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.