confidence in moderate policies and in support for the SDLP amongst the minority. Things we are being pressed to say and do, in so far as the critics are clear as to what they want us to do, will, in almost all cases, have one or other of these evil effects if we do them. I am not suggesting that the Government should be free of criticism in this any more than in any other policy area. First of all, if and when we succumb to pressures and talk or act in a manner that has a bad effect on one side or the other, we should be criticised for it. We must accept responsibility for what we say and do. Secondly, the Government are responsible for action or inaction here that can affect the situation in Northern Ireland—the things we do or do not do in this part of the country that could affect the position. For these things, done or not done, we can be fairly criticised. But the Government's power is limited. Let us face this fact. Let us face it in this debate. The Opposition here can, as we have seen —by using the Party Whip for party advantage—in a matter of conscience where a free vote is necessary and where in Britain, be it said, the matter would be settled on a Friday by a free vote—as is always done there in such matters—the Opposition here can, by using the Party Whip for party advantage, block constructive moves here that would have an impact on Northern Ireland, and they have done it. Moreover, the Government, even with its Dáil majority, have no power to change the Constitution; they need a popular majority in a referendum for that. If the Opposition reject a proposal to change the Constitution, and if they indicate they would reject it, the Government have to face the danger that by seeking to act in other than a bipartisan way, they might—I say might—make the situation irretrievably worse. I am not saying that the Constitution cannot, never should be changed without the help of the Opposition. Far from it. It may well be that it will have to be changed without the help of the Opposition. I am saying that the Government, given the attitude of the Opposition on this matter and in the matter of contraception—in both cases, attitudes which are not primarily concerned with the national interest, the Government have the duty not to act precipitately or prematurely.
The Government are willing to take their responsibilities but will the Opposition take its responsibilities? History, I think, will not easily forgive Fianna Fáil if it is seen effectively to have blocked changes in our laws which have the support of the majority in the Dáil and in the country, or if Fianna Fáil is seen to have stood in the way at some point of the adoption of a new Constitution which, had it been introduced earlier, could have helped to bring peace, with justice, to Northern Ireland, could have helped to remove a blockage to understanding and reconciliation—things which let us be clear on it, are absolute, essential, prerequisites of any move towards political unity with consent.
The Government, in the kind of situation in which we find ourselves today, must, at all costs, act responsibly, regardless of any temporary unpopularity that it may incur. It is easy to win popular support at a given moment by making rousing speeches, denouncing the actions, for example, of the security forces in Northern Ireland, making loud public protests at every breach of the Border and declaring our undying support for the minority, talking of not standing idly by and of being a second guarantor, regardless of any damage that may be done by raising hopes which, in respect of much of the problem, could never be fulfilled, but at the same time alienating still further the majority in the North—the majority in the North, without the support of one-third of whose numbers there can be no power sharing, no peace, no justice.
We ask the people: do you believe that Fianna Fáil, on the strength of their Opposition performance in these matters, would have resisted this temptation to play for votes? Would you have confidence in them, in Government, to set aside, as we have tried to do, the old shibboleths and face reality for the sake of securing the real interests of the Northern minority which depend totally on the re-creation of that Northern Protestant moderate opinion which has, at this moment, evaporated? Does the Opposition's line on Constitutional change—Deputy Brugha's thoughtful contribution on this apart—encourage such a belief? Does their attitude to the contraception vote, certainly not motivated by conscience, encourage such a belief? Does their constant emphasis in their questions, not on action against the IRA and its murderous activities but always on actions of the security forces in Northern Ireland suggest that, in Government, their attitude would be one that would be constructive and would help to resolve this problem? The people have to answer these questions themselves.
It is not easy for a Government to act unpopularly in these matters. It is not easy, by not saying things at certain times, to find oneself attacked or criticised in one's own part of the country. And, above all, it is not easy, by not speaking in certain ways at a certain time to find oneself criticised and unpopular with sections of the minority in Northern Ireland. None of us likes it, and the only reason that we act or do not act the way we do is not because of any thought of party advantage—because, God knows, there is no party advantage to be gained—it is not because we do not think about these problems because, God knows, no Government have ever spent so much time considering, agonising, over these issues. It is because, having considered all the aspects, we feel we must take the line which will best protect and help the minority in Northern Ireland in respect of their real problems. Making speeches does not always do that. If we have to take unpopularity for a time we will take it because that is our job in government.
I am proud to be part of a Government which will not succumb to pressures to act irresponsibly in this matter and which, within the limits of what is possible in a parliamentary democracy, with an Opposition concerned at times, I am afraid, to secure Party advantage rather than national interest, will do all in their power, however unpopular temporarily, to secure a solution in Northern Ireland.
Having listened to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and particularly the early part of his contribution, one would imagine there was nothing left to be done, that everything was completed. At one point it came across very forcibly during the course of his speech the way in which the present Government have dealt with rates. Of course, nobody swallows this kind of thing. Everybody appreciates that rates were reasonable as compared with last year because of the fact that we had a nine-month period for rates. People realise now that rates are going up £2 in the £, and more than this in most places, since they were struck recently. I am sure people also remember very clearly that the Fianna Fáil policy was an abolition of rates in regard to all private dwellinghouses, still is and has been reconfirmed. That is one point only on which the Minister for Foreign Affairs was quite wrong and he must appreciate this fact.
It was because of the anxiety of the people that we tabled our motion. Grave fears are being expressed not only by the farming interests but by all the other sectors in our community. The Government must realise how serious is the situation. We are divided in this House on many issues but there are certain fundamental areas such as looking after the less well off among us on which we all agree. It is with regret that we find it necessary to debate a motion of no confidence in this Government but the situation has been created by the Government.
For their first ten months or so in office, the Coalition were in what one might call a freewheeling situation as a result of Fianna Fáil policy and of reserves that had been built up by the previous Administration. However, we must assess to what extent the budgetary provisions of 1974 have contributed to today's problems. People are not prepared to accept statements from Ministers to the effect that our difficulties have been caused by various outside factors over which we have no control. It is the business of the Government to control the situation.
Despite what has been said by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in relation to the achievements of this Government, they have been responsible for the breaking down of confidence in investments. Anybody involved in business and financial matters is well aware of this lack of confidence. The Government's handling of the economy, too, has eroded the purchasing power of wages and has triggered off the present wages spiral. So, too, has the value of pensions and of social welfare benefits been eroded. The value of savings has been ruined so that there is no encouragement for people to continue to save.
The Government's actions, too, have resulted in dissension between different sectors both in the rural and urban communities. It might be said that the Government are merely using the printing press to produce money that is of an ever-diminishing value. Their policies have succeeded in destroying the hard-won economic independence that was built up during the sixties and early seventies.
We are a very proud people; we are entitled to be so. Our people have the desire to work but there must be job opportunities for them. Our people, too, are considerate in relation to the less well off. I suppose our history of economic and political domination for so many hundreds of years has been the cause of our seeking the dignity of full independence. We shall continue to seek that full independence until such time as our objective is achieved. Unfortunately, such proposals as those dealing with capital taxation have only succeeded in diminishing these natural aspirations. They have destroyed investment confidence far more effectively than it could have been destroyed by the hundreds of years of British rule.
About 12 months ago and for some time afterwards this party made very serious attempts to move the relevant Ministers to face up to the problems arising from the energy crisis. The response to our efforts was nothing more than a number of well worn cliches as to what might be done. For instance, we were told of the on-going studies that were taking place.
Such cliches were pioneered by people on the other side of the House. The vocabulary to which the Deputy is referring is that of Deputy Colley.
I am merely repeating what I heard Ministers say during the debate on the energy crisis. The phrase to which I refer was used by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. We were told, too, that a critical analysis of the situation was being made, that the problem was being teased out. If the Parliamentary Secretary checks the Official Report he will find that what I am saying is correct. However, we still await any announcement informing us that anything has been done to prevent a similar situation arising again. Unfortunately, it is possible that this could happen. There might be, for instance, a flare up in the Middle East although the Arabs should not be blamed entirely for what happened. They are entitled to be paid a reasonable amount for their products, much of the blame must be placed on the multi-national oil companies. Our almost total dependence on oil became evident to us, perhaps for the first time, during that crisis last year. The whole scene in this regard changed for us after the Middle East war of October, 1973. One factor that had very serious repercussions for us was the bulking of supplies with those of the UK. However, these difficulties are not peculiar to Ireland. Many other countries have similar problems.
Now that these matters are put in proper perspective, we are entitled to ask what lessons the Government have learned. Unfortunately we have no evidence of any action being taken. We can only ask questions but we are entitled to get answers from the Government. How seriously have we considered the prospect of importing directly our requirements from the oil-producing countries? Last night Deputy Staunton congratulated the Minister on opening an embassy in Egypt. He was speaking with reference to diplomatic relations with the oil-producing countries but, as far as I am aware, Egypt is not an oil-producing country.
Will the Ministers concerned tell us of the results of approaches with regard to buying directly from the oil-producing countries? It is possible to do this; in fact, other countries have done so. There is no reason why this problem should not be teased out, why the people should not be told about the possibility of pursuing this course of action.
We might also ask the Government if there are any plans for extending our refining capacity to meet our needs. This is an important matter. We are refining only slightly less than 50 per cent of our oil needs and the remainder is imported. It is true that the oil refinery at Whitegate is slowly becoming obsolete and it is absolutely essential to increase our refining capacity. We should be capable at least of refining the other 50 per cent of our needs. Even if we bought directly at present we would have to have the product refined abroad. The absolute necessity of increasing our refining cababilities was a matter that came to light in the energy crisis. Whether the oil refinery is built on the Shannon, at Bantry Bay or Dublin Bay, a decision will have to be made on the matter.
As far as I am aware, nothing has been done about this matter in the last 12 months. A refinery takes about three years to become operational but we have wasted at least one year. If we import the crude oil direct from the oil-producing countries a refinery will be essential. The Government will have more control over the situation and, to a reasonable extent, we will get away from the influences of the multi-national oil companies.
Last year Ministers admitted in this House that we were completely in the hands of the multi-national oil companies and in the meantime they should seriously have tackled the problem. However, nothing has been done with regard to the matter. Had we started building an oil refinery last year it would be operational in two years' time. We would have to buy the crude oil but we must have control over the price of the product.
What, will happen if, hopefully, we find large quantities of oil off the south coast? The first essential is that we are able to refine it. Will we be in the situation that we will have to send it to France or to Milford Haven to be refined? As far as I know, we have no provision now for refining any oil obtained off the south coast, not to mention the oil imported from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or any other oil-producing country.
The people are entitled to know the Government's intentions in the matter. Whoever builds the oil refinery it is possible for the Government to have a reasonable financial interest in its erection. I am afraid there will be another oil crisis in the future and we will be subjected to huge price rises for petrol and fuel oils. We are leaving ourselves in exactly the same position that we were in 12 months ago; at that time because of the sudden way the whole matter blew up we were caught with our trousers down and if the same situation developed tomorrow we would not be prepared to meet it. I cannot emphasise the importance of getting proper control over whatever oil will be available to us.
Since 12th December, 1973, we have become part of what is known as the outer UK zone so far as prices are concerned. I have pointed out previously that all the multi-national oil companies have to do is to give seven days' notice to the Department of Industry and Commerce of their intention to increase the price of oil and after that time they are entitled to do it. They did it in the past and they got away with at least £7 million extra profits on cheaper oil they had in storage. Everyone knows what happened but we are still in the same position if they decide to increase the price of oil or petrol; I am sorry to say there is a distinct possibility of such an increase.
I am sure members of the Government have read of the steps France is taking to do something about its balance of payments as a result of increased oil prices. The Government must also have read about proposed increases for oil products in England to counteract the serious balance of payments position in that country. In England studies at a very high level are taking place now about curtailing the consumption of oil in order to improve their balance of payments position. In that country there is a prospect of rationing a certain percentage of petrol consumption at, say, 5p above the current price which is 50p. This means a percentage of petrol will be rationed at 55p per gallon but side by side with that the prospect has been discussed of having petrol available at 75p to 80p to people who can afford to pay this amount. This is a twin-edged rationing system. On the one hand you have a ration of 55p and, on the other, you have supplementary supplies available at 75p to 80p a gallon. This would also be rationed because very few could afford to pay that kind of price. This is under very serious discussion in Britain at the moment and it may well be that some announcement along these lines will be made in the near future.
Is the Deputy aware that in France the cost of ordinary petrol for a car is 75p a gallon and in Italy it is 85p to 90p a gallon?
And in Spain it is 55p. I am aware of these facts. I am talking about what we are capable of paying.
I am not criticising the Deputy's suggestion. All I am saying is that the suggestion that the average motorist here might not be able to reach deep enough into his pocket to pay for petrol does not square with the experience in France where rich and poor buy petrol.
I am suggesting that if what I prophesy happens there will be rationing of petrol at 55p a gallon.
It would not be a deterrent unless it was £1 or more than £1.
And I am saying that there will be supplementary petrol available at 75p to 80p per gallon. We all know the Germans and the French can pay more because wages are higher in both these countries. They can afford to pay the price. It would, however, be a very heavy burden on our people who need petrol and who possibly could not do without petrol. Admittedly this may never happen and I hope it will not, but we have a habit here of doing what Britain does. There is a possibility of this happening in Britain. From the information available to me it is a very live possibility. If it happens in Britain how will we react? We are tied to this outer British zone. Will we wake up some time in November or December to find ourselves in the same position? We must do everything possible to get out of such a position. We must get rid of the stranglehold of the multi-national oil companies. Ministers have admitted we are in this stranglehold. We all appreciate the position, but it is our job now to try to get out of it as soon as possible and create some form of independence with regard to energy.
Energy is of such vital importance to all sectors of our economy that it should be a real priority with the Government. The problem should be tackled from every direction. There has been ample time in which to study the situation and draw up some definite policy and get something under way. That does not seem to have happened. We should have some clear idea as to what we are going to do if the evolution in Britain is as I have prognosticated. I believe it is a possibility there and I sincerely hope it will not happen here.
The energy crisis started this time last year and we were told then that we were dependent on the advice of the multi-national oil companies. Does the Minister for Transport and Power, for instance, still think we are totally dependent on these people for advice before we make decisions? We should not be. We have had a year now in which to establish a proper oil advisory committee to the exclusion of total dependence on the people who undoubtedly have a vested interest and who are deeply involved in the affairs of the multi-national oil companies and whose first priority, I have no doubt, would be loyalty to their own companies. There seems to be a complete lack of any action in this very critical area of our economy. Have we reassessed our overall energy requirements based on oil from now until such time as we have more definite information as to what will emerge from the exploration off our south coast? We should have some idea and we should have a reassessment made. What plans, if any, have emerged? Have we any idea at all as to how we will utilise this oil? We assume something will emerge.
What consideration has been given to the development of our native sources of energy in the last 12 months? We would like to know something about this. What about the economics of solid fuel usage in the light of rising oil prices? All these aspects must be re-examined. We are entitled to know what has happened in the last 12 months. I sincerely hope the Minister for Transport and Power will be able to give us some idea of what is happening in this very, very vital area. Have we developed any policy in regard to the role of native fuels in our economy? Have we properly measured and assessed these in relation to the oil situation? What do we know about the resources available within our own territorial waters? We are entitled to be told something about these. What stimulus or incentive are we giving to the exploration for oil and gas? Are we totally dependent on commercial interests to find out what is going on and what is there? Have we any control over the situation? We should like the answers to these questions spelled out for us. Have we any real plan or policy in this matter?
Is there any co-ordination between the various State and semi-State bodies operating under the aegis of the Department of Transport and Power? There are many such bodies. Is there any co-ordination between them to establish individual roles in the future? This is very important. We would like to know if serious discussions have taken place between these very important bodies. To me it is ludicrous that private enterprise gas companies and municipal gas companies should operate in competition with the Electricity Supply Board in the matter of sales and so forth. Will this be permitted to continue? These are based on very scarce resources. Co-ordination should be taken seriously and something should be done about it. It is ludicrous to permit the present situation to continue. Surely the State should give a lead in this matter.
All these are matters about which we would like to hear something. It is 12 months since we heard the warnings, here and elsewhere, as to what would happen because of the energy crisis. We are still being treated like children. Every second day we have speeches from different Ministers spelling out doom. We have heard quite a few of them. The period in office of the Government appears to me and to most people to have been a period of mismanagement as bad as any in our history. That is what the results seem to show. On top of that we are told by Ministers and those behind them that it is all someone else's fault; it is not their fault.
Nearly 12 months ago the Minister for Transport and Power and the Minister for Industry and Commerce invoked the national spirit to enable the country to get through the energy crisis. Appeal after appeal was made to the people, but what have the Government done since? They have done nothing. There is no evidence of their having done anything of any consequence since then. Those two Ministers, undoubtedly, share the responsibility for the lack of an energy policy and cost control. We exposed the profit ramp of the multi-national oil companies last year and no action was taken. They made several millions more in profits than they were entitled to make. Japan prevented that happening and we quoted that as an example, but no action was taken here.
What has been done to bring our storage capacity up to the EEC standard? It was far below it last year. In June or July I asked what was being done and I was told by the Minister for Transport and Power that negotiations were taking place with the oil companies. We established that it would cost £35 million to bring our storage capacity up to the EEC level. The Minister said it would cost £12 million to build extra storage tanks and £23 million to fill them for the first time, a total of £35 million. I looked for a guarantee from the Minister that the consumers would not be asked to foot that bill but he could not give any such undertaking. Eventually he said that the interests of the consumers would definitely have to be considered. That was as far as we got.
No further storage tanks that I know of have been erected. Nothing has happened since June or July to bring our oil storage capacity up to the standard required by our EEC membership. I should like the Minister to explain why he has not proceeded with this and when he will proceed with it, because our people are anxious to know. The number of days storage capacity we have is of very little use to us in the event of another oil or energy crisis.
There is another matter of which the people may not be fully aware. During the oil crisis when we were short of supplies and we did not know whether we would have a supply from week to week—particularly in industry to which it is so important—our Whitegate Oil Refinery continued to export fuel oil at £8 per ton. They had a contract. At that time the ESB were forced to pay over £40 per ton for oil, Russian oil as it is known, although it does not all originate in Russia. The Russians trade on the high seas and you often finish up with Arab oil although you buy it from Russia. The ESB also had a contract with their previous suppliers who happened to be the same people but there were escalation clauses in that contract. It is extraordinary that Whitegate were allowed to continue to export fuel oil at £8 per ton while we were buying it in for essential services like the ESB at £40 per ton. I raised this at the time but we did not get very far with it.
The Dublin Gas Company had a contract with one of the principals involved in Whitegate. When it was signed it appeared to be a very good contract from the point of view of the oil company but, when the oil crisis broke and petrol became very scarce, it suddenly became a bad contract from the point of view of the oil company and a good contract from the point of view of the Dublin Gas Company. The company started to withhold supplies to some extent because it was more profitable for them to refine the naphtha further down to petrol. Petrol was a far more profitable product. I raised this at the time because it was a terrible position for Dublin people dependant on gas to find themselves in.
Contracts did not seem very valid in those circumstances. I say that in relation to the Whitegate export of oil at £8 per ton when the ESB had to pay over £40 per ton for their fuel. That leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. I hope people realise that it happened and that it will not be allowed to happen again. The Government told us they had no control over that situation and now they tell us they have no control over the inflationary results of that situation. It seems nobody has told them that it is the business of the Government to take control. That is what they were elected to do and it is time they got the message that they should take control. As I said with regard to the British situation, we want to know could we be left open to paying 80p per gallon for supplementary petrol which we need very badly.
I should like to refer now to the agricultural situation. I come from a rural background. I represent a rural constituency. The majority of our farming people are small farmers. Deputy Callanan made a wonderful plea for them and explained their position very clearly. Their situation is very serious. It is possible that the Parliamentary Secretary is not as familiar with what is happening to those people as Deputy Callanan, and myself, and others who represent these areas. Their plight is very serious. They have to bring out their small cattle at the end of the year. During the summer they had a few pounds from the creamery cheque but that has stopped now and they are totally dependent on the price they get for small cattle to carry them over the winter.
Small cattle are going into marts like Kilrush Mart and people are bidding for them with one hand—as little as £5—and on occasion with two hands. These small farmers find themselves in a diabolical situation. Side by side with that they see people who produce beef doing reasonably well. Even the farming organisations say that the factories are making a packet, to some extent, out of the present situation. They have their agents going to marts and buying cattle. There is mention of rings being formed between the different concerns. The agent for one factory says to another: "I will have this lot and you can have the next lot." The farmers at home have explained this to me and they say it is definitely happening. Cattle are being bought for far less than the farmers would get if they were allowed to send them into the factories to qualify for intervention. People are being deprived by the factories of what they are rightly entitled to.
Beef seems to be holding a reasonable price and intervention can be fallen back on in some cases, but the small man has nothing whatsoever. In addition to being unable to receive a good price for his cattle he is now faced with the prospect of a bad harvest after a poor summer. For the farmer the question of fodder is a serious one and, in my view, there will be serious consequences because of what will happen to these cattle during the winter. Without doubt the cattle population will decrease. The farmers are selling their cows because they are more saleable than the small cattle and they are doing this in an effort to get by, but this means that the breeding numbers will decrease rapidly.
Something will have to be done for these small farmers and there is no necessity for the Government to concern themselves with the beef producer. In my view there should be a new approach in the payment of intervention money. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the responsible agents for administering this intervention money, should be capable of devising a scheme whereby that money is paid in three stages—at the five cwt. stage, at the store or nine cwt. stage and at the finishing stage. There are sufficient experts in the Department capable of devising such a scheme. These experts should be capable of assessing the cost of bringing animals to these stages and paying grants accordingly. The blue card which is issued in respect of every animal could be used for recording intervention money.
It should be possible for the Minister to distribute this intervention money in a more equitable way. There are instances where it never reaches the small producer or the farmer who brings cattle to the store stage. These farmers seldom see a shilling of this intervention money even though they are entitled to their share. The Minister has a ready structure available to him in the form of the blue card and ear tag systems.
In the time at my disposal I wish to comment on two of the main planks on which the Leader of the Opposition's attack on the Government seemed to rest. I will then invite the House to consider the positive achievements which the Government can claim credit for and outline my own hope for what they may do in the remainder of their term. I could not help observing that the speech of my Leader, which was absolutely packed, not with rhetorical flourishes or clichés but with solid arguments backed up with figures, could not be accommodated in one hour. At this stage I should like to record my appreciation of the courtesy which the Opposition extended to him in not insisting that he keep within his one hour. However, the Leader of the Opposition had concluded his speech well short of one hour although we would, in turn, have extended the courtesy to him of allowing him to exceed the hour if he so wished. The Leader of the Opposition did not have enough to say to carry him even beyond the 50 minute mark.
I could not help noticing—I am sure I am not the only Member of the House struck by this—that a considerable number of those 50 minutes was taken up with lengthy quotations from, and comments on, an article fromThe Times of the previous day. If that is the best the research and back-up groups we have heard so much about can produce, an article which falls out of the heavens 24 hours before a major confidence debate starts, by way of arguments for the Leader of the Opposition to beat the Government with it does not say much for the quality of the Opposition either inside or outside of the Dáil.
This absolutely unknown journalist—I do not say that in derogation of Mr. Fiske; I heard of him——
That journalist is not unknown if the Parliamentary Secretary has heard of him.
He is unknown in the sense that the vast majority of the Members of this House never heard his name before. In saying he is unknown I do not want to sound offensive to a gentleman who is not a Member of this House, but he is unknown as far as this House is concerned. This gentleman was certified by the Leader of the Opposition as being an impartial journalist but that is something which Members of the House are not able to make up their minds about because they know nothing about him. Even if they knew something about him, what a miserable prop on which to rest a considerable part of his speech, an article barely 24 hours old from an English daily newspaper. To me that was a tactically poor move by the Leader of the Opposition, a man who was Taoiseach for five or six years and is only 18 months out of the job. If he can find nothing better to beat us with than a feature in an English daily newspaper he should look around him for better helpers.
Not only did the Leader of the Opposition cite this unknown journalist but he cited also Senator Noel Browne at length in his attack on things that had transpired, or failed to transpire, at the Labour Party Conference. Senator Noel Browne, if I may say it without any sense of personal offensiveness, is the cuckoo of every nest, the universal political cuckoo, who has criticised every party he has been in, and there have been a lot of them, bar Fine Gael because we never had him.
The Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that it is not usual to criticise Members of the other House.
I appreciate it is not but his name was brought up as being an authority, a respectable one, by the Leader of the Opposition and I thought I would not be straying outside the parameters—to use a trendy word which I feel sure would offend Deputy Barrett—of the debate set by the Leader of the Opposition if I threw in, in a few words, my own feelings about Senator Noel Browne. No one criticises his sincerity but he has a curious knack of being an embarrassment to those with whom he is associated and he has shown that in his political life over the last 25 years. Between himself and this unknown English journalist he has the high honour of being used as cannon ball material by the Leader of the Opposition against this Government and this throws the Opposition's stance and credibility into serious doubt.
The Parliamentary Secretary should leave personalities out and answer the arguments.
Personalities were brought into this debate at great length by the Leader of the Opposition who did not even spare backbench Government Deputies.
Deputy Lynch did have a series of criticisms which I am willing to admit might have been of some substance if they were demonstrably true and might even be weighty against us if the record of his own party showed any contrast with what he was trying to say. Deputy Lynch spoke of the style of the Government, the style of individual Ministers, as he put it, speaking off the top of their heads, and he had particular censure for the Minister for Justice's speech in regard to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution.
I should like to say a few words about the style of Government, if it is not too vague an expression. I agree that it is an unusual experience for our citizens to find that Ministers are able to write their own speeches, that they have ideas of their own which they are not afraid to put across and that they are not all identical lead soldiers and do not look like that or pretend to be like that. That is a new experience for our citizens. I agree that it must be a bit of a surprise for an Opposition to find that there are 15 Ministers who have something in their own heads and who do not simply hand out a Departmental script every time they open something. That is a new experience. It is not new and would not be surprising in Britain or in any of the European democracies, but it is new here.
My own view about that is that the style of Government was set here for a very long time by Mr. De Valera, whose own enormous shadow threw into the stature of pygmies all those with whom he worked, and who established inside his Government an autocratic style which left absolutely no elbow room at all for the individual personalities which the Ministers undoubtedly had. That kind of Government persisted after Mr. De Valera had become President into the days of Deputy Lemass and Deputy Lynch. In spite of the occasional Minister who might have the public image of being a gay dog, like the late Deputy O'Malley or like Deputy Haughey, most of the Fianna Fáil Ministers came across as a parcel of dull dogs. I do not say that they really were dull dogs, but the tradition of their party laid down by its founder was that they were not supposed to have much to say for themselves unless it was something which had filtered through their Departments and which was itself pretty innocuous.
When we were in Opposition I was sick to death of opening the paper day in and day out, and finding scripts of stupefying boredom given enormous space compared with things that were our own efforts delivered by the Opposition. Day after day it was headlines like: "Childers lauds student nurses" or "Molloy warns on road safety". That was the kind of thoughtfulness which was appropriate for Ministers in those days. I want to make it clear that I intend no offence towards these gentlemen. No doubt they have ideas of their own, but it was not part of the ethos of the party to which they belonged that they should express themselves and that they should give the people the opportunity of seeing what manner of men they were individually. I do not apologise for this Government if it consists of and is supported by Deputies who have got the elbow room and have got the freedom to speak their minds, particularly on points of extreme national importance. The more important the matter is, the more important it is that people should see what individual Ministers feel.
It is absolutely normal in other countries that the different wings of political parties are established, identified, recognised. They are part of the currency of political comment. They are part of the panorama which the political observer has before him. They enrich his scene, if you like, and they enrich the scene of the people he is speaking to. It is common practice in Britain, in France, in Germany. Everybody has a strong idea of how individual Ministers, members of the Government at senior or junior level, are going to react to this or that, because these Ministers, inside whatever doctrine of collective responsibility may be accepted in that democracy, have very considerable freedom to speak their own minds.
I am proud that that moment has arrived here, and although I can see that it has a potential for embarrassment, I can see that the benefits of a new style of Government are very considerable, and so far from being a subject of criticism, as Deputy Lynch seems to think it should be, it seems to me to be one of the things which this Government will be remembered for to its credit.
I do not want to be destructive, and I quite agree that we are debating not merely a motion of no confidence in the Government, and I do not think we ought to go too far into history. However, I do not think I ought to let Deputy Lynch away with what he said about Ministers on this side without reminding him of the kind of people he was dealing with in the last two years or so before he left office.
I recall Deputy Lynch having to do open battle with Deputy Blaney when Deputy Blaney was Minister for Agriculture at the 1970 Ard Fheis of Fianna Fáil. Open battle he had to do with him. Everybody knew what Deputy Blaney's views were about the North. I do not agree with them, but at least I had the benefit of knowing what they were, and they would have been able to sort out Fianna Fáil sooner or later on that basis. The then Minister for Justice, who is no longer in the House, behaved in the months and years coming up to the change of Government in a way which showed he had no regard whatever for collective responsibility, that he did not care what discredit his actions reflected on his colleagues.
It is important to remember that both the Ministers I have mentioned might still be in power as Ministers were it not for the action of the Leader of the Party I belong to. In other words, it was not a question of these people having been winkled out by Deputy Lynch and put out of Government because of their behaviour. They were flushed out of Government, not by Deputy Lynch, but by the Leader of the then Opposition. I do not think this side of the House can take the far side's comments about individual Minister's going their own way. That is absolutely without reference to the arms crisis which we do not want to have thrashed out again.
As for the speech by our Minister for Justice, which Deputy Lynch finds so disgraceful and thinks it so wrong of Deputy Cooney to have made without consulting his Leader, let me say that apart from mild differences of emphasis or of rhetorical expression, there was nothing new in what the Minister for Justice said. He had said it before. The first time I ever heard him speak in public, when he won the by-election in Longford-Westmeath, the focal point of his speech was something of that kind, there for everybody to hear. Other Ministers have said the same thing. I have said the same thing, and I will say it again.
I quite agree there may be moments when prudence would dictate reticence on the part of Ministers, and perhaps tactical consultation about who is to say what, and where and when they are to say it. But I absolutely reject the idea that a Minister is not entitled to say what he feels, particularly on an important national matter. I think it is of benefit to the public that he should do so. There was nothing new or surprising in what Deputy Cooney said. Anyone who knew him, anyone who had been listening to him over the years would know his views on this whole line of country. Not alone was there nothing new in it measured against his own history and the history of his colleagues here in Government, but there was nothing new in it measured against the dust-covered report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution which was published at the end of 1967. That had been a report of a Committee which was presided over by Deputy Colley.
I know it is possible to do no service to a political opponent, from the point of view of his own side by paying him tribute, but I will say I think Deputy Colley often comes off unfairly, at the wrong end of things. Sometimes it seems he is never able to do anything right. No matter what happens he gets the stick, either from us or from commentators or from the outside world generally. He seems to be unlucky. However, I think Deputy Colley performed a valuable public service in chairing a committee which behaved so rationally in regard to these very articles.
That committee was set up on the initiative of the late Mr. Lemass. I agree that the report specifically said that it did not bind any of the parties to which members of the committee belonged, and I am not trying to pretend that it necessarily represents or represented the view of the Government or the view of this Government, but it remains a publication issued under Government authority. It cannot be completely dissociated from the standing, reputation and nature of the Government which set the committee up. Nothing that Deputy Conney, the Minister for Justice, said the other day conflicts with the paragraphs in that report which said exactly the same thing in a somewhat different way.
I refuse to forget that report. We have another Committee functioning. I am not supposed to tell the House what rumours I have heard about it and about the obstacles it is running into, but I shall be surprised if that committee reaches unanimity on this point in the way that the 1967 committee reached unanimity on it when four Fianna Fáil members were in favour of amending Article 3. Article 2 is being mentioned in the same breath. Article 2 is innocuous, or relatively innocuous. Article 3 is the important one because it asserts the legalistic right of this very Oireachtas to exercise jurisdiction over the six north-eastern counties of Ireland.
That recommendation was made unanimously by the then committee, and it seems to me wrong and ill-judged of Deputy Lynch to pretend, and to try to get the people to believe, if he can, that the Minister for Justice was going away beyond what any decent Irishman would do in making the speech he made. He cannot pretend that. It is only an accident that he was not asked to chair that committee by the late Mr. Lemass and it is quite likely that had he chaired that committee he would have come up with exactly the same recommendation as that committee produced and were unanimous about. I know he is a reasonable man, and that although he has to go through the motions of gas-bag politics because of the party he has behind him, he himself is reasonable and the people recognise it. I have not the slightest doubt that if Deputy Lynch had chaired that committee in 1967 instead of Deputy Colley we would have had exactly the same recommendation. It is, therefore, unseemly of him to come back and try to make a whipping-boy of the Minister for Justice.
In regard to security, the Leader of the Opposition made the expected capital out of security failures. I admit that the Press are probably tired of hearing us advertise ourselves as the law and order Government by contrast to our predecessors. It is possible to over-stress that. I accept that there are people on the other side who are very committed to law and order, courageously committed to it, but the difference here is not that Fianna Fáil were thought incapable of running an army and a police force, but that it was suspected that their hearts were not in the job. It was thought that the hearts of some of them, or many of them, were not in the job of maintaining law and order here.
Unless they show absolute rank incompetence to a degree which no Government here have ever approached, a Government must be judged not on whether the odd criminal breaks out of jail, or whether the odd couple of dozen criminals break out of jail, but on whether the Government are doing their best to stop that happening, whether they have their hearts in that job. That is something in regard to which no one has any doubts about this Government, but it is a matter in regard to which doubts were entertained with the previous Government. That is unjust in regard to some members of that Government, but those doubts were there and nobody can deny them. The history of the couple of years before the change of Government provides plenty of material for those doubts.
I have always regarded the Opposition, in matters of this kind, as being like the figure in the Bible who was neither hot nor cold and, therefore, had to be spat out of the mouth. On the one hand there is jubilation on the Opposition side if we have a security failure, a jail-break or an escape, or if captures are not immediately effected when a serious breach of order or a crime is committed. The finger is pointed at how we are not doing our job properly and they say we are not the law and order Government we set out to be. On the other hand, let a British helicopter violate our air space, instantly they are up on their hind legs raising the matter on the Adjournment, bringing down the roof on us because the sacred soil of Ireland has been violated. In strict Fianna Fáil theory, it is just as much violated by the existence of British soldiers in the North as it would be if they were in the South. That is the strict Republican theory, the gas-bag Republican theory. It is just as much violated by the presence of a British uniform in Belfast as it is if it strays into Clones. Of course, these theories are forgotten when it is not chosen to remember them.
It was quite all right, too, in the days when we had no helicopters for helicopters from Ballykelly to pull our fishermen out of the sea. There were no complaints about violation of air space by British Airforce markings or British uniforms in those days. But now, if that happens even by accident, there are shouts and criticisms from the far side, not from all Deputies but from a certain section. That is what I call blowing hot and cold. I do not minimise the importance of Border violations. I am not trying to trivialise something which could be the basis of very serious and bloody incidents. I do not try to make light of these things. All I am saying is that one must ask oneself where the heart of a party lies which is ostensibly committed to putting down violent criminals but is intensely sensitive at the suggestion that one might be co-operating with or making things easy for another force which is doing exactly the same job. They may be doing it in uniforms we do not like, they may be doing it against a historical background that displeases us, but they are essentially there because of the presence of those violent people.
I realise I am in danger of being misinterpreted by Opposition speakers coming after me in that regard. As I have said, I do not make light of these infringements at all but if one is really serious about putting down violence, subversion and all the horrors which we have seen, it is unseemly to make an exaggerated fuss when a force whose history we need not consider, or why they are there or what brought them there at first, which are doing the same job and suffering losses for it, stray a foot or a mile across the frontier. It is not that I make little of that, but it seems to me to be the reason why thebona fides of the Opposition is still suspect.
In regard to security failures, I should again point out to Deputy Lynch and to the Opposition as a whole that when one is dealing with a crowd of violent, desperate, absolutely unscrupulous people, who recognise no rules but those they choose to make themselves, one is certain to have failures. Unless we were to run a completely inhuman prison system, which I would not be in favour of, we are at a disadvantage —any security force is at a disadvantage. A decent civilised Government must accept that people cannot be treated like animals, even if the people we are fighting do not accept that, even if they treat people like animals. The Government cannot deal on that basis, and that is where our security forces are at a disadvantage. There have been security failures and there certainly will be others. There is no question or doubt about it. I do not know where or when they will come, but they certainly will come.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the contrast in the attention being drawn to security failures which become "chart-toppers", as the Minister for Justice said in regard to the helicopter escape, and security successes about which very little is ever heard. Only yesterday I read in myIrish Press a report—I am not sure whether it is true—that the military in the Curragh detention barracks had uncovered an attempted break-out, or the preparations for such a break-out, which might have been far more serious than the Portlaoise one. They found a store of military police uniforms which had been secreted by prisoners. They found them as a result of vigilance on the part of military personnel.
That got about as much space inThe Irish Press as the music critic's report of an operetta, somewhere on page 11. It was not mentioned at all in the other newspapers. Suppose that had succeeded, suppose a human weakness or a human failing had led to that military vigilance not being exercised and suppose there had been a serious break-out, we would have been hearing a call for the resignation of Deputy Donegan. Surely he should be complimented and, through him, the Army personnel for a very dirty and thankless job. Surely they should be complimented for the vigilance which keeps people of this kind behind bars, which is where they should be. If the Government must submit to discredit for a security failure they are entitled to high praise for a security success of that kind. The same goes for the recent incident at Baldonnel when two sentries who had their eyes open at 2 a.m. evidently prevented what might have been a very serious incident which could quite conceivably—I do not know what the plans of those people were— have resulted in something a great deal more spectacular than any break we have seen so far.
That has been forgotten. I do not know what is being done in the Army to compliment the sentries whose vigilance was so much in evidence that night, but be sure that that incident is already fading into the mists of the past. If it had succeeded, through the human failure of a sentry, we would have heard a great deal about it.
The truth is, as I said, that security simply cannot be guaranteed 100 per cent all the time unless you run a system like the Nazis would have run. We, as a Government, will not do that. We will not do it even to avoid the kind of criticism we get. But within the limits which a civilised State is prepared to use in guarding dangerous and utterly ruthless prisoners, the Government's heart, I have absolutely no doubt, is in the job. Although there have been failures, and will be more, it comes very ill from the Opposition to make too much of these matters. They would be far better employed using whatever moral authority they have with their penumbra of gun-Republicans to make these people lay off; and then the need for getting people behind bars would quickly disappear.
I want to turn from rebutting what I heard from the other side yesterday to say a few things about what I think are the positive achievements of the Government, to which they can look back with pride after operating for 18 months. I will not particularise matters like the number of houses built, as the Taoiseach did that yesterday at great length. The thing which strikes me most, and which I am proudest of in regard to the Government's performance over the past 18 months, is something that they have done on many grounds, what we were hearing about from the Opposition before the change of Government. They have grasped nettles. They have fumbled a couple of nettles, too, but they have grasped a lot. They have grasped nettles we were hearing whispers about from the other side for years and years and about which nothing was ever done. I call them nettles because they are nettles. They are things which are not necessarily politically popular everywhere. They are things which could have exposed the Government to strident attack and criticism, but they were still done.
I should like to list briefly a couple of things which strike me and these include a couple of things which we were told by the Opposition before the election could not possibly be done. The taxation system was changed in such a way as to relieve food from taxation for the first time since 1960. This was denounced by the far side as insanity. The truth is that, although the Government have failed to control the upward price spiral, had such change in the taxation system not been made the growth in food prices in the last year, instead of being 16 per cent, would have been 20 per cent. In other words, the palpable effect of the Government's move in redistributing the value-added tax burden is visible in terms as substantial as that.
We were told that the rates could not possibly be interfered with. It was natural for the people to be taken in. Deputy Collins told his constituents in an advertisement in theLimerick Leader—in ignorance of a precisely opposite policy being adopted in Dublin by Deputy Colley —that if health and housing charges were progressively removed from the rates, our inflation problem would be worse. The result is that, although we still have an inflation problem, the rates are nothing like what they would have been had the Government not made this move. That is not popular no doubt with people who are required to meet that bill in other forms of taxation, but nonetheless it was done.
I recognise that the previous Minister for Education was dedicated to his job but I have not much regard for his imagination. He sometimes talked about decompulsionising Irish, but nothing would have been done about it if the Fianna Fáil Government had not gone out of office. We have been regarded—I believe unfairly—over the years as being, I will not say as anti-national but as not having a full regard for the Irish language. However, soon after taking office we took the compulsion out of learning Irish. Credit should be given to the Irish language organisations for considering this a rational move. I will not say they welcomed it, but any comments they had were sensible. I read with pleasure that the number of children who went to the Gaeltacht last summer showed a staggering increase over the previous year. In other words, far from the Irish language having been downgraded, interest has increased among the parents of school children. They feel they would like their children to spend time studying the language in the Gaeltacht.
The whole question of mining taxation has been reopened. That is another nettle which we were waiting for the Fianna Fáil Government to grasp. I saw my colleague, Deputy Lalor, for the first time on television being cross-examined with regard to the value of Irish mineral resources and on the arrangement, which Fianna Fáil had sponsored, of the 20-year tax holiday. After 20 years the minerals would have been gone, and nothing would have been left except the very small royalties which were being paid annually. Deputy Lalor came across to me on that occasion as a nice man in a jam. He was in a jam because he could not say that this fantastic taxation holiday was right. He could not stand over it; at the same time, he could not say that it was wrong. That question has now been reopened. That nettle has been grasped by the present Government.
The biggest nettle which the Government has grasped is that of extending the income tax system to those members of the farming community who make profits. During our term in office we have extended the principle of income taxation to farming profits, we have reviewed the mining taxation system, decompulsionised Irish, rearranged the rates burden and rearranged the value-added tax. These are all things which were either risky or dangerous politically and they have all been done. I could add to the list. I want to know from the Opposition if they were back in power how many of these measures would be reversed? I do not believe any of them would be. We would have heard a lot of talk from Fianna Fáil about how hard it would be to unscramble the Coalition eggs. The Government have decompulsionised Irish and have done many of the other things they said they would do. The Fianna Fáil Party are thanking their lucky stars that those dirty jobs have been done by a Government who know their responsibilities and who will be able to hand over all those finished jobs to whatever Government succeeds them when their time is up.
I am not a bit depressed by the troubles surrounding the Government, which the Taoiseach yesterday did not deny. They have many troubles on their plate. I attend branch meetings of my party, my constituency meetings and other constituency meetings. I meet Fine Gael people who tend to be worried by what they can clearly see as the choppy seas through which the Government, which they supported and stood by when there was nothing in it for them, and the party which they supported, seems to be making heavy weather. I always say to them: "Fianna Fáil were never out of trouble; they throve on trouble. They were never out of it; even at election times they went to the country fighting with everybody, farmers, gardaí, teachers and it made no difference. There is only one important thing, and that is to stick together and face the front." That is the message I give our supporters who are not experienced in seeing their side in Government, and who are worried by the fact that the colossal problems, which seem to attract bigger headlines every day, should have descended on their heroes and leaders rather than on the other side. The other side throve on trouble.
The problems which the Taoiseach outlined yesterday far exceed anything the other side had to deal with since the war and I have no doubt that with courage and solidarity the Government will win through these troubles and get the country safely out at the far side.
I have hopes about the long-term performance of this Government about which I must confess I become apprehensive when I see so much Government time absorbed by the cruel problems of inflation and recession and the North because things which seem of serious importance when one is in Opposition—Deputy Lynch said this yesterday in a different way and I took his point—and which one feels can be cleaned up quickly have a way of working their way down the list of priorities when you are in Government and one finds that the problems of day-to-day management have to be tackled and other things necessarily are put on the long finger. My long-term hope for the Government is that the things which brought many people into politics, such as the anxiety not to see the Irish language and Irish civilisation disappear in a European or Anglo-American porridge, will be the subject of more imaginative and more effective action than any other Government has yet bestowed on them and that the preservation of the environment—which is another way of saying the possibility of leading a life which does not kill one by its ugliness, noise and the physical horror of it—will get more organised attention than any Government has yet given it. That does not exhaust the list but that kind of thing will, I hope, get Government time and action when we are in calmer waters. I shall be very disappointed if that does not happen. My recommendation to the House is that the motion in the name of the Taoiseach should be passed. The Government has shown confidence in itself and deserves the people's confidence. I am confident in it and hopeful for its future.
This debate is on a confidence motion arising out of our putting down a no confidence motion. As the last speaker said regarding Ministers' pronouncements, every Member of the Government has a right to say what he likes but anybody listening to the Parliamentary Secretary for the past three quarters of an hour would not know what the debate was about. I waited in vain to hear one reference to what is described as the crisis we are experiencing at present. I should like to mention one thing he said regarding Ministers' pronouncements. However subtle he tried to make the reference to Ministers writing their own scripts, this is a damn lie. Every script I get is dished out by the information service.
Surely he is not trying to defend a system whereby pronouncements on major policy in relation to Northern Ireland and the economy can be made by different Ministers and say that is the type of Government the country will get. That might sound all right for those who want to go their own way but to defend statements in conflict with what Government policy is supposed to be and which are then withdrawn or stated to be only kite-flying or leakages or accidental publication of confidential documents is behaviour which is beyond my comprehension. I cannot think any Member of the House would seriously try to defend that kind of behaviour. That is all I shall say about what I consider to be a very simple speech by the Parliamentary Secretary in which he did not once refer to what brought about the present situation and he has not given one suggestion as to a likely remedy or referred to efforts that will be made to counteract the serious effects of the present economic recession on the economy, on individual firms and on the country generally and particularly on the confidence that is so essential to success.
Why are we putting down a no confidence motion? That was first mentioned by the Taoiseach when he spoke yesterday and said he thought the debates we had on the Estimates recently were sufficient without going all over the ground again. Perhaps we differ from members of the Government in that we are pretty close to the people. We move through them and we know much of what is happening. We have our ears to the ground. Everywhere, one goes now there is frustration and the gloom and dismay that were creeping in in 1957 are again prevalent in the whole atmosphere and economic climate of the day. The Government can blame themselves for this if it is exaggerated more than the situation demands, as has been suggested by some speakers. They came in with a flourish of trumpets and created an entirely artificial euphoria. They proceeded to build up expectations which were unrealisable and which now tend to make things look blacker and blacker in this rapidly developing situation. We were never told there was any likelihood of danger to the economy. Like Micawber they went along gaily hoping daily that something would happen and then suddenly we had a spate of speeches resulting in what was regarded as a summit conference when the Taoiseach called in representatives of different sectors of the economy to tell them we were facing disaster, to tighten their belts and prepare for the worst. This situation has left people bewildered. It is a situation in which we are being criticised by the people for not being active enough as an Opposition in exposing, condemning and protesting. On the other hand, we are accused by the Government of rocking the boat and bringing about a crisis when a crisis was not there.
While the Taoiseach was telling representatives of the most important sectors of the community of the seriousness of the situation, the Minister for Finance, in America, was saying that Fianna Fáil were trying to rock the boat. Both statements cannot be right.
Unemployment figures are rapidly rising. This cannot be ignored. We have a current trade deficit of approximately £300 million. Various figures have been given, but the deficit is not less than £250 million. The figure for 1972 was £86 million.
The farming community is going through the worst period ever experienced. The Government have been toying with the situation in the North for the past 18 months. We have now reached the stage where there is no policy. Nobody knows where we are going or what the position will be. If we did not put down a motion of no confidence we would be failing in our duty as an Opposition. I know a counter-motion of confidence will be proposed and passed because the last thing the Government want to do is to go to the country. That would be the real test. Every economic indicator is flickering the red light.
It has been said that it is up to the Opposition to propose a remedy. When the Taoiseach asked for cooperation he said that we were all in this together. The Minister for Industry and Commerce did not suggest any remedies but finished off by saying he thought we were pursuing the right policy, which is to sit tight and see what happens.
It was alleged that when Fianna Fáil were in office, inflation and all its evil side effects were due to their incompetence. I am sickened when I realise that no Member of the Coalition has offered an apology for that statement. Now that they are in power they say that inflation is due to world circumstances over which they have no control. In other words, they will wait to see what happens in the rest of the world. We are told how Japan, Germany and America are doing. Nobody has made any suggestions to remedy this situation except to say that if Fianna Fáil were in power the situation would be worse.
The Ministers now write their own speeches. They each say something different. They say that it is good for the country. It is good for democracy. When the Coalition took office they had a 14-point plan, about which we hear very little today. The people were led to believe that a superman effort would solve the problems which Fianna Fáil had not successfully tackled. It is no wonder they are now disillusioned and are asking us to try to stop the rot.
In their 14-point plan the Coalition criticised Fianna Fáil for their failure to deal with the security position. That was an ironic statement when one remembers the spectacle in this House the night we passed the Criminal Justice Bill. There was complete disharmony in what is now the Coalition. They sold themselves to the people as a law and order Government—a law and order in which Fianna Fáil were not interested. It is no wonder that the people are cynical when they see what is happening today.
If there was a more practical approach to this problem there could be many improvements in the security field. The forces of law and order do not know where they stand at the moment. The Minister for Defence made a vague statement that he would ask the Army to do something unthinkable and they would do it. Maybe one of these days he will ask them to stand on their heads in Lough Neagh. We have no idea just what he will ask them to do.
We were told by the last speaker that individual statements made by Ministers would be good for the country and that this will happen in future. In my view this will lead to chaos. Somebody must lead the Government and say what the Government intend to do in relation to major problems. Otherwise the people will have no alternative but to take the first opportunity to decide what they think of this Government.
I want to put on record one of the 14-points of the Coalition charter. This is very important because we have been accused of unnecessarily bringing in a motion of no confidence.
The tragic events in the North have clouded the fact that the economy is in serious trouble because of the indecisiveness of a Government distracted by its own internal difficulties. The immediate economic aims of the new Government will be to stabilise prices, halt redundancies and reduce unemployment under a programme of planned economic development.
Lovely words which we have been hearing ever since.
It is essential to control prices if these important economic aims are to be realised. The Government will therefore immediately introduce strict price control. As an earnest of its good faith in regard to the control of prices the Government will remove VAT from food.
The Government will regard the control of price inflation as indispensable to the continuance of the National Wage Agreements. The two parties are convinced that voluntary wage agreements reached on a national level are the best basis for economic development, stability and growth in jobs.
VAT was not removed from food until late autumn. By that time the increases in food had gone far beyond the amount of VAT which was removed. On that occasion the Government took the opportunity to provide for an increased return from VAT generally to the extent of a few million pounds. By fixing different rates on different commodities they created a problem for the trader, who hardly knows what he is doing with regard to VAT. It was in those circumstances, when inflation got out of hand and the serious position which we now find ourselves facing began to develop, we decided it was essential, as an Opposition, that we should put down a no confidence motion. Indeed, we would be doing less than our duty if we did not do so.
Deputy Keating, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, has perhaps more to do with the failure to regulate or to take any action in respect of the economy than has any other Minister in the Cabinet. He spoke here yesterday. But his speech sounded rather hollow against the background of the Labour conference in Galway when it was made clear to the public —if anybody had any doubts already —that the Coalition Government are being used by the Labour section for the purpose of furthering some of its aims, in so far as it is possible to achieve them, in order to make more real its chances of one day getting complete control so that, as Deputy Keating said "We will give you all the socialism you want." That was putting the Taoiseach on notice that if he does not bend more rapidly and pliably towards the demands of Labour in Government there will be another conference in the New Year to decide whether or not he should remain there.
It is against that background that one has to think on what is happening in Government at present. It is against that background that one must understand better the Government's failure to come to grips with the problems facing them. We hear a lot about grasping nettles. The Irish language was given as an example of one of the nettles grasped—one of the greatest pieces of political chicanery in which the Government has indulged since coming into office. But the nettles to be grasped should be those in which we are interested and in which the public generally are interested with regard to the economy. We listened to the Minister for Industry and Commerce yesterday awaiting solutions to these problems.
I come now to mining. The Minister contented himself by trying to explain that were Fianna Fáil in power they would have given away the entire profits from mining. Then, like the Labour conference, we waited to hear what was the policy on mining and resources generally. But, no, that is to be kept entirely secret. This indecision goes on while the development already in progress at Navan stands idle, men are laid off and skilled operatives have returned to their former countries or works. No decision has been given and all sorts of excuses are being made.
I gave notice to the Ceann Comhairle last week of questions asking the Minister for Industry and Commerce to make a statement on his policy on mining. I had a reply saying the two questions would not be allowed since this wassub judice at present. This was a fine excuse but one not acceptable to me and certainly not acceptable to the workers in the Navan mining industry who came to see me on several occasions and who are completely frustrated because they do not know what is happening. They are getting no information. All we are told is: “Hush, do not rock the boat. I do not want to show all my cards.” This is nonsense which cannot be justified in any way. The Minister, if he wished could come to an agreement in 24 hours— in half an hour—with the people concerned. His duty to the country is quite simple: to ensure that the State gets a generous return from its mineral wealth, that the developers get decent profits—as any private enterprise is entitled to commensurate with its investment—and that the deal will not destroy the necessary incentive to ensure that exploration will continue apace in the immediate future, because any policy on mining that would retard exploration would do immeasurable damage to the potential of mining so essential to the economy at present.
The other simple point made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce—it was a promise—was that a smelter would be under dominant State control. Downstream development, inevitably, is something any Government would pursue and achieve without any difficulty. But downstream development in so far as mining is concerned requires more than the resources of one mining project. It is for that reason that other exploration is highly essential in order that development of smelters or fabricating industries resulting from mining be justified and viable. Those competent to know inform me it is necessary to have not merely one mining project going into operation but the possibility of others coming up immediately and more to follow. With the advances made in modern technology, particularly in geological testing, we hope that we have now more ore resources than we suspected. In the old days we were told we had little or none. Now that we have discovered that there are likely to be reasonable deposits of valuable ores— at a time when world prices make it worthwhile to extract them from the ground—we should move as rapidly as possible. Also we should be seen to be moving rapidly at a time when the economy needs that shot in the arm more than it has done heretofore.
If the Minister for Industry and Commerce is to safeguard his own claim of being able properly to look after the Department for which he is responsible he would need to come up very quickly with some decision that will be not merely the right one but also justify the dithering that has taken place for the last ten months. It is as simple as that. I do not think any developer would be so foolish as to stand in the way of a proper national settlement. If he is, then it is the Minister's job to say: "There is what I publish as a reasonable proposal, showing a decent profit on your investment and the expertise you have brought to bear on the necessary work. That is what the State is getting and, if that is not a fair deal, we will try to find some alternative." We should be told that; it should be published and made known to us, but it is not and people wonder what will happen next.
The other problem in respect of which I should like to see the Minister for Industry and Commerce allay the fears of the public is that of motor insurance premiums. I do not know what problems other Members of this House have to tackle at present but every day I meet people who find themselves in difficulty about insurance, of being dealt with in the most damnable way by companies with which they have been insured or in respect of new proposals being offered to companies and being rejected. This is a problem which calls for serious consideration. If the Minister sat down and did one day's work on this, working out some proper formula whereby people compelled by law to have insurance could be satisfied that there was some place where their needs could be accommodated and at a reasonable price, he would be doing an excellent job.
There are a number of things the Minister can do. He claims to have a majority in the Government to support him in regard to nationalisation but this area of insurance is, perhaps, one in which he would be able to take Fine Gael with him. People would welcome a solution that would ensure that they would not have to go like beggars from one company to another seeking cover. In this regard those who experience the greatest difficulty are young people who are seeking cover for the first time and also people who are more than 70 years old.
The companies sought increases which were not sanctioned but they have got their own back by ensuring that their profits will be twice as great as what they would have been had they got what they sought in the first instance. Some time ago a commission was set up to study this matter and several months ago that commission reported, making various suggestions. However, as far as I am aware, no statement has been made as to what steps are to be taken to alleviate the problem. In County Donegal I know a man who employs 20 people but who cannot obtain cover for his vehicles because he has had one claim. Any company would be willing to cover his private house, his business premises or other property but not his vehicles. The insurance companies should be compelled to take the good with the bad. They should be compelled to accept high-risk business and at reasonable premiums rather than to pick out the business in respect of which there is hardly any element of risk.
If motor insurance has become unprofitable this is due to there not being proper supervision where claims are concerned. We all know that if one leaves a car in a garage for repair, the first question he will be asked is whether the job is one that will be covered by insurance. If such is the case, the sky is the limit.
It is in matters such as this that the public test the efforts of a Minister. When they are assessing whether a Minister is working in their interest they will not be influenced by the subtle speech, the timed press release or the demagogic solutions offered to help those faced with the present difficulties.
On the question of Northern Ireland one could speak for the entire time allotted to each speaker and at the end not have emphasised sufficiently the disgust with which people viewed the situation there. I shall not debate this matter at length but it is my opinion that this Government seem to underrate the vast majority of our people who, while ardently desiring unity, abhor violence as a means to achieving that unity. These are the people who hope for a political future.
Statements of the kind made by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs are creating despair among the people who desire a solution by political means because it leads them to believe that the Government have not the slightest interest as to whether this country achieves unity, that they are interested simply in peace at any price, that the reasons for not having peace is no concern of the Government.
The Minister's statement was supposed to have been published accidentally but a man who pretends to have better than average intelligence must know that if he circulates a document to people who do not like him very much, it is bound to find its way into the hands of the Press, particularly if it is marked "confidential". If the Minister did not hand the document to the Press, what he did was the equivalent of so doing.
We know that if one is to express his views clearly, he can be open to misinterpretation, particularly by those who wish to misinterpret what was said; but if this Government think that their idea of forgetting entirely about unification is popular among the people, they should go to the country and test that theory. The vast majority of Irish people yearn for unification of this country but they want it by peaceful means. Their one hope is that the politicians will produce a solution to this problem. If more young people are despairing this can be attributed to statements such as that circulated by the Minister for Post and Telegraphs.
We are asked frequently what we were doing for 50 years. Did we not do a lot? We did a tremendous amount. As Parliamentary Secretary to the late Mr. Lemass, I went to Belfast during the week after his visit to the then Northern Premier. I found there at that time a very good relationship among the community, among all sects. There was complete unity. Distrust had been removed. We had a relationship at that time of the kind that may take a long time to recapture. The Border existed then in a physical sense only. We were making progress. We had a unity of heart and spirit, of trust and confidence, all of which have been shattered since. People who long for unity are not being given any reason for confidence by the behaviour of Ministers whom the last speaker tried to defend. One Minister flies a kite suggesting that we should remove from our Constitution any claim to unity while another goes to lengths to point out the serious situation in which we would find ourselves if unity should be brought about in the morning: we would be ground into the earth and our Army would be impotent to do anything. If he had been in Government when we declared neutrality, there would have been little hope of achieving that neutrality. However our people had courage and faith in themselves; they had determination and belief—qualities that are lacking with regard to the Northern situation and our economy at the moment.
The British Government came to the point where they were prepared to accept that Dublin must be in on any arrangement made in relation to the North, and rightly so. They did not always have that view and it was a tremendous change. Yet when the Ulster Unionist Council overthrew the Assembly with their strike not a hand was lifted nor was any protest made. How could we expect the British to do much when Dublin did not seem at all worried about whether progress was being made? The whole affair was a catastrophe. This side of the House backed Sunningdale. Although we were sceptical about some of the provisions, we were prepared to go along with the Government and not to rock the boat. We were told it was a package, that we had to take all or nothing. We saw a certain good in it and we took all that was in it. Others saw fit to take what they wanted; they dismantled it bit by bit and eventually they threw out the lot. If the people do not get better leadership than they are getting at the moment with regard to Northern Ireland the position will be worse before it gets better.
The excuse that has been given by every Minister who has spoken in the debate is that all our troubles stem from inflation which is due to outside factors, while the EEC is regarded as a contributing factor because it has not turned out as we thought. We are tired listening to Ministers tell us the Government have no control over these matters. The EEC comprises nine member states and our Minister has an equal voice in the Community. We are a part of the Community; the EEC is not a European monster of which we should be afraid. We have the same right as any other country in the formulation of policy.
I remember when we taunted the Labour Members about accepting the EEC even though they opposed it originally, the answer we got was that now we had better negotiators in the EEC. Where was our Minister when the devaluation of sterling was countered by the introduction of the monetary compensation payments? Was that not the time to move, instead of waiting ten months for a green £ to offset the effects of the monetary compensation payments? Where were we when cattle were brought into the Common Market from non-member countries? Those who were more interested in consumer prices than agricultural exports were delighted because they knew it would depress the price of meat. Where were our negotiators when these things were happening? The public want the answer. The EEC is as good as we make it. We have an equal voice in the Community and we have the same right of veto as any other country. We should not be worried about the EEC, nor should we consider it as some kind of uncontrollable monster, making us subject to its every move.
Every Minister who has spoken about the serious situation refers to social welfare. In his opening statement the Taoiseach pointed out that owing to the action taken by the Coalition an unemployed man has less to worry about now, that a man with a wife and three children can get almost as much as he earned when employed. I brought in the Pay-Related Benefits Bill and got it through both Houses. That is why an unemployed man now can get nearly as much as he did when in employment. My predecessor in the Department of Labour brought in legislation with regard to redundancies and when I found a surplus of more that £1 million in the fund I brought in amending legislation which virtually doubled the benefits under the redundancy legislation. These are the two matters on which people must depend now.
The Government had the EEC money in their first year in office. During the election campaign that money was being spent from every platform in the country and very many suggestions were made about how it should be spent. It was a good windfall but in the next budget the people barely got enough to balance the huge increase in the cost of living. A very considerable amount will be needed in the next budget to compensate for the enormous increase since then.
Any social welfare benefit that will help unemployed people now was brought in by us and was personally piloted through this House by me. The pay-related benefit scheme will give 40 per cent of earnings over a certain figure as well as a basic flat rate, and the amended redundancy legislation will also be of considerable help. These are the provisions that will stand to those to whom the Taoiseach referred in his opening speech. It makes me see red when I hear what was done for social welfare.
We are told we will have a white paper. At the conference in Galway there were many promises about a green paper and a white paper. Perhaps I might tell the House a story that is rather amusing and is relevant to what we are talking about. Some years ago a man lived on a hillside quite near my home. He was accustomed to getting a present from the grocer each Christmas—perhaps a pound of tea, two pounds of sugar and a Christmas cake. It was known as the grocer's Christmas box. The time came when the grocer could not afford to give the present and when the lorry came on the weekly visit the man only got a calendar. On the following week when the grocer arrived to take the order the man refused to come out and the grocer eventually had to leave the lorry and come towards the man. The latter told him, "Drive on. I am all right this week. I have not eaten the calendar yet". The white paper will be food for the people—it will set out all that is wrong. Deputy Haughey yesterday suggested what it should contain. If it is going to make positive suggestions about what should be done there is no need for a white paper. The Government should do what is necessary.
I would remind the Deputy that his time is up.
There are some other points I wish to make. I am sure the Chair will allow me to do so, because I think it was a few minutes after the time when I started and I am sure Deputy Belton, when he follows me, will be allowed a little extra time.
There are a great many things the Government would need to do immediately and urgently in regard to this inflationary situation, which is getting us under. There are builders providers carrying huge stocks throughout the country and they cannot dispose of these stocks. The timber will deteriorate. There should be some scheme of credit to enable these builders providers to carry these stocks and arrangements should be made to enable them to distribute the stocks to other contractors. Credit should also be provided for those prepared to stockpile in manufacturing industry.
Cash liquidity has gone because the small investors are no longer investing. This is one of the things crippling the country at the moment. If manufacturers are to continue, without laying off men, they should be given the credit necessary to enable them now to stockpile. They should also be given credit to pay for the stocks which are there at the moment and which they cannot move. These are some of the measures urgently required. After that, there must be a prudent use of credit for productive purposes. Inflation set in in the 1960s and price increases ran at 2 per cent until this Government came into office. In face of their solemn undertaking to reduce prices we have the situation today of increases in prices of 16 per cent and 18 per cent. That is why we have tabled this motion of no confidence. I would ask Members on the other side, particularly those of them who genuinely understand the position and really have no confidence in their Front Bench, to vote on our motion according to their consciences; there are at least seven Members over there who support our motion.
We have listened to the Leader of the Opposition and other Fianna Fáil speakers trying to switch this international inflationary crisis on to a national basis. We have heard them blaming this Government and blaming the western countries of the world. Deputy Lynch said that Fianna Fáil asked a month ago to have the Dáil recalled. Recently he spoke on the occasion of the selection of the Fianna Fáil candidate for the Cork North-East by-election. Asking to have the Dáil recalled a month ago was just a political gimmick. There is no novelty in it. I agree that Fianna Fáil have spoken twice in three months on what is now called "the financial crisis". I should like to know if they were asleep during the greater part of that three months. Were they on holidays? Were they so stupid that they could not see what was happening long before three months ago? I do not believe they were. Fianna Fáil know this is a western world crisis. It is not an Asian crisis or a Third World crisis. I believe they were waiting to see, as they have always done, what the British Government would do. The Leader of the Opposition was in a bit of a quandary because he did not know if there would be an election and he did not know, if there was an election, which party would take office. He had to wait.
The main points dealt with were Northern Ireland, Ministers' statements and the position of the Irish farmer. Other people know more about farming than I do. I did farm at one time but I am not up to date now. Deputy Lynch spoke about inflation, unemployment and an absence of business confidence. I presume when he talks about business confidence he is talking about the stock market and investment. He spoke about the Tara mines. He criticised various Ministers for their statements on the North of Ireland. I think nearly everybody has tried various ways of getting agreement or some kind of working partnership in the North. There you have the Provos, the UDA and the UUUC who will not agree to anything. Deputy Lynch criticised individual Ministers for making statements. He has the nerve to criticise Ministers for voicing their opinions. Thank God, we have Ministers who will come out and say something and do something. They are not "Yes men". They have minds of their own. Remember, the best brain is the brain that picks better brains than his own.
Fianna Fáil are not in a position to criticise anybody where Northern Ireland is concerned. Not so many years ago we all saw how Fianna Fáil were divided on this issue; a certain number of Ministers were sacked. Speak to some of those who were not and they are still pro-Provo. Some are not. Now there are many shades of green. Look into a field and everyone will see different greens and some will even see buttercups. On that side of the House they do not know where they are going or who it is they are backing.
All Fianna Fáil did with regard to mining and oil was to issue licences and forget all about it after that. All they wanted was the few bob by way of royalties. Deputy Lynch said the first priority now is to build a smelter. Fianna Fáil were long enough in Government to build not just one smelter but several smelters. But no smelter was built and the ore went out from Tynagh and elsewhere. We were told the multi-national companies were the experts. Did we ever check on the alleged expertise? Had we any way of checking? Deputy Lynch's priority is a smelter; he did not go any further than that. I would prefer to see the Irish people and the nation as a whole getting something more than royalties out of natural resources. Deputy Lynch allowed ore to be shipped out of this country without any check of any kind. Now he talks about building a smelter. One can talk about racehorses without either backing or buying them. Talking is all Fianna Fáil did. There should have been a smelter built long ago. I do not trust these multi-national companies. They blackmail countries. If they do not get their grants and concessions they move out. The Government must impose some control on these. Multi-national companies come into a country and exploit the mines and the workers; they take what they can as quickly as they can and then get out. There should be some governmental control on the speed at which ores are taken out. Houses should be built adjacent to the mines and, when the mines run out, industry should take over in the area.
The Government and the country should have a say in regard to oil and minerals, rather than the multi-national companies. Deputy Haughey said that we should be producing oil, that we should get into that business like England and develop our minerals no matter who gets the money, that we should get it rolling. One of the biggest criticisms of England at the moment is that they rushed into oil too quickly and flogged it to the multi-national companies. They gave it away. It is now owned by Shell and various big companies from Houston in America and Calgary in Canada. This is where they have come from and this is where the profits will go. The British will get the labour from it and they will get a certain amount of profit. You do not get a fair share and you do not have the same control over it as you have if you have an interest or a holding in it.
In Norway they took their time. They took a bigger share and a bigger say. They were delayed a bit but they got their way. They can now see how much oil is produced and they can control it. Income tax has been reduced in Norway because of the return they got from oil. They control it and the money does not come "lush" for a short period. Had they let the multi-national companies spend money all over the place, people would not work. They would have given up shipping. They would have got out of fishing. These are lasting industries. Inflation would have sky-rocketted.
The Norwegians held back. They started long before us and they got there before us. I am not saying that we should hold out for everything like Norway, but we should look for something somewhere in between. Rushing into it is stupid. It is like selling a house to the first man who makes you an attractive offer, whereas if you waited a week you would get three times as much. Basically that is what it comes to.
Deputy Haughey and Deputy Lynch criticised the Minister for Industry and Commerce for not doing something. Fianna Fáil did something when they were in office. They gave away the Celtic Sea to the Marathon Oil Company for nothing. They rushed in; they lost their heads. Do they want the Minister to do that? The Minister is correct in hastening slowly and getting the best deal for the Irish people instead of flogging it or pawning it. There is nothing to be got out of it from Marathon. They own a huge section around the Irish coast.
The oil crisis came in June or July of last year. Earlier in that year the urgency was not as great as it is now. Even if we could get 250,000 barrels a day flowing out we would be self-sufficient. That is what he should be looking for rather than exporting oil to make money. As I said, if they had done that in Norway there would have been tremendous inflation.
There is oil on our coast but to what extent we do not know. Definitely there is natural gas there and I think it is a commercial proposition. Prior to the oil crisis there was a huge inflationary set-up, not only in Ireland but throughout the world. On the English money market interest was from 16 per cent to 22 per cent. This was caused by the oil producing countries. Prior to the last increases, when their surpluses came on the market they were not investing in any business in which risk capital was involved. They were pushing their money into whatever market would give them the highest interest rate. Then they pulled it out and put it in elsewhere. This meant that countries were bidding for that money.
Deputy Haughey said we should barter with the oil producing countries and exchange goods for oil. I do not know what they want. I do not know whether they want cattle. I do not know whether they like beef. Their religion may not allow them to eat it — I do not know. We should get the surplus money of the oil producing countries reinvested in Ireland. I am not suggesting that they should put it into property or into retail outlets but, since they are making extra money out of Ireland, it should be reinvested here in oil products or by-products. We should bargain. There should also be bargaining on a worldwide scale. A set interest rate must be given by all the western countries rather than having one country bidding against another for the money. One of the first things President Ford said was that there must be some agreement on the amount of oil and the price of oil and the investment of money made from oil. I think he spoke about the surplus money which was being made.
Some oil and mine shares should be held by the multi-national companies who have the know-how and knowledge. They know where to get the best men to do the work. The Irish Government, Irish business and the oil producing countries should have shares. If the companies have money invested in a country they are interested in that country and it costs the country 10 or 12 per cent rather than the 16 to 22 per cent it is costing at the moment.
We should have an energy commission or committee or organisation which would husband all our resources of electricity, gas, oil and fuel. It is hard to give an example of how this could be done. I have been informed that the natural gas off Cork is under the control of the ESB rather than the Gas Company. My information is that using a gallon of oil one can obtain 80 per cent gas but using a gallon of oil for electricity one only gets a 40 per cent return. This should be looked at.
Deputy Haughey suggested the amalgamation of Fóir Teoranta, Córas Tráchtála and the IDA. I agree with that suggestion but I would add the energy committee I spoke of. AnCO should also be considered in this light because there would be better results if only one group had to be called upon to help an industry in difficulties. When a firm in Limerick employing a big number of people got into trouble recently the Government was blamed. As soon as it became known that this firm was in trouble a group should have investigated the position and if there was a shortage of money to buy raw materials should have advanced it. Irrespective of what industry gets into difficulty the Government are blamed. In the case of this Limerick firm Fóir Teoranta went to their rescue but in my view that was not sufficient because that industry is in competition with one in Dublin. The Dublin firm was started by a man who received no Government help, with the exception of grants towards the purchase of machinery, and he has built up a huge business. The Dublin firm will now be competing against a Government-backed set-up in Limerick. It will be a case of this man's money competing against Government money.
The Limerick firm went broke either because they were inefficient or did not see the writing on the wall in time but the Dublin businessman has survived because of his efficiency and it is wrong that he should now have to compete against a firm which will be using Government money. If a group such as I have suggested was in being it would be possible to avoid such competition. It is unfair to save one company in an area and break a successful concern in another area in the process.
In family concerns business goes well while the founder is alive but because he treats his children too well or educates them too well they are not interested in the business. They are anxious to enter the professions. The children are simply not hungry enough to go after business. For this reason there should be worker representation involved in the running of firms and such people would be in a position to keep the owner on his feet.
I laughed at the suggestion put forward by Deputy Haughey that we should have a three- or four-year programme. When I was in Opposition I asked for such a programme but I was never given an answer. When Fianna Fáil were in power we had two budgets per annum but now we only have one budget per annum.
We have budgets by another name.
Did Fianna Fáil not have them also? Deputy Collins brought in an increase all round in postal charges. I am not including those. I accept that all increases should be included in the budget but it is hard to change a practice that has been with us for years. To do so would mean changing the thinking of civil servants as well as the thinking of Ministers.
In his contribution Deputy Lynch dealt with the building industry and informed us that it was in a critical state. That Deputy informed the House that all the troubles were national but in my view they are international. Within one month of the National Coalition taking office the building societies were seeking money to subsidise them in the giving of loans for house purchase. People have approached me seeking help in obtaining a loan for a house and they have informed me that they were two years on the waiting list. During that time they had a bridging loan from a bank on which they were paying high interest rates. While Fianna Fáil were in power people were told to seek bridging accommodation from a bank and that within a short time they would obtain a loan from a society. The result was that when the National Coalition took office there was a big backlog to be faced. One member of a building society, a well-known Taca man, stated publicly that if the National Coalition did not come to the aid of the building societies he would be put out of business. That man was not put out of business; he was taken over — his books must not have been right. Nevertheless, that man wanted to blame the Government.
The building companies, again good Fianna Fáil men, cried when men were let go but the real trouble in the building industry is that these companies have too much money in land banks. They have found that they can make more money from land. Some of them are trying to sell the land now because they are in trouble and they are blaming this Government for the position in the building industry.
Guardian Properties in England, with £29 million of property, went broke last year and two builders in Ireland are in trouble because they are building for this company. The fact that this company has gone broke is an indication that the problem is international. In the building trade in Western Germany, a country with the lowest rate of inflation, there is the biggest number unemployed of all western countries.
InThe Sunday Times of 6th October there was a heading: “Home Builder in £40 million crisis”. If I went through that issue I would certainly find another 12 industries in difficulty. I agree that the builders have suffered because of the high interest rates which on the world market are in the region of 18 to 20 per cent. This puts at least 22 per cent on to the cost of any building. Another thing to remember is that in the Fianna Fáil Government period money was at a lower rate. Money could be borrowed at 7 or 8 per cent on the world market, and it could be lent out to people buying houses at 8, 8¼ or 9 per cent. Now the Government have to lend the money at 10½ per cent when money is from 15 to 19 per cent on the market. On top of that they have to give more SDA loans, because a year before the Coalition Government came into office there were practically no SDA loans given; it was all done through building societies. It could be said that excluding what was paid back on houses to building societies, all the money was supplied by the Government.
In addition to the difficulties of Guardian Property and the other companies in England to which I have referred, insurance companies are going broke in England because the value of property has disappeared. One property-cum-insurance company was smashed for £200 million. British Land which on the stock exchange was worth something like £600 million, came down to £200 million; they are very wealthy companies still. There are other large companies in England whose shares in the market have come down too.
What this does to Ireland is that money invested in centre city building, such as office blocks, luxury flats — and this again affects the building industry — has had to be withdrawn to help their own set-up in England where companies were in liquidity trouble. Most of these companies would prefer to have invested more in Ireland if they could have continued on, but property had gone down so much that they had to withdraw.
Deputies opposite have said there is no confidence in business. Let us put this bluntly. Take the Guardian Insurance Company in England. It owns about 20 per cent of all public companies in England. Insurance investment is going up but very slowly, while workers pension funds and pension funds generally are multiplying at a faster rate, and they are bidding for office blocks, flats, with a five-year break. They get it at 5 per cent and every five years there is a break and they are able to get value for their money. A year or two ago insurance investment in business was £1,400 million; pension investment was £1,100 million. From £1,400 million insurance investment has gone to £1,700 million; the pension funds investment has gone from £1,100 million to £1,800 million. Therefore, there is a big switch on investment which is going towards bricks and mortar.
Deputy Haughey mentioned that we must invest more, reflate the economy and so on. Up to a point I accept that but not fully, because investment will also create inflation. The opposite to that is recession. We must plough a line up the middle of that. We must invest in necessary businesses, businesses that will help the economy, particularly in exports, and put a smaller amount into other businesses.
We all know the cause of international inflation. Oil prices quadrupled, and for the first time western people are being forced to pay a fair price to the eastern and African countries. We all thought we were great here sending a couple of hundred thousand pounds a year to the foreign missions. That is all we ever did, but we were robbing them at the same time. We now have to pay more for goods. This has caused inflation as well. Internally we have had bad harvests, low prices for meat, and many other things have happened. I hope we can get out of these difficulties, because unless we can get our own products exported we shall be in trouble with our balance of payments. It is now costing business people more to have the raw material on the floor. The Government must come to the rescue either through interest-free money, a credit card or something else.
Another matter that should be looked at by the Government is price control. To me, price control has always been good in the short term; long term it is not because in the long term cartels or groups get together and operate it to their advantage. Price control should only be short term and severe fines imposed on a person who overdoes it. If a person does not get the money to plough back into the business he will pay a dividend or live on it and the Government will eventually have to come to the rescue.
I have suggested that an energy committee should be established. We cannot have a reduction in consumption of oil for productive purposes. We can only do it on a conservation basis. This must be gone into quickly. Let it be proper insulation of houses, smaller cars or whatever other way it can be done. Unless a committee is set up to investigate this, there will be a lot of waste. The Gas Company and the ESB should be more active — I know they are doing something in this regard — in advising various households and industrialists how to conserve electricity or gas. One has only to go to England to find that in the Liquidator's Office in London there are enough cases to keep them going for three years. Every country in Europe has this problem. If France goes down Germany's exports go down. All nations in Europe are getting this. We are one of the nine in the EEC all of whom are caught in this general inflation, general depression.
It is up to us in budgets to steer a line away from inflation. I agree there should be investment but unless investment is very well organised it will by itself create inflation. There must be a reasonable margin of profit because if there is not, the position will be reached where the Government will have to come to the rescue. If one opens any financial page one can read about the companies that have gone broke in England. I could give an example of English companies withdrawing money out of Ireland. One company supposed to be worth £39 million went broke in Ireland. Two builders were caught in it and possibly a number of sub-contractors. I do not know the amount of money for which they were caught but that company's building operations in Ireland were said to be worth £4 million or £5 million. I suppose the Irish companies were caught for about £1 million.
The motion being discussed is whether the House has confidence in the Government. I submit the House does not have confidence in the Government's ability to deal with the problems affecting the economy. I base this on the record of the Government to date in the manner in which they have dealt with problems which have come along from time to time. Surely when the Government sought office so keenly 18 months ago they must have realised that governing the economy of any country is not a simple matter, that one can expect difficulties to arise periodically which they should have the ability and the will to deal with.
On the evidence to date, the Government have failed miserably. First of all, they have failed to admit that there were any difficulties and, secondly, they did not have the ability to deal with the problems that arose. In their 18 months of office they have displayed a great reluctance to admit to the House and to the people the truth of the situation. We have had attempts by Ministers in the first 18 months of their office to try to put across the impression that everything was rosy and that we could thank our lucky stars that we had a Coalition Government to deliver all the goodies.
We have seen two disastrous budgets brought in on the euphoria and optimism which the Government created and in which they obviously believed up to quite recently. In recent times the truth began to dawn because it could no longer be denied. The economic indicators and statistics are being churned out by computers; the facts are bald and cannot be denied any longer. It is a matter of very great regret that the inability of the Government to understand the difficulties affecting the economy and to take the necessary steps are resulting in the disemployment of persons who had been in steady employment since 1957. That is a hard fact.
In this debate we have not tried to kick any political football. The matter has gone beyond the point where it can be treated lightly. Persons are being thrown out of their jobs day after day. If the Government had taken a realistic attitude when they assumed office in March, 1973, if they had measured the exact strength of the economy, the forces of inflation that existed in it, and taken cognisance of all these factors and introduced a budget aimed at controlling the economy and continuing the stability in the economy there would not now be this serious unemployment.
Instead, we had an attempt by the Government to deliver the goods overnight. We had excess expenditure, a policy which contained no element of restraint or control over the buoyancy that existed, and we have now to pay the price caused by either inexperience or inability. It is the price of the disastrous policies followed by the Coalition in both of their budgets and in all of their utterances. To stretch the capacity of the Irish economy to the extent where a Minister comes before the House to introduce a budget with a £70 million deficit at a time when inflation was recognised by all sides of the House to be rife in the economy was reckless and we are paying the price now through unemployment.
Many of the various aspects of the economy have been and will be dealt with by different spokesmen in the course of this short debate. One field which I, as spokesman for local government, have been charged to deal with is that of housing. On numerous occasions in the House, by way of contributions to debates, at question times and adjournment debates I have sought to extract from the Minister for Local Government and from the Government in general the true admission of the position and I have sought to influence the Minister's actions to correct the difficulties we saw arising as far back as 12 months ago. For our efforts and constructive criticisms and proposals we have received nothing but snide and derisory remarks from the Minister for Local Government who has displayed total inability to deal with the problems.
He has built far more houses than any of the Deputy's Ministers. In two years he has built roughly as many houses as Fianna Fáil built in five years.
One of the points I should like to discuss in my short contribution is the matter of statistics. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to certain figures which to the uninitiated are supposed to convey that something praiseworthy, worthwhile and exciting is happening in the housing field and that it is all due to the efforts of the Coalition Government. The Parliamentary Secretary quoted figures which are a repetition of what the Taoiseach gave yesterday. I should like to show the dishonesty and the lack of integrity of the man who could make such comparisons. He said that more than 25,000 houses were completed in 1973-74. He said that is a far greater total than in any other year, an average yearly output of 15,600 over the previous five years.
We were supposed to go away with the impression that the Coalition Government had jumped the output in housing from 15,600 to 25,000 in the space of one year, whereas if one is truthful and examines the real position one will find that the net increase in house completions in the last year of Fianna Fáil Government was 5,726. The net increase in the following year, the year about which all the shouting is being done, was only 3,718. Therefore, there was a drop in the net increase in house completions in the first year of Coalition Government and surely even the Parliamentary Secretary would not stoop so low as to quote figures comparing the average over the previous five years with one single year. We had a repetition of those figures at the Labour Party Conference.
This is now the peg on which the Coalition are anxious to hang their housing hat, comparing one year with the average over the previous five years, when a cursory examination will show that the output in the years Fianna Fáil were in office was one of progressive, net increase year after year. We had the first drop in that net increase in the first year of the Coalition Government. I will come back to those figures again.
In a debate of this nature, looking back at 18 months of the work of a Government, it will do no harm to very briefly, in our minds, compare the strength of the economy in March 1973, when the Government came into office, with the depressed state of the economy at the present day. One can observe the disastrous effects of 18 months of Coalition policies. Expansion was the order of the day when we left office in March, 1973. Today depression within the economy is the talking point. Hope for the future was in everybody's mind because of the expansion and the fair and steady course on which the Irish economy was set in March, 1973. That hope has been replaced with increasing despair, week by week, added to in very large doses by the speeches which have recently emanated from the Members of the Government.
At that time increasing employment opportunities were the order of the day. This has now been threatened by mass unemployment. At that time improved standards of living were the order of the day. What is the position now? We are told we must accept a drop in the standards of living. Is this what the Coalition went into office for? Are we now to be asked to believe that it is good for us to accept a drop in the standards of living from parties who, when contesting the election, told the Irish people that the standard of living in this country was not rising fast enough? After 18 months of their miserable efforts they come now meekly to the people and tell them that they must accept a drop in the standard of living. The expectations and the hopes of the people for a brighter and better future, greater equality within our community and an improved standard of living for all our people spread throughout the regions, are now false hopes. They have been shattered by the inept handling of the economy, by Ministers who are more anxious to obtain personal popularity through the use of a State propaganda machine than they are in the strength of the economy, than they are in carrying out their responsibilities as a Government.
The depression that is setting in is affecting every sphere of economic activity. The contributions from this side of the House have amply demonstrated that. The Minister for Local Government in the Estimate speech for his Department on the 20th November 1973 said that housing was one of the key areas in his portfolio which the Government have singled out for special attention. He said that the provision of houses was their primary task. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government in general if they consider the recent headlines of depression in the housing industry are a true reflection or not of the provision of additional houses. Surely it must be accepted that those involved in the industry can offer a true reflection of the real position within that industry?
Listening to the Deputy one would swear Ireland was the only inhabited spot on the globe.
If the Parliamentary Secretary can contain himself for 30 minutes — after the adjournment for Question Time — when I have concluded he can say whether or not I accept that all the factors are to be taken into consideration in making any criticism of the Government. I want to lay it on the line quite clearly that the considered opinion of spokesmen for the various sections of the house building industry is that it is in a very serious situation. This has been denied time and time again by the spokesmen for the Government on matters relating to housing and the Taoiseach had the audacity to enter this House yesterday and refer in his speech under the special heading of housing to matters appertaining to housing without making any reference to the difficulties that are being experienced within that industry today. There was no reference to the increasing level of unemployment within the industry, to the number of men who within the past few months have been handed their cards and told: "Sorry, Micky, John, Joe or Pat there is no job here for you because there is no more work as our house building programme must be curtailed." Hundreds have been laid off by builders' providers. There was no word of concern for the jobs of the men who have already lost them in the industry and its ancillary industries or the men who have the threat hanging over them that their jobs may go before Christmas or before Easter.
Everyone involved in this industry at every level is concerned about how long his job will be safe. This is why I question whether we should have confidence in a Taoiseach who neglects to mention the real problems that are affecting housing but utters some complimentary word about the Minister for Local Government, uses statistics in a disgraceful fashion and ignores the real difficulties and the real problems. Is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that building contractors have gone to the wall during the course of the attempts of this Government at a building industry programme? Is he not aware that hundreds have been let off by builders' providers over the past few months? Is he not aware that those involved in manufacturing products which go into the making of a house have had their staff cut? Is he not aware that the coming winter carries a bleak future for all those people who have lost their jobs and also the threat of a bleak winter for those still employed in the industry who do not know which way the industry will go?
The Deputy is a former Minister for Local Government and I am sure he appreciates the important bearing financing of private housing has on this whole question.
If the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to make a contribution to this House, after I have concluded, if he has not already spoken——
I have spoken.
The Parliamentary Secretary has spoken. Let him wait until I conclude what I have to say and I will show the inept handling of the finances which are needed to ensure a continuation of employment within the building industry and all the ancillary industries that are supplying it and I will show that decisions that have been made by this Government have interfered in a very serious way with the confidence within the industry and interfered with the cash flow to the industry.
I have continuously criticised the Government for their interference and the manner in which they did it. The Taoiseach yesterday made reference to the removal of restrictions and said that these changes will not only enable the building societies to lend for housing with a greater degree of flexibility but should also, by freeing loans for secondhand houses, be of considerable assistance to those seeking this type of house.
Nobody reading that would imagine that these restrictions, the removal of which he is so kindly offering now, were imposed by himself and his Government, wrongly and he has not the guts to admit that he should never have imposed them in the first instance. Now, he comes in and withdraws them and asks for a pat on the back for withdrawing the restrictions he imposed and which were wrong in the first instance, caused serious damage to the industry and created serious unemployment in the building industry.