Deputy Meaney moved the adjournment of the debate. The Deputy has 43 minutes left of the time allotted to him.
Financial Resolutions, 1975. - Financial Resolution No. 13: General (Resumed).
It is almost a week since the Minister introduced his budget and during that time many of us who travel through our constituencies have heard the comments of various sections of the community. The general opinion is that the Minister will be back again before the year is out with many more mini-budgets. He may not announce one beforehand but he will come, by ministerial order or otherwise, to seek much more revenue and more taxation to make up for some deficiency which he has overlooked.
The Minister did very little to help the most depressed sections of the community such as small farmers, social welfare recipients and those in employment, whose numbers are becoming less as the months go by. The agricultural situation for the vast majority of farmers was never as depressed as it is at the moment. The small man who has to live on a small herd of milking cows, on the side of a hill or any place else, has very little money to spend. If the Minister checked with the ACC and the other organisations who advance money to farmers he would find out the large number of applications they have from small farmers looking for extra time to pay back their various instalments. They cannot meet their commitments on the day payment is due.
The Minister in the budget spoke about interest free loans and the various schemes available for small farmers but there is not much good in telling that to the man who invested heavily and looked forward to a good future in agriculture but now finds himself up to his neck in money he borrowed. He finds it very difficult to pay back this money. The pattern was that the small man would sell his store cattle to the bigger farmer and he would get a fair crack of the whip. The Minister mentioned what the State had to pay to intervention under EEC regulations but I would like to point out that that money has mainly gone into the pockets of a few big factors and has not percolated down the line to the small men who had to produce the calves and sell them at 4 and 5 cwt.
The forecast of everybody in the trade is that there is grave doubt that the small man will benefit this year. It is forecast there will be surplus beef in England and that there will be imports from third countries. Has the Minister taken recognition of that? He has done nothing in the budget to give confidence to the small farmer.
The Minister for Finance is in charge of the purse strings and if he is to put so much money into keeping up the price of cattle for sale he should do something about seeing that some of that money goes to the small man. He should be able to take some money from the big man and give a floor price for small cattle.
The Minister spoke about the cattle feed vouchers. He is providing £2 million here but there are many people who applied for those vouchers and did not get them. They have been contacting Dáil Deputies to do something about the matter. I hope the money the Minister is providing now will clear up the backlog.
The Minister should consult with his colleague, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, about introducing strict price control on fertilisers and animal foodstuffs. The Minister may say that various farming organisations asked to have the price decontrolled. I believe this was a mistake. The various committees of agriculture, who know what is happening all over the country, are requesting that there should be strict price control on fertilisers and animal foodstuffs. We are told that the price of maize has dropped all over the world but we do not see any benefit from that in the various animal foodstuffs presented for sale.
The Minister mentioned a new EEC scheme which is to give money to livestock farmers in hilly and other disadvantaged areas. It makes no difference whether we talk about the EEC plan or the Mansholt plan. There are thousands of farmers here who cannot exist on their incomes at the moment. We should ensure that they are given extra money to help them to eke out a living. We have not enough industries to absorb all the people who are likely to leave the land. Many of those people will still be on the land in 1985 and it is our duty to see they have enough money to rear their families.
I would like to know if the £6 million which the Minister is providing for this scheme is sufficient. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries should place in the library details of the areas his Department are sending to the EEC. There is grave disquiet in my part of the country about what areas are in and what are out because Cork has been divided.
I should like the Minister to bring in a scheme that would include every small farmer regardless of the area he lived in. The old scheme is a good idea but the amount of money provided will not go very far. We have been told that the more applicants there are the less they will get and that only so much money will come out of the EEC Fund. I take it the Minister will be subsidising the scheme pound for pound, but I should like him to explain what his intentions are. In his budget speech he said no more than that £6 million was being provided. That is not good enough. These people are looking forward to this provision. There are also people involved in suckling and if their scheme is to be changed it is only fair that they should be told.
I was surprised to hear the Minister for Defence say the other day that the small store farmer was well looked after. If he did a tour of the area I live in he would know that small farmers are not well looked after. It is very disquieting that there were some millions of gallons less delivered to our creameries in 1974 than in 1973. This is a drop of about 5 per cent, which is very serious. There is no guarantee that there will be an increase in the gallonage of milk delivered to creameries in 1975. This will have very serious repercussions on employment in the various processing plants. It must be remembered that when agricultural products drop in price and volume it has very serious consequences for our balance of payments.
There has been a big change in the traditional way of handling pigs from the days when the small farmer had so many sows in the yard. Now production has gone into the hands of the big units and there is great danger that there will not be an increase in the amount of pigs for slaughter this year. If the Minister does not deal with this situation there will be unemployment in this sector.
There is no incentive in the budget for the smaller man in the agricultural sector, so that he is really depending on what comes from the EEC. I would appeal to the Minister to fight for the highest amount he can get and, if necessary, not to hesitate to come to this House with proposals for giving more to agriculture, because the survival of so many families depends on it.
There is very little provision in the budget for the private housing sector. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for Local Government may say all is going well, but there is a decline in the number of planning applications for the building of private houses. The Fianna Fáil Party have a motion down on the order paper for some time which asks that the loan would be raised from £4,500 to £6,000, that the qualifying limit would be raised to £3,000, and that grants would be increased by some 50 per cent. I do not know whether the Minister for Local Government is fighting for this money or not. If he is I am sure the Minister for Finance is not inclined to give it to him. However, unless he does something about it the decline in the private house building sector will get worse in 1975.
There is the difficulty that local authorities cannot advance the loans until the houses are completed. There are many people who get sanction from the local authority for a loan of £4,000 or £4,500 but some of the bank managers, whether on local initiative or on instructions from headquarters, say they are unable to give a bridging loan. The Minister should get a categorical statement from the banks that the council's sanction for a loan will be honoured by a bridging loan. He could get over it another way. There could be legislation to provide that a man who had got sanction for a loan would get some of it when he would have the foundations laid and so on right up through the various stages of building the house. It is inappropriate to go into further detail on that.
I was about to comment on that. The Deputy should reserve such details for the Estimate.
The Minister has also stated he is increasing two-fold the money provided for local improvements. He is allowing for the fact that we are going from a nine-months to a yearly budget and also making up for inflation and the higher cost of repairing these roads. Therefore that is not a huge increase. I thought the Minister would say he was providing £1 million for the repair of bog roads. We live in an age in which we are told to conserve fuel, oil, energy and so on, that it is costing an enormous amount of money to import oil. The Minister will say it is up to the local authorities to disburse the money provided. He should have stated specifically what money he wanted each local authority to devote to the various bog roads so that lorries would be able to travel on them.
There is a great deal of talk about environment, about providing playing fields, parish halls and so on. For many years so much money was provided by the Department for amenity schemes. There is no such money this year. The Minister should think twice about this. We must encourage local voluntary organisations to provide facilities for youth and for the local people generally. It was always money well spent, and it does indicate the serious financial position when it was found necessary to withdraw the small amount of money spent on this worthy scheme.
There has been a great deal of unemployment, and some people may say there has been a reduction within the past week. We all know how that came about. It was merely a temporary drop and now we have 20,000 to 25,000 more people unemployed as compared with this time 12 months ago. It is a great strain on resources to have to pay out so much each week. There are, too, pay-related benefits and redundancy money. If one multiplies the amounts by the 25,000 more unemployed a great deal of money is going out each week. There are fewer people paying income tax and fewer people paying for the social welfare stamp. All this makes the position very serious indeed. If what I have suggested were done that would help to rectify this unsatisfactory position.
It has been said that there are so many out of work that others will be only part-time out of employment. In a very short time those on the three-day week at present will be redundant. We have had various budgets from time to time. We have had increases under the health scheme; the contribution has been increased from £7 to £12. Hardly a day passes that there is not an increase of some kind. We must, of course, ensure that the economy survives and the Government must do their utmost to control the situation. We have a huge deficit. Deputy Donegan talked about the confidence in the Government.
The Minister for Defence.
The Minister for Defence. He referred to the northeast Cork by-election. It was a vote of "no confidence" there because taking the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party together the combined vote was down by something like 3,000 votes. That does not show confidence. He said security is costing the country a good deal at the moment. We must pay our Defence Forces and our Garda. They are fighting for better conditions and more money. Our Defence Forces should be looked after properly. When the Minister was speaking here last week we were all hoping that peace would prevail. The Government are very quiet. They should be playing a greater part in the peace moves initiated by the various churchmen. Like the Minister for Defence, I sincerely hope that the day is just around the corner when security can be relaxed. It is the duty of all to support every effort which will bring that situation about.
Government supporters boast about the great things they are doing for social welfare recipients. These will be getting an alleged huge bonanza on 1st April. If one examines the increases one finds they will not be so huge at all.
Before the budget it was clearly recognised and accepted that non-contributory pensioners, those in receipt of unemployment assistance and home assistance were in dire need. In my area it was thought that another £600,000 would have to be earmarked to supply these people with fuel to keep them alive over the winter. As a result of this budget they will get an increase of £1.55 from 1st April; that will bring them up from £7.30 to £8.85. I understood some time back that the Minister intended to re-organise the whole structure and I was hoping that in this re-organisation all differentials would be removed as between DPMA, UA and non-contributory pensions. That has not been the evolution. The single non-contributory pensioner will, as a result of the budget, get 35p more than the person in receipt of DPMA and £1.15 more than the person in receipt of unemployment assistance. These differentials should be removed. All recipients should be brought up to the £8.85 per week. That is not a very large sum in today's money values. The person who buys one pound of tea, one pound of butter and a loaf of bread has very little change left out of £1. A bag of coal will cost at least £1.50 A non-contributory pensioner with a kitchen and living room will need at least three bags of coal a week. By the following Thursday night these categories will have very little left out of DPMA, UA or even the non-contributory pension.
I believe we are not treating these people properly. We should have a more humanitarian approach to our senior citizens. I was hoping for a big break through this year, the more so as we no longer have to provide agricultural subsidies. We are now getting money back from the EEC. We are not doing enough for our senior citizens. The cost of living has increased and inflation is running at 20 to 25 per cent. That may be all right if you have a high income and you get a 20 per cent increase, but when you have an income as low as £7.30 per week and it is raised to £8.85 a week that is very sad.
The figures supplied to us by the Minister are very informative. The Minister should provide more for the person who has no income. A person can have an income of £2,600 or £2,700 and still get an old age pension. There is nothing wrong with that, but I am talking about the unfortunate person who has no other income and who has no way of getting any other assistance. In the rural areas he may get firing from a neighbour but the provision of fuel is a great problem to people in cities and towns. It is no wonder that organisations throughout the country are becoming more and more aware of these problems. Leaving politics aside, in this generation we will have to admit that we are not treating that category fairly. In this budget the Minister has done a bad job in that regard. That cannot be denied.
We had the increase which we are getting used to of 30p a month in children's allowances. That is 1p a day per child. The day of the penny lollipop is almost gone. Many Departments will not improve their services in the coming year. The service provided by the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has deteriorated. Nothing in this budget will improve the postal and telephone systems. The telephone system is chaotic throughout the country. The relevant Minister will have to tackle that job soon. He does not seem to be handling it. He seems to be more interested in many other matters which should not concern him at all. We see statements from time to time about all the inquiries there are about new factories. Why then are not more of our people employed? Our population is increasing and, when a man becomes unemployed, he cannot jump on an emigrant ship and get a job in another country. We will have to think more and more seriously about providing employment for our own people here at home. There is nothing positive in this budget to do that.
The unions have a big role to play in the running of the country. I have always believed that the unions should not be tied to any political party. They should not subscribe to a political party because once they do they become completely biased in their views and they cannot see what is happening. At the moment we have the peculiar situation that the unions are not making any case for the workers. The workers are very dissatisfied. We all hope that a new national wage agreement will be successfully negotiated.
Every day we hear various Ministers shouting that the workers will have to tighten their belts and that they must not make exorbitant wage demands. Many workers will have to demand large wage increases to enable them to make ends meet. Members of this House come under the national wage agreement. The workers can see that we get fair increases per year. You cannot get a big increase yourself and then ask the next person to tighten his belt. That simply is not on. The example will have to come from the top. Everybody will have to be seen to tighten his belt. The Government are not setting an example and therefore they cannot expect the ordinary man on the factory floor to say: "I am willing to accept very little for the general good of the country." When a worker knows that the people on the top rung of the ladder, and Ministers and public representatives, can get a certain amount of extra money per year, you cannot blame him for looking for the same.
There is a lot in the papers at the moment about dumping from countries outside the EEC. The unions have failed to take action in this matter. Dumping has affected the textile trade. The information to hand is that huge supplies have come in here from those countries at very cheap rates. The unions should know as we know that the people in those countries work for half nothing. They live in shocking housing conditions. Their way of life is completely different from ours. They have a very low standard of living. Very often the manipulators and the people who built the factories in those countries do not reside there. They come from the powerful nations and they see where the cheap labour is. They set up factories and export goods to the richer countries. The unions should ensure that this is not allowed to go on.
An example was set in Cork recently when the dockers prevented a shipload of meat from leaving. I understand they did this for one reason. They wanted the Government to implement the cheap beef scheme for recipients of social welfare. They blacked the ship and would not allow it to sail. That scheme should have been put into operation long ago. The point I want to make is that if they involved themselves in the question of what is coming into the country at cut-throat prices, and causing unemployment here, they would be doing a good day's work. There is unemployment in my part of the country, which could be considered a rural area, as a result. Some people in business will tell you that there are firms with a supply of goods which will last for two years. There was a sale a short time ago in a particular premises, which I will not mention. They made such profits that they were able to sell children's socks at 4p a pair.
We are in the process of having a Buy Irish Campaign. Surveys have shown that the more exclusive shops do not stock Irish goods. The producers of the articles are blaming the retailers for not ordering them and the retailers are blaming the producers. It is the Government's duty to ensure that that mismanagement between shopkeepers and manufacturers is brought to an end.
Many garments being sold in the shops do not show the country of manufacture. Some firms tear off the tag showing the country of origin and put on their own brand. I understood that legislation was passed here to ensure that the country of origin would be shown on all the goods. I understood that was a general agreed principle between the various exporting and importing nations. That is not the case. Naturally enough, if a person sees an Irish brand name on the article he will take it for granted that that article was produced here, whereas it has come from a factory thousands of miles away in which there are shocking labour conditions. Speculators have invested their money. They see a way of making soft money and sell their goods to this country. The unions have a big role to play and the sooner they play it the better.
There is also the question of the income tax code. We read last year that so many hundreds of thousands of people were taken out of the income tax net. It is quite obvious that, with the various rounds of wage increases, no sooner are they out than they are in again. There were no great wage increases this year. The ordinary working man has not secured great increases this year. The country really needs an incentive to bring back the money that has gone abroad. There is no doubt that millions of pounds have left our shores; nobody can deny this. Any financier or anybody in a bank will tell you that millions of pounds have gone out, not in big amounts because much of it represents the savings of the ordinary boy or girl who set out to save for five or six years and put money in the bank or elsewhere and found out after a very short time that their savings were taxable as well as their earnings. We must have some incentive to get this money back. A far greater proportion of interest on savings should be tax free. The first £5,000 invested should be free of income tax, especially if it represents savings. This type of taxation often results in people being charged tax which would originally be 26p in the £ but will become 35p in the £ because of their savings.
This economy requires the money that has gone abroad and it would be much better if it were providing employment at home and being used by Irish people than having us in the position of going out seeking foreign money. There is no incentive in the budget which would bring back this money and this was remiss of the Minister who should reconsider the position. When and if he introduces legislation which would have this effect we, on this side of the House, will be glad to support it.
For a long time I sat on the other side of the House and during budget debates made every effort to find the loopholes and comment on them. I do not blame Deputy Meaney for doing the same thing. In the early years I found myself making comments pretty soon after the budget had been introduced and I subsequently found that I was not, perhaps, exactly on the mark. As years went by, I became more conscious of the necessity to check facts regarding social welfare improvements and taxes contained in the budgets as well as the grants made available. So, so far as the older hands were concerned the debate was usually confined to facts. I was rather surprised this year listening to the budget contributions from the Opposition that while some of the points were well made others were not factual comments on the budget. Some speakers appeared to have closed their eyes, gone back over the years and changed places with us in Opposition; they were making the comments we could legitimately make in past years such as that many people were in a bad way under social welfare, and that we were not providing enough in social welfare benefits.
This makes me recall the days when social welfare got a very low priority from Fianna Fáil Ministers for Finance and when it was true to say that many people were in a pretty bad way. I am not trying to say that social welfare recipients are well off but without fear of contradiction I say that they are now, and will be when this budget is implemented, better off than they ever were under the previous Administration. A wide range of people who were completely outside the social welfare classes under the previous Government have been included and are now enjoying certain support from Government funds. This is as it should be.
One of the great achievements of the Government is the tremendous improvement not only in the amount of social benefits being paid but in the widening of the range of services granted to social welfare beneficiaries. A number of changes were introduced by Fianna Fáil and these have been continued and improved by the National Coalition Government but a wide range of people who would not be considered for benefit under the previous Government have been brought into the scheme and are receiving various types of benefit. To hear Fianna Fáil speakers saying that social welfare classes were not being looked after makes one wonder whether they are talking about this budget or a previous Fianna Fáil one.
I was interested to hear about the three bags of coal which the social welfare recipient needed to warm a house. The person who is at present able to buy three bags of coal or requires them will have more than one fire going and he certainly would not be able to use even one bag of coal in some of the ramshackle houses built by Fianna Fáil in the latter years of their administration. In making his case Deputy Meaney was exaggerating more than slightly. He also said that now that no grants were being paid to agriculture there would be more money available for social welfare. In fact, more money is being paid in this budget for agriculture than in the year 1971-72 and there is also very much more being paid in grants to agriculture, as Deputy Meaney who is himself engaged in agriculture must, or should be aware.
In the main, his case was fairly well worked out but he did go off the line in a number of ways to which I am drawing attention. I was interested also in his reference to the trade unions, what they should do and the increases they should get. It always touches me when I hear people like the Deputy talking of the unfortunate trade unionist and what he is entitled to. As one who was for 26 years a trade union official, I assure him that the trade unions know their friends. Also, I think it wrong that an effort should be made at present by the Opposition, who I assume are as interested in the solvency of this country as we are, to encourage people to look for more than they would seek, perhaps, if they listened to those who are representing them at trade union level.
I want to see workers getting higher standards of living as the years go by and I am glad to see it happening but I think it is wrong to suggest that they should seek tremendous increases just because Fianna Fáil are not in office. I heard what Fianna Fáil said when they were in office about these things. As regards the trade union connection with the Labour Party, I remind Deputy Meaney that the Labour Party was set up by the trade union movement in 1912 and nobody can get away from that. You cannot reverse history.
I also heard his reference to buying Irish and while I might not agree entirely with his arguments it is true that a buy Irish campaign is very necessary and I am glad to see that this campaign is succeeding. It is not sufficient to tell the trade union members in the shops and elsewhere to insist that Irish goods are the only goods sold and used and that foreign goods should not be imported. The campaign will succeed when the Irish people realise that it is in their own interest to buy Irish goods. I have, through the years, insisted that Irish goods are as good as, if not better than, and in many cases cheaper than, foreign goods that have been imported by the million pounds worth for many years. Incidentally, the free trade agreement was introduced by the Fianna Fáil Government who took away all the protection.
Perhaps it was not a bad move to take away some protection which Irish manufacturers had but, having taken it away, it is useless now for Fianna Fáil spokesmen to ask why do we not prevent foreign goods from coming in. If the Irish housewife or the man buying even a pair of socks insists on getting Irish products, many more Irish-manufactured goods could be sold. From my own experience over the past few weeks since the buy Irish campaign was intensified I am glad to say that a good deal of Irish goods are being sold and we have shops doing something they did not do for years— putting up signs for Irish goods. We saw them before putting up signs about British and Italian goods as if there was some special merit in buying goods from those countries. I am glad to see that at last the buy Irish campaign is coming into its own and is succeeding.
Deputy Meaney talked of millions of pounds going out of the country but the net inflow of capital is pretty big and has been over the last year. There is not a big rush by people with money, in big or small amounts, out of the country. I am glad this is so and I am sure Deputy Meaney, and the Fianna Fáil Party, are glad also. It is wrong to give the impression that if people want to get a good interest rate for their money they should dash outside the country to invest it.
Naturally, one of the main things I wish to talk about concerns my own Department and the way the budget affects the running of that Department. From the point of view of Local Government this year's budget can best be appreciated by the steps which will make possible a fairly impressive expansion in the activities of my Department in the next 12 months. As against a total provision on current and capital account of less than £85 million for the Department of Local Government in 1972-73 more than £181 million will be made available for 1975, an increase of 113 per cent. This increased expenditure will be reflected in expanded construction activity by local authorities, expanded construction which has a special social element It will also complement the many other activities in the social sphere which have been achieved in the local government sector. It amuses me to hear people talking about a reduction in the amount of money being spent by local government. An increase of 113 per cent since the change of Government, no matter how one looks at it, is a fairly hefty increase. I am glad it was possible to do it under my Ministry and under a National Coalition Government. Apart from the number of houses being built —a matter which I will deal with later —I should like to refer to the standard of houses, particularly local authority houses. The standard of house being built when I took over as Minister for Local Government was deplorable.
The reason was that the then Minister for Finance was under the impression that the proper thing to do in order to save money was to provide as many of what are known as low-cost houses as possible. In other words, build a cheap house. The comment was made that the house that would last 100 years was not what was needed; all that was needed was a house that would last 25 to 30 years. Therefore, the general standard dropped, the design dropped, the standard of construction dropped and the standard of the type of material being used dropped.
Now we have a situation where it is costing what would build thousands of houses to repair houses built in 1971-72 and part of 1973. This is a shocking indictment of the then Government. They created the situation and there is no use blaming the contractors, the men who designed them or the men who worked on them. Those people did what they were told and what they were paid for. That was a shocking situation and it should not have been allowed. I am proud of the fact that the first thing I did was to give instructions that this was to stop and that the standard of house to be built was to be one that anyone would be proud of. A house that a person would not be proud to live in is not worth building. I am happy that the people are now getting from the local authorities a house which all of us are glad to see them living in and which will be a monument to this Government in 20 years time.
The whole idea of building houses was considered by various Governments. There was a big backlog and the fact that the average number of houses being built in the five years before I took over was about 15,000 per year was not meeting anything like the demand by people looking for houses or meeting the number of houses which were going out of use meant that there was a net loss in the housing stock annually. When we were campaigning for election we told the electorate that we would attempt to get the housing scheme up to 25,000 per year and that we would provide the necessary money for that. Frankly, we thought it would take some time to do that but I am delighted to be able to say that we did it in the first year.
We also decided that we would increase the number of local authority houses to be built from 5,800 to 8,000. This year we will have 7,250, which is not bad after only two years in Government. The whole question of housing is one which was neglected. I have been critical of my predecessor, and maybe unfairly, in regard to one aspect of housing, the question of heating of those houses. It was decided by my predecessor that the proper thing to do was to instal central heating in groups of houses because, it was felt, this would be a cheap and reasonable way of heating the houses. This was a big mistake. It was not the fault of my predecessor because he is not an engineer or an architect and he did not know that the oil crisis was coming along. The introduction of central heating in houses which possibly were never intended for such a form of heating created massive condensation. It caused the tenants incredible headaches because of the bills they had to pay for electricity when they used the central heating. It may be unfair if I continue to blame my immediate predecessor for that because he was not to know that massive changes were to take place in the price of electricity.
However, this happened but I changed the whole lot around. The regulations now are that there must be in all grant houses and local authority houses at least one open fireplace. I would prefer two open fires in local authority houses and I would prefer if these houses did not have central heating but if the tenants wish to instal central heating it is all right. I found that, apart from the fact that it was costing a lot of money to instal central heating which many tenants later asked the ESB to cut off, the cost of installing outside equipment to supply central heating to a scheme of houses was colossal. This ran the rent and the ultimate purchase price of the house completely out of the pockets of people who wished to purchase them. I am glad the situation has been changed, that the people now have good houses and that everything connected with them is first class. The contractors, architects, engineers and the workers have proved that we can produce the type of house that we can all be proud of.
The question of housing subsidy also arises. Health charges and house subsidies have been talked about. I am aware that before the election the Fianna Fáil Party suggested that if they were returned to power they would take the rates off dwelling-houses. It was a handy scheme which had not been worked out and was introduced when Fianna Fáil were losing ground. Fianna Fáil have been talking about it ever since but I am sure they never worked such a scheme out. I am sure Fianna Fáil did not understand it or what it amounted to, but, it was in response to a proposal we made, that we would take health and housing charges off the rates, and this we have done. This year the rate required to be struck by local authorities for these services is only 25 per cent of the respective 1972-73 rates for the same services; which means that the total contribution facing ratepayers has been cut down to approximately £10.8 million as against £43.2 million in 1972-73. Indeed, if we take into account the increase in expenditure on health and housing since 1972-73—the addition which has been included for various reasons—the saving to the ratepayer amounts to about £60 million. In the year 1976 the rates in the £ for the same services will be further reduced to 12½ per cent of the 1972-73 rates. From the 1st January, 1977, onwards the Exchequer will meet the full cost, that is if we are still using the rates system as we now know it.
I should point out also that in general ratepayers this year are paying £4 in the £ less than they would have had there not been a change of Government. That is something which people do not seem to understand but it is a plain fact. I want particularly to say that if Fianna Fáil had done what they said they would do and taken rates off houses, farmers would still be paying rates on their lands, and their land is rated at £4 in the £ less than it would have been under a Fianna Fáil Government.
These are aspects of our budget which seem to be overlooked by people who should know. They are plain facts of life. I do not believe in making statements that are incorrect. I do not believe in high-falutin' language over which one cannot stand. I believe in plain facts, and those are the plain facts there for everyone to prove or dispute.
Somebody in the House said to me recently: "But the rates are higher this year than they were last year." I would imagine this is so for two reasons. One is the increase in costs generally and the second is that local authorities, to my knowledge, have found that they are able to do things now which they could not possibly have dreamt of doing before the health and housing charges were taken off the rates.
Perhaps I have said enough about this but I think it only fair that this should go on the record. In addition to that the Government decided to give further relief to rates, first by recouping local authorities in full for payments made by them on foot of court decrees in respect of damage to property caused by the use of explosives and attributable to disturbances in Northern Ireland. That was quite a substantial amount in a number of counties.
Where the cost of malicious injuries compensation to a local authority in 1975 and any subsequent year exceeds the rate of 20p in the £ the excess will be recouped by the Exchequer. This has meant that North Tipperary County Council, who are facing a colossal increase in rates, Cavan County Council, Monaghan County Council have been able to strike a reasonable rate and this in addition to the health and housing subsidy which the State now pays. Provision for relieving the rate was increased from £1 million in 1974 to £2 million in 1975. Of course there was no corresponding provision in 1972-73, the last year in which the Opposition were in office. These £2 million do not take into account the amount which is covered by the 20p maximum increase in the rates for malicious injuries.
I said on a number of occasions here that the National Coalition said before the general election that they would be anxious to review the rates system and to try to change it. I always held that, while the rates system was perhaps a handy way of raising local capital, it was an inequitable system in itself. It is not related to the ability of people to pay. The Government have agreed with me that a review should be undertaken by my Department with the primary objective of seeking to relate local taxation to ability to pay. Because of the complexity of the matter I have commissioned the Economic and Social Research Institute to supplement my Department's efforts by carrying out a study of certain aspects of the matter. I was pressed here by people who wanted to know when it was proposed to introduce this new system, if such were to be introduced. At the time I said, and I repeat now, that I cannot say. There is no point in asking somebody to do a job and then, halfway through, deciding to jump the gun and say that this is what is going to happen. I want to know what is the best way and, when that has been established, I will bring it before the Government and the House.
There is one aspect of rating which annoys me particularly. That is its operation with regard to widows who have a very small income. Local authorities are entitled to allow them, and indeed to allow some other sections of the community, a reduced rate; or they can abolish the rate altogether. But I find that some local authorities have not implemented that system. Some of them have shown a marked reluctance to giving this small relief to people who are really badly off. I mentioned that before in answer to a question put down in the House. May I say again that I hope there will be a more liberal application of this alleviation?
I shall cite just one example of what has been happening—the case of a widow with four or five children who was afforded a rate relief. When one of her children got a small job which did not bring in very much money, the local authority immediately imposed the full rate the following year. This happens in most similar cases. I think that is entirely wrong and is not the way the system was intended to be operated. The system was introduced by my predecessor; it was introduced by the Fianna Fáil Government and was one of the good things they did. I do not think they ever intended that that was the way it should be operated. But when they found it was operating that way they did not seem to do anything about it. I have been attempting to rectify the position. I cannot tell the local authorities but I am suggesting to them that they be more lenient in dealing with the less well off sections of the community.
The key position which the building industry occupies in the economy is well known to all of us and indeed its very high employment content. Because of this the Government have given, and continue to give, unprecedented financial support to the industry. Within the nine months period April to December, 1947, a total of £189 million—that would be the equivalent of approximately £240 million in a full year—was provided in the public capital programme to generate work for the industry. As a result a high level of activity in the sectors of the industry supported by public funds was maintained throughout 1974 and the value of output in 1974-75 at current prices is likely to be of the order of a record £450 million, due in no small way to massive Government support.
I know that some of the gentlemen of the Press have been commenting adversely on the fact that I have said and repeated frequently—one of them, in particular, challenged the validity of it without any evidence to prove that what he said was correct, and he must know that he is wrong—the position is that last year, up to the 31st March, 1974,25,365 houses were built. There is no doubt about that. The evidence is there and was compiled on the same principle as has obtained down through the years. Up to the 31st December, 1974, which takes in the first three months of the year included in the previous statistics, over 25,000 houses have again been completed. By the 31st March next, which will be a calendar year since the last figure of 25,365 was furnished, we will have not alone as many as last year but several hundreds more.
This is something about which we have the right to be proud and I personally have the right to say that this is something we have achieved. The building industry, and those employed in it, should be proud of the fact that they rose to the occasion. All right, they have had their difficulties. But when I listen to people talking about the collapse of the building industry —I shall not say it amuses me because such comment annoys rather than amuses me—I think it wrong that people should talk about such a serious matter in a way in which they pretend they know what is happening and, at the same time, completely ignore facts. I am dealing merely with facts today. The larger houses, the more expensive ones, have not been selling well since last summer. It is true that there are large houses which have been built and are not occupied. That is quite true. This has had an effect, for instance, on those who make bricks, because bricks are generally used for the facing of such houses. In one instance of which I am aware this has reduced the number of people employed in the brick-making industry. I have asked builders of local authority and small houses to use more bricks; if they do so, that problem should be sloved.
Not only have more of the smaller type houses and considerably more local authority houses been built during the year but during the next 12 months output will continue at the same high level. Deputy Meaney, who is generally a reasonable man, said that there were some small towns and villages as well as rural areas in which houses were not being built. That is not so. There are more houses than ever being built in such areas and an increasing number of planning applications are being sanctioned.
Some time ago it was decided by one of my predecessors that in so far as possible people should be forced to live in settlements or villages rather than that isolated houses would be built for them in rural areas. Being a country man I know that people who are born and reared in the country see life in a different light from those who are reared in cities or towns. This policy of not building isolated houses was a bad one because country people were not happy to live in built-up areas. It was their hope to marry and raise their families in country areas but it was only in exceptional circumstances that isolated cottages were built by local authorities.
However, I changed that situation and now hundreds of these cottages are being built throughout the country. People who perhaps would have found it almost impossible to acquire sites near a town have got sites in country areas. Where it is convenient, local authorities and county councils have joined together to build housing schemes on sites beside towns and villages, and because it is now possible for a scheme of 60 or so houses to be built without reference being made to the Department, many such schemes are in progress, whereas in the past there would have been a delay of, perhaps, six or seven years in getting the work off the ground. These changes have revitalised rural Ireland.
I might mention the effect of planning in this regard. There is a Planning Bill under debate currently in the House so I shall not say much on this aspect except to remind Deputies that when I took office I found that planning permission was given only within very tight limits and that it had been refused in numerous cases where it should have been granted. My attitude on planning will result in many people building beautiful houses in 1975 in rural Ireland. Regardless of what those who refused planning permission in the first instance in the cases in which I have since granted it may think, those houses will enhance the appearance of the countryside. As I said a week ago, a well built house— not a well built scheme of houses, as somebody in the Press Gallery said— in a rural area in which a family are being reared is far better than having a bare mountainside where there is no sign of human life. This may be an old-fashioned concept but it is the sort of situation that I have been trying to bring about and I am happy with the result achieved so far. I trust that when the planning board come into being they will continue this policy.
I have been relating our achievements to date but let no one think that we will now rest on our laurels. The work must continue. A further £300 million is being provided in the 1975 capital programme to stimulate building and construction work in the year ahead. This refutes the criticism that the Government are neglecting the building industry. When I took office there were employed slightly more than 80,000 people in the building industry. That figure has been increased now to slightly more than 82,000.
We have heard that the private building sector is on the verge of collapse. Some people come to me and tell me that they are engaged in building private houses, that they are selling these houses at a profit and that, consequently, they are happy with the situation. However, there were some people who made substantial sums of money as a result of being engaged in the private building sector and much of this money was invested in land banks. Some of these people have admitted that part of their financial trouble at present is due to their having acquired much more land than they are able to use and they now find themselves short of cash. It is unfair that they should blame the Government for that situation. We have poured money consistently into the building industry in order to keep it going. Because we reached our target of 25,000 houses during our first year in office there were some people who expected us to increase that figure to 30,000 in the next year and to continue increasing it year by year. Apparently there were some who planned on that being the situation but those people did not come out of that very well. Again, they cannot blame the Government in that regard.
We have done our share. We believe that the building industry will continue to do very well and that the number of houses built in 1975 will be 25,000 plus.
I shall give some figures to substantiate what I am saying. In the period April to September, 1974, the number of mortgages approved for house purchase loans totalled 10,929 and the value of these loans amounted to £51.9 million. The corresponding figures for 1973 were 9,456 loans and £41 million respectively. New house grant allocations and payments continue to be at a very high level. In the nine-month period to the 31st December, 1974, more than 12,000 new house grants were allocated and ment. In the 12 months to the end of December, 1974, the total output of will be exceeded as at 31st March, 1975.
I attended a function recently at which a Fianna Fáil representative spoke after I had spoken and this gentleman suggested that the achievement last year of 25,000 houses was because there were included in that figure dwellings which had been built many years earlier and which were the subject of the new revised and improved tenant purchase arrangements which I introduced in July 1973. This is utter nonsense. The individual concerned must have embarrassed Fianna Fáil people in this House although he is not a Member of this House.
The quarterly publication on housing statistics has been published by my Department for many years and the basis on which the statistics are arrived at have not changed. It will be noted that in the bulletion total house output for 1973-74 comprised 6,539 local authority dwellings for letting, 17,380 dwellings completed with grants from my Department, 446 other stages of dwellings completed and, finally, an estimate of 1,000 dwellings provided through conversion and dwellings provided without any house grants. The total is 25,365. It was alleged that the figures from grant-aided dwellings, 17,380, are unduly inflated because they include dwellings built in earlier years and sold to tenants under the 1973 sales scheme. This is not so and I would like to make it very clear that the person who made this statement did not know what he was talking about.
It is necessary to make a distinction between a tenant purchasing an existing local authority house and a prospective tenant who now has the option from the outset of purchasing or renting a new house from a local authority when it becomes available. In the case of an existing dwelling, the sales price of the house to the tenant is reduced by amounts equivalent to the maximum State and local authority grants plus an amount equivalent to the capitalised value of rates remission. In this case, a grant from my Department is neither allocated nor paid. There is no question of these houses being included in the output figure. In the case of the prospective tenant-purchaser, grants are payable by my Department for the new houses. But to avoid duplication these grants are not included in the figures for dwellings completed with grants from my Department. Details of these grants operations are shown separately.
There also seems to have been confusion in this gentleman's mind on the matter of statistics for water and sewerage grants paid by my Department. In 1973-74 the number of grants fell to 6,780. A further look at the figures will reveal that almost twice the number of grants, 12,704, were paid by my Department in the year 1973-74. The fact that the Government in their first year of office achieved their housing target of 25,000 dwellings appears to have discomfited certain people, including this gentleman. However, there is no justification for suggesting that housing statistics were juggled. If anybody wants to check on statistics, my officials and I will be only too glad to make available any information needed. We did not change the system in operation nor do we propose to change it.
One of the big question marks with regard to building is building societies. They played a very significant part in the housing programmes last year and will, I hope, continue to do so in the coming year. Despite all the pessimistic forecasts in the last year, by the 31st March next, they will have paid out about £40 million in loans, which is not far short of an all-time record which they created in 1973-74. In common with all other saving institutions during times of high inflation, the societies experience considerable difficulties in attracting and retaining funds. Because of the action taken by the Government, with effect from 23rd May, 1973, when a subsidy was introduced, societies have been able, as I have proved, to maintain the high level of activity. The subsidy had the effect of enabling the societies to offer reasonable rates of interest to their investors and, at the same time, cushioning the borrowers from the full impact of higher mortgage interest rates. In addition, borrowing facilities were arranged by the Government to enable the societies to expand their commitments.
It has been said that the societies were not satisfied with the conditions under which they borrowed the money from the banks, but they accepted it. Those who say they were not satisfied do not understand that the people who run the societies know their business and accepted the terms before the deal was completed. Therefore anyone who says that these terms were forced on the societies does not know the facts. I am in close touch with the building societies. There has been a drop in interest rates across the water. Perhaps that will have the effect of improving the situation here.
The most recent information available from the societies shows that there is an improvement in their inflow of funds. If that trend is maintained the prospect for house purchasers in 1975 will be very good. As I said, I am keeping in constant touch with the societies. Recently I had a number of conversations with their officials and we hope to come to a very good arrangement with them. A Building Society Bill will be introduced in the near future which will not deal with the immediate problem. It is long overdue. We will be very glad to see it through this House.
Some people got loans from building societies because there were no SDA loans available, although they qualified. In cities particularly—around County Dublin—there are a number of people who are barely able to meet their building society commitments. I am very anxious to try to improve their situation. So far I have not been able to do anything for them. I should like something to be done for them in 1975 which would relieve this very heavy burden on a relatively small number. People borrowed from the corporation and having got the loan now have great difficulty in meeting repayments.
I introduced the house purchase scheme, the first period of which finished on 31st December, 1974. Indeed, I was gratified by the number of people who availed of it. Information received to date indicates that a sizeable number of people were anxious to become purchasers of their own houses. The new scheme, which will be operative until 31st December, 1975, means that the houses because of the fail in money value will be somewhat dearer, but still very good value. I am sure many people will be applying this year also.
Local authorities continue to provide valuable assistance to intending house purchasers by means of their housing loan schemes. Information received to date indicates that loan payments in the period 1st April, 1974, to 31st December, 1974, amounted to £27.3 million, which is equivalent to £36.4 million in a full year. This is an increase of over £14.6 million on the corresponding figure of £21.8 million in 1973-74. The provision of loans and supplementary grants in 1975 is £41 million. This compares with the provision of £12.2 million made by the Opposition when in Government in 1972-73. Any one who says we are not stepping it up need only check the facts.
Pressure has been put on me by people inside and outside this House to have two things done: the amount of loan which can be got under the SDA increased from £4,500, as it is now, to £5,000,£5,500 or £6,000 and the maximum of the qualification income, which is at present £2,350, increased to £3,500, £4,000 £4,500 or £5,000. The facts are that very many people earning up to £46 a week are availing of the scheme as it stands. I still feel that so far no case has been made which would require that we should increase either one or the other. As I said in the House, this is under constant review. If things change, then we will have to change. I would remaind those who appear to be saying that the gap between what they can get by way of loans and what the houses are costing is so wide that it is of no use to the large number of people availing of the scheme.
Because of the firm stand taken by the Government, the price of houses is coming down. Many builders are prepared to accept a reasonable price for their houses. I make no apology for saying this. In order to get a certificate of reasonable value, one builder was prepared to reduce the cost of each house by £1,500 and still admitted he was making a reasonable profit. This makes the point that the certificate of reasonable value, which was introduced by my predecessor, is an excellent measure and works very well.
I am personally satisfied that there are no excessive delays on the initial application for a certificate of reasonable value. Seventeen days is the maximum delay which occurs on an appeal and if the necessary information is not given it can be a good deal longer. I believe that it is being very well handled and should be kept. I have had requests that it be moved but I do not think that would be right.
We hope to go a step further towards achieving our 8,000 local authority houses per year in 1975. The capital budget for 1975 provides £51 million for local authority housing, more than a 100 per cent increase on the capital provided in 1972-73, which was £25.38 million. The local authority housing construction programme continued during 1974 at a high level of activity, with the whole programme comprising 77,875 dwellings or sites at the end of October, 1974, and there is a substantial rise— over 30 per cent—in the number of men employed on the programme during the year ended 31st October, 1974. Granted they are people who might possibly have been employed on private building, but they are employed in the house building programme. There was a very high level of dwellings in progress throughout the year, work in progress having increased from 9,478 units at the end of December, 1973, to 12,286 by the 31st October, 1974.
I believe we will definitely meet our target by 31st March of 7,250 local authority houses for that 12 months. This is very important. I always thought the ratio of local authority houses to private houses was far too low and I am satisfied now that the situation is improving. While I am not happy that it is as good as I would like it to be, nevertheless it is improving. Some people have been saying that local authority houses built beside a posh scheme spoiled the appearance of the scheme. They will not spoil the appearance of the scheme now because the local authority houses being built are as good as any house being built and, therfore, can be integrated far more easily.
Deputy Molloy was not here when I referred to the central heating of local authority houses. I said I would not blame him for the decision taken because at the time the idea of central heating of houses was attractive. He could not estimate, and in his position I would not have been able to estimate, the savage increase in the cost of oil and electricity. The decision was taken but because of what has happened I think it is only right that I have reversed it. The situation now is that there will be a solid burning fireplace or appliance in each local authority house.
Deputy Meaney referred to the necessity to give more local improvement scheme grants. He was disappointed that we had not given some for the bog roads. I am sure quite a number of the bog roads will be done. Quite a number of former bog roads are now public roads and are paid for by the county council. But I agree with him that if turf is going to be used in a very big way there will be a very strong case for more money for repairing bog roads. If we are to go back to the idea of using turf as fuel as against imported oil and so on, the proper thing to do is to try to make it as easy as possible to have it available.
Energy conservation is urgent. I moved early on in this, immediately after the oil crisis. I am now considering an interim report I commissioned from An Foras Forbartha and the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards and which recommends improved thermal insulation of the fabric of buildings. Before making a decision on the recommendations I am awaiting the final submissions of interested parties on the report, which I have made available to the public. In the meantime local authorities and the NBA have already adopted improved standards of insulation in the new houses being provided by them. I was astonished to find that the evidence produced showed that in most new houses, until this step was taken, the heat loss was very great. Because of the changes which are now taking place there should be a very substantial improvement in the amount of fuel used, even of oil or electricity.
I should like to pay tribute to the National Building Agency for the very considerable success they have achieved in the development and execution of the special emergency housing programme launched by me in May, 1973, as a consequence of the Government's commitment to deal with the housing situation as one of emergency. The agency tackled the programme with vigour and achieved the target of having work started on over 1,600 dwellings by the end of March, 1974. I understand the agency is working hard to achieve its overall local authority housing output target of 2,500 houses in the 12 months ended 31st March next. This agency is also performing a very valuable task in its original programme of housing for industry. This programme, which was carried out largely on behalf of the IDA, is expanding rapidly. The agency completed 204 houses during 1973-74 and they hope to complete 450 houses for industry in 1975.
Finally, with regard to housing, I should like to refer to the financial contribution to housing, current and capital, made available by the Government. This came to approximately £50 million in 1972-73 and to £125 million in 1975, an increase of 150 per cent. What more practical illustration could there be of the priority and consideration which the Government assign to housing?
The Minister has five minutes.
I referred briefly to sanitary services. The capital provision for sanitary services in 1975 at £16.75 million represents an increase of over 100 per cent on the 1972-73 position. Since the 1st April, 1973, I have approved some £25 million worth of schemes for commencement. Some of the works included in these programmes have already been constructed while works are in course of construction or soon will start on the others. The main objective in the public water and sewerage programme is to provide sufficient services in the main built-up areas where development pressures are greatest and to ensure that the lack of serviced land will not continue to inhibit related programmes for housing and for industry. While much remains to be done I am glad to say that the schemes already in construction will, when completed, make a dramatic change in the position of a number of our main cities and towns. I was surprised at the number of sizeable towns that had no sewage disposal system except flushing into a nearby river, or else a very inferior system. In Dublin and Cork, for instance, water supply schemes at present in construction will ensure a supply to meet all foreseeable needs for many years to come. The position in Waterford, Limerick and Galway has also been improved by recently completed schemes and further schemes in these areas, which are at advanced planning stage, will bring them in line with Dublin and Cork.
A similar picture is emerging in all the other built-up areas where they were suffering from inadequate services. The position has also improved in respect of sewerage and of course special schemes already provided for ease the pressure on land for development and schemes coming to final planning will improve the position further. The sewerage schemes include projects needed to secure final disposal arrangements for domestic effluents that do not give rise to pollution problems or seriously impair the amenity of the area. The on-going public sewerage programme includes a number of works specifically designed to prevent or abate pollution. I am glad to see the planning of the new Dublin treatment works has commenced. As a result of their increased capital allocations many county councils are increasing their involvement in group water supply schemes. This has taken a considerable burden off many local groups in areas where adequate sources would not be available. Group scheme activities are increasing.
As far as roads are concerned, last year I introduced by way of a block road grant a sum designed to devolve a significant element in the road programme to local decision. I asked local authorities to ensure that in the drawing up of their road works programme the maximum employment would be maintained. I want to see to it that the amount of money made available will ensure the full employment of all road workers who are in constant employment. I have asked local authorities if at all possible to employ extra labour. I suggested that if a job which can be done in two or three months by using a lot of machinery can be done equally well, or even almost as well, in six months by employing more hand labour, they should employ more hand labour to do it. For this reason I believe there will be extra work for people who will need it. We all know there is unemployment even in rural areas at present. I would like to see those people usefully employed on the roads.
Reference was made by Deputy Meaney to people who are employed. People who are becoming unemployed at present—and I hate to see a man or woman who wants to work being left unemployed—at least know that because of the activities of this Government they are getting a benefit which at least for the first six months will ensure that there will be little difference between what they are getting while they are looking around for a job and what they would receive in employment. While some people may look down their noses at that and say it is wrong that an unemployed worker should get as much money as he got while in employment, I say that if they were in a house where the breadwinner was unemployed through no fault of his own they might take a different view when they realised that the money required to feed the family had to be provided. I hope we will see the day when there will be full employment but, until there is, those depending on social welfare will get, as they have been getting from this Government, fair treatment.
In the debate on the budget last year the one comment that remains in my mind was that it was a budget that would be better judged at the end of the year. That might have appeared contradictory or illogical but I elaborated on the point and said that the Minister's claims last year regarding the expansionary effect the budget was supposed to have on the economy and the magnificient results that would be obtained as a consequence of the changes the Minister claimed were for the benefit of the economy were pure speculation, unsupported by any factual information or by the prognosis of any of the economists who frequently attempt to forecast.
This budget goes even further in that direction. Last year's budget did not succeed in getting the necessary investment to expand the economy. The previous speaker spoke a lot of nonsense about all the money the Government were giving to social welfare and to housing. One would think the Government had a pool of money and that they kept dishing out that money to people whenever they felt like it. One does not have to be an economist to know there is no prospect of any improvement in the economy unless we get increased production which results from increased investment. There are many factors that are necessary to achieve this.
The Minister for Finance approached this budget as though we were living in normal times. He spoke about the magnificent increases in social welfare and the tax on the old reliables and he gave us to understand everything would be all right in future. This is not a normal year. It is admitted by everyone except propagandists in the Government, or on the fringe of the Government, that we have reached a serious crisis in our economy, one that calls for emergency action not soft talk about the prosperity that is around the corner. The budget is a disastrous one. In no way does it face up to the serious problems that confront the country and, while it is a "hope and pray" type of budget, we could end up by having a more serious situation at the end of the year. The Minister recently threatened that there would be another budget and, goodness knows, we have had enough budgets in the last year.
The major problem we are facing is that of inflation and all its consequences are becoming far too evident. This year we have a balance of payments deficit, an all-time high unemployment problem, an inflation rate of 20 per cent and prices have been running amok without any effort being made to control them. We should not pretend that the Government are taking any measures of control in this area. The budget has done nothing with regard to the problems; it has not even taken them into consideration.
Are the members of the Government in touch with the people throughout the country? Recently a Minister said that the position with regard to agriculture was improving. There are many factors that must be taken into account when one considers the state of agriculture in the country. At the moment calves are being sold for pence. There was a heading in a newspaper recently which stated that there could be little prospects of agriculture rallying to the state of prosperity that industry enjoyed in 1972.
If agriculture were in a satisfactory state there would not be complaints about too many cattle in the country; rather we would be trying to increase the numbers and calves would be at a premium. That is the real test of progress in agriculture. At the moment farmers are under severe strain and many of them are facing object poverty. This year they must decide whether to part with their stock for a small price or pay inflated prices for fodder. There has been some talk about vouchers but they have turned out to be the greatest fiasco. Nobody has attempted to explain in this House what has happened with regard to this matter. I hope that before this debate ends the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries will contribute an hour in this House to deal with the problems of agriculture so that he may in some way be able to allay the anxiety of people who have looked forward for the first time to agriculture as a progressive, worthwhile occupation.
As was pointed out frequently, we got the green £ ten months after it should have been introduced and we have been paying subsidies for intervention. If all the fact cattle are bought up there may be some chance for the stores which the west of Ireland depend on. However, there is no hope that the farmers will be able to hold out until what has been talked about glibly by the Government as the better times ahead, arrive. They have had their confidence rocked. There are trends in everything which are not always controllable by the Government but at least if the Government show signs of doing things which are within their control and show their capability to deal with matters which it is possible for them to deal with then confidence will not be shattered.
We talked about the budget as if this were normal times. The chaos which exists in relation to prices at present does not seem to be appreciated by those on the other side of the House. We are so convinced that prices will continue rising in the year ahead that we have made provision to come back in October for the first time to cushion the impact on the social welfare recipients of the vast increases they inevitably will experience between now and then. The Minister has deliberately provided for the continuation of price increases that are becoming intolerable to those on fixed incomes and those on no incomes except what they try to earn from the small piece of land they occupy or some other occupation which is in jeopardy.
We are told we have some valuable mineral wealth, both ashore and offshore. This is the time when a quick decision should be taken to get that mineral wealth operating. Those minerals have been used as political propaganda with suave statements that the Government will ensure that the nation gets what it is entitled to, that it is its own wealth and will not be frittered away by foreigners. The Government tell us they will see that there is a proper balance in what goes to the developer and what the nation gets out of it. We get this nonsense day in and day out. We want the mineral wealth developed and channelled into the bloodstream of the economy at a time when the people are becoming tired with regard to the way the economy is.
We now have 100,000 unemployed. When questions were asked today about unemployment we had sniggering from the other side of the House as if it was a huge joke. When I was Minister for Labour I remember that the Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Corish, used ask what the Government intended to do about the serious situation of 65,000 unemployed. We were taking serious action which every time proved effective. We were told that 8 per cent inflation was something the country could not stand and the only remedy for that was to get Fianna Fáil out of office before the country was ruined. Fianna Fáil could not be got out quick enough until some able band of men came together to relieve the country from the disgusting situation brought about by the Fianna Fáil Government.
Now we have a 20 per cent inflation and we are told it is due to matters outside our control and nothing can be done about it. With the oil crisis, inflation and the EEC we have no longer a native Government. We are now floating on the tide of international economics. We cannot even adjust the quotas on the importation of materials in the textile world. We have boys and girls on the dole because of the EEC and we cannot take action against industrial expansion in some cases because it would conflict with some EEC regulation. We cannot do anything about prices because they are entirely due to influences outside our control. The balance of payments, which has reached an alarming figure which would not be tolerated a number of years ago is due to the oil crisis.
I remember the use that was made of the Suez Canal crisis during the term of the last Coalition Government. Every time a question was asked we were told the situation was due to a boat which was sunk in the Suez Canal and the long haul around the Cape had upset the economy. It upset the plans of the Coalition Government at the time. This time they have the EEC and the oil crisis to blame. The people are not prepared to accept this now. The quarterly report of the Central Bank, just issued, states categorically on page 6:
There are two dangerous illusions which must be put aside. One is that Irish inflation is so largely determined externally that nothing can, or need, be done about it. The other is that the balance of payments will come right of its own accord.
Most people are not talking just for the sake of supporting one Government or another. They are facing up to facts as they see them facing the country. While we are blaming everything now on external factors outside our control one day we will have to get down to the basics and explain to the people, who will be demanding high increases in their incomes and wages in the near future, that the major factor contributing to inflation is domestic. The workers and those in receipt of incomes generally are the people who can throw it out of gear. Despite the fact we have been telling them all along that inflation has nothing to do with domestic matters one of these days we will have to talk sense to them, explain to them that if we are to take really effective action to control that part of inflation which is domestic and due to internal factors, if we are to have a national partnership, they must understand that 50 per cent of the cause of inflation is due to matters which we can control. We will have to get them to understand that they are very important factors and they can help in putting things right. I do not think we can go on all the time getting away with this unrealistic and untrue talk with regard to what is seriously affecting the problems we are facing at present. Inflation and price increases which go hand in hand with the subsequent and inevitable unemployment are the factors the country is facing.