Adjournment of Dáil: Motion.

I move:

That the Dáil at its rising this week do adjourn for the Christmas Recess.

Nineteen seventy-five was not a year for which the Government entertained any great expectations of economic advance. In January, I said that the budget had been framed in the most difficult circumstances faced by any Irish Government for very many years. I mentioned the view that had been expressed by the OECD that its member countries' economies were being put, at that time, to a test which was probably unprecedented outside time of war.

In those circumstances, what was our response to be? We could simply have battened down the hatches and allowed the ship to be blown about at the mercy of the economic storm until it blew over. We could have cut public expenditure back sharply, raised taxes substantially and restrained borrowing. The consequences for employment and for the standard of living of the weaker sections of the community would have been appalling. We rejected that option. We refused to inflict suffering on the people that might well be unnecessary.

Instead, we aimed at careful expansion, at maintaining employment and living standards as far as possible. We adopted a policy which, as I acknowledged at the time, was not without its risks—although, in line with the views of many of the experts, we expected that the international situation would show some improvement.

Certainly, we did not expect that it would get much worse. Regrettably, this is what has happened all over the world. The world recession has proved to be much deeper and of much longer duration than was originally expected.

Until fairly recently, it was thought that output in Europe would be virtually maintained in 1975. It is now estimated that it has shown a marked fall. Midway through the year industrial production in most member states of the EEC had fallen to the level of early 1972; over the Community as a whole it fell by 12½ per cent. At present, there are about five million people out of work in the Community. Taking a somewhat wider view, the depth of the recession is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that, for the first time since the war the volume of world trade fell this year—and the fall was substantial, between 5 per cent and 6 per cent.

World-wide economic recession has been with us for some time now and I and my colleagues have found it necessary, on many occasions, to set out the facts of the international situation. We have been criticised for this and it has been suggested that we have tried to evade our responsibilities and to put the blame for our economic ills solely on external forces. This, of course, simply is not fact. I myself and my colleagues have tried, at all times, to bring home to our people that we, ourselves, must do everything that is within our own power to remedy our difficulties.

In fact, as a result of the budgetary and other measures taken by the Government, industry here has not been affected as adversely as in some other countries but the recession has inevitably had an adverse impact on the economy. It is estimated that our industrial exports will show a fall of 7 to 8 per cent over the year as a whole, although this decline has been offset by a marked increase in agricultural exports. The uncertain economic climate which originated in the oil crisis of end-1973 induced a marked lack of confidence among consumers. Coupled with a high rate of inflation and rising unemployment this has resulted in exceptionally high levels of personal saving and led to sluggishness in home demand with further detrimental effects, in turn, on both employment and potential spending power. More than 109,000 of our people are now registered as unemployed or on short-time. This, of course, includes a number of persons who, although on the live register, are recognised not to be appropriate for inclusion on it.

There are, however, some encouraging signs. The trade figures for September and October give some evidence of a recovery in imports which may indicate a levelling off of the decline in domestic activity. There was a rise of 2½ per cent in the volume of retail sales in September. Similarly, if we adjust the unemployment figures for seasonal influences, there are some indications that the underlying trend may be stabilising. The increase of only 2 per cent in consumer prices since last May also provides grounds for satisfaction although, of course, it was largely due to the June budget. The underlying increase is certainly higher.

Turning to the prospects for next year, I am afraid that they do not offer us a great deal of comfort. While it is expected that there will be strong growth in the economies of the United States—where recovery is already an established fact—and of Japan, the prospects for Europe are much less good. Broadly speaking, the improvement foreseen in the economic fortunes of our EEC partners is expected to do no more than make up the fall in production this year.

At all events, it seems likely that we may not be able to draw a great deal of benefit from the international recovery until towards the end of next year. As I said last week, it is going to be a tough year and we have to face up to that. We are balanced on the knife edge between even greater depression or—if we act sensibly—recovery.

There have been suggestions that if export markets are unlikely to provide much of a stimulus, the Government should give a fiscal boost to home demand. We are getting near budget time and I cannot, just now, anticipate what will be in the budget. However, I should stress that the Government's room for manoeuvre in this area is limited. As I mentioned earlier, we adopted a courageous budgetary policy last year, a policy involving acknowledged risks, in the interests of maintaining employment and living standards.

This action helped to push up public expenditure. At the same time other factors caused a shortfall in the yield of taxes. The prospective deficit on the current budget is now almost £280 million, more than twice the budgeted figure of £125 million and total Government borrowing at home and abroad will be of the order of £700 million, as against £450 million originally intended. The steep rise in costs has also, of course, pushed up the bill facing us for next year and if we were to meet all the demands originally put to us for 1976, without additional taxation, it would be necessary to borrow almost £1,300 million. All Deputies will appreciate that it simply is not possible to finance a gap of this magnitude: and it is utterly unreal to think of increasing it to boost home demand, or for that matter for any other purpose. A prudent and responsible Government can accept certain risks for a time but to persist in incurring these risks would be the height of irresponsibility.

So far as the composition of our spending is concerned, we have been exploring all avenues by which the composition of public expenditure in 1976 can be adapted to assist in economic recovery. We are strongly of the view that in face of the facts of the economic situation, in face of the numbers affected by short-time working and unemployment and having regard to the tens of thousands who have not got even the basic increases under the present national agreement, there could be no justification for devoting scarce resources to further increases in pay for those in secure employment in the public sector, on top of the substantial increases they have received in the last two rounds of wage and salary increases. Resources must be released for purposes which can contribute in a more direct way to the creation of self-sustaining employment.

Looking at the question of pay in a wider context, it is also necessary to get our production costs back in line with those of our competitors. We have lost ground here. I know that price is not the only factor in competitiveness and that wages and salaries are not the only cost of production. However I think nobody will deny that they are an extremely important cost. We can take no comfort, therefore, from comparisons of unit wage costs in manufacturing industry. Since 1970, these have risen here by 73 per cent more than in the United States, 64 per cent more than in Germany, 34 per cent more than in the Netherlands and 26 per cent more than in France.

Up to now two factors have shielded us from the full impact of this worsening position. Costs in our major market—Britain—have been rising almost as rapidly as our own and the slide in the value of the pound has made our selling prices, measured in the currencies of the countries in which we are selling, in particular the continental and American markets, that much cheaper. However, we can no longer rely on these factors to cushion us from the full effects in international markets of our deteriorating cost position.

Let me be quite clear on what this means. In 1974 the value of the goods we sold abroad was equivalent to almost 40 per cent of the value of all we produced. If the income from tourism and other services is counted as well, the extent of our dependence on what we can sell abroad or to persons from abroad would be even higher.

Some of what we sold was industrial goods and some agricultural but they had this in common—they sold in a market where competition was sharpened by the world recession. Without these exports, tens of thousands of our people now working in good jobs would have been without them; and the entire fabric of our economy, whether in its social, cultural, or financial aspects, would have been different.

There are, of course, many who say that their work does not directly affect the ability of this country to sell abroad what it produces. Perhaps they work in an office or on a building site or in a field or on the roads in a job remote from the task of selling in foreign markets. This is a mistaken conception. The price of what they deal in—whether it is houses, or services from a bank or an office, or merchandise from a shop, or welfare provided through a Government Department—goes directly or indirectly, into the price of the goods we must sell abroad in order to maintain, if not to improve, our present standard of living.

It was because of this decline in our ability to sell abroad, as measured by our competitiveness, that the Government, sought the meeting last week with representatives of unions, farmers and employers. During the meeting I conveyed the Government's view that to maintain employment those who have jobs should agree not to press for any further pay rise at least until the end of 1976, apart from the payment of the final instalment of the present national pay agreement. I said that those with incomes from other sources must accept a similar restraint.

I want to make it clear now that it is the intention of the Government, if agreement on a pay pause is reached, to introduce legislation providing for restraint in non-pay income, including dividends, directors' fees and rents similar to that which would apply to pay under the present agreement and the pause.

Farm income is unique in being largely dependent on EEC decisions under the Common Agricultural Policy and on such factors as weather conditions and market fluctuations. However, State expenditure on agriculture also makes an important contribution. The Government will keep under review the level of such expenditure in the light of the restraint in other areas of non-pay income while, at the same time, taking into account the general development of farm incomes and the need to encourage investment.

The regulation of professional fees and hire purchase charges is already covered by the Prices (Amendment) Act, 1972. Similarly, bank interest rates and charges are already subject to supervision under the existing statutory powers of the Central Bank. The supervision of these rates and charges to accord with the measure of restraint implicit in the pay pause will be kept under review by the Central Bank.

There are complexities in each of the areas of non-pay income, but it would be our aim to have a draft Bill ready as early as possible in 1976, and to have other necessary measures ready at or about the same time. To ensure that the Bill and other measures are comprehensive and can be introduced at an early date, it would obviously be desirable that the Government should have an early indication of intentions in regard to pay. This aspect of the matter is being pursued.

The Government recognise that business profits have fallen, in many cases quite sharply, in the recent past as a result of the world-wide recession. The legislation on the control of profits will be framed in such a way as to reconcile the need for industry to shoulder, where necessary, its due share of the burden of income restraint, the need to increase capacity to benefit from the recovery of world economic activity, and the need to provide the self-sustaining employment which can come only from investment in productive equipment and facilities. For let us be quite clear on this, without investment and the profits that come from it there is no future for this country. In today's world they are, in the end, the means by which employment is created and sustained. Other Ministers will be dealing further with this question.

The Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974, provides for equal pay by the 31st December, 1975. The Minister for Labour was presented with a report by the Labour Court yesterday which finds that the obligation to pay equal pay on the due date could result in a significant loss of jobs. The Government have, therefore, decided that amendments to the Act are necessary with effect from the 1st January, 1976.

In view of the very serious budgetary situation the Minister for the Public Service will be seeking an early meeting with representatives of trade unions in the public sector to discuss the matter.

I now turn to an equally difficult area, Northern Ireland. If we have maintained what has been called "a low profile", we cannot and would not wish to cut ourselves off from what is happening there. We cannot look with disinterest at the plight of our fellow countrymen. We cannot remain indifferent to the pattern of the last six years in part of this island of killings and bombings and tortures, the proliferation of protection rackets, the growth of sectarian killings and reprisals—and the suffering in purely human terms to which they contribute.

Our immediate objective is to contribute in every way possible to the restoration of peace in Northern Ireland. We continue to believe that the soundest basis for peace lies in political agreement between elected representatives in Northern Ireland based on the principles that both sections of the community must be intimately and directly involved in the institutions of government and that appropriate recognition must be given to the relationship between the two parts of Ireland in such fields as security and economic and social matters. This policy does not derive from any wish on our part to interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland but from the nature of the problem to be solved. In a stable society any scheme for government must have widespread acceptance in the community. In a society as deeply divided as Northern Ireland has been for the last six years the need for such widespread acceptance is even greater.

I should like to say clearly to the majority community in Northern Ireland that we are prepared to support, with all the forces at our command any solution which is designed to give a fair deal to all and to deal vigorously with violence from whatever quarter it comes. We have recognised the factual position of Northern Ireland and that its status can only be changed by a decision from the majority of the people there. In all this, let me be quite specific. We in Government have, as strongly as anyone in this House, an aspiration to see the unification of our island; but we see just as clearly that this cannot be brought about by violence.

We have no desire to coerce anyone into joining with us. Any future coming together of both parts of this island, if it is to be meaningful and effective, can only happen through the free choice and decision of the majority community. I would hope that my assurances on this point will help to create a society in Northern Ireland where people on both sides can work together. In addition, I would add that we are willing to work jointly within Europe for the general development of the island as a whole and particularly to use European resources to develop both our economies.

Security is an area where our help can be immediate and obvious. I am not sure if the extent of our efforts to this end are fully appreciated where they should be. Certainly the type and frequency of some public commentaries recently would lead one to think otherwise. The tone, if not the content, of some of these comments would certainly not lead one to the conclusion that there is a fundamental community of interest between this country and Britain in suppressing violence.

Towards this end we in recent years have increased the strength of our Army by more than 40 per cent, so that its complement is greater now than at any time except during the war. Its capability of carrying out its role in aid of the civil power has been enhanced. Over the past year the Army acting in this way has carried out more than 4,000 patrols along the Border and operated more than 11,000 checkpoints, in addition to carrying out other security duties on the Border and in the rest of the country.

Our police force too are at their highest level for many years. The effectiveness of the Garda can be gauged by the number of persons caught and imprisoned for offences connected with violence. I do not need to cite their recent successes in detecting and bringing to justice persons guilty of the most heinous crimes—crimes against the Irish people—to indicate just how successful in their operations the police force are and how great a debt of gratitude we owe to them, and to the Army, in the present difficult circumstances.

We have also gone a long way towards making our courts more effective in the struggle against violence; and where there are defects or shortcomings in their operations we have shown ourselves ready to remedy them. We have before the Dáil now a Bill which, when enacted, will remove some of these outstanding deficiencies.

In all this—in building up our security forces, both Army and Garda, operating a judicial system which is effective and in proposing legislation to deal with loopholes where they are found to exist—we are acting with the full support of the people of this country. We are expressing in a practical way their will that political violence must never be allowed to take root here. For apart from their natural abhorrence of the results of violence where it has occurred and the suffering that goes with it, the people of this country know full well just how grievous is the damage being done not only to Northern Ireland but to the entire island by those who pretend to protect or advance their interest by the bomb and the bullet.

For us in the present year alone the cost of the Army and of the Garda will be of the order of £120 million. The total cost to the economy in compensation for damage arising out of Northern violence or in lost tourism or business is now about £250 million.

I need not emphasise in this House in present circumstances the uses to which this money could have been put. It could have provided jobs for tens of thousands of our people. The size of our unemployment figures is, in part, a reflection of the actions of violent men in our island. Do these people think they are furthering any cause by continuing their campaign of maiming and killing?

It is on these principles that our policy on Northern Ireland is founded. I have used my numerous opportunities of explaining our policies on this and other issues to heads of Government of the various countries in Europe whom I met in Dublin, Brussels, Helsinki and Rome during the past year. During these discussions I have been careful to set out our policy clearly and factually. We are anxious that an understanding of our position should be widespread and should develop in the countries of the Community in which we live and of which we are part.

For it is in that Community that much of our hope for the future lies. The war that is being fought in the streets and for the minds of the people of Northern Ireland—and let me say of the Irish people living in America and elsewhere—is an anachronism. That is part of the real tragedy. In Northern Ireland the battles and the catchcries are often of 50 years ago or even longer. The principles being fought for and against are already established. The Community of which we are all a part will soon know no borders in trade, in agriculture, in the rights of passage and of work, and will, if all goes well, continue to develop in the direction of even greater integration of peoples and of purposes. In time, and with patience, this prospect will, I hope, become clearer to all, so that we can live in peace with our friends and kinsmen of the North—that they will live in peace with each other and with us.

So far, my remarks have necessarily been concerned with the grave problems facing the country, both in the economic and political spheres. I am happy now, to be able to turn to some of the many achievements of this Government over the past year, in the face of the difficulties which I have mentioned. Indeed, if I were to attempt a full review, I would be here for many hours yet. I shall leave much of the record to my colleagues and confine myself to some of the principal features.

There has been continued progress in social reform. During the year, significant increases were provided for in all the main schemes of social insurance and social assistance, further improvements and extensions were introduced and positive steps were taken towards fundamental reform of the system. Taken together the increases in rates of benefit raised the weekly levels of all social welfare payments by between 27 and 30 per cent in the current year. In fact, the effect of these increases is to raise the level of social welfare payments, by comparison with those applicable in the spring of 1973, by amounts ranging from 75 per cent to more than 100 per cent. In the same period the consumer price index rose by about 48 per cent. There has, therefore, been a substantial real increase in social welfare payments and their level has been well maintained in relation to earnings in general.

The duration of pay-related benefit was increased on two separate occasions during 1975 so that a qualifying person who is sick or unemployed can now receive payment of pay-related benefit continuously for almost 12 months provided he or she has the necessary underlying title to disability benefit or unemployment benefit. In this way, those unfortunate enough to be unable to work for long periods due to illness or to unemployment retain for up to 12 months a reasonable measure of relationship between their incomes and earnings in general.

The Social Welfare (Supplementary Welfare Allowances) Bill, 1975 represents the fulfilment of the Government's commitment to reform the outdated home assistance scheme. The National Committee on Pilot Schemes to Combat Poverty has now entered into contracts providing for substantial EEC financial backing for their programme of research in areas related to the causes and ultimate solutions of hard-core poverty; and studies are at present under way of such crucial development areas as pensions, insurance of the self-employed and the financing of social welfare and health services.

We are conscious, of course, of the need to ensure that with the rapid pace of development in this area, anomalies do not arise which might adversely affect the incentive to work. In fact, we have studies in hand at present and if the results show a need for adaptations to existing regulations or practices, these will be made.

These are the main elements in the Government's planned approach to the social welfare services. They are in line with the long-term aim of creating, not alone an effective income maintenance service, but also a flexible and sensitive system capable of providing those in need with adequate support of all kinds and with the assistance they must have. As I said during the course of my radio and television address last week, whatever the problems or difficulties, the Government will continue to protect those in our community who, through, either old age, sickness, unemployment or bereavement, are genuinely unable sufficiently to provide for their own well-being. But I must emphasise that our ability to do this in the way we would wish will be circumscribed first, by the budgetary limitations to which I have referred and, secondly, by the reaction we get to our call for a pause in incomes in 1976.

Expenditure on health services will total £214 million in this year, or nearly 6 per cent of our GNP compared with 4.8 per cent in 1972. While I will acknowledge that increased remuneration, and inflation have been responsible for much of the increases in this area, nevertheless it is a fact that real improvements in the services account for a significant part of it.

I might emphasise here that the more efficient use of the resources of the health services as administered by the health boards is, in the Government's view, of vital importance—and the more so at the present time where, because of the economic situation, there is a need to take a critical look at all aspects of Exchequer expenditure.

Standardisation of the guidelines for determining eligibility for medical cards—which at the end of September covered 1,136,000 persons or 36 per cent of the population—has been achieved throughout the country.

While the provision of a good hospital system is essential, the number of people requiring institutional care can be reduced considerably by the provision of adequate integrated community care services. Ideally, medical doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, home assistance officers, public health nurses and voluntary organisations should work in close liaison. Measures are being taken to this end.

Voluntary agencies and groups continue to play a vital role in relation to community care services. Almost 150 social service councils and care of the aged committees, comprising the local voluntary agencies in the area, are at present active throughout the country. The complexity of the social services now available led the Government to promote the establishment of community information centres. These are designed to provide information to individuals and groups about the whole range of statutory entitlements and benefits. The centres are run by voluntary groups, as representative as possible of the local community supported and serviced by the National Social Service Council, with the aid of funds from the Department of Health. To date, 25 centres have been registered and more are in process of being registered.

The problem of general hospital reorganisation has been tackled by the Government. The inadequacy of the existing system, with specialist services provided in many hospitals, and the need to reorganise the service in larger units have long been recognised. Within two-and-a-half years of coming into office the Government has produced a hospital development programme which provides a firm basis for planning a greatly improved, fully modern general hospital system throughout the country.

Turning to education, the new boards of management have now been set up in most national schools and for the first time parents are being given a significant voice in the management of these schools. Deputies are aware of the procedural arrangements for the appointment of the boards. Parents generally, I understand, have nominated two lay people among their own representatives. Thus not only are there two elected parent representatives but in most cases there are also two other lay people on the board. All of this should lead to greater identification of the local community with the school.

Local support for our national schools is expressed in a great variety of ways, not least of which is that of financial support. The Government have been concerned about the extent of the burden falling on local sources and so authorised a massive increase in the amount of State aid made available towards the operating costs of the schools. Under the new capitation grants scheme, the grants available towards heating, cleaning and maintenance of national schools were increased to £6 per pupil and in the case of special schools for the physically and mentally handicapped £12 per pupil. The previous level averaged about £2 per pupil. It was no mean achievement in times of economic difficulty to have effected such an extraordinary improvement in the balance as between the central and local financial support for the schools.

We have also increased substantially the rates of capitation grants and supplemental grants in lieu of tuition fees payable to secondary schools.

During the past year, the grants for secondary school buildings were increased significantly. For the first time ever, grants of 80 per cent of the cost are now allowed for the provision of furniture and equipment in addition to building costs and fees in the case of new secondary schools and of school extensions. Furthermore, the grant for civil works has been increased from 70 per cent to 80 per cent. In fact, a record expenditure has been incurred in the present year for the erection and extension of first and second level schools.

We have been engaged at their request in continuing consultation and exchange of views with various interests in higher education with a view to elucidation of the Government decisions and their implementation in this area.

In several major respects, the task of implementing public policy falls on the local government sector. It is a measure of the importance of the services administered by local government that in 1975 estimated total expenditure on them will run to £368 million. The corresponding total figure for 1972-73 is just over £208 million. It is obvious that with expenditure of this level decisions as to priorities in spending in present circumstances will be of the utmost importance in local government.

In housing, our record speaks for itself. During the five-year period up to 31st March, 1973 an average of 15,600 private and local authority dwellings a year had been completed with 21,600 houses for 1972-73 being the highest output figure recorded. Since this Government assumed office, the annual rate of output has exceeded 25,000 dwellings. The output so far this year has continued to be satisfactory. Notwithstanding the present difficult economic situation and pressing demands for resources in other areas, public capital expenditure on housing in 1975 will be approximately £115 million as compared with £46 million in 1972-73.

The Government's housing programme is important from an economic as well as from a social point of view. Housing output accounts for about 40 per cent of the total output of the building and construction industry. The Government's firm commitment to a high output of new houses is at the same time a substantial declaration of support for the building industry.

Another important infrastructural requirement in the modern world is an adequate telecommunications service. Capital investment in telephones has been increased substantially in recent years. The Government are aware of the urgent need for continued expansion and intend to maintain investment in telephones at the highest level possible.

Since the beginning of last year schemes have been completed in Dublin, Fermoy, Clonmel, Cavan and elsewhere to improve the system. Some 60 new exchange buildings have been erected, more than 200 exchanges have been extended, 10 major trunk schemes were completed and some 4,000 trunk circuits between the principal exchanges were provided. A further heavy programme will be completed in the coming year, including 40,000 telephone connections.

Tá gach dícheall á dhéanamh ag an Rialtas chun leas na Gaeltachta agus leas na Gaeilge a chur chun cinn ar bhealaí réadúla. Tá meas ag cách ar dhíoghrais agus éifeacht an Aire agus a chruthú sin ar fáil againn le déanaí.

Tá Bord na Gaeilge bunaithe chun labhairt na Gaeilge mar theanga bheo a leathnú i measc an phobail i gcoitinne agus, don chéad uair tá an phríomh-fhreagracht ar Roinn ar leith, Roinn na Gaeltachta, i bhfeidhmiú an bheartais ghinearálta chun an pobal a spreagadh ar thaobh úsáid na Gaeilge ar fud na tíre.

I should now like to turn from domestic to foreign affairs and to refer to the marked expansion of our role and influence in the international scene. On 1st January last, Ireland assumed responsibility for the Presidency both of the Council of the European Communities and of European Political Co-operation. The six-month period of our Presidency underlined the greatly expanded role which we have come to play in international affairs as a direct result of Community membership.

In the Community's external relations the Irish Presidency played a leading role in bringing to a successful conclusion the negotiations with the African, Carribean and Pacific countries which culminated in the Lomé Convention on trade and development co-operation. The success achieved in advancing the difficult negotiations in the context of the Euro-Arab dialogue marked the beginning of a new step forward in relations between Europe and the Arab world. The Irish Presidency played a key role in ensuring that the outcome of the first preparatory meeting for the Conference on International Economic Co-operation would be such as to leave open the possibility of maximising further opportunities to get this conference off the ground. It contributed also to the successful completion of the renegotiation of the UK membership of the Community, the Community's response to developments in Portugal and the significant improvement in relations between the Community and the United States.

In order to provide the necessary basis of information and contacts, essential for a more active foreign policy, the Government have greatly extended the range of our diplomatic relations. The extension of our role has also involved a marked increase in the number and intensity of contacts at Head of Government level. During the past year or so, I have had discussions in Dublin with the Prime Ministers of Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in addition, of course, to hosting the European Council meeting here last March. I again met my Community colleagues in the further European Council meetings in Brussels in July and in Rome earlier this month. I also travelled to Helsinki for the conclusion of the second stage of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and while there, I had useful talks with the Prime Ministers of Finland, Austria, Norway and Switzerland.

I now propose to refer to important developments in the major sectors of the economy over the past year.

Agriculture continues to play a vital role in the national economy and has stood us in good stead this year. Of the increase of £203 million in total exports in the first nine months of 1975, nearly £140 million was due to increased agricultural exports. The Government are fully conscious of the enormous potential for further development that lies in our agriculture, having regard to the many advantages we enjoy. This was a point made last week by the leaders of the two major organisations representing farmers. While the main lines of agricultural policy are now determined in Brussels, this Government aim to give every encouragement to farmers to increase their production. On this subject, I should like to say a few words about the package of measures aimed at improving farm structures in the Community.

Fundamentally, these measures aim to create viable farm units, that is, those capable of giving the occupants a fair income and reasonable working conditions. There should be no dispute about these aims or the need for structural improvement in Irish agriculture. This policy is not seeking to push people off the land. The whole policy involves absolutely voluntary options—generous incentives to develop the farm, the chance to retire from farming in reasonable security, the opportunity for further education in farming or retraining for another job.

It needs to be stressed again that under the farm modernisation scheme aids for all farmers are more generous than they were before implementation of the directive. It has been suggested that the directive is unsuited to Irish conditions. Much of this criticism seems to be based on a view which would condemn farmers to a standard of income and of living that they would not accept, as has been clearly shown in the past. Our attitude to improvements of the directive has been to implement it first and then to base our case for modifications on direct experience. We are now discussing a number of features, including comparable income, with the EEC Commission.

In the area of responsibility of the Minister for Lands, the farmers' retirement scheme has now been in operation for some 18 months and the response indicated that it has made a decided impact, with more than 1,400 applications for participation received to date. At this point 600 applicants have been adjudged eligible to participate.

In relation to farm structure, I may mention that the recruitment of Land Commission inspectors, which was suspended in 1970, was resumed last year and a substantial number of new inspectors have been appointed. This strengthening of the inspectorate will bring solid results in the current year's Land Commission programme. Apart from the area acquired by way of exchange, it is expected that direct intake of land in 1975 will be of the order of 20,000 acres. A dynamic drive has been initiated to dispose of acquired land and it is anticipated that allotments in the year will amount to some 35,000 acres.

I set out the position in relation to the EEC stocktaking of the CAP in my recent statement to the House on the Rome meeting of the European Council and I will not go over the same ground now except to say that the fundamental principles of the policy, so vital an interest for this country, have been safeguarded. Since then, the Commission's price and other proposals for the coming year have been published.

It is worth underlining that since joining the EEC, farm prices have increased substantially—milk prices by over 80 per cent, cattle by over 25 per cent compared with autumn 1973, and by 70 per cent compared with autumn 1974, pigs by over 90 per cent, cereals by about 100 per cent and sugarbeet by over 120 per cent.

The setback in farm income last year was only a temporary one and farm income is expected to increase substantially in 1975. Prices for cattle, in particular, have been satisfactory in recent months, even exceeding prices last spring in a reversal of the normal seasonal pattern. I would urge farmers to avail of the opportunities now open to them, especially in the milk and beef sectors and to expand their output further. I can assure them that they will continue to have full Government backing to this end.

I have already referred to the Government's support of the building industry. In the sphere of manufacturing industry, the promotion campaign of the Industrial Development Authority continues to be successful. The job potential of new projects approved this year will be about 17,000 and the total investment involved will amount to about £320 million. This is somewhat below the average achievement in 1973 and 1974 but it is nevertheless a notable achievement considering the adverse investment climate which has prevailed over the last 18 months. The firms secured have included some of the finest overseas industries in terms of job potential, growth prospects and level of technology. Examples are Burlington Industries Inc., the largest textile group in the world, which is setting up a modern synthetic fabric-weaving plant in Tralee; the GAF Corporation which is to establish a European manufacturing base in Mullingar; and Fieldcrest Mills Incorporated which is building its first plant outside the USA in Kilkenny, an integrated operation going from raw cotton to the final production of high quality terry towels.

Another encouraging feature of the 1975 performance, despite the recession, is the remarkable level of industrial investment by existing domestic industry. In the first eight months of this year the IDA have approved proposals from domestic industry involving a total fixed asset investment of £127 million and a job potential of 5,500. These figures compare with £50 million and 3,700 for the corresponding period of last year.

Considerable progress has also been made on measures to ensure the optimum development of our natural resources. Satisfactory agreements were recently concluded by the Minister for Industry and Commerce with private mining interests for the exploitation of the Navan lead/zinc ore body and the question of maximising the amount of processing of the ores in question in this country, whether by smelting or other activities, is being methodically pursued.

I would also refer, to the steps which are being taken by the same Minister to ensure that a wide-ranging and substantial exploration of our offshore areas is commenced next year and continued over the next few years. Negotiations on the conclusion of licensing agreements with many of the major international oil companies are now at an advanced stage and the successful conclusion of these discussions would hold out prospects of our being able to achieve economic and social progress on a scale not hitherto conceivable.

In conclusion, we are facing a period unique in our history. For the first time for more than 100 years our population is rising substantially and consistently. Emigration has ceased— if not gone into reverse. There are more young people seeking jobs. At the same time, the structural change in our society—from a community based largely on agriculture to one based on industry and services—is continuing. At the best of times, changes of such a character and magnitude would impose a strain on Government and on society. At present, when the world is in recession, the stress is all the greater—and is likely to become more so as the problems I mention develop. For this reason particularly, it is desirable that we should be able to see, with reasonable clarity, the place of this country in the world and the relationship between public and private expenditure and between what the Government should do and what private initiative and effort should do. All of these considerations require that we should, now that there is some better prospect of stability than in the recent past, set about the preparation of a plan to ensure opportunities for employment in our society, and economic growth, with stability in prices. The preparation of such a plan is in hands.

However, I am not so naïve as to expect that any plan, in itself, can produce the sort of results we need. For this, action which is logical and persistent in the pursuit of a settled objective is necessary. In this area we need a great sense of national discipline and realism. At present, we see three main areas for this action.

The first is the European Economic Community of 260 million people in which this country voted overwhelmingly for membership, and on which much of the future of agriculture, industry and investment in this country now depends. In our dealings with the Community over the past year we have had what I think we can call, with justification, a measure of success. Our presidency passed with praise on all sides for organisation and was important in the substance of the work done during its currency. Britain, our neighbour, both our major supplier and market, decided as a result of the work culminating in the Dublin Summit last March to remain in the Community. In the European Council meetings in Brussels and Rome and in the many other ministerial and official level meetings where the work of the Community goes on day after day and week after week we have, at the least, held our own. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that the impetus of the Community towards the ideal of economic and monetary union has over recent years weakened. The Community has expressed the ideal and set itself up to achieve it: but refuses the means or, indeed, the interest to attain it.

The second area of vital concern to us is Northern Ireland. I have said enough here today and elsewhere to establish clearly the Government's views on this. What I have said can be summarised simply: we must show for the opinion of others the tolerance we would expect for ourselves; and we must never let any part of our country be a refuge for the men of violence whose actions have disgraced the name of Irishman. Our aspirations remain, but so does our realism. Our fundamental wish is to see a just and lasting peace in all parts of Ireland. We know that this can be established only with consent both of the majority and the minority in Northern Ireland. We will give every help we can to the achievement of this objective.

In both the European Community and Northern Ireland events outside the control of the Government and people here will to a considerable extent determine the future. In relation to our economy our future will be determined by what we do. We are now to a greater extent than at any time in recent years arbiters of our own destiny. World prices are no longer the main determinants of the rate of our inflation. The price of materials from abroad is no longer the sole, or even the major, cause of unemployment.

It is for this reason that the Government recently asked for a pause in all incomes in 1976, after the end of the present wage round. This pause could ensure work for those without it and that many persons now in employment will be able to continue in their jobs. That is the prime objective of this approach to the social partners, to maintain jobs where they exist and to provide jobs where they do not exist. In order to do that we sought a pay pause so that those who are in secure jobs could recognise the obligation of the community as a whole to provide jobs for those without them and to make certain that those within them would retain them. We have many advantages in the modern technologically advanced industries which have been established in recent years, largely with export markets in mind, in our agriculture, service industries and mineral wealth and, above all, in the enterprise and intelligence of our people. I believe that this is our greatest natural asset. I believe, therefore, it is essential to repeat that in present circumstances we need a sense of national discipline, a sense of discipline coupled with realism, the realism that if we are prepared to face the challenge we have the ability and the capacity and if we show that sense of national discipline and realism we can surmount and overcome these difficulties.

If we have the sense to develop the potential of these resources, the future will be bright. But we must earn this future by, at the least, some forbearance, before we can enjoy it. It is with these objectives in mind that we put these facts clearly before the social partners from whom we expect a response in the national interest.

This debate is taking place at a time when our country is in the throes of the worst economic depression that it has experienced for over 40 years. I hope to demonstrate during my remarks that this depression and the cause of it can be laid largely at the door of this Coalition Government because of its ineptitude and its mismanagement of the country's economic and financial affairs. The Taoiseach's account today of the state of the economy is at least as dismal—and that says a lot—as his account in his television and radio address to the nation last week. His prognosis as to future developments seems to be just as hopeless as it was in his address last week and his proposals to tackle and overcome our problems seem to be as inept and empty of content and the imagination that any government would be expected to have.

This is not a new situation. This situation in which we now find ourselves has been building up now for over two years, long before the oil crisis. Indeed, we pointed out even before the oil crisis that Coalition budgetary policy was leading to a situation such as we have now. It was fuelling the inflation trends that had set in some years ago. I can refer to speeches made by our spokesman on Finance on the budget of 1974 and on the budgets of 1975. On the budget of 1974 he said—I quote from the Official Report of 3rd April, 1974, column 1492:

This budget should have been modestly expansionist, as I indicated. I would have thought, taking the best view of the situation, a deficit of £20 million to £25 million would have been tolerable as allowing for growth related to the capacity we have for growth in this coming year and still not lead us further into inflation. Instead of that we have had this unbelievably irresponsible Budget Statement by the Minister, backed by every member of the Government, of a £76 million deficit in circumstances in which no reputable economist could possibly justify such a deficit.

If we had such modest deficits now, how much better off we would be, instead of a deficit of almost five times as much in the outcome of the current year.

These comments by our spokesman on Finance and, indeed, by several members of the Fianna Fáil Party at that time clearly indicated to the Government, if they needed any assistance, where their policies were bringing them.

This third Coalition Government started as its two predecesors had done on the basis of a sound economy, State finances carefully nurtured, books balanced, employment rising and emigration stopped, as it was on this occasion, but even before the oil crisis this Government started to complain that their hands were tied, their room for manoeuvre was limited because of the impact of outside forces on our economy. Indeed, they complained that these outside forces were totally responsible for the price rises that we had suffered, for the decline in our economy, for the decline in employment. Even with the Central Bank's admonition to them at the time that 50 per cent or more of our economic difficulties were within the power and control of the Government themselves, they still continued to deny that the result of our economic decline then and our serious decline at present was due to their own mismanagement. As a result of the ineptitude of the Government's handling of this situation in the past year, we have come to the stage of inordinate spending and borrowing to the point that we are at least twice as badly off now as we would have been if the Government had tackled the problems in a sensible, realistic and responsible way.

During the past year we have witnessed not just the total collapse of the Government's economic policy— and one might question here whether they had any policy in this respect —but also the total collapse of Government policy right across the board. The position now is that, in terms of unemployment and in terms of failure of national growth, we are at least twice as badly off as any of our fellow members of the EEC, and in terms of borrowing we are three or four times worse off than any of these European countries.

Before I refer to any of these things in detail I should like to pose this question. Have the Government any coherent policy in any single field of administration? This brings me in particular to refer to the singular lack of policy in relation to Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach at least broke his long silence in his one-hour speech today by devoting a few minutes to that topic, as we would expect him to do. Here again we have not the slightest indication of any Government initiative, ideas or thinking to bring forward this situation in Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach emphasised again the low profile and, indeed, used these very words. It seems at this stage that the attitude or the policy or the prejudice, whichever one would like to call it, of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in relation to the North of Ireland has permeated the entire membership of this Government, the attitude that we must all stay quiet, that we must see nothing, do nothing and say nothing, and, unfortunately, the Government seem to be unable to break out of the shackles of the limitations of policy, if policy one can call it, imposed upon them by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs and to a lesser extent by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

When the Northern troubles broke out in 1968 or more particularly in 1969, the then Fianna Fáil Government emphasised the quadripartite theme, emphasised that there were four necessary elements in bringing about any solution in the Northern Ireland question: the two communities in the North and the two sovereign Governments of Dublin and of Westminster. We fought hard and long within the portals of 10 Downing Street and Chequers to establish that fact and to establish our right to be involved in whatever developments were taking place in the North of Ireland. We felt strongly then that each element, and particularly the two sovereign Governments had a major role, and we believed that no real progress could be made unless and until each of these parties recognised what their roles were.

Unfortunately this is what the Taoiseach and his Ministers now responsible for Northern Ireland policy, if such exists, seem to ignore. On the contrary, they are walking away completely from the Northern Ireland problem, and I suggest that if this attitude persists, then they can only open the door wider and wider to increasing violence. There is no use talking about using peaceful means towards a solution of the Northern Ireland problem when, in fact, no menas at all are being used in this respect.

I believe and my party believe that it would deny all previous Irish history if the Irish Government pretended that they, the sovereign Government of Ireland, had no positive role in this crucial political problem. It is not enough to say we are spending so much money on maintaining law and order. As I said in the course of another debate here recently, law and order is no substitute for Northern Ireland policy. We on this side of the House denounce the IRA in everything they do. We denounce them as the real enemies of the Irish people. Here I can fully agree with the Taoiseach that their activities over the past few years have caused much of the economic hardship from which our people suffer at present, setting back the expansion of our tourist industry and deliberately and positively creating unemployment in many other spheres. It was salutary to hear a person now under charges before the courts say that, with a single bullet, he could have set back the Irish industrial programme by eight years. If that is the mentality of his current colleagues, or his former colleagues, whichever branch he belongs to, it is a fair indication of the real concern these people have for their country's progress. I denounce them in everything they do. Again I refer to them as the real enemies of our country.

I want to come back to the role of this Government. I have said it would deny all history to pretend that our sovereign Government has no role in Northern Ireland affairs. I want to say the same with regard to the British Government. When the Northern Ireland Convention was in progress, and especially in the concluding weeks, there was every justification for the Government and, indeed, for other people in this part of the country, political parties and others—I refer in particular to responsible people—not to refer in any detail to what was happening in Northern Ireland and not to make prognoses of what was likely to happen.

When the Convention was over, when it had failed in its purpose, when its statutory life had ended, then was the time for this Government to give some indication as to what their forward thinking was and to convey to the British Government what more should be done in their opinion. Our Government remained silent. It was in that vacuum, in that void, that we in Fianna Fáil spoke up. The more people who have been reflecting on the Fianna Fáil statement made at the end of October or early November of this year, the more support it is gaining throughout the country.

People realise that it represents forward thinking, that it was a realistic statement, and one to which all Irishmen who want a peaceful solution of our problems, could subscribe. All Irishmen who want to reunite the Irish people North and South in harmony and in peace, and in co-operation with our neighbours on the other island, realise that this is the only means by which this can be brought about.

I will not refer further to the Northern Ireland problem. I will come back to the economic situation as, unfortunately, we now have it. The position now is that in terms of borrowing, in terms of employment, in terms of the lack of national growth, we are, as I said, twice as badly off as any other EEC country. We have failed to take full advantage of our membership of the EEC to improve our economic position. The Government have failed completely to use the regional fund in any way to further North-South co-operation. Not in one single instance have we heard of any programme, as proposed by this party, to engender economic co-operation in cross-Border projects.

The Minister for Finance refers vaguely to our plans being more advanced than those of any other member of the Community. If they are, it is about time we heard of them. It is about time the people in the North and the South heard in what respects they can jointly co-operate for the better advancement of each community North and South of the Border. It is no wonder we are making little progress in taking full advantage of our membership of the EEC when Ministers talk about our membership and the value of it in diverse tongues. Some months ago we had the spectacle of the Minister for Industry and Commerce openly denouncing the EEC as a means of making economic and political progress in Europe and, at the same time, other Ministers were loud in their praise and praising without question the EEC and all it stands for.

We all acknowledge, as the Taoiseach pointed out, that Ireland's handling of the EEC presidency in the first half of this year deserves praise as an administrative exercise, but we must not become confused as to the real issues. Administration is not policy. The issues involved are whether or not the Coalition are adequately serving or furthering Irish interests in Brussels. The only conclusion one can reach is that they are not. Once again I should like to say that they are not using enough muscle in their consultations and discussions in the European Economic Community in several respects. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries is reported as having spoken crossly today because of the proposed changes in the common agricultural policy, but there were many other areas in which he should have spoken forcefully. I refer to the lack of any policy on sheep in which he could have served better the interests of our country. However, I will not dwell on that because our spokesman on agriculture will have a lot more to say with much more knowledge and authority than I.

I should like to ask what has become of the Government's commitment to a social policy? There seems to be a total lack of any policy on education. Here, again, I deliberately accuse this Government of reversing the progressive trend in education Fianna Fáil had carefully nurtured and built up over the years, starting with the improvement in teaching quality in primary schools, reducing the pupil/teacher ratio, making it easier for the children of poor parents and people living in remote areas to acquire secondary education, and providing adequate grants for higher education. Almost in every sphere, contrary to what the Taoiseach said today, there has been a reverse; there has been retrogression; and worse still, in every sphere, and more particularly in the field of secondary and higher education, there has been confusion because of lack of policy by the Minister for Education or, as he pretends, his lack of ability to convince his colleagues in the Government that they have not been paying sufficient attention to improvements in the educational field.

On housing, the Taoiseach referred to the achievements of this Coalition Government. It is fair to say there have been improvements in housing output over the past three years. It is rather naïve for the Minister for Local Government, or any member of the Government for that matter, to claim credit for the fact that in 1973 and 1974 more than 25,000 houses were built. If we look at what the normal cycle in house building is, in building either local authority houses or SDA houses, it is easy to see that at least three years will elapse before the necessary planning has been organised, finances arranged, land acquired, houses started and ultimately finished. For the Minister to claim credit for 25,000 housing output in 1973 as being his performance is completely unwarranted, unfounded, and I might say dishonourable—certainly most misleading. We undertook in our housing programme, published in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, that by 1972-73 we would have reached 25,000 houses output, which was reached. There was no necessity whatever for a crash programme as the Minister for Local Government announced. What has gone wrong is that there are too many local authority houses being built as against houses owned by the people which is what most Irish people aspire to. Local authorities are becoming, and have been for many years, the biggest landlords in the country.

That is not a very desirable trend, especially when there is the ideal of self-sufficiency and independence so strong in the Irish character. That ideal is being depressed by this Government having failed to provide adequate grants for young people seeking houses for the first time. They are inevitably driven back to the local authorities, even against their will in many cases, to give them reasonable shelter in their early married years. It is a wrong trend, it should be discouraged and it is one that this Government are deliberately responsible for by their failure to increase to a realistic level grants for house building and loans available from local authorities for a similar purpose.

I would like to know, still on the social side, what has become of Government policy in relation to women's rights? Following the publication of the report of the commission on women's rights members of the Government gave a series of performances of lip service to the Government's intention to implement that report. This was followed by the usual facade of Coalition committees, setting up committees to deal with this and that but so far we have seen no practical results of the report of the commission that was set up by my colleague, Deputy Haughey, when he was Minister for Finance and which reported a couple of weeks before the Coalition took over.

There was a recommendation about equal pay. The Government with a great flourish, produced a Bill, an Anti-Discrimination Pay Bill, to give it its most dramatic possible title, one which we questioned at the time. We now find that the Minister has already started on the first steps at whittling away the effects of that legislation. We realised at the time, in the climate obtaining, in the financial circumstances and the economic conditions obtaining, it was unlikely that the Minister for Labour could have implemented his equal pay Bill by 1st January. He went ahead, because he felt it was great newspaper copy. Indeed it was at the time and now he, like other members of the Government in many other respects, has to eat humble pie because their targets are unattainable. They must have known in their hearts at the time that many of them would be unattainable. This equal pay Bill will be a dead letter and we can reasonably anticipate there will be further limitations of its effect in the months to come.

What about a code of family law? Fianna Fáil, when we got that report, immediately published a document, the terms of which we will implement when we get back to office, to ensure an adequate code of family law, a cheap and understandable code, one that can be made effective, to consider and decide on family disputes, estrangements, maintenance matters, custody of children and so on, in a simple procedure before a simple court but with High Court jurisdiction.

Why are the Government not proceeding with any proposals or any legislation along those lines, especially having regard to their much proclaimed commitment to women's rights? I went through all the spheres of Government activity and there seems to be a total failure to link one part of Government activity and one part of Government policy with the others. The only sphere of advance in the social field may be that in social welfare benefits. We know that it was because there was £30 million a year saving from the agricultural subsidies, which would otherwise have to be paid if it were not for our membership of the EEC, that made those improvements possible.

Even those improvements, made largely on the savings of our agricultural subsidies, are now being paid on borrowed money. For every £4 paid out in social welfare at least £1 of that is from borrowed money. Fianna Fáil's commitment to social welfare over the years is unquestioned and unquestionable. Indeed, right up to the present the whole social legislation code was a feature of Fianna Fáil but we based every aspect of it, every line of it, on economic well-being. We knew that unless we had the economic foundation it would be impossible to maintain social improvements on any basis.

This Government must have known that and they must know the dangerous grounds on which we now stand as far as continuing our social programme is concerned. It is hard to blame Deputy Cluskey, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Welfare, for pressing on with his proposals. He did not realise, nor did he know, because he was not a member of the Cabinet, that much of the money he was providing had to be borrowed and that there was no solid foundation on which he could make social welfare improvements stick. That is the weakness of our position in this respect. Therefore, the Government and the Minister for Social Welfare have a lot to answer for if there is any weakening in the structure of our social code.

What about our economic failure? I want to refer at this stage to the frightening scale of borrowing and spending by the Government. In his abject confession of the failure of the Government's economic policy last week, and reiterated today, the Taoiseach admitted that we will have borrowed about £700 million in 1975. I believe the total will be nearer to £750 million when the sums are made up. What have we to show for it? At the moment we are paying something like £234 million in interest. I do not know what that represents in taxation but when you add to it the colossal deficit we have incurred this year, which I will refer to in some detail in a minute, we can see exactly where taxation is going on expenditure that serves no purpose whatever for any economic or other progress in the country.

In the budget of January, 1975 the anticipated deficit was at £125 million and the year's borrowing at £530 million. These were frightening figures in themselves at that time. If they still obtained they would be frightening figures at the present time. In the event these estimates had to be increased considerably in the June budget. Now, in the ultimate event, we find a deficit of £280 million and the total borrowing, as I said, will have reached about £750 million. The estimation by the Minister for Finance so far seems to have been so grossly out of touch with the facts that even these figures may have to be increased before the year's end. So out of touch has the Minister been that, having announced an expected growth rate of some 3 per cent this year the likely turn-out now will be a minus rate of 3 per cent, therefore, a total reduction in target of 6 per cent. Of course, this has been caused mainly by increased unemployment and this in turn further affects Exchequer returns.

If one takes the normal tax at one-third of income there could be a loss of about £60 million to £65 million this year. Secondly, unemployment having turned out far worse than was budgeted for, there could be even £5 million to £10 million payable in funding unemployment, social welfare and other benefits. Then came the policy of shift in June when subsidies were introduced in the budget of that month. These subsidies cost about £50 million this year and possibly would cost £65 to £70 million in a full year. All these factors to which I have referred, factors of miscalculation or sudden change in policy, resulted in expenditure being much higher and revenue much lower than was anticipated.

I accuse the Government, particularly the Minister for Finance, of failing—I shall not say deliberately but negligently—to assess the situation much more closely and accurately. This dismal outcome has contributed to and, I suppose, has been aggravated by the fact that there was no real improvement in our inflation rate. Therefore, in the result and in the spending spree they have been responsible for, this Government are by far the greatest offender and, therefore, the greatest contributor to the inflation that now obtains. I suggest that if any business company acted in the manner in which the Government have been acting, over the past 12 months in particular, the directors at their next annual meeting would sack the lot of them and sink them without trace. Unfortunately, the directors of our business will not get that opportunity as far as I can see for some months yet when the situation will have deteriorated to such an extent that whoever will succeed as the next government—I know it can only be Fianna Fáil—will face a more herculean task than faced the incoming governments after the demise of the previous two coalitions. This Government can truly be described as the last of the big spenders. If I could contrive a saying in the manner of Churchill I would say: Never before was so much spent by so few on so little. I do not know how near that is to the original but it seems to sum up the situation.

I think that no government in the western world have borrowed on anything like the scale that this Government have borrowed. The standard alibi has been that all the other governments are in the same situation, that they have all had to borrow to create employment and improve output. Our borrowing is three to four times greater than any of the other EEC countries. Even if we had got benefits from it, it might be justified but what benefits did we get? Our unemployment figures are higher— roughly double those in all other EEC countries. Our rate at present is almost 10 per cent—9.3 per cent— whereas a typical rise in unemployment in the other EEC countries is half that, 4 to 5 per cent.

The Minister for Industry and Commerce frequently tries to draw consolation from the fact that the figure in Denmark is worse than ours but he knows that the Danish figure of something over 10 per cent in unemployment is not comparable with ours in any respect. The Danish figure of 12 per cent is 12 per cent of the industrial workers and industrial workers represent only one-third of the total number of people in employment in Denmark. Our figure of 9 or 10 per cent on the unemployment register or 109,000 out of 1,100,000 people represents the number unemployed across the board generally, including small farmers. If our method of calculation were applied to the Danish figure our rate would be 25 per cent. There is not much point in the Minister for Industry and Commerce trying to draw consolation from the Danish figure as he has done when he alleges the Danish people are worse off.

It is no wonder that our people are shocked to the point of disbelief. One can fairly ask: can they be shocked any more? They have been literally reeling under a succession of price increases for the past 12 months and longer and many of these increases—I need only refer to the petrol increase over a year ago, and the post office and ESB increases—were directly the responsibility of the Government. They have seen the Government deficit escalating from £240 million in June to £280 million within six months. The Government might say: What is £40 million in the overall context of our spending? I should like to give a practical illustration of what that £40 million could mean to the Irish people.

At present the people are reeling again under the shock of rate increases. During the last election campaign we put forward a plan whereby homes would be relieved entirely from rates. We were not believed because—perhaps to some extent it was our own fault—it came late in the day. The Coalition had produced their plan of relieving local authorities in respect of house building and health charges on the rates. As a government, we had been considering the possibility of relieving homes from rates. Our thinking had not completely matured at the time of the general election but it was only natural that when we saw the Coalition producing what we regarded as a half-baked plan we should bring forward our thinking on this matter. And we did and during the election campaign we produced our plan to relieve homes from rates. We costed that at the time at about £30 million; it would probably be somewhere between £40 and £50 million at present; we can cost it very closely. This is a firm commitment; there will be no doubt whatever about it that when we get back to power we can do it. That £40 million of increased deficit would almost pay entirely for the relieving of homes from rates under the Fianna Fáil plan but this Government can dismiss it with a snap of the fingers as being of no consequence, a slight miscalculation as between £240 million and £280 million deficit.

I have been talking about budget deficits and inordinate borrowing. It may be that even though the people are deeply concerned about it they may not see the effects of it in the short term. Probably they will not see them for a long time yet but they know that sooner or later they, the people will have to pay for all this expenditure, all this profligate Government activity, in terms of increased taxation, reduced living standards and reduced employment. We see the unemployment figures escalating again to 109,000 on the register at the present time. The prognosis is that it will go up to 120,000 or, perhaps, 140,000 during the course of the year. Here I want to refer specifically to areas where the Government could have helped in this situation. In the past number of months industries in and around Cork, which I know well, have been closing down without any attempt whatever on the part of the Government to help them. They are traditional industries like Mahony's of Blarney and St. Patrick's Woollen Mills of Douglas. There has been a reduction in Irish Steel of about 30 per cent of their work force. In each of these, and particularly in the latter, the Government had responsibility to ensure that employment would be maintained. Only yesterday we had the sad story of another industry, the Cork Shoe Company Limited, closing down and 200 more people being thrown out of work. That industry is being closed because it owes its two debenture holders, the Bank of Ireland and Fóir Teoranta, something like £300,000. Side by side with that, we have the account of the British Government pouring £162 million into the Chrysler Corporation of Britain in order to maintain employment. This Government have the power and the capacity to ensure that this viable industry, and it has been proved to be viable since it went into receivership, can be maintained and can endure. It was, perhaps, understandable that both debenture holders would put it into receivership but it has been demonstrated since then that the company can make profit and was, in fact, making profit and suddenly the industry is being closed.

The Minister for Labour is here now and I would like him to address himself to this subject because apparently he will speak next. I would like him to tell us whether he or his Government have any plans to maintain that industry. I am sure the Bank of Ireland are not looking for their pound of flesh and Fóir Teoranta are a Government agency, under Government control, and they would obviously conform to a Government directive or even Government wishes in this respect. If this industry closes down and if those 200 people are to be thrown on the unemployment register to add to the 110,000 that are there already, then responsibility for it must rest fairly and squarely at the door of this Government because they can do something about it. They have the capacity and it is time they woke up to these things. Is it a fact that, like the public reeling from price increases and economic shocks, the Government have so many problems on their plate they cannot cope with any one of them? Are they like a demented housewife, with a houseful of kids, running from one chore to another and not fully accomplishing any particular task? If they are, it is their own fault and that is why we find ourselves in this position at present.

Perhaps I should apologise for speaking on local matters but before I leave local matters may I ask the Taoiseach whether the promise he made in Cork during his well-publicised trip in the L.E.Deirare about Government backing for the Cork Harbour plan is to be honoured? If it is, it is time it was honoured and it is time that the amount of Government commitment was spelled out because here, again, by reason of Government inactivity and Government ineptitude, job opportunities are being lost weekly and monthly in that area and work that will have to be done ultimately will be done but at a far greater cost than it could have been done if the Government had, over the past 12 months or so, given their sanction and made the necessary finances available for the furtherance of that scheme.

Where have all our borrowings gone anyway? No government in Western Europe have been so abjectly negligent in handling their nation's affairs as this Government have. Certainly no western government have ever borrowed at the same rate. I would like to give a few examples. Germany borrowed 5 per cent of their GNP, the US, 5 to 6 per cent, Italy, 7 to 8 per cent. The United Kingdom, which some members of our Government say are in an even worse plight than we are, borrowed only 8 per cent which they regarded as a massive amount, notwithstanding the fact that they are engaged in a programme of social reform at present. Compare these with the 20 per cent of GNP which has been borrowed by our Government this year and the 23 or 24 per cent of GNP which it is proposed to borrow next year. How can we sustain a rate of borrowing like this? The Minister may suggest that I have quoted only the larger countries but may I point to the situation in smaller countries which would be more akin to our own? Belgium borrowed 3 per cent of their GNP, Denmark as low as 1 per cent, and Holland, 3 to 4 per cent. Will the money we have borrowed reflect itself in more employment, in more output, in higher GNP, in better standards of living? I suggest it will not because the money has been spent and much of that money has been borrowed for running costs without any reasonable or real return to the Irish nation.

Is it not obvious that on all fronts this Government have failed miserably? Is it not obvious that they have leaned too long on the excuse that outside influences were responsible for our economic recession and that other countries were as badly off if not worse. We see now that other countries have overcome their problems at much less pain to themselves. They were countries whose governments acted in a responsible way. We are twice as badly off as any one of them and in many cases three to four times as badly off. When this Government first came into office the people were mildly excited about prospects and, indeed, people are entitled to be excited about things that are new. They were paraded as the Government of all the talents.

At this time of year a child may get a box of chocolates with beautiful wrappings, lovely ribbons and a picture on the outside but when he opens it up, by the time he gets through all the wrapping he gets about one-tenth the number of chocolates the box appeared to contain. The Government are like that. They remind me of current soccer stars who are paid to score goals and, having scored a goal, run around the field with their hands up looking for the adulation of their supporters and then run back to their colleagues on the team and start kissing one another. The few things that the Taoiseach could boast of here are the kinds of things they were paid to do, as a soccer player is paid to score goals, and without looking for adulation. The country is not in humour for giving them adulation at present.

I said at the outset that the Taoiseach gave no indication whatever of how we were going to get out of our present morass. He spoke last week on the very day that this document—OECD Economic Surveys Ireland—was published. He spoke almost exactly as the OECD document said he should have spoken. That document was published on Wednesday morning last. It was significant that the Taoiseach appeared on television and radio on Wednesday evening because, this document having been published, the sad facts could be hidden from the Irish people no longer. The only formula the Taoiseach proposed last Wednesday and again today was what he called a wage pause.

The OECD Economic Survey to which I refer, on page 30, specifically tells the Irish Government what they should have done in this respect, and almost in exactly the same terms. They proposed that the situation should warrant consideration of a standstill on pay increases for a limited period. This is what the Taoiseach did. It goes on to say:

However, if voluntary agreement cannot be quickly reached, resort to statutory controls may well need to be considered.

It was clearly indicated that this consideration was being given to it in the Taoiseach's statement today where it was said that, if voluntary controls cannot be effected, apparently we are going to have statutory controls over workers' wages. I would like the Minister for Labour to address himself to this fact when he stands on his feet.

I do not intend to address myself to the delusions of the Deputy.

I take it the Minister ignores what the Leader of his Government says will have to be done in certain circumstances.

(Interruptions.)

Perhaps the Minister has not read the Taoiseach's statement. I shall read the relevant part for him:

There are complexities in each of the areas of non-pay income, but it would be our aim to have a draft Bill ready as early as possible in 1976, and to have other necessary measures ready at or about the same time.

Yes, the non-pay incomes.

Perhaps the Minister would listen now, the Taoiseach continued:

To ensure that the Bill and other measures are comprehensive and can be introduced at an early date, it would obviously be desirable that the Government should have an early indication of intentions in regard to pay.

I wonder what are the other measures. Why the reference to intentions in regard to pay? Is it not obvious that, having followed the advice of the OECD of encouraging a standstill in pay increases, the Government will, willy-nilly, follow the next part of the advice contained in the very next sentence of the OECD Report:

...resort to statutory controls may well need to be considered.

Is it not clear from the Taoiseach's statement and the OECD document to which I referred that this is exactly what the Government are contemplating? This is the kind of legislation over which the Minister for Labour will have to preside.

I will leave the Deputy to his delusions.

We are looking forward to the performance with interest——

(Interruptions.)

I have referred to this pay pause, or standstill as the OECD called it—a wage freeze as other people correctly refer to it—as the only indication of the Government's proposals to get us out of this unfortunate economic difficulty we are in at present.

There is no plan whatever for the future, no indication as to what is going to happen. The Taoiseach announced today that a plan of some sort is in course of preparation. For almost three years now we have been encouraging the Government to put forward some plan but the Minister for Finance has said that, because of world unstable conditions it would not be meaningful to put forward a plan. Having persisted in argument in this respect the Minister ultimately, some months ago, announced that he will have a plan by the end of the year. Now the Taoiseach says they have begun to prepare a plan. Therefore, it would seem to be the case that this plan will not be ready by the end of the year as the Minister for Finance promised. In the meantime, how are we going to procure the 300,000 jobs over the next ten years, that is almost 30,000 jobs a year? In fact the OECD Report refers specifically to some 28,000 new jobs. The Taoiseach said, rather euphemistically, I suggest, today, that more young people are now looking for employment. He said that in the context of his reference to the decline in emigration, as if it was the first time he knew it was happening. Then he said:

In conclusion, we are facing a period unique in our history. For the first time for more than 100 years our population is rising substantially and consistently.

I was under the impression that this had been happening for about 10 years. At least the statistics I have been reading indicate that this has been going on for 10 years ever since the middle of the implementation of the Fianna Fáil Economic Programme. Certainly that has been happening. Then the Taoiseach says:

There are more young people seeking jobs.

Indeed, we know that to our cost.

(Interruptions.)

But where are they going to get the jobs? Thirty thousand new jobs are required each year to take account of these young people. But there is no plan whatever. Let me read from what the OECD Report says in this respect:

A study of population and employment trends by the National Economic and Social Council suggests that between 1976 and 1981 some 12,000 young persons may enter the job market annually.

Yes, indeed, more young people are seeking jobs, as the Taoiseach says. The Report continues to say:

In addition, the Secretariat estimates that about 8,000 persons may move out of agriculture and 8,000 jobs may be lost in the traditional manufacturing industries. Thus, unless the pattern of migration is reversed, a total of around 28,000 new jobs may need to be created each year (over and above the recovery of employment from the present recession), a figure substantially higher than what was achieved in the past when real GNP was rising at an average rate of about 4½ per cent.

Let me remind the Taoiseach again that it dropped this year to minus 3 per cent, or 6 per cent less than was anticipated. In this context it is worth quoting again from the OECD Report, in contrast to what the Taoiseach said about foreign firms looking for opportunities here, where it says:

Manufacturing investment is likely to remain depressed. Substantial spare capacity, weak external demand and low profitability should inhibit recovery of investment in the traditional industries, while several planned industrial projects financed from abroad have been postponed.

We will be lucky if we do not hear that more of them have been abandoned, as we well might in the near future.

I opened with the words that the Taoiseach's picture today was at least as dismal as that he painted when he addressed the nation on television and radio last week. There seems to be no future plan whatever, no reasonable hope that the Government have the will, capacity or resolution to get us out of this morass. I know it is useless saying to them, in Heaven's name, to get out of the way and let somebody do it who can, because they have no intention, not for some months yet anyway. But: please try to hold the situation as well as you can; do not let it get too much worse because it is bad enough now and will take all the resources of sound, progressive Government that Fianna Fáil would provide to get us out of this unfortunate economic dilemma and get the country moving again, as we did on two previous occasions when the situation was almost as bad.

We have just heard the Leader of the Opposition. An Adjournment Debate gives the opportunity to most people participating to raise any items they think of interest to their party or to the country at that time. It was interesting to note that the Leader of the Opposition. Deputy J. Lynch, spent more time than is usual for him, in adjournment debates, talking about conditions in Cork. Whether this anticipates a concentration of his political activities in the future in that area I leave to the House.

I concentrated long before the Deputy did——

Interruptions.)

The electrical fittings in this House are quite excellent and I heard all that Deputy Lynch had to say.

I do not want to see the fruits of my years of concentration destroyed by the present Minister for Labour.

I thought it particularly significant that Deputy Lynch should dwell on conditions in his own constituency.

(Interruptions.)

The Minister must be allowed to speak without interruption.

The Government's borrowing record and budgetary policy over the past two years has been heavily criticised by the Opposition as being too large and something that should not have been undertaken. Side by side with that criticism we have constant requests from the Opposition by way of Private Members' motions and otherwise for more expenditure. Deputy Lynch this morning wanted further assistance to be given to particular projects in his own constituency. There is this chronic contradiction in the criticisms by the Opposition of Government policies. Deputy Colley has become noteworthy over the last year for a routine speech and different parts of it are released on different days. We should increase expenditure, he tells us one day, and the next day he tells us we should cut taxation and, at the same time, reduce borrowing. Let me explain the reasons behind Government borrowing over the last year or two.

And going broke.

The borrowing was required. There is no way this community can avoid the obligation of paying for the extra impost caused by oils and raw materials. All countries had to face these increased costs. In our situation the choice before the Government, in so far as it lay within our power, was to maintain employment at the maximum despite these increased costs. I think we were correct in our policy of maintaining public expenditure at the highest possible level to ensure employment did not fall catastrophically.

Is the Minister suggesting it did not fall catastrophically?

Acting Chairman

The Minister must not be interrupted.

I shall come to the general question of employment later, but, if it were not to be permitted to fall catastrophically, we had to continue deficit budgeting. We did that knowing clearly what the dangers were in that policy and knowing also that it was necessary if we were to maintain the economy over this period of recession. The Opposition's criticism of this policy is to say, on the one hand, that we are not doing sufficient in terms of expenditure and, on the other hand, that we should be cutting taxation or reducing borrowing. This is the kind of comment from the Opposition which will keep them over there in those benches for many years into the future.

Whatever deficiencies there may be in this Government's handling of any particular issue that arises, the fact is the contrast before the people is glaring. It is the contrast of Opposition speeches barren of any ideas, beating irrelevant drums, and their warning spokesmen and the Government's facing up to difficulties squarely which will keep the Opposition where they are for many years to come.

On the general question of the economy, we are undoubtedly going through our worst recession but there are certain signs showing that, if we allow for the seasonal corrections, unemployment is, in fact, as the jargon has it, bottoming out and we are reaching the maximum levels of unemployment. Allowing for seasonal adjustments——

(Interruptions.)

Perhaps Deputies would permit me to develop my argument. I suggest we are coming out now from the lowest point of the recession and that will have certain consequences where employment is concerned. It will have the consequence of an improvement in our employment situation in the very near future, if the argument that we are near the bottom of the recession is correct. The indications from the recent CII survey would suggest some recovery in production has occurred in the third quarter of this year and that we are at last seeing the end of the recession. If that survey is correct—we would of course, need further figures to show if it is correct—and we are reaching the end of the output recession it will, of course, take some time for this to register in an improvement in the employment situation. We will need further information to see if these early signs of recovery in output are maintained into next year. There will be a lag between an improvement in output and a consequent improvement in employment because employment always lags behind recovery. In the early part of recession the fall in output does not lead immediately to a worsening of the unemployment situation. The situation is the contrary on the way out of a recession and there will inevitably be some time lag between the improvement in output recordings and an improvement in employment figures. But at any rate it indicates the direction in which the economy is even at this stage going. The lag between output improvement and an improvement in employment figures is explained by the fact that during the latter months of this recession firms have been operating on their stocks. When stocks are exhausted they will move into producing goods once more.

It is not all gloom. We are certainly seeing the worst recession but there are signs in impartial surveys that recovery is on the way. There are signs of recovery in some of the major markets. In the textile industry, an industry grievously hit in this country, there has been an improvement in the United States in the last quarter. What we need in the coming year is a combination of consumer recovery and export recovery. It is quite clear we cannot depend simply on one another and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who will conclude this debate, will be giving details of the efforts being made to diversify our exports and ensure recovery next year in an export led recovery.

The two-front strategy we require is a strategy based on exports and on demand in the home market. That demand is not there at present, not strong enough anyway to induce general recovery right across the board of Irish industry. That is clear in the light of the fate of my employment premium programme. That was introduced with the object of getting 10,000 people back to work and I think Liam Connellan was right when, talking about the scheme recently, he said the biggest obstacle which prevented its being adopted by more employers was their feeling that demand was still insufficiently established to permit them to bring back workers even at a subsidy of £12 per head per week. Admittedly, we have received up to 1st December applications from something like 164 employers in manufacturing industry involving something in the region of over 3,000 industrial workers. The purpose of that scheme was to bring back workers who had been let go as a result of the present recession. So far we have succeeded in bringing back more than 3,000 but that is still a long way off the target I set myself of returning 10,000 people to the work force.

In an effort to ensure that the programme would be adopted, even in present conditions, by employers we have extended it to include the food processing industries previously excluded because of seasonal factors. I learned from the officials involved in that section that there has been in the last few days a big increase in the number of inquiries from employers as to the advantages of that programme. The areas which have benefited for the most part have been the eastern and mid-western regions, the Dublin region, which has been heavily afflicted by unemployment, and the Limerick region. It appears that engineering has done best. That would accord with what all the surveys said about the position of that industry at present.

Our assessment of the situation is that there are signs of recovery but there is a necessity next year for voluntary agreements on all manner of incomes. This is what Deputy Lynch sought to interpret from the Taoiseach's speech in a different manner. If agreement is reached on the pay front next year obviously it will also have to combine control of non-pay areas and we will have the legislation ready for control in that area. Deputy Lynch made a strange interpretation of that speech in that he suggested the Taoiseach was advocating statutory controls in the incomes area this morning. I understand that the spokesman for the Opposition harped back to the years past and I know that as the party who framed the Electricity (Special Provisions) Act, 1966, they cannot get away from that approach to industrial relations. They still believe that one must lock one's opponent up in jail as happened in the course of the passage of that legislation. I understand their affection for such measures and I understand their incapacity to realise how a modern Government must operate in a democracy always with the free voluntary agreement of all the major economic powers. That is the path we intend to pursue next year.

It came strangely from the lips of the Leader of the Opposition to talk about the absence of planning when one considers the fate of plans introduced by Fianna Fáil when in power at a time of boom in Western Europe. Strange concoctions were produced by them as economic plans and they strayed from the reality of actual job creation. It came strangely from the lips of the Leader of the Opposition to criticise the position of the Government battling against one of the worst recessions ever faced by the State.

Caused by the Government.

Deputy Gibbons, who has attended international gatherings often enough, should not fall for the kind of baby talk which passes in the Opposition for economic criticism. The idea that the current recession from which we are recovering was created here is too childish for words.

It was created here to a large degree, according to the Taoiseach.

On the general industrial relations front we have had an improvement this year in that less man-days were lost in industry, more disputes were settled without recourse to the strike weapon and that is something to be thankful for. In the coming year I plan to look once more at our industrial relations legislation. I intend appointing extra divisions to the Labour Court to enable the court to cope with an increasing work load. I have decided to appoint an additional Rights Commissioner and to update that service. I am also concerned about the position of lower paid workers under the law. Our main weapon for dealing with the situation is on the basis of joint labour committees. Some time ago I decided that a joint labour committee was needed in the restaurant industry but that has not yet been established. I believe I will have to amend legislation to ensure that I will have some initiating power in the matter of establishing extra joint labour committees where these are necessary, as in the restaurant area. I am anxious to see such a committee established in the restaurant industry because I am convinced that there is quite an amount of low pay existing in such institutions.

I have initiated a vigorous policy, through our inspectorate, of prosecutions in many areas where the legal provisions of low pay were not being complied with. Last year more employers than ever were prosecuted for failure to fulfil their legal obligations where payments were laid down by our laws. It is my intention to maintain this policy because in general the stance of the Government is a reforming one. We can continue to introduce reforming legislation despite the current recession. Although the current recession may hold up plans in one area we can proceed in another area.

I should like to refer to the position in relation to the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act, 1974. The Taoiseach referred to our intention to amend that Act. In October I had a joint approach from companies in the footwear industry to postpone the implementation of equal pay in view of the critical position of that industry. I passed on those joint representations to the Labour Court and yesterday, 16th December, I received a report from the Labour Court which stated that 700 jobs in the manufacturing area of the industry could be lost in 1976 and early 1977. Despite the equal pay provisions of the national agreements of 1972 and 1974 little progress had been made towards equal pay in Irish industry.

For one reason or another, the obstinacy of management or failure to concede the justice of these claims, provisions for advance towards equal pay in the agreements over those years resulted in little movement being made in the wage rates of women in industry, despite the profitability of many of the companies involved in those years. The lack of progress over those relatively good years would convince anybody that legislation was necessary in that area to ensure that equal pay became a fact across Irish industry. I can understand how people, especially those whom one is anxious to help, may be impatient of improvements when they come.

I can understand how, when we introduced the equal pay legislation in 1973, many people criticised its provisions for what they thought to be a failing when compared to other such legislation, and especial comparison was made with the British Act. I maintain now, as I maintained then, that the definition at the heart of our Bill made it a far superior instrument of equality than the British Act of 1970. My point is that in the years up to 1973 little progress was made in industry here.

I do not mind certain organisations criticising what we do. When I came into office I did not find any legislation prepared there despite the fact that the interim report of the Commission on the Status of Women as far back as 1971 had put forward recommendations and despite the fact that the Minister for Finance of the day, Deputy Colley, had declared it to be a national objective—despite these rhetorical statements from the Government of the day, when I came into office no legislation had been planned in this area.

I can understand that when we produced our legislation some people tended to complain that it was not good enough. I can understand the criticism, from the women's organisations, trade unions and others concerned with this area, but it is galling to receive condemnation from representatives, supporters, people in the press who are open supporters of the party now in Opposition, who when in power confined their interest in the advance of women in our society to commemoration Masses for Cumann na mBan.

I should like to make it clear exactly what the position is in relation to amending legislation in this area. We have been given an impartial report that jobs are in danger if we proceed with that legislation. Therefore, it is my intention that the amending legislation would be along the lines that where a company consider that they are unable to apply the terms of the Act and still remain viable and maintain employment, the employer would inform the trade union of the position and enter into negotiations. If employers and unions negotiate a settlement which modifies the application of the terms of the Act, such settlement shall be certified by the parties and communicated to the Labour Court. The terms of the negotiated settlement will then be examined by the Labour Court and, if the court are satisfied as to its authenticity, it shall be certified by the court.

It is provisions such as these that I intend to incorporate in the amending legislation to protect employment in industry. The Act will come into operation with these amendments. As I have said, I do not accept criticism of our efforts in this direction unless it is made in good faith by representatives of the party who, as I said, did nothing when in power and who in Opposition have confined themselves to denunciation of genuine reform such as this Government have effected in this area.

Next year, the Anti-Discrimination (Employment) Bill will be coming into operation on schedule. It is true that recession interfered with all our reform plans, but there is quite an amount of reform that this Government can proceed with even in these circumstances. I will next year proceed with the Young Persons (Protection of Employment) Bill, the anti-discrimination legislation—I would explain to Deputy Gene Fitzgerald, who has just come in, what our amendments in the area of equal pay will be concerned with. I will proceed with the Unfair Dismissals Bill, with the Bill announced here this morning to even up the position of agricultural workers. Deputy James Gibbons, a large farmer, sat on these benches for many years as Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and ignored a situation where agricultural workers were differentiated against by comparison with industrial workers.

Here this morning, in the midst of economic recession, we introduced a measure to correct that long standing injustice, and next year, with the help of God, I will bring in that extra legislation to ensure that agricultural workers will no longer be discriminated against in that way. I hope that also next year I can proceed to implement worker participation in the State industries already selected.

Tell us about the jobs.

We can see, therefore, how in one narrow area of the Government's activities it is possible to proceed with our reform programme. Even against the great obstacles set against us, it is possible for us to see on the Statute Book improvements being made to the working lives of the people——

Tell us about the jobs.

We will not be deterred by politicians who when in power became tired and now in Opposition are simply embittered.

We thank the Minister for the analogy.

The people are no longer impressed by that kind of Opposition talk. The Leader of the Opposition today talked about boxes of chocolates. I do not know whether the Deputies behind him can be compared with lozenges or peppermints— perhaps acid drops would be more accurate, perhaps it is a bunch of acid drops he has behind him——

We love the scintillating style.

While he pursued his laborious metaphors through Christmas chocolate boxes—somewhere about midfield he switched to soccer playing——

But tell us about the 110,000 unemployed, and stop the waffle.

Deputy Lynch's thoughts turn to Cork more often these days than to what he would do in the future. Perhaps Deputies Gibbons, Colley and Haughey would know more about his future plans than we would. That is the contract the Government have and the Opposition who on the one hand through their financial spokesman, Deputy Colley, and their unofficial financial spokesman, Deputy Haughey——

But tell us about the jobs.

We have been telling about them. They have condemned the expenditure programme— we should not impose tax. Of course this may be resolved by the Fianna Fáil think-tank. It was very evident in Mayo. The think-tank supplies Opposition spokesmen with most of their speeches. They are professional men who are there to help the Opposition. Perhaps they have been working very hard, but from what we can see of the produce of their labours in the speeches made here by Opposition spokesmen one cannot say the think-tank is producing even the outline of an alternative Government, not in the next election, not in the election afterwards——

The people will decide.

However, that is by the way. We will proceed as planned with our reform legislation with exceptions of the kind I have outlined. On the economic front we must ensure that the national training programme is maintained at the maximum pitch. We have been spending more money——

Spending more money surely.

Tell us about the shennanigans in Wexford.

This year and last year we have been spending more money and training more people than ever before. I propose to maintain this high performance. We will be training more people next year because it is extremely important that we ensure our work force is as highly skilled as possible so that when recovery comes we will be in a position to avail of all opportunities.

In 1975 we trained 7,200 persons under the Training Authority compared with 4,500 in 1974, an increase of more than 50 per cent, and only physical capacity prevented us from ensuring the training of a larger number. The cost was £9 million in 1975, and I intend to ensure in our discussions at Government level that this investment will be continued next year. As well, we will continue our attempts in Europe to ensure that the Social Fund will be adequate. I know that some of the fatter Deputies behind Deputy Gibbons think that every visit to Brussels is some kind of compulsive escape from reality.

Anyone who is aware of these meetings knows that they are long, difficult and tedious and that their outcome is very important in the context of our plans here at home. I do not intend ever to miss a meeting in Brussels which could lead to improvements at home. What happens in Europe nowadays is of as much importance as what we do here. Therefore we must get away from the parochial type of approach, of regarding all Government activity in Brussels as an interruption of serious Government work and, instead, regard it as an integral part of any responsible Government's activity in building the kind of Europe that all of us, officially at any rate, subscribe to.

During the past few weeks I have said that we must maintain our training programme at the highest point possible. Recently I announced a pilot scheme, under the auspices of the training authority, for a community training programme. This is because unemployment at its present unacceptably high level affects the youth of the country as much as any other section, so that there are many young people unemployed. Within a matter of weeks we will have to hand the result of this year's survey of the situation. In an effort to meet certain of the problems confronting young people I have announced the community youth training programme. This will be concentrated on training unemployed school leavers and on the participation of young persons in community projects.

One of these programmes is opening this week in Dún Laoghaire and, recently, one opened in Dundalk. As soon as we can identify the projects we intend drawing the necessary lessons from the pilot scheme and ensuring that the funds required are available for its expansion. In all cases we wish to be sure that the programme has a worth-while training corps. There is a social fund in the EEC for the purpose of assisting native resources. Towards the end of our Presidency last year it was my privilege as President of the Council of Social Affairs Ministers to take an all-Irish initiative by which we succeeded in getting the assurance that the fund in its training function was available for young school leavers. There was immediate benefit from that initiative in some of the pilot programme projects that I have announced during the past few weeks. This is only a small illustration of how diligent application to the possibilities of our participation in membership of the EEC can have solid benefits by way of projects for the Irish people. I am watching this youth training programme very carefully to see what further expansion can be made in it in the coming year. We would hope that increasing numbers of employers would participate in the premium employment programme. This is a programme which has no financial ceiling. Money can be made available in any place where employers are interested, the objective being to re-employ those who have been disemployed as a result of the present recession.

All of these schemes are intended to ameliorate a very bad unemployment situation, a situation which, even with recovery in output, will take some time to rectify, and its solving will not be simultaneous with the recovery in output but will lag behind it, as has been the common feature in most countries. During this period of unemployment, of enforced inactivity on the part of our workforce, we must ensure that they suffer no hardship and also that their skills are improved. The Minister for Social Welfare is looking after them in so far as his Department are concerned and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, who will be speaking at the end of this debate, will be redoubling his efforts to ensure export diversification in the coming year, because the kind of recovery that will be of most benefit to us will be one based on a dual strategy of increased exports and a recovery in our home consumption.

What about imports?

Imports were the big feature in 1975. In such a situation one does not have a secure base of recovery, and that is why I say there must be a dual strategy of exports and home market recovery. One of the big problems we had last year —and this is observable in other countries—was that a good deal went, not into the area of consumption, but into savings. This would seem to suggest that the wisest course is a recovery based on a two dimensional effort— exports and the home market. So long as we hold our heads in the coming year, there will be no problem for this country.

The Taoiseach said there would be problems.

We will make the right decisions. I am confident that this Government, a national Government in the real sense, one composed of two parties which have within their ranks, farmers, trade unionists, employers and workers, are capable of understanding the problems of running a modern state. We do not subscribe to the theory that any one party can run this country. That, though, is the theory of the Opposition; but it is another of the reasons for their remaining in Opposition for some time to come. It is wise that we do not subscribe to that theory, because between the two parties in Government we can give the people a Government that are truly representative. I do not think the people want ever again to see a return to one-party rule. They have had enough experience of that.

Nobody pretends that the present recession is not a bad one—it is the worst in the history of the State—but even at such a time the Government are capable of winning by-elections. I am confident that when the testing time comes—February or March, 1978 —our economic situation will be far different from what it is now. However, I do not know if the decision of the Opposition will be any different. The ambition will remain, the animosities will retain their vigour, the suspicions will still be green. Deputy Gibbons has his suspicions about some of his colleagues and what they said in the past and they, in turn, have their suspicions in regard to Deputy Gibbons. Presumably, Deputy Colley will not forego his ambition to run that party. When election time comes the contrast between the Government and the Opposition will be clear. On the one hand will be a Government who have given leadership and faced up to the difficulties that were encountered while on the other will be a bedraggled Opposition whose lot was confused indecision on the North and on the economy and a simplistic analysis of our difficulties. I leave it to the Opposition to make the best case they can.

I found it an interesting and amazing experience to listen for the past 40 minutes or so to the Minister for Labour and to marvel at his astonishing detachment from the reality of the day, also his perorations, consisting of spiteful little attacks on Fianna Fáil. However, it was ordinary commercial political stuff that one would expect from the Labour Party now that they have infected themselves with the Fine Gael propensity for this kind of thing.

Before he came to that subject the Minister talked of the training of young people and of the status of women in our society. He was denouncing the role played by my party in these areas. There were occasional references to the recession as if that were some creature from without, some external infection that had entered the body politic. In his perorations he was contrasting what he regarded as our shortcomings with the united, intelligent, solid and brilliant operation of the National Coalition Government, ignoring completely the unprecedented scale of unemployment and the utter despair of young people leaving school, for whom plans are being made apparently by the Minister for Labour for their training. One would wonder, training for what? Where are the jobs? Jobs are being removed; they are being done away with day by day. There is no country in Europe with an unemployment problem like ours.

We have had a substantial speech from the Minister for Labour but, instead of telling the House the plans of the Government to provide jobs for those who require them, he devoted his time to attacking the Opposition. The Government have no plans. The Minister for Labour attributed the present situation, which is quite unprecedented, to this exterior thing—the recession. However, the Taoiseach who spoke earlier in the debate more frankly admitted that the responsibility for the present situation was the responsibility of ourselves, meaning the Government. He is the leader of the Government and if he accepts responsibility for the present state of affairs that should be sufficient for the Minister for Labour. We do not pretend there were not external circumstances over which the Government had no control but we say that if the Government had listened to the advice they got consistently and in time from this side of the House, in particular from Deputy Colley, the situation need not have developed as it has done.

The most striking thing about what the Minister for Labour called this free, modern Government, of which he is a member, is the loss of the sense of scale that all of us must feel. Some five or ten years ago if there was a rise of 1p or 2p in the price of a gallon of petrol or of a pint of beer there would be a loud outbreak of protest; but in the last few years, under the management of this free, modern Government, prices have been leaping ahead week by week to a degree that we can no longer appreciate the scale of the increases. Incidentally, the Government undertook solemnly not only to control prices but to reduce them.

I do not want to devote too much time to the extraordinary performance of the Minister for Labour but it is worth noting the detatchment from reality evinced by the Minister. It is typical of his colleagues in Government; they simply do not know the score. They do not seem to be in personal contact with the dimensions of the unemployment problem and the utter hopelessness of young people, especially those leaving school. There are no jobs for those young people and that is the plain fact of the matter, irrespective of whatever the Minister says about training schemes, about pie in the sky next year or the year after. There are no jobs for anyone except for the few chosen party hacks brought into the public service by all the Ministers when they took office. I understand that in the office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce 40 such people, party hacks of one kind or another, are now on the Government payroll.

That is a nonsense.

This is what the Minister himself told me some time ago in answer to a parliamentary question. This ghastly, small-time nepotism has gone on throughout the entire fabric of the public service; there are brothers in big public service jobs and widows of ex-Ministers are shoved into jobs. This is going on from the top to the bottom at the present time. The Minister for Labour calls it free, modern government. In the business of running the country there has never been such a debacle as the debacle that is taking place under the presidency of the man who, in the election posters, was said to put the nation first—I am referring to the Taoiseach, Deputy Cosgrave. When the history of this period is written the squalor of his lust for power at any price will be seen in its reality, but the damage caused by the Taoiseach and his Government may be so great that it may prove irreparable.

I find it difficult to come to grips with and to appreciate the enormity of the burden of debt that is being hung around the working people of Ireland. There is nobody else to pay back that debt which is being saddled on the country except the working people. They are diminishing in number weekly because every week more people are being put out of work. It is they who will have to pay the annual interest rates of £234 million although there are only about one million such people. It is the people who will come after them who will have to pay the rake's progress of the National Coalition Government.

It is beyond question or doubt that all enterprise is being kicked. Capital is being driven out of the country by the £100 million and that capital is being replaced by the pawnshop tactics of the present Government. The whole future of this country is being pawned by the Government to keep the show on the road for another couple of months. They are frantically papering over all the cracks that are getting more numerous and bigger every day. They know very well they will not see much of the coming year out before the situation is completely out of control.

There are people in the country at the present time who wonder about certain Ministers, considering their political past and the membership they had of subversive political groups. There are people who wonder whether they do not actually want to create the situation, that they do not actually want to destroy the Irish economy. If one examines the records of some members of the present Government and the groups with which they were associated, it will be seen to be correct and true to say that they belonged to organisations that wished to subvert democracy in this country——

Is the Deputy joining the late Senator Joe McCarthy?

I am inviting the Minister to refer to certain files in Government Departments on certain of his colleagues. I am expressing a suspicion that many people have that a person who gives his allegiance once to the enemies of democracy and society cannot be depended on thereafter to become a loyal and true Irishman.

Would the same apply to someone who gave his allegiance to enemies of the State?

I did not hear what the Minister said.

Would the same rule apply to a person who gave his allegiance to enemies of the State?

Yes, it would. A person who was disloyal once will be always disloyal, in my opinion, and I am telling the Minister that he has colleagues who were and are.

That is utter nonsense.

I want to talk in particular about the condition of the smaller people in this country, the small businessmen, the small shopkeepers. We are a country of small property owners. The Labour Party, if I understand them correctly, would wish this situation to cease. As I understand the doctrine of socialism they are against the ownership of property and therefore they are the enemy of the small property owner, the small shopkeeper, the small manufacturer.

I will not interrupt again, but that is utter nonsense once more.

There is no doubt whatever that this large class of the Irish nation are being reduced in circumstances. They are being driven out of business, particularly in the distributive trades. They are being pushed out by larger combines from outside and they are being taxed out by their own government. Our prime industry has suffered more in the past three years at the hands of this Government than it has ever suffered since the foundation of the State.

My recollection of Irish farming goes back quite a long distance. It is true to say that in March, 1973 when we handed over the government to the National Coalition, as they call themselves, the cattle herds and pig herds of the country were at all time records in numbers, and the sheep flock also. In the case of cattle there were about 7¼ million in the country and they had increased from a level of 5 million where they had been more or less static for almost 100 years. The reason why the numbers had gone up so sharply through the 1960s was that the development of the Irish cattle herd had begun under the Ministry of Deputy Paddy Smith and had been carried on by successive Fianna Fáil Governments. As a result of the cattle breeding and the use of the females in herds for the multiplication of herds we found ourselves in the very fortunate position on entry into the EEC that we had 7¼ million cattle with the graph still rising at an increasing rate of rise. If we look at the statistics for June this year we find that they had dropped again to 6.9 million, and it is only since June of this year that the mass slaughter of cows in the Irish cattle herd has become really intensive.

In a community such as the European Economic Community our role must always be very important as a food producing nation, and the prime element in that major effort of the Irish within the Community would be the production of cattle and cattle products. The herd has been destroyed very fast. I reckon that if you take the decline in numbers in sheep, cattle and pigs since the coming into office of the present Government the number of animals lost from the herds are worth about £100 million; £100 million worth of livestock has gone completely out of Irish farms and apart from the other losses that farmers have sustained there is that value of livestock less on the land of Ireland now than there was when the present Government took office.

I was almost amused at the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries recently when he delivered a dissertation at some Fine Gael jamboree urging farmers to plough more in the coming season. Of course, they will plough more in the coming season because they do not have the cattle in the same numbers as they used to have, and in any case the mishandling of the livestock sector by the present Government is so appalling that there is no security whatever in the business apart from the relative stability of the dairy sector, but in the meat production side of livestock farming there is no security whatever and the Minister feels obliged to exhort farmers to sow more cereal crops. He does not have to do it. We will do it ourselves.

I appreciate very well that there is nobody in the Government to tell the Government collectively what farmers think or what they feel because they have no farmers in their number. There is no Member of the Government, or the second echelon even, who ever had to face the vicissitudes of a farmer's life and make his living from it. It is interesting. Yet they have no hesitation in advising farmers what is good for them.

We have talked in this House before about the debacle of last year in the area of young cattle. We saw the spectacle of all the producers of store cattle in this country selling their cattle at about one-fifth of the price that they had made two years previously. I am talking about people selling young store cattle at £5 a cwt and less. These same cattle would have made £25 a cwt in 1972. Simultaneously producers of beef cattle were able to get intervention prices for their finished cattle and the people who were fortunate enough to be in that trade did have the assurance of an intervention price at any rate. The fact remains that thousands of producers of younger cattle last year will not recover from the very severe and indeed unprecedented blow that their economy got in the last year.

This party and I personally told the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in good time—I think it was two years ago—that he should seek a realistic devaluation of the agricultural £. The idea was laughed at. It was not until October of last year that a partial devaluation was got and our party in the European Parliament voted against what was proposed, 11.4 devaluation, because it was not big enough. The Minister twice since then and belatedly on each occasion and after constant urging from this party has devalued the agricultural £ but on each occasion—and this is vital—he refused and in fact pooh-poohed our advice until it was too late and until tens of thousands of farmers have had to sell one way or the other.

We saw the debacle of the slaughter subsidies and the wholesale racketeering that went on in that area. About this time 12 months ago I urged the Minister at the price review in Brussels that was coming forward in February to look for a subsidy on calves in order to see if some support could not be put under the producers of cattle because they are the people on whom the whole cattle trade depends. I am in the cattle trade. I know where my own livelihood comes from. If the cattle are not produced, if the producers are not making the money, the numbers will go down and the cattle will not be there.

This is the situation that Fianna Fáil, being so strongly rurally based as they are, appreciated and that is why the herd was developing so rapidly, under the beef incentive scheme, the calved heifer subsidy scheme, the creation of a second cattle herd in the country. The first herd is the dairy herd. Fianna Fáil, over the passage of a decade or so, built up a very substantial beef suckling herd which was of vital importance to the cattle economy of the country. It extracted the capacity of all female cows to reproduce themselves and they provided a lucrative market for the dairy men who were selling their calves. Calves being sold from the dairy herds into the suckling herds were making very good money. When we were in office they were making from £50 to £70 per head until the crash came with the arrival of the Coalition. That herd has been wiped off the face of the earth.

About a fortnight ago I questioned the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries regarding cow slaughterings. He resorted to doddering and said there was only a drop of 4.3 per cent in the size of the herd. We heard him admitting in Brussels the other day, for the first time, that we had 600,000 cows, 30 per cent of all the cows we have got, slaughtered in 1975. Their capacity to provide the cattle herd of the future is gone for ever. They are hanging on hooks. Anybody who has anything to do with meat factories will tell you that the slaughterings of in-calf cows and heifers during the past six months was quite unprecedented. I do not know how these cattle will be replaced under the management of the Coalition.

With a wave of his hand the other day the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries dismissed the idea that this was a serious matter. I was not at liberty to question the Minister further because the Chair would not allow me. I am not referring to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The Chair adopted a very protective attitude to the Ministers, especially the Fine Gael Ministers. The loss is so enormous that even the Minister could not keep up the bluff any longer. Far from the loss in the size of the cow herd being 4.3 per cent, as he said a forthnight ago, it is 30 per cent of all the cows in the country. The Government should be ashamed of themselves.

I want to revert for a moment to the question of the calf subsidy. When I asked him to introduce it he thought it was a ridiculous idea. He said he did not think it suited our production pattern. The Italians thought it was a good idea and they get a subsidy, paid in two parts, of £25 per head. The first part is paid on the birth of the calf and the second at the end of 12 months. The Italians come over here and buy the cream of our calf stock. The Minister says the figure is 75,000 calves but I suspect the real figure—I do not accuse the Minister of saying what is untrue but I think there may be the question of the definition of what a calf is—for the export of very young cattle, those under six months, would approach 250,000. It would certainly be 200,000. It is beyond question that the cream of the calf herd is being removed to Italy and the EEC subsidy that we ought to be getting is being paid on the Irish calves to the Italians.

I ask the Minister to try again this year. We have to develop the rearing and production of calves because if we do not the herd will go down. It will go down inevitably because the cows are gone in such vast numbers but this idiot rake's progress, this destruction of the calf herd, that is presided over by the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and his colleagues, none of whom have anything to do with the land, none of whom is a farmer, is a little bit too much to take. The incompetence and the inertia of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries in this area and his shamelessness and failure to grasp what is going on is quite in a class of its own. I have never seen anything like it.

I had some questions down to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries a fortnight ago about prosecutions for the use of unlicensed bulls. His Parliamentary Secretary resorted to a snide suggestion that there were no prosecutions for using unlicensed bulls in 1972. This is so because in that year with a prospect of producing a 70 or 75 lb calf nobody would be such a fool as to use an unlicensed bull of inferior quality. Inseminations from the cattle breeding stations in the last year have dropped to 50 per cent of what they were in Fianna Fáil's administration. Unlicensed bulls of very low quality are being used in their place throughout the country. The quality of the remaining cattle herd has been prejudiced years and years in advance. Anybody involved in the Mayo by-election who attended any of the cattle fairs, as I did, could not but be depressed by the poor quality of a great number of the cattle to be seen there.

Cattle breeding varies throughout the country. There is high quality breeding in Munster and largely in Leinster as well, but it is not nearly as good in parts of the west. The north-eastern cattle breeding stations have been doing excellent work and improving very rapidly the quality of the cattle in that area. I am afraid, because of the drop down to half in the use of their excellent services, because of the uncertainty and the loss of confidence which followed the operations of the Coalition Government, they are just resorting to the use of worthless breeding stock.

There has been a similar drop in the size of the sheep flock from about 4.3 million in our last year in office to under 4 million now, about 300,000 to 400,000 less sheep in the national flock. Since the Coalition Government took office, with bands playing and banners flying and all the silly tributes to the brillance of the people, we have been looking for a common organisation for sheep marketing in Europe. The Minister's general conduct in this affair must be condemned, principally because of the incompetence that was plainly visible behind his approach, the incoherent, bad-tempered attack on the French, as if they were expected to renounce the protection of their own national market in the absence of any common organisation and the total failure to recognise that the real source of the trouble in the sheep market in Europe is the importation of sheep meat by the British, which is permitted under Protocol 18 of the Treaty of Accession, which was extended at the Summit meeting in Dublin Castle, presided over by the Taoiseach, for a further period. This entitles the British Government to import anything up to about 220,000 tons of sheep meat every year. In turn they exported British produced lamb to the tune of about 20,000 tons or so each year to the French market. The total import capacity of the French market would be about 40,000 tons. The Irish want to sell only about 5,000 or 6,000 tons but it is only now and again that we can get in under the type of mechanism the French operate.

I think the Minister tried bi-partisan agreements with the French which plainly could not work, as any sensible sheep farmer could have told the Minister. I think a tripartite agreement between the United Kingdom, France and ourselves was essayed also and, predictably, it was a waste of time. There is a proposal before the European Parliament at present—it has already got the agreement of the agriculture committee—rejecting the Commission's proposal for a transitional organisation of the sheep market on the grounds that it provides no protection for sheep producers nor does it apply itself in any way to the real source of the problem, the regulation of the permitted imports from third countries which the UK have. Therefore, I have proposed to the Commission and to the European Parliament that a minimum import price be arranged between the producers supplying the British market in third countries and the Community itself.

I shall be seeking a common organisation similar to the organisation in other commodities such as beef and wine and cereals and the existing ones and free movement of this commodity, sheep meat, in all Community member States, to be achieved over a transitional period and the abolition of national price support measures in all countries because it is unfair that the Irish Government should be expected to ante-up with national measures, as is the case with the disadvantaged areas scheme against wealthy countries like Germany, Belgium, Holland and even the UK. We cannot do it. Therefore we are seeking the abolition of national measures.

The Minister did me the courtesy today, in common with other members of the European Parliament, of circulating to me a document which outlines his general stance on the question of the common organisation of the sheep meat market. Even today there is not the slightest glimmer of a constructive idea from the Minister in the document he circulated; it is simply a complaint that what is there already is no good. We all know that but you must make alternative proposals. Our medium for putting our proposals is limited and confined to the use which we make of our membership of the European Parliament. Making use of that resource I have put my proposals to the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament and they have been accepted. Tomorrow, please God, I shall get them accepted by the European Parliament. If I do, the Minister's hand will be very greatly strengthened. He can then demand that the organisation of the sheep meat market be proceeded with without further delay.

I have talked about the depletion of our cattle herd and our sheep flocks. The same sad story obtains in the case of pigs. When we were leaving office there were 1.1 million pigs in the country. This year the number is down to 840,000 with no indication from the Government of the prospects for the future. It is worth recalling the well recognised three-year cycle with pigs had come to its nadir when we were leaving office. In spite of that we had 1.1 million pigs and the number should have been on the upswing but, I regret to say, that there is a serious depletion of the pig herd at present with no indication from the Government or any member of it of what they will do for the development of pig production, something on which the survival of western farming especially depends, concentration on the development of pig rearing and production on the smaller farms.

There are only two ways for smaller farmers to survive and they make up a large sector of our farming people: you must base their economy on the production of milk and the production of pigs. There are specialists who produce vegetables, potatoes and so on, some with very notable success. A good deal of waffle has been talked about saving the west by every party but there is no more potent way of doing it, in my opinion, in the case of the rural people of the west than by the development of pig and dairy production. Of the two, it is far easier to develop pig production. We had the Minister for the Gaeltacht recently with great pomp and circumstance announcing the setting up of some kind of western development board. I think this is a paper exercise, a bit of ballyhoo. It would be very constructive of him if he would get hold of the thought that if you are to keep the people on the land in the west of Ireland you will have to give special assistance for the development of pigs. But the hand of the Coalition is on them also and the number of pigs, like the sheep and cattle, are dropping very seriously.

For the past six months and more animal disease eradication has ceased in the two great disease eradication spheres of brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. There is a dispute between the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and the veterinary profession over the employment of lay staff. It is my opinion that especially in the case of brucellosis lay staff will have to be employed. The Minister is quite right in saying that the use of lay staff will have to be considered by the veterinary profession—but only in the context of a major attack on the brucellosis scourge. The Minister is keeping quiet the fact that it will be illegal to sell untested cattle in the European Community after the middle of 1978. It would have been the beginning of 1978 but the Commission rather grudgingly acceded to an extension of our time by six months. There is no hope of the present arrangement, even supposing it was working, of having the heartland of brucellosis in Munster and County Kilkenny cleaned up by 1978. If we are to have any chance it would have to be undertaken by a special task force and what I am recommending to the veterinary profession and to the Minister is that certain lay staff be employed in such a way as to ensure that veterinary surgeons' expenses and valuable time are not wasted running about fields rounding up herds, work which should ideally be done by lay staff.

I suggest that certain lay staff be enlisted, that certain of them be assigned to vets within the scheme and that the lay staff thereafter operate under the supervision of a particular vet. Each vet would have a number of herds in his practice and the allocation of lay staff to that particular vet would depend on the size and nature of his practice. I do not think there is any serious threat to the position of vets as professional people and I think this is their main anxiety. I would remind the Minister that he is dealing with a strong highly organised group of professional people and that the losers in the present impasse are the herd owners of the country. The Government are gainers in the short term in that reactors are not being sought out except those reactors that are identified by the Department's own staff vets. When I asserted that the disease eradication scheme had ceased completely the Minister denied it and said that testing was still going on. A tiny fraction of it is still going on, being carried out by the Department's staff vets, but the massive eradication scheme has ceased and there is no use in pretending that it has not. Open cases of clinical TB are being identified in herds in areas that have long been identified as attested areas. There appears to be just an abandonment of the eradication of brucellosis. This is intolerable because both those diseases are highly transmissible to the human species as well and there is in fact a high incidence of human brucellosis. The Government, I suspect, are just sitting this one out and contemplating all the millions of pounds they do not have to spend on the payment of vets' fees and on the payment of farmers for the removal of reactors. If that is their attitude it must be the ultimate in irresponsibility.

What astonishes me greatly is that during all this running down of agriculture the amount of protest from the Irish Farmers' Association has been practically nil. I feel entitled to make this complaint because, like every other farmer in the country, whatever commodity I sell, whether it is barley, sugar beet, cattle, sheep or anything else, some of my money is taken from me and given to the IFA and theoretically the IFA represent me. I am not consulted about membership and I do not have voting rights. The only thing I have is the compulsory reduction in the price I get for the goods I sell. Since my money is taken I feel entitled to say that the change in attitude in the IFA since the assumption of office by the present Government has been remarked on all over the country. There are no mass protests in the streets now although, as sure as the IFA have their headquarters out in Bluebell, there was never a greater need for mass protests, that is if mass protests are any good anyway. A veil of silence hangs over them. There is not a squeak out of them. I wonder where their eloquence has gone. We would like to know what the IFA feel about the depletion of our herds and flocks and the drop in living standards of farmers. Possibly my observations may evoke some rejoinder from them. I hope they do. I should like to hear what they have to say.

I doubt if there ever has been a period in the history of farming since the Fianna Fáil Government first assumed office in 1932—and my recollection goes back just about to that— when things were so depressed and in a state of such decline in agriculture as they are now. The statistics back this up. The observations of the Agricultural Institute in the last week or so on the depletion of the cattle herd simply confirm what this party have been trying to deal with in the House and telling the people generally for the past two years. The worst feature of it all is that there is not the remotest glimmer of any conception of a plan, an organised, concerted plan, on the part of the Government. Where there were plans they distrupted them and left nothing in their place. In particular I want to refer to the disruption in the pattern that the Fianna Fáil Government left behind in the matter of rationalisation of the dairy industry. It had been proposed and agreed that 12 or 13 creamery societies in east Limerick combine with the milk producers in Clare and establish themselves around a new group based at the existing Landsdowne plant which belongs to the Dairy Disposal Company and that a new milk drying plant be established in Cratloe.

The very future of the farmers in west Clare was bound up in this. This proposal, which had been accepted, would guarantee the future employment of the workers in Lansdowne and would guarantee the future in particular of the milk producers of west Clare where the smaller producers live. It could also replace the inadequate market for the farmers themselves of the 12 or 14 co-ops in east Limerick. It did not meet the wishes of a small pressure group which began to operate on the new Government when they took over. The plan was abandoned. Some of the machinery was sold and some of it, I think, wasted. Now what we have is complete chaos. The east Limerick creameries have gone in four directions. Some of them have gone to Mitchelstown, some to Bally-clough, some to Charleville and some of them to the new group at Nenagh. I wish the new group at Nenagh success, but unless I am wrong they are anticipating an intake of about 20,000,000 gallons and that is very low; it is near the viability danger point. I very much regret that the only sensible organisation tactic which was ready to roll the machinery was actually at the docks in Cork, abandoned for sheer, stupid, political reasons and that the people who will pay the piper in the end are the milk producers, particularly in west Clare and also possibly some of those farmers in the smaller groups about whose survival I would be worried.

I shall conclude with this request:

I would ask the Member of the Government who will be replying to this debate to state in consideration of the undeniable destruction of the herds and flocks of this country, the undeniable depletion of farm incomes and the widening of the gap between farm incomes and others, whether the Government have any proposals of any description to offer our people. If they do not have any there is only one thing that we can ask them to do and that is: Let us try; we know how to do it.

I sat in for the last half hour of Deputy Gibbons's comments. A thought always comes to me when I listen, particularly to former Government Ministers, that if they were as wise when they were here as they are now it would be a great country. I suppose I cannot blame them, though I do, because I know when I was in the Opposition benches I had no experience of Government—for that I suppose I can be forgiven—I knew instant solutions to everything, at least in regard to most things discussed I knew much better how to do them than did the Minister and I had no hesitation in saying so. It was only when I came across here I found that very many of the things I suggested were not as easily solved as they appeared from the Opposition benches. As a backbencher for a long time perhaps I could be forgiven for not knowing. But I think ex-Ministers should be able to give an explanation of why they did not make better use of their time when they were here. However, apart from that, Deputy Gibbons's comments were interesting. At least he gave them as his views on certain things and afforded other people an opportunity to answer those views.

This debate allows an opportunity to deal with a number of matters. While it is an-end-of-term debate, if you like, some people will cover very wide fields and others will stick to their own. With the permission of the Chair, I will try to stick fairly closely to my own Department because local government is a very important part of the life of this country.

In financial terms the total of local government expenditure this year amounts to almost £368 million. The £125 million capital expenditure contained in that figure accounts for nearly 30 per cent of the public capital programme. In staffing terms local authorities are now the employers of something over 33,000. In political terms, some 1,500 elected representatives participate in the business of local government and their efforts are an indispensable preparation for and complement to politics at national level. Indeed, I should like to add there lest I be misunderstood that a large number of local authorities now discuss matters at local level completely clear of politics. On the election of their chairmen they are political. For the rest of the year they work hard to represent the people who elect them. This is the way it should be and I am glad to see it going along in this way. Occasionally a maverick comes in and he or she wants to say or do things which are not acceptable to the great majority. They are very soon found out not alone by their fellow councillors but by the public as well.

As far as the man in the street is concerned, local government is responsible for a wide range of basic services, the absence of which would seriously disrupt his ordinary living. As Minister, I have general responsibility for the working of the local government system. It would be a misunderstanding of what local government is about to imagine that my supervision extends directly to all that local authorities do. This is a mistake often made by individuals throughout the country. There is, for instance, the old lady who writes to me to say that the county council did not put in the window the way she wanted and she wants me to go along and have a look at it because she feels she should have it repaired. She is usually right, the local authority will have slipped up and she feels she should go directly to the top. These are things in which it is not possible for a Minister to interfere except, perhaps, to draw the attention of the local authority to the fact that they might have a look at it and see what should be done. My responsibility consists primarily in ensuring an effective framework in terms of policies, structures and laws for the activities of local authorities. In order to clarify this, it might be better to describe the relationship between any Minister for Local Government and local authorities as one of partnership. I depend on the commitment of local authorities to get things done. They depend on me for guidance and support as an intermediary with the central government. This is as it should be.

As regards the question of local government reorganisation, the discussion document I issued on this subject was not a blueprint aimed at liquidating local authorities but an exercise in consultation. The views on the discussion document submitted to me by local authorities have confirmed me in my commitment to retain all existing local authorities but, at the same time, achieve a more flexible situation where joint action between local authorities will be more easily realised than at present. We have an example of it between the three Dublin local authorities and, indeed, two Cork local authorities who, I understand, are now co-operating in a way they were not prepared to do previously. This is all to the good.

I should like to point out that the concept of local government reform is by no means confined to the issues mentioned in the discussion document. Many other policy decisions which I have implemented have had a revitalising effect on the local government system. For instance, the phased transfer of health and housing charges from the rates and the delegation to local authorities of several schemes previously administered centrally are all elements in a gradual but substantial reform of local government.

I suppose one of the important things as far as local government and their members are concerned, and to a certain extent, because of it, to this House, is the question of electoral matters. An effective electoral system is fundamental to democratic government. Since there seems to be from time to time a question mark as to what, if anything, has been done it would be only fair that I should recount briefly changes, perhaps small changes, which have been made but which I consider to be vitally important as far as the local government of this country is concerned. Although the previous Government had a referendum to find out if it was felt that votes should be given at age 18— and that referendum was carried by a big majority in favour of so doing— no action was taken by that Government to implement it. In fact, the next general election was fought on the over-21s when it could have been fought on the over-18s. The first Bill I brought before the House was the reduction of the voting age at local elections and the minimum age for membership of local authorities from 21 to 18 years. There was also the reduction of the voting age at elections of university members of the Seanad from 21 to 18. There was also the provision of a statutory procedure for questioning the results of a local election by petition in the Circuit Court because, believe it or not, although it had been found many years ago there was no way in which a decision could be questioned, no effort was made to remedy that position until I had it done after taking office. I removed the disqualification from membership of local authorities in the case of aliens, persons in Holy Orders, Ministers of religion and persons holding office under a local authority up to a certain point. It is an extraordinary thing to find that many people who, if they wanted to, could make a very good contribution to local affairs, were disqualified, for no apparent reason. Apparently, it was in an old British Act and, although the British themselves had removed it, we never got round to doing so.

I also increased the safeguards governing the secrecy of the ballot at local elections and improvements in procedures. I introduced a system of postal voting and, although it has been claimed by many that this was abused, and I am prepared to accept there was a certain amount of abuse, that does not mean we should drop the whole idea. I believe it is right that those who are entitled to vote and are genuinely unable to be present should, as far as possible, be facilitated and I propose to improve the situation so that the postal voting system will continue in such a way that there will be many more safeguards. I propose to introduce that system for general and presidential elections also.

Revision of local electoral areas in consultation with the local authority concerned with a view to achieving reasonable equality of representation on a population basis within each local authority: it is rather extraordinary that I had representations made to me by many local authorities and by individuals, by members of all political parties and people who were not in politics at all, and all of these representations were taken into consideration. One of the things I could not do was ensure an equal number of local representatives elected to represent a certain number in the population because, if I did that, one local authority would have about seven members and another would have about 80 and neither would be a local authority which could carry on reasonably. What I did, therefore, was to level off the number in each particular local authority so that the electoral area in each local authority would have as far as possible the same representation. I think this has worked reasonably well. For instance, in Clare I was attempting to make around Shannon a new local authority and I had representations from all the people in Clare who asked me not to do so and gave me good reasons for not doing it. I was amused later when one member of the deputation attacked me in the local paper explaining to his local cumann that he thought I was wrong not to leave the new Shannon electoral area there. That was quite a good act. Talk about riding two horses at the same time.

Where did he learn that tactic, I wonder?

It must have been in Cork. He had learned it anyway and it was very interesting. I had the revision then of Dáil constituencies with a view to increasing membership to the maximum permitted number of 148 to bring about equality of representation as required by the Constitution. I do not want to go into that long and acrimonious debate but I want to put on record the fact that the people will always elect those whom they want to elect and anyone who suggests you can put a government in or keep a government out by changing constituency boundaries is talking through his hat.

One of the things I am recognised for as Minister—it is something of which I am proud—is my association with housing. I have no hesitation in saying that in two-and-a-half years of Coalition Government the standard of housing has improved and the prospects for those seeking housing are better than they ever were. Shortly after I took office I was invited to open a number of housing schemes. This is something the contractor, the local authority and people generally like and I went around the country to a number of housing schemes. What used to annoy me most was the fact that, if the houses had been occupied for a short time, one invariably had to take out a notebook and go from house to house with the occupant waiting at the door with a list of complaints and asking me to look at all the things that were wrong. The houses had only recently been occupied.

As a result of this I decided to have a look at the system. Everybody was prepared to start off by blaming the contractor, then the local authority and then the architect and the last person they would think of blaming was the Minister. He was in the Custom House and he had not very much to do with housing in theory but, in fact, the whole trouble started in the Custom House because the houses were being built to a design approved by the Minister. The houses were designed by the architect. He designed what he was told to design and the contractor built what he was told to build. Possibly in some cases supervision might have been better than it was but, whatever it was, the houses were cheap and many were badly built. There were odd exceptions. There were some quite good houses but, in general, the majority were very bad and no credit to anybody and many a decent contractor lost his reputation because he was associated with the building of these houses. The NBA, as their name suggests, are merely an agency and they have no authority to change the designs and could not be held responsible for bad design, but they were blamed and they too got a very bad name indeed. I decided we would have to change this and we did change it. I said I would set up a housing programme to build houses that would stand four square with any grant aided house in the country and I am proud of the fact that this is the position now. Even Members of the Opposition whom I have met at various functions opening houses have agreed, and I think Deputy Fitzgerald would be the first to agree, that the houses being built now are fine houses.

I was going to ask the Minister where are the grant aided houses being built? It just does not seem to be happening any more.

I will come to them. One of the things I found amusing was that in the first six months I was here the Opposition did not say a word about houses. In the next two years they started to clamour about houses not being built and, coming towards the end of the first financial year, they found they had their noses out of joint and they stayed quiet for a couple of months. Then they started yelling again. The same thing happened in the second year. They are being wise this year and they do not say much. In fact, Deputy Fitzgerald's comment now is the first I have heard of houses not being built this year. The plain fact is that as against an average of 14,600 houses built in the last year in which the former Government were in office and with a total of 21,500 houses in that last year we have consistently built 25,365 and 26,630 and, this year, we will be up again over the 25,000 figure. For anybody in his sober senses to suggest——

There is a drop.

——that we are not building houses is just a lot of nonsense. He is talking through his hat. Deputy Fitzgerald says there is a drop.

On the Minister's own figures.

Acting Chairman

The Minister, without interruption.

Anyway we built 25,000 houses. Deputy Fitzgerald says there is a drop. There may be a drop on the previous year, but we are away over the best we thought we could do. We may come back to something closer to the target this year. Deputy Fitzgerald need not be too disappointed. We have in three years built over 76,000 houses and the best Fianna Fáil could do in any three years, not including their last year, was 42,000 or 43,000.

Might I ask the Minister——

No. I suggest the question can be asked later by Deputy Fitzgerald when he makes his own contribution. As far as housing is concerned, local authority houses are a credit to the Government, to the designers, to the local authorities and will be a joy to those who are living in them. But it did not start at that with regard to local authority houses. We found on taking office that the rent being paid by local authority tenants was a lot more than they should be asked to bear. Numerous people complained to me that they had to cut back on food in order to ensure they would be able to pay the rent. I felt it was about time something was done and something was done. The result was that the strike which was in progress was settled and we introduced a reasonable rent arrangement so that people who did not have much money paid a small amount and those with a good deal more paid more. This is an acceptable way to do it.

We also arranged a reasonable sales scheme which was availed of pretty widely. In my view the so called claw-back arrangement in that scheme is a fair proposal. The proposal was made to me by the National Association of Tenants Organisations and others. That claw-back means that one-third of the profit, the difference between the price the tenant pays for his house and the price he gets for it if he sells it within five years of purchase, goes to the local authority. Until a few years ago the tenant of a county council cottage in the country, under a law which I opposed but which was passed by the Fianna Fáil Government, if he sold his house and did not have the last instalment paid on it—irrespective of the number of years he was in occupation—had to pay one-third of the price back to the local authority. He was not given any remission for rates or grants. This being so I believe the Fianna Fáil Members who are condemning the decision taken about this claw-back do so with their tongue in their cheek.

At our annual conference I had occasion to refer to NBA houses and to Deputy Tunney. Deputy Tunney, a fairly decent Deputy who makes a great effort to put the facts before the public as he sees them, made a slight mistake when he made a reference to these houses before he checked to see if they were built under the previous administration or under mine. It transpired that they were part of the low cost deal arranged by the previous Government. It is true that they were built during my time as Minister and if we wanted to change those one-door houses the scheme would have been held up indefinitely and I was not prepared to do this. I was not aware that the one-door houses were being erected but if I was aware it would have been unfair to hold the scheme up. It is proposed now to put a second door in these houses. They were some of the reasonably good houses built under that arrangement. Deputy Tunney felt I was having a go at him but I was just pointing out that he should have checked his facts before he mentioned them. Had he done so it is possible he would not have mentioned them at all.

The question of SDA loans has been mentioned often in this House. I was asked to consider whether a person with an income higher than £2,350 should qualify for a higher amount. I have an open mind on this but there are two issues which must affect this. Firstly, at the income limit in operation more people are applying for SDA loans than there is money available for them. Secondly, I should like to point out that if the amount which is given, £4,500, was not useful there would not be so many applicants for those loans. While I would like to see a higher sum being made available, as long as there are more people seeking loans than there is money to give we are entitled to keep it at the level it is. The question of the shortage of money, which we all know about, is bound to have an effect on the position. Even if it was considered too little there would be a good reason for not jumping the amount available.

There is a third issue involved. I find it odd that some local authorities who under the regulation refused a loan to somebody anxious to build his own house because his income is more than £2,350 would put the same person on the housing list and build a local authority house for him. There is something peculiar about that.

Why can the Minister not see his way to increase that limit?

I have just given the reasons. I would prefer if the Deputy would make his case later. I would be prepared to consider an arrangement which would help those on the housing list, irrespective of their income, to build their own houses, I am sure Deputy Fitzgerald and his colleagues would not be opposed to that. It is not as easy as it looks but it may be possible to help such people. I cannot understand how somebody with £100 per week going into their house can qualify for a local authority dwelling while a person with more than £47.50 per week cannot qualify for a loan to build his own house.

It is in the Minister's hands and he has power to deal with this matter.

I will consider this matter further and if it comes before the House I do not want Deputy Fitzgerald or others suggesting I do something else.

If the scheme is satisfactory I will not shoot it down.

The SDA loans are helping to produce a big number of houses. The building societies are also making a big contribution. It is expected that this year the societies will loan in the region of £60 million while the banks have agreed to put up, over a two-year period, £40 million. I understand a lot of the first £20 million has been bespoke but the amount they have paid out so far is not very big, about £5 million. In addition the insurance companies have come back in a big way in financing house building and I hope this will continue. In spite of the shouts up to a couple of months ago that we had no money for housing the houses are being built, are being bought and paid for. The fact that the necessary money is being made available for this means that building should continue at a fairly high level.

Anybody who would hazard a guess as to what is likely to happen in 1976 in regard to housing would be brave. My guess is that in spite of all the tightening of the belt we should be able to produce something close to our target of 25,000 in 1976. In spite of redundancies, and the number of people unemployed and on short time, there appears to be a considerable amount of money around. Investment in housing is perhaps the best way to hold on to the value of money.

I have had inquiries about allowing the societies to increase their interest rates. Building society interest rates are still much lower than bank or other rates, and SDA rates are even lower. While I have great sympathy with people who purchased houses with loans they got a few years ago from building societies and now find themselves paying new higher rates, at the same time the value of their properties has increased and their incomes have increased substantially. Some of them have even told me they are in a much better position to pay now.

Of course sympathy is of very little use to them, and I should like to assist them if I were able to do so. Take people in Dublin city and country who were not able to get SDA loans during the period of office of the last Government. The result was that the local authorities guaranteed them to building societies and they borrowed money. They were people on very low incomes who could easily have qualified for SDA loans and they now find themselves in dire straits. I should very much like to assist them but it is not easy to pick out a particular group and say "You are special cases, we will deal with you".

With regard to housing generally, we have built more than 25,000. Even in the year I took over, the outgoing Administration had plans for providing only 1,500 the following year when the need was for 30,000 houses. I got a special programme going of 10,000 over a five-year period with the co-operation of the National Building Agency. This supplemented local authority housing which in itself has increased enormously. The best Fianna Fáil could do with regard to local authority houses was an average of 4,800 per year. Up to 31st March last we built 7,331 local authority houses.

We got some kind of circular lately about not purchasing any more land.

The Deputy would agree if I said local authorities have a good deal of land on hands for sites and it therefore appears to be a foolish thing to invest the money they had for building houses in buying more land, leaving them without money to build houses. Local authorities could buy the whole side of a county and then not be able to build houses. Some local authorities were becoming ranchers rather than housing authorities, and I suggested to them that a better idea would be for them to have a reasonable land bank and to build houses on it rather than have all their money tied up in land. They were becoming nearly as bad as the speculators around this city who bought far more land than they were able to dispose of at the type of money they thought they would get and got into serious difficulties.

There is no doubt about it.

The position about private housing in the year ended 31st March last was that more than 19,000 were completed, compared with an average of 10,800 up to 31st March, 1973. It is only right that I should put that on record in juxtaposition with local authority housing. Deputy Fitzgerald asked where the houses were being built, and I refer him to the Department's Quarterly Bulletin up to 30th September, 1975——

I did not say anything about local authority houses. I asked about the grants.

In the 12 months the number built by Cork County Council was 200. I am surprised Deputy Fitzgerald should ask about local authority housing. Local authority houses are every damn bit as good as any others.

No doubt about it.

Capital for local authority loan schemes has been increased from £9.9 million to £46.5 million this year. One can talk about inflation or anything else, but that is definite evidence of the desire of the Coalition Government to keep housing going. I am sure all would agree that we are doing what we said we would. Deputy Fitzgerald wants to know about private housing. In the nine months he referred to, 1,228 houses were built in Cork as against 1,079 in the 12 months of 1972-73, not a bad show at all, not a bad sign that the people of Cork appreciate a good Government as well as anybody else.

They will decide that when the time comes.

We will be happy to accept their support and we know we will get it. In regard to building societies, a Bill has been moved in the Seanad and has been circulated. It is 103 years since the last such Bill was passed, and this one will modernise the whole code. Perhaps some people will not like what is in it, but reasonable people will agree that the Building Societies Bill will do a good job to ensure that such societies will operate in a much better way in the future.

I shall go from housing to sanitary services, water and sewerage. Houses could not be built in a vacuum, and the outstanding achievement of our first two years was the provision of 52,000 new dwellings, and this has meant that investment in other things like sewerage, water, schools, has had to be increased dramatically. I am not very happy about what happened in the last 20 or 30 years in regard to the provision of sanitary services. We appeared never to have had enough money for them, and it appears to me that the previous Government did not appreciate the serious situation in this regard when they were giving a mere £5.8 million in 1972-73. Spread all over the country, this was of very little use. The amount of capital provided in 1975 for the financing of such schemes by local authorities has been £16.73 million. I am sorry, the figure for 1972-73 was £8.23 million.

I imagine that if proper attention had been given to these services over the years we would now be in a much better position. I am appalled at not alone villages but sizeable towns where it was considered that the proper way to dispose of sewage effluent was into the nearest rivers. Some of them are still doing it, but in the next few years, because of finances, it will not be possible to remedy this altogether. It is too bad that we should be in this position. While I am prepared to take my share of the blame in that I am not able to get as much money as I would like, a major part of the blame must rest with those people who for so many years made practically nothing available for water and sewerage schemes apart from an allocation here or there for one or two big schemes.

Is the Minister not lucky that we got him into Europe?

So far Europe has not given us very much under this heading. Sixteen years ago Fianna Fáil in office did not dream of Europe but despite the fact that they could not have expected anything from that source, they made no effort to find the necessary money from their own resources for these schemes. This was a bad mistake. In the intervening period there was a Coalition Government and they could at least have made a start as we have done in an effort to ensure that we build up a reasonable amount of money.

We hear much about conservation and about the pollution of some rivers and lakes. It will take many years to rectify the damage that has been done in this sphere because of lack of money for sanitary services but unless we are able to rectify the damage, we will not be able to beat pollution.

I am aware that a good road system is vital to our economic and social development because without good roads it is not possible to move passengers and goods within the country. Some years ago when the previous Government closed down the railways they promised in many cases to replace them with a good road system. However, they did not fulfil that promise and the result is that many thousand tons of goods are being carried daily on the roads which should be carried on a rail system.

Since this Government took office there has been a considerable increase in the road funds both from central and local resources, for example, in 1973-74 the grants increased to £18.9 million compared with £14.4 million in the previous year. In the nine-month period for 1974 the grants were increased further to £21 million and have been maintained at this level for the current year. The total expenditure on roads this year will be more than £40 million compared with £26 million a couple of years ago. When determining the level of the road fund grant for the coming year my primary objective was to ensure that the large capital investment in roads is protected fully and to ensure also that as far as possible employment is not affected adversely. Accordingly, I have provided for substantial increases in the grants for maintenance works and have directed the road authority that priority should be given whereever possible to labour-intensive schemes. In the interest of safety and traffic I have retained a reasonable balance of grant allocation as between rural and urban roads and have made available a number of special grants towards the provision of relief roads and other works in specific towns. Also, I have increased substantially the block grants for the improvement of roads in the smaller urban areas and have made provision for a programme of large-scale bridge works.

Until this Government took office there was in operation a system whereby national primary roads got 100 per cent both for construction and maintenance, while national secondary roads got 100 per cent for construction and 50 per cent for maintenance and the county roads were separate. I have allotted 100 per cent in respect of maintenance of national and secondary roads and have given a block grant which the local authorities are entitled to use where they think it is needed most. I am considering seriously the question of whether it would not be possible for a limited period—a year or two—to divert some of the construction money for national primary and secondary roads to county roads because—and in this regard a number of county engineers with whom I have discussed this matter agreed with me —in many cases there are heavily-trafficked county roads which, by reason of there not being enough money available to carry out the necessary work, are in a very bad condition. This is a matter which must be given serious consideration. Investment in this sort of work would yield big dividends as well as guaranteeing much more employment. I am not and never have been in favour of a local authority employing four or five huge machines to do work which might be done in a relatively short time—but, perhaps, twice the time the machines would take—with a large volume of manpower. That is why I think this type of effort is worth considering and I hope to have more to say about it early in the New Year.

The question of environment and planning is raised frequently. In this area we seem to have more experts than has any other country. I would remind the House that a planning Bill has been before the House for a very long time.

On introducing the Second Reading of this Bill I said that I would be prepared to consider any reasonable amendment tabled by any Member of the House.

Down the country one hears many other reasons for the delay.

I am glad to say that I was taken up on that by a number of Deputies and that about 100 amendments have come in. I could follow the example of some of my predecessors and say simply that I am not prepared to accept these amendments and could bulldoze the Bill through the House but I did not do that. We have discussed each amendment in detail and I hope early in the New Year to have the Bill before the Seanad where I am sure it will be given a speedy passage. There is no point in talking about the length of time the Bill has taken if we do not understand the reasons for the delay. A Bill of this kind should not be taken for an hour or so one day as a fill-in. It must be debated fully.

What riles me more than anything else is the practice of some people who, on seeing, say, a four-line notice in an evening paper regarding a planning decision but knowing nothing about the subject, write a long letter, usually toThe Irish Times, giving their opinion as to why a decision was right or wrong and, more often than not it is wrong in their opinion. Some of these people have written articles on the subject of planning decisions and, consequently, have made money from their efforts but they are so busy doing this that they have not time to ascertain the details of what was involved or even to read the conditions under which the planning permission was given. This is bad enough in so far as private houses are concerned but it is simply not good enough in respect of industry. Some people recently have talked of being threatened because of their support for an industry which was almost chased out of the country. When one considers the unemployment situation one realises how wrong it is for somebody to talk of taking a case against me in the High Court in relation to a decision. The threat is not directed at me personally but is made in order to frighten the industrialist concerned and to prevent him from setting up here.

The quicker we get this new Planning Bill, a Bill that will deal in a reasonable way with most matters such as these, the better for all concerned. Anybody is entitled to make representations in regard to any planning application but it is entirely wrong that somebody should wait until a decision is given before producing what he considers to be evidence in support of his criticism of the decision. Destructive criticism is something we have too much of. This city in particular is full of "knockers". I have no objection to people making a genuine case for or against planning but I object to those who, after the decision is given, endeavour to belittle the efforts of those who have gone to so much trouble.

There are experts in my Department and they will report to me before the decision is given. In many cases my experts may be the first to go to the trouble of looking at it—it may not have been looked at before that. So far as I am concerned, any planning decision given is granted on the merits of the case and I am prepared to stand over it.

Debate adjourned.