Adjournment of Dáil: Motion (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Dáil Éireann at its rising on 16th December, 1988, do adjourn for the Christmas Recess.

The actions and policies of this Government have contributed to a worsening of a whole range of social problems. In the short 15 minutes at my disposal I intend to concentrate on the health services. I am very glad indeed that the Minister for Health is in the House. I hope he will stay for the contribution, because it is important that he would realise what exactly is happening in the health services, responsibility for which has been given to him by the Irish people.

I begin, however, by digressing for a moment and I make no apology for being parochial. I shall start by talking about my own constituency and my own county of Wexford. Wexford has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the State. Long regarded as a model county in that we had a base of industrial employment, it never was a county regarded as being vulnerable to mass unemployment. Unfortunately, that reality has now dawned on us. Our industrial base is one of the lowest in south Leinster

Over the last two or three years, Wexford has been totally ignored for industrial development and blow upon blow has fallen on this county. What I want to speak about in particular is the latest bombshell announced this morning in the constituency of Wexford by Teagasc, the new body charged by Dáil Éireann with administering the services formerly provided by an Foras Talúntais and ACOT. The bombshell for Wexford this morning is that the agricultural research station in Johnstown Castle, just outside Wexford, which employs 121 people is to have its budget cut by a full £1 million next year from just under £2½ million this year. Needless to say, the staff at Johnstown Castle are reeling at the prospect of a service, built up over many decades and which has served to develop agriculture in this country, being so cruelly treated. The result of that £1 million cut is that 60 jobs are to go. On top of that Teagasc have announced that there will be a further cut of £500,000 in 1990, virtually closing the facility, one of the country's finest. I regard this announcement and action as an outrageous betrayal of Wexford, an indictment of Fianna Fáil in Government and in particular of the three Fianna Fáil Oireachtas Members for County Wexford who sit in these Houses. Other areas have gone virtually unscathed but, obviously, the political clout from County Wexford on the Fianna Fáil benches could not be heard although I understand that frantic efforts were made late last night to try to avert the cuts.

The impact of this £1 million robbery from the economy of Wexford will be horrendous. TheProgramme for National Recovery indicates that there will be no compulsory redundancy so perhaps the Minister for the Environment — who is in the House — will indicate what future the Government envisage for Johnstown Castle, its lands and employees, who have given valuable service to the State throughout the decades.

The local authority cutbacks are the responsibility of Minister Flynn and Wexford have suffered cutbacks of 30 per cent in rate support grants since this administration came to office. We are now going back to the housing waiting lists of the early seventies. With the exception of some small housing schemes in Gorey, no other houses are being built in County Wexford where there are also three urban authorities as well as the county council.

I cannot focus on the health issue without reaffirming what my colleague, Deputy Desmond, said this morning, that the Government and the entire Right wing consensus have failed the people. The undeniable evidence of major increases in the real level of poverty under this Government is the monument to the so-called national recovery which the Taoiseach mentioned in his speech. Within the last two weeks, the crisis in the health services has become a good deal worse. The Minister for Health — who, unfortunately, has left the Chamber — announced the bad news at private meetings with the management of the health boards and the management of voluntary hospitals. None of these meetings has been accompanied by any statements from the Minister who would infinitely prefer that the bad news would not be known or that it would be announced by the health boards or the voluntary hospitals themselves. That would enable him to wash his hands of the problem and to claim, when the layoffs, cutbacks and reduced services are announced, that it was a local problem and not something he or his Government has caused. I am proud of the fact that the Labour Party thwarted the Minister's Pontius Pilate act.

We have been endeavouring, through parliamentary questions and other tactics, to expose the intentions of the Government in relation to the health services and have been effective in doing so. I want to repeat the statements I have issued in the last two days because they convey an accurate picture of the future of the health services unless Fianna Fáil are forced to change direction. I welcome the Minister's comments. At least he is listening to me and has checked with St. Vincent's Hospital. Every word I uttered here on the Thursday before the patient was admitted was a reflection of the information given to me by the ward sister in question. I am glad that the patient has been taken care of. Unfortunately, it is not possible for me to raise each individual catastrophe on the floor of the House although I would if I could. Perhaps then the Minister might seek to address individual problems. Before I came into the Chamber today I was speaking to a man who tried to be admitted to the Adelaide hospital last night. He had another tale of woe but I will not go into it because I do not have time. He is one of hundreds of patients who, in desperation, are contacting me and other politicians to see if we can get them into hospital. Maybe, by raising the scandals one by one in the House, we can force an uncaring and hard-hearted administration to address the realities of a collapsing health service.

On 14 December last I issued the following statement:

The Minister for Health has written to each health board to tell them that the Government have decided that charges will be introduced to achieve increased income of £8 million nationally. The Department will be in contact with you in the near future in regard to these charges.

I went on the say that the Labour Party believed that any new charges would be a general election issue. The existing health charges, iniquitous as they are, raised some £9 million and it will not be possible to double the amount of revenue without doubling the charges. We do not yet know the Minister's intention but the damaging phrase is that £8 million is to be raised and that the Department will notify health boards what those charges will mean.

There are several options open to the Minister. At present there is an out-patient charge of £10 and an in-patient fee of £10. Does the Minister intend to increase them or are new charges envisaged? Perhaps there will be charges for prescriptions, something once mooted by Fine Gael. There have been no attempts to deny the assertions in the statement that the Government have already taken a decision to raise a sum of £8 million by way of new and increased charges. Indeed they have confirmed officially that new charges are under consideration.

I was amazed to discover that the spokesperson for the largest Opposition party, as reported in theIrish Independent, on the same day gave a cautious welcome to the prospect of these charges. This is a new departure for Fine Gael. They have always advocated prescription charges, even to the extent of including them in the abortive 1987 budget. However, in the past they advocated them as a substitute rather than in addition to in-patient and out-patient charges.

We are being realistic.

The revelation that they are now in favour of charges across the board will, no doubt, come as a shock to their many supporters, especially those who heard the party Leader at their latest Ard-Fheis say that they are the party of the just society, a phrase repeated this afternoon by their spokesman on Health. If that is their concept of a just society, God help us.

Fine Gael now argue that charges are preferable to cuts in services. How will they react to the latest round of cuts in services as well? Again, these might not have come to light but for the Labour Party. We issued a statement indicating the real cuts in the allocation to the voluntary hospitals. They are listed in front of me but, unfortunately, I do not have time to go through them in detail. A savage system of cuts operates in all the voluntary hospitals and it is particularly disgraceful that there are cuts of 7.5 per cent for cancer care in St. Anne's, St. Luke's and Hume Street hospitals. Surely even the most complacent of opposition parties can now see that there is a national crisis in the health services. Coming on top of the cuts already announced to the health boards and the imminence of new charges this latest round of cuts is simply unsustainable.

Within the last two weeks a new organisation was launched. It is non-political and composed of people who are increasingly frightened at what is happening. They are the parents of mentally handicapped people and are conscious of ever increasing squeezes on the services available to their children. I use the word "children" advisedly although an increasing number of mentally handicapped people are adults. They are the children of often ageing or unwell parents and the reason the parents are frightened is that they are unable to cope in many cases. They are also afraid that after their death nobody will make provision for their children. They are seeing at first hand a crisis of which the rest of us can only be dimly aware. They are sceptical in the extreme of the concept of community care. To them it means they must look after their own problems. They treat with cynicism the promises, often repeated by the Minister for Health, that there will be residential places for all who want them. This simply is not true. There are more than 2,000 residential places needed immediately and there is no planning to make sure they are provided. In the Dublin area alone this has given rise to human tragedy on a huge scale.

I know of one family with a five year old child who is quadraplegic, spastic and severely brain damaged suffering from epileptic fits and stomach ulcers. The family have not had an unbroken night's sleep for any of those five years and yet, incredibly, they are unable to secure a residential place with round the clock care for their child. I could bring Members of this House to a flat in Ballymun where three young mentally handicapped adults live alone. Their only visitor is a friend who cashes the DMPA cheques and makes sure they are fed at least once a day. I could introduce Members to a woman who has nine mentally handicapped children. This woman has lived close to the end of her tether for all the years she has been married. Incredible all those children are dependent on her and no one else for all their needs.

The health services are falling apart. The Minister is determined to continue on the track that offers nothing but more hardship and despair for all those who are dependent on a public comprehensive health service. I plead with the Minister and this Administration to change course before the hidden Ireland, to which Deputy Barry Desmond referred, is a reality for an increasing number of our people.

The present debate gives the House an opportunity to review the work of the Government and its performance over the past 12 months. What a good record this minority Government have attained. It is a proud record, let me give some instances: annual average inflation is 2.1 per cent, the lowest figure since 1960 and well below the EC average; the mortgage rate is at its lowest level for almost 20 years; there is a balance of payments surplus; record exports are being achieved; significant improvements have been made in the nation's finances; progress has been made on income tax reform; the commitment to social equity and to those who are less well off in our society has been honoured, and confidence is restored.

The last item, perhaps, is the most important. When we took office there was depression all around. We grasped the nettle and took the decisive steps to restore confidence and pride in ourselves and in the country. Hard decisions had to be made but we were not afraid to make them. We want to stimulate and encourage economic growth, investment and employment in every possible sector of productive activity. The Government's two budgets and theirProgramme for National Recovery have demonstrated that we mean business. The action taken to improve the public finances is a clear signal to all that the Government are serious in their intent. There is acceptance now that we are on the right course. We aim to continue the good progress already made towards achieving a stabilisation of the debt-GNP ratio so that the country will be ready for the new horizons emerging as 1992 approaches.

Progress has been made in many areas. Because of the limited time avaialble I will concentrate on two areas, namely, action taken to provide the basis for increased investment and growth in the construction industry and for better environmental conditions throughout the country.

Nineteen eighty-eight has, I believe, seen the end of a long and very difficult period for the construction industry. The continuous decline since 1981 has been halted and the industry is now looking forward to an increase in overall output in 1989.

The recovery in the construction industry is due to the upturn in the economy which stems from the confidence created by the success of the Government's economic policies. The Government's effective management of the economy has brought about a situation where mortgage interest rates are at a 20 year low and are over four percentage points below the UK rates. THis has restored confidence and helped to promote private investment in the economy in general and particularly in the construction industry. The first signs of recovery were seen in the industrial, commercial and retail sectors of the industry, all of which are key indicators of progress. These sectors are continuing to grow and, along with the private housing sector, will form the basis of the industry's increase in output in 1989.

The recovery in the construction industry has been aided by a number of important and specific measures taken by the Government to encourage private investment in the industry. I refer in particular to the section 23 incentives for rented dwellings and the incentives for the Custom House Docks development area. The incentives for the designated areas which have been extended to 14 urban centres throughout the country—including Tallaght which I designated last month — will enhance the social and economic status of these centres and will give added impetus to construction activity.

The completion of the EC Internal Market by 1992 represents both a great opportunity and a major challenge for the construction industry. The competitiveness within the industry and the upturn in the economy put our manufacturers, contractors and professionals in a strong position to meet the challenges and to exploit the opportunities of the Single Market. The need for awareness and preparation was brought home to the industry at three recent seminars which I hosted in Dublin, Cork and Galway. These seminars formed part of the Government's national campaign and the attendance and lively debate reassured me of the industry's interest and positive approach to the Internal Market.

The tenant purchase scheme which I introduced for this year only is proving extremely popular with tenants and a record number of applications have been received. The success of this scheme will not only enable many tenants to become home owners but it will also have a significant impact in improving community spirit and effecting greater upkeep of houses and estates by the residents. The closing date for receipt of applications is 31 December 1988. Any application received on or before that date will be processed under the scheme even though the sale price may not have been notified to the tenant or other sale formalities completed. I would again emphasise the importance of getting applications in on time. I am sure authorities will bear in mind that the closing date falls in a holiday period with interruption of postal delivery and that they will act reasonably in applying the closing date for receipt of applications.

During the year a comprehensive programme of practical measures was introduced, continued or developed by me which ensured that substantial progress was made in reducing the many threats to the environment.

Under my chairmanship, a Cabinet committee developed a comprehensive programme of measures to combat water pollution from agricultural sources. Early in the year local authorities, at my request, carried out surveys of farms around the country for the purposes of identifying potential sources of pollution. The surveys have proved very successful and local authorities generally have followed up by requesting those whose farms posed a medium or high pollution risk to take remedial action. As a result of these and other measures, and the welcome involvement of agricultural organisations, such as Teagasc and the IFA, there was a notable decrease in the number of pollution incidents from agricultural sources in the summer months. I expect to be in a position shortly to publish a Bill to amend the 1977 Water Pollution Act.

New regulations were made to provide for national standards for the quality of drinking water. Where these are exceeded, sanitary authorities are obliged to draw up action programmes for the improvement of the water supply. Implementation of these regulations is supported through investment under the public capital programme provision in water supply and sewage treatment works.

Considerable progress has been made with the setting up of a comprehensive legislative system for the prevention of air pollution and the introduction of measures to deal with specific problems which have arisen. Regulations under the Air Pollution Act, 1987, require that, on or after 1 February 1989, licences will be necessary for new industrial plant. The new licensing system is designed to provide a better system for controlling emissions from plant which could affect public health or the environment. Comprehensive advice has issued to local authorities on the operation of the new controls. Further regulations in relation to existing plant will be made in due course.

My recent confirmation of Dublin's first smoke control order for part of Ballyfermot, and the introduction of a scheme of grants to help householders in the speical control area to meet the costs of conversions, was the first major step to be taken to try to solve Dublin's smog problem. A publicity and information campaign aimed at those who can afford to change to smokeless fuels has already begun and a comprehensive range of other measures is being put in place. The Dublin local authorities are making additional orders in respect of wider areas and these will be dealt with speedily when they are received.

On 25 October I launched a publicity and information campaign for the promotion of the wider use and availability of unleaded petrol. To date, 61 outlets have been opened and I expect that there will be a total of 135 outlets by the end of March 1989. A steering committee on unleaded petrol representative of the oil companies, the motor trade and relevant Government Departments were established earlier this year and will continue to develop and oversee further phases of this important campaign.

We have entered into a number of commitments for the protection of the global environment. Following a debate and approval by Dáil Éireann of my proposals in June last, we accepted the terms of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Indeed, our Instrument of Ratification of the Protocol is being deposited with the United Nations in New York today, together with those of other EC member states. I have encouraged the public to use aerosols that are CFC-free, or ozone friendly, at every opportunity. At European Community level, a major achievement of the Council was the agreement reached on the limitation of emissions of pollutants into the air from large combustion plants. The principal implications for Ireland are the requirements to maintain emissions of SO2 and NOx from large combustion plants with ceilings of 124,000 tonnes and 50,000 tonnes respectively. Agreements were also reached at EC level on the progressive reduction of harmful vehicle emissions from petrol and diesel engines. Last October we indicated our agreement to join a new international agreement on the stabilisation of national emissions of NOx at 1987 levels; this will involve fitting low-NOx technology at the Moneypoint power station.

The proper disposal of toxic and hazardous waste, and wastes generally, including recycling, has received increased attention from me in recent months. I introduced a scheme of capital grants to encourage private sector interests operating in this area of hazardous waste disposal to develop and extend their range of services. I commissioned a feasibility study of contract incineration requirements for hazardous wastes and I am at present considering the action to be taken on foot of the report. Regulations for the supervision and control of transfrontier shipments of hazardous wastes were made last September. On the more general domestic waste scheme, I have actively encouraged the promotion of recycling schemes for glass and more recently aluminium cans which will have a long-term affect on the levels of litter on our landscape.

The implementation of the provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive with effect from 3 July 1988 in respect of certain public and private projects, which are likely to have significant effects on the environment, will ensure that environmental considerations will be taken into account at the earliest stages of development. I have already given statutory effect to the directive provisions in respect of proposed motorway projects and work is proceeding on giving full statutory effect to the directive's requirements for other types of projects.

The functions of the Department in relation to environmental awareness have been strengthened. During the year a participation by all levels of society in action to improve the environment has been encouraged whether by way of sponsorship of suitable projects or direct action. Public participation in a more informed and enlighened way will lead to the wider adoption of the concept of direct personal responsibility for ones's surroundings.

Before concluding I would like to take this opportunity to exhort the public to make a special effort to ensure that the festive season is not marred by death or injury on the roads or in our homes. Between 1978 and 1986 we witnessed a steady decline in the level of deaths and injuries on our roads. Regrettably last year we saw a significant increase in the number of deaths. In December alone 61 people died. A great number of those people died because others chose to drink and drive. This is unacceptable. This year, Garda enforcement of the drink and driving laws will be maximised during the holiday period. This, coupled with the National Safety Council's promotional campaign, is aimed at encouraging people not to drink if they intend to drive. However, the final responsibility rests with each individual road user. Other people's lives are in our hands. They are precious and we should treat them with care.

I would also like to remind the public to be careful at home, especially with fires and appliances, including Christmas lights, so as to avoid injury to their families and homes over the festive period.

In conclusion, many people felt that the optimism which I expressed in the economy since assuming office was misplaced. The positive developments which have taken place prove that my optimism was well-founded and I look forward to further progress on all fronts in the coming year.

This Government were elected to the Dáil on the basis of an election manifesto grandly titledProgramme for National Recovery, and I have identified this morning somewhere in the region of 35 promises made by the Government in the election programme which were not fulfilled, numbers of which are the responsibility of the now departing, graceful Minister for the Environment. I will identify for the House promises made by Fianna Fáil to secure their election which in two years in office they have failed to implement.

For example, they promised that capital taxation as far as it affects the transfer of family business would be reviewed; nothing was done on that. They promised the simplification of export documentation; nothing was done of that. They promised personal tax incentives for marketing; nothing was done on that. They have promised they will change the present approach to the pricing of natural gas; again, the pricing of natural gas remains exactly as it was when this Government came into office. They promised they would encourage the lending organisations to convert farm debt into long-term mortgage type finance; nothing has been done on that. They promised further to establish a land authority to encourage the build-up of as many family farms as possible; nothing has been done; the land authority promised by Fianna Fáil have not been introduced.

They promised to establish a marine research and technology institute; no marine research and technology institute has been established. They promised they would establish regional manpower boards. I made inquiries from FÁS about what was happening in regard to the Fianna Fáil promise to establish regional manpower boards and was told the people in FÁS had never ever heard of the promise made by the Government that they would introduce such a board. They promised to expand the terms of reference of the industrial training committees and that has not been done either. They promised an employment placement programme for third level graduates; in fact they have gone the reverse. Whatever little bit of employment placement service has been provided for third level graduates prior to the present Government coming into office has been done away with. They promised they would examine the feasibility of developing educational television; nothing whatever has been done about that.

They promised, furthermore, they would establish smaller units based on the district rather than on the town within county council and corporation areas to allow more local democracy; nothing whatever has been done about that. They promised they would give local authorities block allocations and responsibility for working out the priorities in regard to housing and sanitary services; nothing whatever has been done about that and the powers remain centralised in the Department of the Environment as they always were. They promised to give local authorities rights to assume a role in regard to local enterprise; no changes whatever have been made by Fianna Fáil in the previous practice despite that promise. They promised they would within six months have a report from a working group on private rented accommodation; no such report has even been commissioned let alone received, and we are now four times six months since the election of the Government who made that promise.

They promised to do something about unfinished housing estates and said that in office Fianna Fáil would insist —"insist", it should be noted — on the completion of such estates but nothing has happened. Virtually every estate that was unfinished when Fianna Fáil took office remains unfinished. Fianna Fáil promised to set up a new advisory body involving all the professional interests in the social welfare area to advice the Department on social welfare changes in line with the recommendation of the Commission on Social Welfare. The Department, and the Minister for Social Welfare, have decided that that Fianna Fáil promise, like so many others, is inoperable and will not be implimented. Fianna Fáil promised to introduce legislation to regulate the operation of occupational pension schemes but that has not been done.

It is almost ready.

Fianna Fáil promised to introduce a proper system in each health board for appeals on eligibility claims ending the anomaly under which appeals at present are now heard by the official who made the original decision but that promise has not been kept, like the others I have recited. Fianna Fáil promised to introduce changes in the drug refund scheme to get over the problem of people having to pay money for drugs and not receiving the refund for a long time but there has not been any change. I should like to remind the House that, although in the last election campaign Fianna Fáil promised to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio, there has been an increase in this respect. They promised to simplify the entry system to third level education but nothing has been done about that. They promised to set up the curriculum board on a statutory basis while ensuring that reform and innovation would proceed in conjunction with the retention of sound educational standards. The last Government had in train legislation to establish the curriculum board on a statutory basis but the Fianna Fáil Government deliberately decided they would not establish that board on a statutory basis, directly reversing not only the promise of that party but the policy of the previous Government.

Furthermore, Fianna Fáil promised that a legal services review commission would be established to oversee the provision of legal services, particularly in regard to criminal and civil legal aid but nothing has been done to establish that legal services review commission.

I have identified approximately 35 specific categoric promises made by Fianna Fáil in the last election campaign to be implemented if they were elected to Government but none of them have been implemented. I can see the slightly tired smile work its way across the face of the Minister for Social Welfare, tired because of the cynicism of office, tired because he recognised that those promises when made were never intended to be taken seriously. The Government now are an entirely different creature from the party that made those promises but, unfortunately, there are many people who on the doorsteps took those, and many other promises made by Fianna Fáil in the last election campaign, seriously. They were been misled into voting for a party on the basis of promises that have not be fulfilled.

In the course of a debate like this I ask myself, who is listening? Is anybody listening to the debate? There are three Members in the Chamber listening to the debate and I wonder if anybody cares if we have this debate at all. Would we not be better off dealing with legislation instead of debating a motion as to whether we should have a Christmas holiday? We might be a lot better off getting through another 25 sections of the Companies (No. 2) Bill rather than having this futile debate which is being listened to by two Members, apart from the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

However, we have to have this debate and if we are to have it Members ought to ask some hard questions. I have asked questions about the 35 promises made by Fianna Fáil that have not been fulfilled. However, I should like to look at some more profound questions such as how the country performed since independence? There has been a lot of complacency coming from Government members, complacency which is not matched by the reality of Irish economic performance. The points I am about to make are as much a condemnation of the parties on this side of the House as they are of the party on the other side. Looking at the performance of Ireland since independence, and expressing the figures for the performance of other countries in terms of GNP per head as a percentage of Ireland's GNP per head between 1913 and 1985, we find that Norway, for example, has moved from a point where in 1913 they had 84 per cent of our GNP — we had £5 for every £4 they had— to having £206 for every £100 we have. Finland has moved from having 74p for every pound we had in 1913 to having £1.69 for every pound we have. France has moved from having £1.05 for every poundvis-à-vis Ireland in 1913 to now having £1.72 for every pound we have. Austria has moved from £1.03 for every pound we had in 1913 to having £1.60 for every pound we have. Those countries have raced ahead of Ireland despite the fact that we obtained our independence for which our people fought so hard and over which so much blood was spilled. We seemed to have been doing relatively better prior to obtaining our independence by comparison with other countries than we have done since obtaining it.

That is not an argument for doing away with the independence we have gained but it is certainly an argument for asking some very hard questions about the way in which this House, and its predecessors back to 1919, has managed the affairs of the country. The country has steadily and inexorably fallen behind other countries, many of which were devastated by two world wars which we, effectively, escaped. However, they have gone ahead and we have gone backwards as a nation. That is as much a criticism of any of the politicians in this House but it is important that, rather than doing what the Government are doing, looking at how well they have donevis-à-vis last year and how well they are going to do next year vis-à-vis this year, if they are, we look at how Ireland as a society has performed since we obtained independence. The answer to that question must be, badly.

At least 20 per cent of our workforce is unemployed and 40 per cent of our population is dependent on welfare of some kind or another, either as direct recipients or as the dependents of recipients. An indication of the list of the promises that were not kept by Fianna Fáil is the fact that almost my entire time was used up listing them. I will not get an opportunity of dealing with the more wide ranging points I was anxious to make about our economy. I had intended dealing with the issues of poverty, tax reform, privatisation and the problems of the 1989 budget. In regard to the 1989 budget there are many reasons the Government should not be as complacent as they are about the financial situation in the medium term. The fact is that the public sector pay bill will go up by 3.2 per cent next year as against this year. Every agency that pay staff will provide less services with those staff with a given amount of money because the amount of pay per job is going to rise.

Public sector pay has risen by about 2.5 per cent per annum under theProgramme for National Recovery while private sector pay has risen by between 4 and 5 per cent per annum. While that may be an achievement of short term negotiations it also indicates that a backlog of potential pay claims and industrial strife in the public sector is being built up. The respite which the Government have obtained in respect of the public finances is a purely temporary one gained by running down services and the building up of a backlog of potential demands for pay increases.

There are other important one off elements. The effects of the termination of the house improvement grant scheme showed up particularly favourably last year but as time goes on the savings deriving from its abolition will reduce. As the Taoiseach has acknowledged, another one off element is the income derived from the tax amnesty. Our financial position is far from good and it is fair to say that this scenario is based on the assumption that international interest rates will stay down and that the world economy will continue to grow at a rate of about 2.5 per cent per annum. If the world economy were to stop growing the scenario where the debt-GNP ratio would be stabilised would go completely off the rails. Therefore the Government's economic and fiscal policy is based on a conjunction of lucky international economic circumstances and if any of these were to fall out of place that scenario would be thrown off the rails.

This was a difficult year for social welfare throughout Europe, and Ireland was no exception. With high levels of unemployment and an increasing elderly population, all Europe is straining to maintain its social security payments. In Ireland, we also have to care for and maintain the highest percentage of children per population of any country in the European Community. Notwithstanding our special difficulties, the Government have been exceptionally forthright. We have guaranteed those on social welfare that their position will be maintained, at least in line with inflation, and that those on the lowest payments will get the lion's share of any extra resources that can be made available. This we have done in 1988. The 11 per cent increase we gave to the long term unemployed and those on supplementary welfare allowances in July last, together with the 6 per cent increase for their dependent children, was the greatest step-up given by any Government in this State to the long term unemployed.

Our action was fully vindicated by a number of reports on poverty which confirmed that we had got the balance and the direction right. A recent report of the ESRI shows that those most at risk in Irish society today are large families and families headed by an unemployed person or a person in low paid employment, single parent families. Much still income farming families. Much still remains to be done and this is a matter for forthcoming budgets. The action we have taken this year will help greatly, but the family emerges clearly and repeatedly as the group at greatest risk. I want to pay tribute to the support and co-operation we received from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and from the representatives of employers and farming interests.

This was a year of innovation and development in our whole social welfare system. A real start was made in tackling poverty through targeted increases. The views of the voluntary bodies were sought and they were involved in direct consultation and shared actions with the Minister. These culminated in the first ever pre-budget forum for bodies representing those who depend on social welfare. This forum was hugely successful. Arising from it we now plan to have a similar forum on the delivery of our services early in the New Year.

Other initiatives taken during the year were the introduction of a national part time job incentive scheme, a voluntary work option for the long term unemployed and an educational opportunities scheme to provide second chance education for unemployed who are aged 23 or over. I also brought in legislation to providepro-rata contributory pensions for those who had lost out at the introduction of compulsory insurance in 1974, and provision for a pre-retirement allowance to cater for the long term unemployed who are over 60 years of age and unable to obtain employment.

The extension of social insurance to the self-employed, including farmers, from last April, was a major development in our social welfare system. The self employed are now liable for contributions in the same way as other contributors, and the overall costs of social insurance are now being shared by all working people. This measure will reduce the risk of poverty for the elderly in the future. Since the legislation was enacted earlier this year the self-employed are coming to realise the advantages of this scheme. Until now up to 70 per cent of all self-employed people had to fall back on meanstested assistance payments in their old age. The self employed can now build up entitlement to a guaranteed basis pension for old age and survivors' benefits.

Following initial reluctance there has been a great response to the scheme. Not only have most of the eligible self employed joined and contributed, but those below the minimum income set, £2,500, are also anxious to contribute. In addition, I have been approached by self-employed farmers and others in the 56-66 age bracket who are prepared to pay an extra premium to benefit in full from the scheme. These issues are being examined further.

When will the Minister make up his mind about that?

The contribution rates for the self employed are 3 per cent in 1988-1989, 4 per cent in 1989-90 and 5 per cent in 1990-91.

What is the Minister going to do about those over the age of 55?

It was estimated that these contributions would yield £15 million in 1988, £35 million in 1989 and £50 million in 1990. When introducing this scheme I said that in my view these estimates were conservative. We now know that the income from the self employed will be some 50 per cent higher than originally expected, giving us up to £8 million more than the £15 million provided in the Estimates.

The considerable improvement on the original Estimate is in part attributable to the success of the new self-assessment tax system. It also reinforces what I have said about the recognition by the self employed of the benefits to be gained from the payment of social insurance contributions. The full implications of this extra yield will be assessed at the end of the year, but all is going very well with this new scheme.

The principal source of revenue to the Social Insurance Fund is, of course, income from the PRSI contributions. From April 1989, the current PRSI ceiling of £16,200 will be increased to £16,700 for employees and the self employed. Employers will continue to pay contributions up to a ceiling of £20,000 in respect of the 15 per cent of employees who have these higher earnings. The higher ceiling for employers will bring in £5 million extra in 1989 and £23 million in the full year 1990.

Reservations about these proposed changes were voiced by employers' representatives and the Confederation of Irish Industry. However, the facts are that Irish employers pay one of the lowest rates of PRSI in the European Community. In the United Kingdom, where the rate is lower, there is no ceiling for employers on the amount of earnings in respect of which contributions are payable. Thus for a salary of £30,000 per annum the UK employer will pay £2,731 in employer's PRSI while his Irish counterpart will, under the new arrangement, pay £2,480. The measure will reduce the burden on the general taxpayer of maintaining the Social Insurance Fund.

My extension of dental, optical and aural benefits to dependent spouses of insured workers represents a major advance for Irish families in that it opens up access to the treatment benefit scheme to dependent spouses, mainly women working in the home. I was very pleased to be able to introduce it. As Deputies will be aware, the Irish Dental Association have opposed the extension. Notwithstanding their stance, new agreements have been signed by 179 dentists and 95 per cent of these are actively treating dependent spouses. It is interesting to note that 26 of the participating dentists have returned to this country this year, mainly from the United Kingdom. I would like to take this opportunity to once again express my appreciation of those dentists who are treating dependent spouses. I am grateful also for the support of the opticians and their association who readily agreed to operate the extended scheme.

By the end of this year some 32,000 dependent spouses will have benefited under the dental benefit scheme and a further 43,000 under the optical benefit scheme. Many of these are dependent spouses of unemployed persons, pensioners and those out of work due to illness whose household income would be below the average industrial wage. It is relevant to point out that of the 1.4 million persons who are eligible for treatment benefits some 62 per cent have earnings which are below the medical card guidelines. Only 3.5 per cent have incomes in excess of £16,700 a year. The new scheme, therefore, is clearly working and is serving those most in need in our community. Meanwhile, I have arranged to meet with the Irish Dental Association next week to further discuss the issues involved in their objection to the scheme and a claim by them for a fee increase under the scheme.

Recently, I welcomed the report on moneylending carried out, at my request, by the Combat Poverty Agency. Being in debt while trying to manage on a low income can leave a person very vulnerable to the credit offered by moneylenders. Sadly this source is all too often seen as the only form of credit available to people on low incomes. Advice, information and education on debt and money management are part of the long term solutions. However, practical help through legal and financial measures is also required and we are taking action.

I established a loan guarantee fund with a once-off contribution of £100,000 from the national lottery to help people in debt to moneylenders. The banks, through the Irish Banks Standing Committee, have agreed to match this contribution with £100,000 as a recognition of their support for these measures. I welcome this and wish to record my appreciation for their speedy response. Only yesterday I finalised discussions with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and I will shortly be in a position to set up the supervisory committee who will run the scheme. I am also arranging for talks with the ESB and the gas companies concerning their arrangements for debt clearance by low income clients. In addition, I plan to provide basic information leaflets about debt avoidance and money management to all social welfare recipients.

I am confident that these measures, taken together with consistent progress in improving the basic levels of payment, will make a significant contribution towards eliminating the scourge of unscrupulous moneylending.

I am particularly concerned, from the point of view of both our clients and staff, to bring about improvements in the standard of accommodation available at our offices. Considerable progress has been made in this area in the past two years. Last month I officially opened the new Rathfarnham social welfare services office in Nutgrove Shopping Centre. Today I am announcing that sanction has been given for the placing of building contracts for major new social welfare services offices in Limerick and Cork. The cost of the new buildings will be of the order of £2 million and £2.5 million, respectively. This is good news for Cork and Limerick and for the construction industry. Construction work will start early next year at both sites with completion dates in 1990. The new facilities will cater for men and women and will operate as a one-stop-shop as part of my policy of bringing all our services to those who need them in one place.

During the year control measures operated by my Department continued to produce substantial savings. The more effective control and management of resources devoted to social welfare over the past two years has resulted in savings of over £87 million in 1988. This is on top of the £28 million savings on fraud and abuse already provided for in the 1988 Estimates. In addition I recently brought in new regulations compelling employers in the construction industry, contract cleaning, forestry work and security work to notify my Department when they take on new employees. The security industry welcome this step. The Construction Industry Federation who had earlier expressed concern about the implications of the regulations are now happy that these regulations are simple to operate, are in the interests of legitimate employers and will help to root out those who cheat the taxpayer and so undercut their competitors.

The savings achieved this year have enabled me to provide the £21 million which I needed to pay this year's Christmas bonus to pensioners and the long term unemployed.

Nineteen eighty-eight has been a good year in terms of the progress we have made in improving the position of people who rely on social welfare payments. A combination of greater increases for those on the lowest payments, a targeting of resources to those most in need, a flexible and innovative approach to the management and provision of our services and the introduction of greater equity into the social welfare system clearly demonstrate the commitment of our Government to tackle the difficulties faced by many people on social welfare. We will continue to protect the elderly, the handicapped, widows and families. I am confident that the trend we have established in 1988 will be maintained in the coming year.

In conclusion, I should like to wish you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Ceann Comhairle, the Members and the staff of the House a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

And the same to you, a Aire.

At the outset I should like to question the purpose and effectiveness of the structures of a debate such as this. Perhaps it is time for us to review the form of the Adjournment Debate which I candidly believe leads to no great degree of national enlightenment and does not facilitate any political or other form of change. It is a succession of interesting in themselves but nevertheless very general, supplied scripts from Government Ministers, punctuated at intervals by a fairly standard type of anticipated response from Opposition spokespersons, which I frankly believe are not listened to by anyone and do not make any impact on the political life or way of thinking in the country. The time has come to change the form of Adjournment Debates, and perhaps the Government will put before the House a brief progress report in written form which will form the basis of a discussion in which a specific area of Government policy could be analysed. At present the expression of a series of opinions by various spokespersons in a very general way leading to an artificial division about whether we should adjourn for the Christmas holidays is a large abuse of public trust and a waste of parliamentary time.

The Ministers have given us their perceptions of the successes in their Departments during the past 12 months which have been invariably highlighted by economic statistics. The Minister for the Environment gave us a list of statistics pertaining right across the social and economic spectrum. There may have been a certain degree of progress in the area of economic stability and reform in public finances but the real questions for Government are much more fundamental than that: the real challenge for a Government is the devising of a clear set of national goals arising from the clearly perceived needs of the public, motivating people to achieve these goals, giving the leadership to bring that achievement about and doing that in the shortest possible length of time.

This Government seem to have initially embraced very suddenly a set of economic parameters and restraints which were broadly speaking the domain of Opposition parties prior to the election, and to have pursued the implementation of exclusively economic targets since that election in a way which indicates that the real issues and needs of people underlying those economic statistics may not have been taken fully into account. In other words, the problems of a country are not about economics. The economic face which is presented in a set of tables or in the financial tables of a budget statement are ultimately the outward expression of a much more fundamental set of beliefs which a Government have.

I am perturbed by some of what is happening because instead of having 15 Ministers responsible for various areas of Government, and having as their primary responsibility the area usually embodied in their title, it seems that we have Ministers whose first concern is the economic aspect of their ministry. That should not be happening. It is not the job primarily of the Minister for Health to be concerned about the economics of health. That is not to say he should be profligate or irresponsible but it is not the job of the Minister for Health to be primarily responsible about expenditures in health. His job is to bring about as quickly as possible a massive improvement in public health, an improvement in preventative care, an improvement in curative aspects of health policy and in every way possible to improve the quality of health services for people. Unfortunately, it has now got to the stage where Ministers seem to come in to the House and almost take pleasure from the fact that there are cutbacks in hospitals.

I can understand why the Minister for Finance, who has responsibility for the broad parameters of Government finances, has to be interested primarily in the constraining of expenditures, but it is an absolute mistake and almost a dereliction of duty for Ministers in other areas to take the same view. I do not think that is what they have been elected to do. I would suggest that instead of being involved in some very superficial, exclusively economically-orientated and blinkered approach to getting the figures right they should look to the qualitative side of life. Each Minister should be concerned about the quality of life of the people.

I know the Deputy has a deep conviction about this, but it seems to be a very new representation of the Progressive Democrats' policy.

It is not. We will certainly co-operate with the Government and have done so. We were the only party last year to support the Estimates. It is not merely the figures that count, although they are important. The Minister for the Environment can say we have a balance of payments surplus, that record exports are being achieved and that there are significant improvements in the nation's finances. Who is benefiting?

The country. Everybody.

Everybody is not. I have to differ with the Minister. A purely economic approach to these issues is based on the presumption that there is a trickle down effect to everybody. That is not the way society works. Our society is based on a totally different arrangement of the economic order. It is a society in which those who have power take what is available and everybody else must make do with what is left. The health service is the classic example. There is a two-tier health service. As late as last week a person who badly needed an operation was told it would take two and a half years for it to be performed, but three days later by virtue of the local community raising the funds the operation could be carried out immediately. That is not what the Government are trying to achieve but nevertheless that is what is happening. The real goals of Government must not be to keep expenditure to certain levels and to balance the books.

In the education area it is not a question of expenditure alone, yet in the past few years, regardless of which party were in Government, that was the only issue spoken about. There has been no significant improvement in the quality of education at second level, for example. The curriculum has been frozen in time for the past 30 years. It has not been updated in the light of modern needs and the challenges facing young people. All we talk about is economics. In areas of key qualitative aspects of public policy we must look beyond the figures and not take pride in the fact that because the figures are lower the job is being done.

The Government must define the key challenges which get the best out of people and give them the social environment and the opportunities to realise their full potential. Otherwise we could appoint accountants to do the job. I expect the Government to motivate people to participate, but in general participation is not something we encourage. The public have no interaction with the process of Government, except in so far as they occasionally receive some form of bounty. They go on deputations and make representations to get things from Government. A child at school does not feel that he or she is an integral part of a democratic process with a responsibility to contribute, not simply to take. It is not the fault of the young people. It is due to the way we have run the Department of Education and our whole approach to participation. If people do not see themselves as an integral part of the democratic process, a stereotype develops. We hear people aged 20 and over being blamed for having a simplistic attitude to the political process. They have no other option because there has been no ground on which anything more fertile could have been sown. The real challenges have not been tackled in regard to education, the quality of health care, the environment and the work ethic. That is the real failure of Government.

There has been success on the fiscal side of public finances but at what cost? We will be successful in putting our public finances in order if we decide that expenditures in various areas of Government will be constrained, regardless of the implications. The real issues with which Government should deal are much deeper and more fundamental. The ground is ripe. Never previously in our history as a State has there been a greater degree of cynicism, antipathy and alienation from the political process. Never has there been a greater opportunity for a Government with real leadership to reach out to people and tell them they understand their plight, that they understand the needs of ordinary people, poor people, families who have sons and daughters abroad. They must work out a much more fulfilling vision of where the country should be going rather than present a set of statistics and seem to take satisfaction in the fact that the figures are right.

We must look again at some of the hospital cutbacks. I am not particularly preoccupied with the amount of investment in health but I believe a lot of that investment could be more wisely spent. The Minister, however, simply states the figures and hopes something will happen in the system. When it does not happen, we must speak up and say that something is wrong. Members of this House see the problems every day. Some of them represent constituencies which are not just getting the thin end of the wedge but the heel, due to the improverishment being caused by a Government who believe that if they get the national economics right the quality will take care of itself. For many thousands of people the quality of life has never been worse. Any GP will talk about the number of people who are having recourse to drugs and other forms of escape. It is sad because I believe this Government want to do the right thing.

If we could get away from the combative attitude of this Chamber and discuss key issues elsewhere in another forum we might make some progress. With regard to the national issue, there has been a great deal of Paddywhackery in the past few weeks, a great degree of chauvinism and other unpleasant aspects in the way we have handled recent issues. There is room for cool, moderate and sensible approaches, ideally in a committee-type analysis which could take place in a different forum. Education, poverty and other national issues which do not always lend themselves to immediate economic analysis should be taken out of the realm of adversary politics. We should work out how to produce policies and legislation which would allow progress to be made in each of these areas.

I regret that I must interrupt your flow of eloquence and ask that you now give way to the next speaker.

Thank you for your compliment — I assume it was meant to be so. What I say, I say sincerely. This is neither the time nor the place to score political points. Nobody is interested in my scoring political points and I have not tried to do that. I am simply asking the Minister and his colleagues to look beyond the figures and to consider the people who are suffering and see if, between us all, we can help to make progress in those areas.

I appreciate the point made by Deputy Keating but he will appreciate that my role is one of economic development, to create a climate to generate activity and income which in turn will be applied for the benefit of the whole community. In no other country in Europe does the agricultural and food sector represent such a vital part of the economy as it does in Ireland. The dramatic improvement in this sector under this Government and the restoration of confidence reflects directly on the whole economic performance in Ireland. The importance of the agri-food sector is best illustrated by the fact that it accounts for 10 per cent of our GNP, 20 per cent of our total employment and 30 per cent of our total exports. It is clear, therefore, that the dramatic turnaround in the agri-food sector in the last two years impacts on very many people other than the farmer.

The GNP growth in 1987 at 5 per cent and the likely outturn for 1988 at 2 per cent is well in excess of the original estimates. The growth in the agricultural and food sector and the investment generated as a consequence contributed in a major way to the overall growth in GNP. Agriculture in a depressed state, as it was up to 1987, is a negative influence on our overall economic performance; agriculture in a vigorous and buoyant state, as in the last two years, is a major boost to enhanced economic performance.

I should mention here that overall Government policy which has been successful in reducig interest rates by 6 per cent and inflation to 2.1 per cent, one of the lowest in Europe, has been a major contributory factor to the success of agriculture. I would like to express my appreciation to the farm organisations for their positive attitude in their discussions with me and within the framework of theProgramme for National Recovery.

Irish farm products enhance Ireland's reputation and image abroad. The positive image of Ireland abroad derives from the perception of a clean and healthy rural environment and cultural values reflecting that environment. This is why we have launched an overall marketing strategy for our agri-food sector which has reaped very substantial rewards in terms of premium prices for Irish products while also enhancing Ireland's image as a tourist destination.

The thrust of policy which I have pursued, in a period of dramatic change, in agricultural markets worldwide has been aggressive and market orientated. Recognising that agriculture is undergoing a period of almost revolutionary change, it is imperative that these changes are met in a positive, constructive and developmental way. We must focus on the priorities required for the agriculture of tomorrow. We must educate and train our young farmers to compete with the best in world markets and to have available to them through the new unified research and advisory authority, Teagasc, the benefits of the most professional research and advisory services. In this regard I draw attention again to the fact that the recently widely publicised ESRI report on the educational qualifications of entrants to Irish farming is entirely out of date in that it is eight years old, and out of line with current developments which show that 90 per cent of our entrants have participated in training programmes run by Teagasc and 90 per cent of these have the intermediate, group or leaving certificates.

The chairman of Teagasc yesterday presented me with the 1989 programme. I will be examining this document with my officials in the coming weeks. I am confident that under the new chairman and management the challenges of the nineties will be enthusiastically accepted in the interest of farmers and the whole country. A major element in maximising the value and enhancing the image of the livestock sector will come from the elimination of bovine TB. For many years we have listened to complaints about the failure to recognise the voice of the farmer in our animal disease management arrangements. On taking office I resolved to give urgent consideration to a new approach to the disease eradication programme. ERAD, the Eradication of Animal Diseases Board, have been established by me and comprise nominees of farmer, farmer co-operative and veterinary organisations. A national director has also been appointed with overall operational authority. The director works under the guidance of the ERAD board. The board are concerned with all critical aspects of eradication including the setting of priorities and objectives, reviewing the operation of the scheme and recommending any changes in legislation they may consider desirable to the Minister. Adequate funding for the disease eradication schemes has been guaranteed by the Government. The new arrangements constitute a four year plan aimed at reducing existing levels of bovine TB by half.

The Government's commitment for the development of a viable economy is underlined by the efforts I am making to secure greater Community financial support from the Agricultural Structural Fund and by our implementation of an Integrated Rural Development Programme.

I am determined to harness the full potential of local energy and entrepreneural talent in rural Ireland. For this purpose I got the Government's approval to introduce the Integrated Rural Development Programme, as a pilot scheme for two years, in 11 selected areas throughout Ireland. Co-ordinators have been appointed to assist the local community in these areas to generate new jobs and a better living standard. The aim of the programme is to help those living in rural Ireland to create employment and to give them a chance to augment their incomes without leaving their own localities. The news of the appointment today of Ray MacSharry as EC Commissioner for Agriculture with special responsibility for rural development is a confirmation of the importance which is being attached at European Community level to this development. I would like to record my warmest congratulations and, I am sure, those of the House to the Commissioner designate. I look forward to working with him and the other farm Ministers in common purpose.

On a point of order, may I ask the Minister if he intends to refer in his statement to the fact that about 100 jobs have been axed today in Teagasc?

Please, Deputy Stagg, there is a very strict time limit to this debate and the Minister ought to be allowed to utilise that time to his best advantage.

A Cheann Comhairle——

Deputy Stagg, please resume your seat.

This has been in general a very good year for farming. For the first time ever the value of gross agricultural——

Can the Minister indicate if he will refer to the 100 jobs?

I referred to the programme I received before the Deputy arrived in the House.

I was listening to the Minister.

For the first time ever the value of gross agricultural output is expected to exceed £3 billion in 1988. The increase of over 8 per cent this year was caused primarily by a rise of about 10 per cent in cattle prices and about 11 per cent in milk prices. Total expenditure on farm materials and services increased only slightly in 1988 to £1.2 billion. Therefore gross agricultural product at market prices, which represents the difference between gross output and the cost of farm materials and services, is estimated at £1.9 billion in 1988, an increase of 13 per cent on the 1987 level.

Will the Minister confirm that 100 jobs are being axed——

Family income is estimated at £1,584 million in 1988, which represents a 17.1 per cent increase on the 1987 level of £1,353 million. The cattle, sheep, milk and cereals sectors all participated in this increase. When changes in the agricultural workforce and inflation are taken into account, nominal farm incomes per head are estimated to have risen by over 19 per cent, while real incomes per head rose by about 17 per cent. Therefore, for the second year in a row Irish farmers have experienced a substantial rise in their incomes. However, one should bear in mind that this follows on from two years of decline in 1985 and 1986. The latest EC income survey, published yesterday, shows that the rise in real agricultural incomes in Ireland in 1988 was way above those in other member states. In fact real farm incomes declined in three other member states.

Turning now to individual sectors, I would like to start with beef. Cattle prices were buoyant throughout the year and look set to remain that way for the near future. Furthermore, there is evidence that beef cattle numbers are on the increase. This will be of great help to the whole industry but especially to the processing sector. On current trends we can look forward to a more profitable industry in the future. Of course, this future will be affected by the outcome of the discussions on the current proposals for the reform of the beef régime.

How can that be in the light of the decision announced today of 100 of the best Teagasc staff we need being laid off?

Deputy Stagg must desist from interrupting.

The Council of Ministers have been involved in exhaustive negotiations and discussions on these proposals over the last few days. It has not been possible to reach a consensus on this issue and the Council will reconvene next week in a final effort to find a solution before the end of the year.

In the discussions to date I have to say that there has been a wide measure of support in the Council for the Commission's position. However I have made it clear that the exceptional importance of beef production to our agriculture and economy requires that binding commitments be given that any new arrangements should continue to maintain prices at reasonable levels and will not put Irish producers at a disadvantage. I have objected also to a number of key individual aspects of the proposals and I am seeking substantial improvements on these. On premiums I have asked the Commission to restore the special FEOGA contribution of 20 ECU or about £16 a head to the suckler cow premium in Ireland.

With the negotiations about to recommence next week it would not be appropriate to enter into any detail about how developments have progressed to date or on the possible shape of any agreement. The House can be assured that I will, of course, continue to insist on our main concerns being met in this vital area of Irish agriculture. I will not be going along with any arrangements that fail to recognise our special position in this regard and to preserve the essential elements of a market organisation that our producers and industry generally depend on so greatly.

We are approaching the end of an excellent year for the dairy industry. The gains made during 1987 were further consolidated during 1988 as the full effects of the general upturn in the market spread throughout the sector. Intervention stocks were virtually eliminated and world market prices strengthened considerably as a direct result of cutbacks in milk production within the European Community. Returns to primary producers fully reflected these developments. It is very encouraging to see that our national milk pool, although fixed in quantity under the EC quota system, is increasing in its overall value to the economy. Our goal in the years ahead must be to ensure that this continues.

How can this be achieved while there are——

There is no doubt about how best this should be achieved. Our industry must add more value to its output while, at the same time, limiting its dependance upon commodity-type products. The market is there for high quality and often high priced dairy products. The challenge is to develop our industry to fill the needs of that market. Considerable investment must be undertaken in research and development and marketing as well as in sophisticated plant and equipment. Rationalisation of our existing processing sector must also be undertaken to eliminate whatever overcapacity and inefficiencies exist.

I intervene to advise the Minister that he has two and a half minutes remaining.

Would the Minister use those two and a half minutes to explain the decision taken today with regard to Teagasc?

Deputy Stagg is being particularly disorderly. I hesistate to ask him to leave the House on this day but I may be obliged to do so.

I hope I am given allowance for the number of times he interrupted.

I am afraid I cannot allow injury time.

During 1988 we saw the dairy sector begin to take the right kind of approach to the challenge of the 1990s. Large investment programmes were undertaken by some of our major co-operatives and I was pleased to ensure that, where possible, aid in the form of IDA grants was made available. This year will also show a further drop in the production of butter and skimmed milk powder with a welcome increase in the manufacture of cheese. A debate on the future structure of the sector is underway at present and is serving to focus the attention of those involved in the industry on the issues which need to be addressed. I have every confidence that the outcome will be positive. Development of the industry is being aided under the programme for the sector for which I obtained Commission approval.

Two questions currently before the Council of Ministers are of considerable interest to the dairy sector. One is of general interest, the question of New Zealand butter imports. The Commission proposals on this represent a big drop on the quantities involved in the current arrangement but are still, in my view, too high. I have been seeking more realistice quantities and will continue to press this point when the Council resume next week.

The second issue is more specific but of great concern to some farmers. It is to do with the allocation of quotas to the milk producers who were in the non-marketing schemes and are covered by the ruling in the Mulder case. The compromise proposals on this represent a significant improvement on the original ones. All of the quotas to be allocated will come from a Community reserve so that quotas of existing producers will not be affected. The quantity in the reserve has been increased from 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes and the allocations to be made will also be carried out in such a way as will provide equality of treatment for producers in the different member states. These were important points for me. The package also contains two amendments which I specifically negotiated, one is the advance of the date of expiry of non-marketing period from December 1983 to October 1983 and, secondly, the inclusion of producers such as young farmers who had received some small quotas from a national reserve.

Sheepmeat is also involved in the current negotiations in Brussels. The latest compromise proposal, in so far as it relates to sheepmeat, envisages leaving aside the review of the internal sheepmeat régime until decisions have been taken on the 1989-99 prices package.

The Minister might now bring his remarks to a close.

I should now like to comment briefly on pigmeat and bring the House up to date on the developments in this industry which I announced last year. We have undertaken a major rationalisation programme, a central element of which envisages the establishment of eight strategically placed slaughtering plants built to the highest EC and USDA standards. So far State investment of some £12 million and a similar amount from FEOGA have been committed to these plants, some of which are already in operation. In the next few days I hope to announce further FEOGA assistance for the sector under the December tranche.

I intend also to make regulations within the next few days introducing a new Community scheme of grading pig carcases by lean meat content. These regulations will go a long way towards improving the quality of our produce so necessary if we are to withstand competition from imports and compete successfully.

I might finally refer to the new role of CBF in the pigmeat sector which they assumed this year. They are now finalising a marketing strategy for the sector. I have no doubt but that this will be a key factor in promoting pigmeat sales in a very competitive manner both on the home and export markets.

The Minister butchered their budget. They have no money left.

Guím beannachtaí na Nollag do gach éinne, agus ba mhaith liom a chur in iúl go mbeidh cúrsaí talmhaíochta agus bia sa bhliain seo chugainn, b'fhéidir, níos fearr fós ná mar a bhí siad sa bhliain seo.

May I anticipate your agreement, A Cheann Comhairle, in regard to sharing my very limited time with my colleague, Deputy Doyle.

I am sure that will be satisfactory? Agreed. However, Deputies will appreciate that I am obliged to call a member of the Government at 4.45 p.m.

I do not agree fundamentally with Deputy Keating in relation to the need for a national résumé at this time. We are now on the brink of Christmas, at the eve of 1989 and it is time we carried out a national appraisal of where exactly we stand. If we could leave behind our political prejudices, stand back objectively and examine the state of the nation at this time, it would make for a very sad observation. I look at an island with 32 counties, comprised of 24,000 square miles. I look at our vast resources, a coastal area abundant in riches, an agricultural scenario with so much potential and the untapped potential of our afforestation. We are a nation with a population of a mere 3.2 million, little greater in number than is contained in the greater Manchester area. I look at my native county and Knock Airport whose establishment was scorned. I visited the airport recently and saw the tower there, like a Kibbutz, on the top of a hill. I saw Ryanair flights arriving with a 60 per cent capacity and leaving with a 100 per cent capacity. I saw there the grieving parents of the finest generation of young people we have ever had and who have to emigrate. They are not like the young people of years ago, they are comprised of graduates of the regional technical colleges, the higher educational colleges and universities, computer programmers, people with Masters degrees, in some cases with doctorates. This evening, on the eve of Christmas, they are in Brisbane, Boston and Birmingham. It is a sad reflection on us politically that that is where we stand at this stage of our political evolution.

I listened to the wisdom emanating from the far side of the House. My sentiments were: would that the wisdom that now prevails had been evident some years ago. The Coalition Government from 1982 to 1987 correctly diagnosed the state of play in relation to this country. We are now witnessing a sudden resurgence of national consensus in relation to what we are doing and where we are going. Had the consensus been evident in that earlier period we would not have got ourselves into the quagmire in which we now find ourselves.

I am very saddened that it not possible to emphasise more the degree of progress there has been in this country. Had the policies introduced by the Fine Gael and Labour Parties, when in Coalition, been given even the remotest chance of straightening out our economy we would not now have this very sad requiem. Everything was booted out, everything was opposed; we had cut-throat opposition for opposition sake. I wish we could report otherwise. Unfortunately hospital corridors are cluttered with people on trolleys, our roads potholed. We were told the National Roads Authority would be the great saviour, that everything would be solved by 1992. Social welfare payments are totally inadequate, leaving people in genuine poverty. Then I listened to the sermonising of my colleague from Mayo, Deputy Flynn. Deputy Flynn takes credit for the low mortgage interest rates, for low inflation rates and so on when the bulk of the work was done by the Coalition Government. Now everything is deemed as being necessary in the cause of the sacred cow of rationalisation.

I wish the Chair and all the Members of the House and the staff a very happy and peaceful Christmas and peace for the New Year. Will the Government side let us know before we go home, if, when we resume on 25 January, we can anticipate that the budget will be introduced on that day?

Deputy Avril Doyle, sharing in the time allotted to Deputy Higgins.

I concur with Deputy O'Kennedy good wishes to the new farm Commissioner, Mr. Ray MacSharry. I join with the Minister on behalf of the Fine Gael Party in wishing Mr. MacSharry a very prestigious term in office. There is a lot at stake with the reform of the CAP and the doubling of the Structural Funds. I hope, to quote Mr. MacSharry's own words that we will only have to push on an open door and that we can expect a period of boom and bloom for the Irish farmer and the Irish food industry. We will await the outcome. come.

Economic commentators have consistently stated that the biggest gain for Ireland in the single market which will commence in January 1993 will be the opportunity to develop our food industry. This will result in an increase in employment and in our GNP all based on indigenously sourced agricultural products. Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority has a vital role in this development especially over the next few years. Teagasc now services an industry, directly employing 200,000 people and servicing a gross output of more than £3 billion. Agricultural research and development must provide the farmers, food processors and policymakers with the knowledge to adjust to the national and international economic forces in the future. There has been a serious decline in the percentage of agricultural output which has gone into research here over the last two years. Today's proposals from the Minister for Agriculture and Food are disastrous. The Minister finished the year with a cowardly act; he put Dr. Pierce Ryan and Mr. Joe Rae out there to deliver the bad news. But, make no mistake, the proposals from the Minister for Agriculture and Food further underline this Government's totally inadequate recognition of the contribution that agriculture can make to our national economy.

This year's estimate for Teagasc has so demoralised that essential body that voluntary early retirement makes no sense. Effectively they have had the gun put to their heads and today's announcements will perhaps be the death knell. Highly skilled experienced people essential to the development of agriculture and food will be forced to leave the employment of Teagasc to live within the budgetary constraints announced today.

We are tired of hearing of the list of jobs that have been announced by this Government — paper jobs, approvals, at best jobs poached from other plants, matched by redundancies. Let us have the truth from this Government in relation to real jobs and no more paper jobs. The Government no longer fool the public in general or those in the agriculture and food industry as hundreds will have to leave Teagasc to live within next year's budget. Which publication will those jobs arrive in? Will it be the next bulletin from the Central Review Committee or the next interim report on theProgramme for National Recovery? There will be lists of more paper jobs, estimated jobs, hidden redundancies, jobs poached from other plants and other sectors. Let the Minister for Agriculture and Food not quote to me any interim figures in relation to agricultural jobs. I want real jobs. I do not want to know about the creation of jobs as a result of redundancies in other plants in the agriculture and agri-business sector.

We have heard of numbers of pig processing plants being created, but we do not hear where the pigs are to come from or how the producers will be paid for producing the product that will be necessary.

The Deputy might now bring her remarks to a close.

I will reiterate my main point which relates to the tragic proposals by the Minister for Agriculture and Food for Teagasc for next year. This is an indictment of this Government's commitment to agriculture and to the agri-business sector.

When this Government took office on 10 March 1987 we made it clear that the restoration of confidence in the country's economic future would be our first priority. A year and a half ago media commentators at home and abroad presented a depressing image of our economic prospects. As Minister for Foreign Affairs I was especially aware of the importance of international confidence in our ability to deal effectively with our economic difficulties. We were running out of credit both in the financial and in the political sense. For an exporting country with an open economy like ours the opinion of others does matter. In the areas of investment, the management of our external debt, foreign trade and tourism it is of the utmost importance that our image abroad is that of an efficient and reliable trading partner with a Government who have a definite sense of purpose and a clear strategy that is carried through with confidence and conviction. This has been the case since March 1987.

After less than two years that record is impressive. When one looks at low interest rates, low inflation — now the lowest in the European Community — the significant reduction in the Exchequer borrowing requirement, the stabilisation of the national debt and the record performance in exports, it is no wonder that confidence in the country's economic position has been so convincingly restored at home and abroad. These are the basic indices that lie at the heart of the restoration of confidence.

It has been particularly gratifying to see leading economists revise their figures almost each month, as good news gave way to even better news. Our growth in GNP, for example, which was earlier in the year expected to be in the order of 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent, is now likely to be as high as 2 per cent and there are those who are predicting an even higher figure.

Central to this turn-around in our economic position has been the substantial progress made in stabilising the debt-GNP ratio. The ratio this year is well under 5 per cent and is effectively half of what it was last year. This year saw a steady and sustained reduction in Irish interest rates and their dramatic decoupling from their British equivalent. Our prime interest rate is now 8 per cent — down from more than 13 per cent when this Government took office. This is the most important index of all. The fact that our current prime rate is some five percentage points below the rate in Britain and that this significant differential has been maintained for a considerable time is clear testimony to the confidence of which I have spoken. This taken in conjunction with an inflation rate of about 2 per cent — our lowest rate since 1963 — is the evidence of a stable economy on which investors rely.

On a point of order, this is the second time today that a document circulated to all Members of the House has not been circulated to me. Can the Chair tell me what I have done to deserve this?

I apologise, it was not my doing. We can have it circulated to you, I am sure.

The inflation rate reduction and the maintenance of the differential between Ireland and Britain in regard to interest rates is a real strength with regard to the Irish pound in the European monetary system and is a bedrock as far as the potential investor is concerned, both at home and abroad. The economy has also benefited from the strong export performances over the whole area of exports. Our trade surplus has widened to £1,730 million from £1,200 million in the same period last year and we are on target for a surplus of £2 billion for the year as a whole.

With such a remarkable performance by our exporters, it is no surprise to hear that in the first half of the year manufacturing output was up by over 13 per cent. There are, therefore, excellent grounds for optimism about the Irish economy as we look to 1989. As the Taoiseach said this morning, there is no question of this Government resting on their laurels. What we have achieved by skilful and prudent management must not be put at risk by any premature expectations or needless sectoral demands. We will certainly not let the economy drift in any way towards the financial chaos into which it was allowed to drift this time two years ago. We have challenges in front of us in the level of unemployment and the need to halt emigration is also vital with regard to the greater utilisation of our trained and educated manpower.

From Ireland's point of view — and we rely heavily here on the European Community between now and 1992 in our efforts to secure greater investment within the Irish community — we have achieved a considerable lot during 1988. The Delors plan has now been put into operation. As a result, the Community can now rely on a stable source of finance for the medium term. This is an important assurance for the future.

With assured resources the Community as a whole can now look ahead with confidence to dealing with the basic economic and social problems which face it. We have a particular interest in the cohesion area. We have paid particular attention to its development in all the Community policies and the results of our efforts have been very satisfactory. With the commitment to the doubling of the Structural Funds, we can look forward to a very considerably increased support for the Government's development policies. In Brussels on Monday next, along with my colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Council, I will put the final seal on the achievements of the year when formal approval will be given to the regulations implementing the reform of the Structural Funds.

This year has also seen the Community make real progress towards the completion of the internal market in which Ireland actively participated and over one-third of the Commission's proposals have now been adopted. The Government have strongly affirmed our willingness to face the whole challenge of completion of the internal market by 1992. All Ministers and the Government as a whole are devoted to this objective.

Let there be no doubt that we will continue to pursue and assert our interests in all areas of Community policy. We do so in partnership with a Commission which respects this nation's problems and is presided over for the second time by Mr. Jacques Delors, whose achievements over the last four years have done so much to revive confidence within the Community. We are aware very much on a personal level of his commitment towards our objectives over that period.

The authority and confidence with which we have dealt with the economic difficulties which we inherited as a Government have also marked our handling of Anglo-Irish relations. When we assumed office in March 1987, we made it clear that we would fully work the structures of the Agreement. A programme of work was established and meetings of the Conference began for the first time on a regular monthly basis. The frequency at which these meetings have taken place — eight regular and two special meetings in all in 1988 — clearly demonstrates the Government's commitment to working the Agreement. Indeed, there have been more regular meetings of the Conference in 1988 than in any year since the Agreement was signed.

This year saw periods of serious strain in Anglo-Irish relations. During those periods we insisted that the provisions of the Agreement as well as the role of the Conference and the Secretariat be used to the fullest extent possible. During those meetings of the Conference there was a good deal of straight and firm talking on a whole range of issues. We faced the fact that there are differences between ourselves and the British government. We left them in no doubt about our views. Equally, we left them in no doubt about our determination to use the Agreement where we agreed. Indeed, the forthright and constructive manner in which we have used that Agreement and our responsible attitude in the Conference through the Secretariat has allowed us to make considerable progress in the way of dialogue in social and economic areas.

That is sheer pretence. Stalker and Sampson, the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

For instance, at the Conference meeting on Wednesday last we discussed the problems of disadvantaged areas and I welcomed the allocation of £55 million in additional funding for the next three years to supplement the development of the disadvantaged areas of Belfast. Yesterday, as a result of our continuing pressure over the past 12 months, the British government introduced legislation on fair employment in the British House of Commons. I regard these proposals as a significant step in the process of ending discrimination in employment in Northern Ireland.

The Ryan case, where is the agreement there? This is nonsense.

We are continuing our discussions on the promotion of confidence in the administration of justice in the North.

(Interruptions.)

The Secretariat will also have a direct input into a special committee established in the Northern Ireland Office which will be designed to monitor complaints about the conduct of the security forces in Northern Ireland. At last Wednesday's meeting we also discussed extradition and the Criminal Law Jurisdiction Act. I took the opportunity to explain to the British Secretary of State the precise role of the Attorney General as established by law and the Constitution.

What precise role? The Minister does not know what it is.

Would the Minister explain to this House what that role is?

Please, Deputy Dukes. Order.

The Government invent it every day.

I repeat again for the benefit of those Members of the House who have raised questions about this issue——

Please, the Minister's time is very limited. Let him proceed without interruption.

His time is very limited, indeed.

Please, Deputy Dukes. Please desist.

——that it is well established that the Attorney General has a quasi-judicial function. I quote from a 1955 judgment of the Supreme Court which describes the position of the Attorney General very clearly:

It is quite clear that the Attorney General is in no way the servant of the Government but is put into an independent position. He is a great officer of this State, with grave responsibilities of a quasi-judical as well as of an executive nature.

That is written into the judgment of the court.

Words and pretence.

Please Deputy Dukes. Please allow the Minister to continue. He has only four minutes left.

On a point of order, is it in keeping with the order of the House that the Minister should try to pretend that he has a definition of what is quasi-judicial, when, in fact, what the Attorney General has done is to venture into utterly unknown territory never comtemplated by any court in this country?

Deputy Dukes, this is very disorderly. I am surprised at you.

It was never contemplated by the Supreme Court and the Minister is pretending he knows what he is talking about.

The Deputy must now resume his seat.

That was a judgment of the Supreme Court. In a judgment last year, the High Court said:

It is the traditional function of the Attorney General to represent the public in litigation and he is the forensic representative not only of the executive but of the public at large.... The public interests are committed to the care of the Attorney General.

The Minister has not the slightest idea of what he is talking about and neither has the Attorney General.

(Interruptions.)

As the House is aware, the process of reviewing the work of the Conference as provided for under Article 11 of the Agreement is under way. We are determined that we want to see the same dialogue existing on this matter in this island. In looking back over the last year I am confident that our constructive approach to the problems of Northern Ireland and to Anglo-Irish relations will be a continuing and developing one in 1989.

(Interruptions.)

You are not too far behind him, Mary.

You are dancing to his tune, Mary.

In regard to our overseas commitments, I regret to have to inform the Dáil that three Irish soldiers serving with UNIFIL are being held by armed elements in southern Lebanon having being abducted this morning. The function of the United Nations force is to help to ensure peace and stability and this is for the benefit of all the population of the region. No purpose is served by holding these members of UNIFIL and I am sure I speak on behalf of all Members of this House in calling on those who are holding them to release them immediately. I have been assured that all possible steps to secure the safe return of the three are being taken.

Over the years, successive Irish Governments have consistently supported the United Nations as the principal forum for the resolution of international conflict. I am glad now that the peacekeeping role of the United Nations is being given practical effect by the renewal of the financial resources which have been absent in recent years and have curtailed and restricted the role of the United Nations in peacekeeping in which we in Ireland have always played a part and which we wish to enhance.

It is appropriate also that I recall in these last days of 1988 that we have just celebrated this year the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights——

What is the Minister doing about it? What is happening?

Where is the Bill?

——a milestone in the development of an international order based on respect for the basic rights and fundamental freedom of every individual. It is for this reason that I have taken a very great personal interest in ensuring that Ireland ratifies the two United Nations convenants which implement the Declaration. I was glad, therefore, to be able to announce in the past few days that the legislation to implement the ratification of these rights and freedoms is now before the House.

One part of the legislation is being debated in the Seanad and will be law before the end of January. That is a matter which was neglected for the four years in which the Coalition were in office. Any discussion of the current international political situation must include a generous recognition of the efforts of the United States and the Soviet Union to improve their bilateral relations and the climate of international relations generally. For that reason, we welcome the recent meeting in New York between President Reagan, President-elect Bush and President Gorbachev to follow up the initiatives already taken in regard to——

Mrs. Gorbachev gave back her jewels.

(Interruptions.)

It is now time to put the question.

I have almost concluded. The Government look forward to 1989 with confidence in our ability and with the continuing support of the people to continue to build on our achievements to provide the necessary leadership the nation demands. In managing the economy, in promoting Ireland's interests in the EC, in developing Anglo-Irish relations and political dialogue, in advancing our position in international relationships and in asserting our image abroad, the Government are equipped with the skills, resources and the commitment which the people have come to expect as of right. They always get political leadership from us, we do not leave them drifting rudderless as happened when the Coalition were in office.

The Government provide paper jobs.

After that bravura performance and before I wish him a happy Christmas will the Taoiseach let us know when the 1989 budget will be introduced?

Before I return that greeting, I should like to inform the Deputy that the excellent 1989 budget will be introduced on 25 January 1989.

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 77; Níl, 13.

  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Browne, John.
  • Burke, Ray.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fahey, Jackie.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermott.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Haughey, Charles J.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • Lyons, Denis.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • Mooney, Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J.
  • (Limerick West).
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Swift, Brian.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Joe.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Wilson, John P.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright. G.V.

Níl

  • Bell, Michael.
  • De Rossa, Proinsias.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • Mac Giolla, Tomás.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies V. Brady and D. Ahern; Níl, Deputies Howlin and Stagg.
Question declared carried.

Roimh scor dúinn don tsaoire, guím Nollaig aoibhinn, shona do gach Teachta Dála agus bliain úr faoi shéan agus faoi mhaise. Go dté sibh go léir slán sa bhliain nua.

I avail of this opportunity to convey to all of my colleagues in the House my warmest greetings for a very happy Christmas and a bright and prosperous new year.

Go mbeirimíd beo ar an am seo arís le cúnamh Dé.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 January 1989.