asked the Taoiseach whether it is his intention to make a case for special concessions to threatened sectors of the Irish economy during the economic discussion at the forthcoming summit meeting of EEC heads of state.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - EEC Summit Meeting.
It would not be in accordance with normal practice to indicate in advance what I may say on any particular item of the agenda of the European Council.
Whilst I accept that this practice should be adhered to, would the Taoiseach agree that it is not a secret that the Irish economy faces very great difficulties and the latest unemployment figures show 28,000 more people unemployed than at this time last year? In these circumstances would the Taoiseach indicate whether at the next meeting or the following one he proposes to avail of any EEC aid to industries such as footwear and textiles which are seriously threatened?
The situation the Deputy mentions is common to every country in the EEC at present. Unemployment is at an all-time high throughout the Community and I expect that the present state of the economies of the member states will be a matter of very great importance and urgency at the Council.
Has the Taoiseach given any consideration to the suggestion I made recently during the debate on the motion of no confidence in the Government's economic policies about the possible introduction of import levies under EEC rules arising from our balance of payments difficulties, which under normal conditions would yield a balance of payments deficit of about £1,000 million if the economy were making any headway? Such levies would give incidental relief to Irish industries.
No, I do not think that would be an appropriate measure at present. I do not think the balance of payments position would justify resort to those procedures.
Would the Taoiseach not agree that the present balance of payments situation is abnormally favourable with a 7 per cent drop in the volume of imports and that under normal conditions, even if there were no growth in imports, the balance of payments deficit would be nearer to £1,000 million? Would the Taoiseach not agree that the level of our balance of payments in relation to our GNP is out of proportion to that of any other member state in the Community and, if I recall correctly is much worse than that of Italy when that country imposed levies?
It is serious enough when the Deputy casts gloom and doom on the basis of facts but he is now resorting to talking about what the balance of payments situation might have been. Neither we nor the Commission can deal with the balance of payments situation which exists only in the head of the Leader of the Opposition. Our balance of payments situation is much more favourable than we had anticipated at the beginning of the year and it is not correct for Deputy FitzGerald to say that this is due entirely to a falling off in imports.
Whilst I accept that the recession is a worldwide phenomenon, would the Taoiseach agree that no member state of the Community has more young people than this country and the latest unemployment figures show that young people make up a major proportion of the unemployed? In these exceptional circumstances, facing difficulties on the political front in the North and having a large number of young people in this State, would the Taoiseach agree that a strong case could be made to our partners in the EEC for special aid? We will have 140,000 unemployed this winter.
We will avail of any possible measure of assistance that is open to us. I must point out that the rise in our unemployment figures, regrettable though it may be, is much less than the corresponding rise in most other member states.
From a higher base.
It is at a record level in the post-war period.
The number of unemployed in the Six Counties will very shortly be almost the same as our own, even though they have only half our population. Having said that, the level of unemployment and the depth of the economic recession throughout the Community is something which must be addressed by the forthcoming Council.
A final question.
Am I to understand from the Taoiseach's reply that the Government were planning at the beginning of this year on the selling off of our breeding stock and on the 7 per cent drop in imports? I doubt very much that this was the case. The present state of our balance of payments arises from the collapse of our economy during the past six months.
The Deputy is not correct in his analysis of the developments in our balance of payments situation. The balance of payments has been adversely affected by developments on the imports side, in particular by our having to pay out an extra £250 million this year for oil. Despite that, the balance of payments deficit has come down to a level which is lower than we had anticipated. That has been brought about to a considerable extent by an increase in exports.
(Cavan-Monaghan): The Government have been selling the national herd.
The Taoiseach is losing credibility by the minute.