In my short time in politics I have not seen a Finance Bill introduced in a time of greater economic uncertainty. I can go back four or five years and I think this Finance Bill is before us at a time of the greatest instability. Therefore, in the next few minutes I will try to pinpoint why this great uncertainty exists.
Everywhere you go these days, it does not matter which sphere or profession you are in, you meet uncertainty. The people seem to have their own expert views on why this should be. They blame inflation, crippling interest rates and a spiralling unemployment rate. We also have grave worker dissatisfaction. It seems to me there is great sectional bitterness. Particularly in the past two years, it has appeared that sectional interests are getting greedier by the hour. Factories are being closed at an unprecedented rate and we have the farming community, including agricultural workers, virtually on their knees because of crippling repayments and low incomes.
It is against that uncertain background that we are discussing the Finance Bill. What relevance has this Bill to the problems I have outlined? Can we say this Bill will bring any hope, joy or comfort to an unemployed father of a large family, to a farmer who has over-borrowed, to a hard-pressed PAYE worker, to the mother of a young family or to the thousands of young people taking their leaving certificates? Can we say the Finance Bill will bring a glow of joy to local authorities because they will get more money into the coffers? Will this Finance Bill solve the financial problems, or go part of the way to doing so, of local authorities in any part of the country, bar one in a certain part of Dublin?
One cannot say, having seen the budget or the Finance Bill, that local authorities will be able to build more or better roads, that group water schemes will be initiated or even that council employees can look forward to a full year of employment. Most important of all, will this Bill give people the will to work, a most important factor in social recovery anywhere? Will it give back to Irish people their reputation for giving an honest day's work for an honest day's pay? Will it create a genuine redistribution of wealth between the haves and the have nots? Will this Finance Bill change the social welfare system whereby a man who works for three days a week and draws the dole for the remainder of the week is far better off in the end than the man who works a full week? We know, listening to Deputy Brady a few moments ago and other speakers over the last few months on all sides of the House, that this particular thing is wrong. We have the problem pinpointed but we do not seem to be able to tackle it. The man who has to go out to work for five or six days a week cannot be too happy with his neighbour who has more money at the end of the week for doing half as much work. Would it not be the normal thing for the Government of the day to ensure that this loophole is closed? We seem, for some strange reason to shy away from this problem. The previous Government tried to close that loophole, but we know the result of the election. It appeared in the run-up to the general election that Fianna Fáil would drop the particular provision we had. If we are serious about the recovery of our economy it is points like that that should be acted on.
I believe the Finance Bill we are discussing will not give the type of commitment, comfort and future we would like. I vividly remember, on the night the previous Dáil was dissolved, that the Taoiseach, who was then Leader of the Opposition, told the nation he was prepared to lead a Government who would be a strong Government, that they would go ahead with the policies which are necessary to steer the nation away from national bankruptcy. I remember on that occasion and in the following weeks there was a lot of talk about the budget deficit and that, basically, the intention of the then Leader of the Opposition was to ensure there was no slippage from the type of deficit the Coalition Government were budgeting for. Fianna Fáil proposed to restore credibility to politics, industry, agriculture and tourism.
It is difficult at the best of times to do this type of thing. I want to place it on the record that I do not believe it is something which can be done by anyone overnight. It is important to make a genuine start in the right direction. However, the Government, with the budget and the Finance Bill we are now discussing, have done exactly what the last Fianna Fáil Government did as well. It appears to me that it is popularity at all costs and the acid test appears to be that it is not exactly what is done but what is seen to be done that counts, so long as whatever measures being brought in are greeted in a popular way. Every sensible person in the country knows that it is the Government's job to legislate for the common good and that this can be introduced by checks and balances that are deemed necessary at the time.
I do not believe there is any sense of balance in the Finance Bill as there was not in the previous Fianna Fáil Administration. I assumed the Government would hold the line on the budget deficit. It was evident in the television chat shows leading up to the election that this was something both Administrations had almost in common with each other. It appeared that a certain level of deficit for the 1982-83 period was justifiable and anything above that would not be in the national interest. I believed at the time that the then Leader of the Opposition and his party would have stuck to that line. However, it was not until the Finance Bill was published that the same old story was seen to be on the rounds again. Fianna Fáil gave a commitment to the electorate that they would carry out certain things which were absolutely necessary.
When the PRSI contributions were increased there was naturally an outcry from a lot of people who were finding it very difficult to live. The answer Fianna Fáil had, within a few days of any type of opposition to this on the street, was a £45 million subsidy against this cost. That brought relief to a lot of people but it did not answer the question where we will get the money from. I have listened attentively to a number of speakers on this Bill and during the budget debate but I am unaware of where that £45 million will come from. Where will it be levied? Will we borrow that again? This is the question a lot of people in the Dublin West constituency answered in a very positive way. Most of them were net beneficiaries under the £45 million. Anybody who gets relief will be thankful for it, but it is true to say that people realise we are in a very bad financial mess and, no matter what Government are in power, if they decide to give relief they must be absolutely clear and spell out for the electorate where they will get the money.
It appears that the philosophy of this Government, as was the case with the previous Fianna Fáil Government, is to plan one thing and execute another. This is very dangerous because at best it can be seen as a cynical exercise. Look at the Gregory deal. This was something on which the Taoiseach and a few of his supporters spent weeks pleading and playing a cat and mouse game with an Independent Deputy up and down the backstreets of Dublin until finally a certain deal was made. As far as the inner city of Dublin is concerned I am sure that any money spent on it is money well spent. I accept that it is past time something was done about it.
I was a member of a deputation from Galway County Council, who have very serious problems with finance, and we were told that there was nothing that could alleviate our problems. It appears, whether one is a Fianna Fáil TD or a Fine Gael TD, that the Government's distribution of the resources is not fair because we are not getting our share of the cake. I assume most of the other 27 county councils in Ireland are thinking on the same lines. I believe that makes for poor government. It certainly makes a very bad headline. I cannot understand in a party like the Government party, who have always boasted they have a crosssection of people in their party, how that would be allowed to happen because you cannot decide, for one reason or another, to pump the entire resources of a year into one area. It is very important that the redistribution of the resources should equalise the imbalance that is obvious because of this Bill. Deputy Brady mentioned the importance of paying ioans to single people. I agree with that. I never believed that this should have been withdrawn by the previous Government and I said so publicly on a number of occasions. However, now that single people are entitled to loans, the money is running out. In the county council with which I deal, if applications are to be met in a reasonable way we will have many problems before the end of the year. I would have thought that if we change the structures whereby single people were entitled to local authority loans, the necessary, vital and important aspect would be to match it with extra finance.
Contributory and non-contributory old age pensioners over the age of 66 will now automatically qualify for medical cards. This is to be welcomed, but as far as I am aware, only £2 million have been allocated for it. This means there will be a huge shortfall at the end of the year in so far as this matter is concerned.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Finance Bill was the decision by the Government to impose VAT at the point of importation of goods. People involved in industry say this is the most severe measure which has been introduced for a long time. The tragedy is that it is hitting our importers and industralists on a very wide range of products. By virtue of the fact that we are getting this VAT six months earlier than we would normally the Government will collect additional revenue as planned. You do not have to be an expert to know that when the first six months period is up, VAT will only come into the same degree and at the same speed as it would normally come. This should be spelled out in great detail. The VAT on point of importation will be paid only once. We brought forward a colossal sum of money on the basis that it would be forthcoming all the time. It will not. It is directly related to the amount of imports at all times but this year we are getting it six to 12 months earlier. What will we do next year? Will we have to borrow it? When we try to balance our books there will be a huge shortfall. I hoped that this type of under-the-counter accountancy would not have been brought into Government. I firmly believed that a genuine attempt would be made to cure our economic ills. Much had been made of some of the provisions of the Coalition Government and there was a hue and cry about VAT on footwear and clothes. No one would like to pay that but who knows over the next six months what every citizen will be asked to pay? If there is a dramatic slippage in the budget deficit — and some people say we have come to it already — when the books are calculated at the end of the year we might be facing the same problems we faced 12 months ago. We will then have nothing to fall back on and that is why I have grave misgivings about this Bill. It has not, cannot and will not solve the problems.
If we look at agriculture, one sees that the Government have divorced themselves from the problems that have beset our farmers. No other section of the community suffered as much in the last three years. Their incomes halved but, unfortunately, many farmers borrowed very heavily and found they had not enough money to live on if they were to honour their commitments and repayments to the ACC and the banks. It was accepted that something would have to be done and Deputy Dukes and Deputy D'Arcy spent long hours trying to negotiate a deal whereby a rescue package would be put together to help farmers. They met with opposition and I assume the present Minister is also meeting opposition. This was really a three-concerned contest between the Government, the Department of Agriculture and the banks. Everybody came out well from the deal except the farmers. When the rescue package was finally announced it appeared that the banks won the day and that their interests were very well protected. I am very disappointed at the progress which has been made by all the rescue agencies in so far as they relate to agriculture.
The House should note the interest subsidies schemes that are being currently implemented. If this subsidy is not given quickly to farmers, at the end of the year the 5 per cent national interest subsidy will be of little use to anybody. I cannot understand why farmers will not benefit from this immediately. I understand that there are very stringent qualifications——