Obviously Deputy Dukes is recovering from the political impotence of the past two and a half years and I am glad that he has got his sense of humour back as well. He certainly did not have it during the past two and a half years. Fine Gael have to realise, as have the Government Coalition parties, that they cannot be all things to all men. Fianna Fáil have attempted through the years to represent all people at all times but that is catching up with them. The difficulties of representing big farmers and big business who want return for their investment, both politically and otherwise, while also representing ordinary working people and PAYE workers is something that has caught up with both the major parties. That is the difficulty they will be facing.
One would hope that this new Coalition, perhaps more than any other, might have learnt the lessons of the recent general election. There is some poetic irony in the fact that we now have a Government made up of the only two parties in this House who lost seats in that election. That salutary experience, one would hope, would lead those parties to the realisation that the policies they followed in the past were not the policies demanded by the people. In that respect perhaps Deputy Brennan, as the director of elections for Fianna Fáil, feels particularly privileged at being rewarded by a seat in Cabinet.
I have now had an opportunity of looking at the programme for Government outlined following what were described as "arduous and complicated" negotiations between the parties. In the short time that I have had access to the document it has not been possible to undertake a detailed analysis but on the basis of what I have seen, if the policy side of the negotiations was arduous it can only have been because the negotiators wore themselves out trying to fill up 32 pages with banal clichés. It probably took them half of their time to come up with a title for the document. Clearly it would not be acceptable, given what had been said previously, to call it a coalition programme because, as we all know and have been reminded time and time again on the airwaves, coalition and the concept of coalition would offend Fianna Fáil core values and that must never be allowed, but surely with all the imagination at their disposal they could have come up with something a bit better than The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Programme for Government 1989-1993 in the National Interest. Obviously they employ the same team that brought us “That next phase is what you are voting for”. I could suggest something a little catchier, perhaps “Back to the fold”, which more accurately reflects the purpose of the document. I have to say, with respect to Saatchi and Saatchi, or whoever dreamed it up, The Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Programme for Government 1989-1993 in the National Interest is not going to catch on as a title. It certainly will not catch on with the people at large when they sit down to read it.
In overall terms, the document bears as little relationship to the realities of our situation as "Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail", and it exists only at the same level of fantasy. I have to say I find it incomprehensible that two political parties could have fought so bruising an election and still have learned so little. Perhaps the reality is that this is not so much an agreement as a truce, not so much as a prescription for the future as a burying of the hatchet. In each and every section of the document there are signs that one or other of the parties to it seem to have forgotton that we have just had an election in which the people have delivered clear verdicts on a wide range of issues.
Many, though not all, of the issues raised in the election have been dealt with but in almost every single case the judgment of the people is ignored. One of the major issues in the last election was the crisis in our health service. There is no doubt that the people have decided this question. They do not want a two-tier health service. They have said so loudly and clearly. According to page 8 of "Back to the fold" the new Government are committed to examining systems which will achieve equality of access to health care. They are not committed to implementing any such systems, the House will note, only to examining them. While this examination is going on, the Government will spend £15 million on improving the service. They say they are going to open beds in acute hospitals. We presume that means they are going to re-open some of the beds they closed. They do not mention hiring any extra staff to cope with the extra workload, but that night seem like a bit of a U-turn, and we would not want to accuse them of that. They are going to implement some of the promises made in the Fianna Fáil manifesto, dealing with waiting lists in child deafness procedures and hip replacement operations.
There is £15 million altogether. In the course of the general election, we estimated that £48 million was needed urgently in the health services. We did more than that — we showed where it would come from, and where it should be spent, item by item. This Government have decided to acknowledge that there is a problem in health care, but have ignored the reality of the crisis.
What is most worrying about the health passages in the document is the assertion that the £15 million to be spent will be found "within existing budgetary limits". If this means, as I suspect it might, that extra spending on health will be at the expense of existing health services, there will be no gain whatsoever. In overall terms I confidently predict that if the health Estimate due in the next few days is modelled on this agenda it will be vigorously opposed in this House.
If health is going to be the focus of attention over the next few days, what are we to make of some of the other commitments in the document? Where the long-term unemployed are concerned there are a number of very worthy proposals but not one extra penny is allocated to services which are already in a state of collapse. Indeed, one can search this document from top to bottom without finding a commitment for increased resources anywhere. How are the serious social problems of housing, education, and social welfare going to be addressed without any resources being made available? The growing social problems of housing are nodded to in a mere four lines, with no commitment to action. Our overcrowded classrooms get two lines, with a commitment that class sizes will be brought down only as the population declines. Under the heading of social welfare there are ominous references to means testing and rationalising, and everyone who suffered from the social welfare cuts of the last Government knows what those terms really mean.
The last Government established "offices" to develop science and technology and horticulture. That was the last most of us ever heard of those subjects. These offices were never given a meaningful budget, adequate staff or powers to carry out their functions. This Government now propose to establish an "office" to protect and improve the environment. If their commitment to the environment is as substantial as their commitment to science and technology was all I can say is, God help the environment. That would be a particular tragedy. We in the Labour Party initiated a major proposal to establish a powerful, independent agency to accomplish the objective of protecting the environment. This proposal appears to be a pale imitation of what we had in mind. What more could one expect from the Government that abolished An Foras Forbartha, that presided over some of the worst planning decisions in recent history, and that sat on necessary amendments to the planning laws until the Dáil was dissolved?
This new Government are going to give with one hand and take away with the other. In their proposals for Army pay, for example, it is already clear that the only people who will pay for basic pay increases for the Army are the soldiers themselves, through the effective loss of all allowances.
The Government remain too stubborn and pigheaded to face the reality that their rod licence provisions have been soundly rejected by the people, and will simply never work.
One of the longest sections of the document deals with agriculture, but nowhere is there to be found any mention of one of the major controversies of the last Dáil — indeed a controversy in which Deputy O'Malley played no little part — the need to ensure proper regulation and control of our beef processing sector. Clearly, everyone has to pay some price for power.
When one comes to look at the two major issues addressed by the document — the issues of taxation and unemployment — it becomes clearer and clearer that this is a document aimed more at covering up the share-out of the spoils than any serious effort to address problems. The section on employment creation would be laughable if the situation were not so serious. It is nothing more than a rehash of the cliches of the last two years, essentially a regurgitation of the old "climate of confidence" trick. One would think that the outgoing Government, and the negotiators of this agreement, did not have available to them the detailed analysis carried out by the ESRI.
One would think that they had never been in a position to look at the policy suggestions in relation to sectoral employment, industrial policy, education and training, and structural funding contained in that body's medium-term review. One would think that there was no such thing in this country as a vibrant public sector.
The document contributes nothing to addressing the unemployment crisis, and the word "emigration" does not even rate a mention. Instead, Fianna Fáil have now committed themselves to voting for a Progressive Democrats' Private Members' Bill on competition that they voted against in the last Dáil, and that was roundly defeated by the last Dáil.
The section on taxation contains a number of vague generalities on tax reform, and unspecific promises about reducing the standard rate to 25 per cent. The best I can say about it is that it is written like the recipe for Mother's Pride bread — deliberately aimed at being bland enough so that it will give offence to no one — but as a recipe for the fundamental tax reform we need in this country, it will be a recipe only for disaster.
Over the next months and years, two main questions will preoccupy the political system of our country. At least, these two questions ought to be among the principal issues that we face and deal with. It may well be that these issues will be ignored, and that they will be settled by default. It may well be that the politicians we have elected to Government will simply turn a blind eye to them, and allow them to be decided by faceless, anonymous people. If that were to happen the result would be disastrous, as it has been disastrous in other countries where these issues have arisen.
The questions are these: first, how are the fruits of economic growth to be distributed and, secondly, who is going to wield the power and influence of ownership in Ireland in the future?
These are huge and difficult questions. They may not seem at first glance to be the most obvious ones that arise on a day like this but if recent political experience has shown us anything, it has shown us that issues like these must be pushed to the centre of the political stage. Too much of our recent experience has been tied up with defending people against the callous and unthinking consequences of an ill-considered approach to policy. Too much of our recent experience has been tied up with unscrambling the consequences of secret deals and political cronyism. We cannot as a community allow the style and substance of this kind of Government to continue.
I would like to address these two questions in the order in which I raised them. I consider it a tragedy that neither of them has been seriously addressed in the document which forms the basis of this Government.
There is every possibility now that we are facing into a period of sustained economic growth. The recent medium-term review published by the Economic and Social Research Institute heralded the possibility that within a few short years we will be making capital repayments on our debt, rather than simply servicing the interest.
According to the ESRI, our economy could grow on average by 5 per cent a year for each of the next five years. By 1991, on the basis of present revenue and spending policies, we will be taking in more in taxation than we spend, for the first time since the early 1970s. This is a rosy picture — some would say that it is much too optimistic — but even if we allow for a degree of optimism the likelihood is, as I have said, that our economy will grow. The question that poses is, who will benefit from that growth?
The authors of the ESRI review pose the question well. The say: "The policy dilemma will be the reconciliation of the need for economic efficiency and the desirability of social equity." The Labour Party in the past have attempted to pose the same question over and over again. We have insisted at all times that the management of our economy must be efficient and tough, but it must go hand in hand with a deep, underlying commitment to the principles of social justice.
We have had economic growth in the past two and a half years. We have had more efficiency in the public service and throughout the economy. Nobody can deny that: but it has been built on the backs of 100,000 emigrants and a quarter of a million unemployed people. It has been built on the backs of one million poor. It has been built at the cost of increasing inequality and disadvantage at every level of our society.
Side by side with the increasing efficiency of our economy, we have witnessed in the past two and a half years an increasing polarisation in our society. It is manifest in our two-tier health service, just as it is manifest in the virtual collapse in our public housing, the gradual elimination of free education, and the dismantling of social welfare schemes. A more efficient economy coupled with a more unjust and a less equal society is what we have begun to create in our country in the short lifetime of the last Dáil.
That is a recipe for disaster. We cannot afford in our country the pernicious influence of Thatcherism. We must address the structural issues in our economy that give rise to unemployment, to poverty and to inequality, and we must do it now. We must take advantage of the upturn in our economic fortunes to ensure that disadvantage is rooted out of our country. We must ensure that the fruits of economic growth are fairly and justly distributed.
Sadly, there is little evidence in anything we have seen so far that the issue of equality and justice will feature on this new Government's agenda. From what we have seen of the programme for Government, it is not a programme for Government at all, but a recipe for ensuring that the spoils of office are grabbed and held on to. I have not seen or heard anything that persuades me that this Government are even aware of the fundamental importance of wisely managed and fairly distributed economic growth. That is why it is vitally important that there is a strong, effective and vigorous Opposition in this House, and we in the Labour Party intend to ensure that that Opposition is provided.
The second question I raised earlier concerns the whole issue of power and influence. We know that the past two years have seen a series of issues where the question of political favouritism has been of central importance. Much of what has gone on we may never know anything about but we know enough to make us wonder why Deputy O'Malley, in particular, who made a virtual career of pursuing the issue of export credit insurance, has not seen fit to mention that subject in the programme for Government to which he has now agreed.
I will give just one example of what I mean. There has been considerable media coverage in the last couple of days about the agreement made between the last Government and Goodman Industries about the development of the beef processing industry. We expressed considerable doubt at the time that that agreement would lead to increased investment and employment in that sector, despite the fact that the Government were prepared to grant-aid the development to the tune of £25 million. As we now know, that development programme has not met any of its targets, and seems increasingly unlikely to do so. We have been reassured by the IDA and others that none of the £25 million has been drawn down, or will be drawn down until the jobs are on stream, but what we have never been told is whether or not there are other angles to agreements of this sort.
There was an unusual coincidence about this agreement, in that it was announced originally on the same day as the publication of the 1987 Finance Act. That Act contained a little noticed section which now allows companies like Goodman International to benefit for tax purposes from the purchase of plant and equipment — even if those purchases were completely grant-aided by the State.
The principal feature of that section is that it immediately increased the value of the £25 million in grants — or any other grants for capital equipment received by similar companies — by up to 50 per cent. In other words, if and when that £25 million is drawn down, its true value will be closer to £40 million. Despite raising that matter publicly, we have never been told why that section was included in the Finance Act of 1987. Specifically, we have never been told whether or not the inclusion of that section was part of a secret agreement behind the agreement announced at the time.
This is, of course, only one of the questions that have never been answered about the extent of political wheeling and dealing in the past two and a half years. There have been many others, of course, and, while many of them have seen the light of day, we may never know the full extent of such issues. What is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that the issue of who wields power and influence in our democracy is becoming an increasingly important one.
We attempted to address that question in a number of different ways in the last Dáil. We published a Private Members' Bill dealing with the receipt of valuable gifts by Government officials. We submitted a draft Register of Members Financial Interests to the Committee of Procedure and Privileges. We put down amendments to the Companies Bill which would have had the effect of forcing all political contributions to be made public. We made detailed proposals to change the sub judice rule, in order to ensure that this House was able to debate matters of urgent public importance. We were in the process of preparing a Freedom of Information Act, and a more comprehensive Ethics in Government Act.
There was one political party in the last Dáil which held itself out as being in support of these ideas and values, even though they would have disagreed with us on a wide range of other issues. That party was the Progressive Democrats. Sadly, all their interest in this area appears to have disappeared once the prospect of office appeared on the horizon. It will always remain in a matter of speculation as to whether these issues were even raised in the discussions between the party leaders. There is certainly no evidence that either of the party leaders involved took them seriously enough to merit a mention in their programme for Government. Instead, we are promised a Bill to deal with phone tapping. That is certainly a breathtaking proposal in the circumstances.
Despite the shape of this Government, and the document that now underpins it, there is a great deal of work to be done in the immediate future. It is clear already that much of that work will have to be done by the Opposition. There is so little on offer to us by way of a meaningful initiative from the new Government that one can only consider it fortunate that they have a very slim majority. Perhaps if they do nothing else, they will be persuaded to listen in the future. That, at least, would be a start.