Estimates for Public Services, 1991, and Public Capital Programme, 1991: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by the Minister for Finance on 18 December 1990:
That Dáil Éireann takes note of the 1991 Estimates for the Public Services (Abridged Version) and of the 1991 Summary Public Capital Programme.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"Notes that the Estimates will do nothing to repair the social and economic damage of the last three years, and notes in particular that:
—no money is provided for the hiring of one extra teacher at primary or secondary level — as a proportion of GNP, overall education spending is 5.6 per cent — the lowest level since the start of the 1980s;
—third world aid, which has been savagely cut in recent years, has been cut again in real terms;
—increases in health spending are totally inadequate to meet the needs of long queues for services, and will neither reopen beds nor hire sufficient extra staff — the proportion of GNP spent on health, according to these Estimates, will be no more than 6.3 per cent;
—the Social Welfare Estimate will not even begin to paper over the cracks in the extent of poverty in Ireland;
—the revenue available to local authorities, many of whom are in crisis, is frozen for another year;
—there will be almost no public housing starts next year, and Dáil Éireann further notes that in capital terms, there is a shift in spending away from social infrastructure towards other sectors, that critical capital needs in the health and education areas are not going to be met for another year, and calls on the Government to take note of these major concerns and criticisms in the framing of the Budget for 1991."
—(Deputy Ruairí Quinn.)

Last evening I was discussing spending by the Department of Justice, part of which is dealt with by the Minister for Finance in the past speech on law and order, in which the Minister said expenditure on prisons will increase by 11 per cent, that a great deal of this will go on recruitment of up to 170 prison staff, including medical orderlies, and that an extensive refurbishment programme is under way in St. Patrick's Institution. This will include significant improvements to the women's prison.

It is on that issue I would like to make my remarks. We have had in Estimate debates and in other debates on the Department of Justice the same kind of two-line comment about the women's prison. Still there is no sign that conditions are improving, that the women are being moved or that anything is changing. Most of the 40 women who are in Mountjoy Prison are there because of social deprivation of one kind or another. It is generally accepted that half of these women should not be in jail at all. They should have other facilities for which there have been numerous appeals and calls over the years, for example, open prisons, like a non-detention centre. They should not be incarcerated in what is in effect a Victorian dungeon-like prison where rehabilitation is almost hopeless. Indeed, in many instances it proves to be an academy of drug taking and crime for younger short term prisoners. Why is there always a higher priority in the scale of spending on areas other than on the women's prison? Above all, how can this Government stand over the serious situation which we have had in the last few months in which two 15 year old girls are in jail? This week the detention of these two young girls is to be challenged in the court again. Once more we will probably see these young people, who are in great need of help, being bounced around like a rubber ball from one agency to another and from one court to another, and probably inevitably they will be back on the streets. It is an utter scandal that no one wants to take responsibility for dealing with these girls and others like them.

Reform of the women's prison was one of the main recommendations of the Joint Committee on Women's Rights earlier this year in its submission to the Minister for Justice. The recommendations at that time called for a number of changes. A fundamental recommendation was the need for a secure purpose-built women's prison, divided into appropriate units. That submission also called for an open women's prison for those women prisoners whom the protection of society, does not require to be detained in a closed prison, a separate remand prison for those who, by definition have not been proved guilty by due process, segregation of long term and short term prisoners and segregation of hardened criminals and drug users from prisoners who, on entering prison, are not in that category, and a secure and supportive remand centre for young female offenders, at the absence of which the Joint Committee on Women's Rights continues to be concerned. Every other category of prisoners have better conditions than women. I am not saying their conditions are commendable but in every area they have a better quality of life while in prison than do women.

The Minister for Justice has shown enlightenment and concern in a number of other areas in his Justice brief and he is to be commended for that. I would ask him now not to have a blind spot about women in prison — it is a most important area — and to immediately provide the necessary funding for a concerted policy to change the present conditions under which the 40 women are living and to let us see the effects of the changes.

This year I visited Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland mainly to see the women's prison there. I was told it was the most modern women's prison in these islands. The visit was made possible through the Northern Ireland Office. I found it was easier to organise a visit to that prison in Northern Ireland, and all the other prisons if I want to, than it was to get into the prisons in the Republic. Despite numerous applications to the Minister for Justice earlier in the year for access to Wheatfield and Arbour Hill Prisons I have not been successful. I know others in this House have an interest in seeing our prisons for themselves and I think we are entitled to be facilitated. What happens inside prison walls is as much our concern and our responsibility as what happens to people outside.

I deplore the sense of secrecy and suspicion from the Department of Justice on this matter. I ask the Minister for Justice to facilitate requests for visits from Members of this House. People who want to go into the prison are well-meaning and probably have an interest, as I have, in the area of prison reform. I suggest there should be all-party machinery whereby Deputies can apply to go on a prison visit without having to go through a great rigmarole to get in. Maybe what we should be talking about is an all-party committee on crime, lawlessness and vandalism for which there is a great need.

At Maghaberry Prison there were only 25 women who occupy a modern building in grounds close to the main men's prison. It is situated about 20 miles from Belfast. Each woman occupies a single cell with toilet facilities and very attractive, brightly painted walls and floral curtains. The facilities include a well equipped three bedroomed hospital, classrooms, an industries workshop, a gym, as well as mother and baby rooms. The atmosphere throughout that prison was bright and cheerful and the environment of the prison, unlike Mountjoy or any other prison, does not add stress to the time of detention and further punish the inmates. It allows all involved to feel of some worth and deserving of care and commitment.

This prison's objective is primarily to detain those who have been given a custodial sentence in the courts, but it further aims to seduce inmates away from lives of crime and violence. It has gone a long way in achieving this through the personal commitment of the Governor of Maghaberry Prison, Mr. Duncan MacLaughlin — who accompanied me on my tour — to whom much is owed for the work being done in this prison.

In the time available to me I would like to refer briefly to another area about which there is great concern that the Government are taking seriously, that is, the chronic need of residential accommodation for people with mental handicap.

Does the Minister think that this group can be ignored indefinitely? Five thousand moderate to severely handicapped people are living at home and are being looked after by their parents who have sacrificed their lives to care for them. Most of these parents will only cease to provide physical care for their children when they become too ill to cope or die. They have made themselves servants for their children but they are now unable to go on. They have held public meetings, made submissions and even taken to the streets with their children, most of whom are now adults in wheelchairs, trying to get support for their cause. Apart from an unconvincing commitment to open the empty wards at Cheeverstown House, something which should have been done a long time ago, there has been no response from the Minister for Health or his Department. No time-scale has been set for the opening of these wards which would only be a small response to this problem.

This is a most harrowing issue. It is the most crucial area of neglect in the brief of the Minister for Health. According to the Eastern Health Board, accommodation is urgently needed in their area for 300 people. It will cost in the region of £6 million to resolve the problems in this area. Will the Government give them this money or will they continue to put this problem on the long finger? There can be few areas of greater need or more deserving of spending than the families who have a severely handicapped person in the home.

The inadequate level of accommodation has gone beyond a crisis. There is inadequate respite and rest care for carers. I know for a fact that the staff in a day centre in my constituency often take their charges home with them if parents are ill or have to go to a family wedding or funeral. These staff are willing, without any additional pay or being insured to do so, to take their severely handicapped charges home with them for the night in such circumstances.

This debate is mainly about magnificent amounts of money, the finances of the State, macro-economics, etc. I believe that people and their needs can get lost in this socio-economic plan and all the jargon that goes with it. I want to refer to a number of cases which will illustrate——

Gabh mo leithscéal, a Theachta, I have given you some latitude. Tá dhá nóiméad fágtha agat.

In that case I do not have time to refer to the cases to which I wanted to refer. However, I will refer briefly to two cases in the day centre to which I referred earlier. In one case, a widow of 75 years lives at home with her totally dependent adult daughter. This woman is ill and cannot cope but she has nowhere to put her daughter. In another case a woman of 26 lives at home with her parents, her father is 75. Again they have nowhere to put her. These cases are well documented and indicate the chronic crisis in this area which is deserving of funding. I ask that these people be considered in this year's budget.

Acting Chairman

I now call the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Pádraig Flynn.

On a point of order, is the Minister replying to the debate?

Acting Chairman

No.

Tugann an tairiscint atá ós comhair an Tí seo deis dúinn labhairt ar na Meastacháin Choimrithe don bhliain atá le teacht agus, ag an am gcéanna, féachaint siar ar an dul chun cinn a rinneadh i rith na bliana atá beagnach thart.

Firstly, 1990 will be an historic year because of the progress we have made in the environment area. We had the Green Presidency for the first six months of the year which raised environmental awareness to new heights and, last week, the Bill to establish the Environmental Protection Agency was published and presented to Seanad Éireann. My declared intention over the past few years to bring environmental issues to centre stage has paid off handsomely and these issues are now recognised as a major agenda item for Government. Our record in Europe in dealing with environmental issues during our Presidency has been acclaimed by all our partners there.

Secondly, 1990 saw the economic progress, which was begun by the Fianna Fáil Government in 1987, continue. We now have one of the lowest inflation levels in Europe, an achievement of which we should all be proud. Other major economic indicators have remained positive throughout the year, thus giving the country the firm confidence boost it needs, especially when there is so much doom and gloom in other economies. I was particularly heartened by the results of the labour force survey published last October. It showed that the total number of people at work increased by 30,000 in the period mid-April 1989 to mid-April 1990. This was the largest annual increase in employment for over a decade.

There is a lesson for all sectors of the economy in these results. We want to continue this impressive achievement and to build on it through a new Programme for Economic and Social Development. Some of the partners in the negotiations may have different goals to achieve, but I do not think I am wrong in saying that a goal shared by all sectors is to secure further reductions in the overall unemployment level over the next few years.

As far as my Department's Estimates for 1991 are concerned, I am pleased to say that the various provisions will contribute to increasing employment next year, while at the same time providing very worthwhile infrastructural and social services for the community, particularly in the roads and housing areas.

I would like to refer initially to the construction industry which, according to many experts, acts as a barometer of the state of the economy. In that case, I have good news. The recovery in the construction industry, which began in 1988, has been maintained and growth in output is set to continue in 1991. Overall output increased by nearly 8 per cent in 1989 and by a further 10 per cent in 1990. The total value of construction output in 1990 is estimated at over £3,000 million and direct employment in the industry now stands at 77,000. The recovery in the residential property market, together with growth in new commercial and retail construction, have been primarily responsible for the continued strong performance of the industry. New house completions in 1990 are running at 9 per cent up on the 1989 level. Retail and commercial volume output increased by one-quarter in 1990. This increase, following on increases since 1987, reflects the confidence which private investors have in the Government's economic policies. I am satisfied that further prudent management of the economy will maintain the conditions and climate which are necessary for further growth in the industry.

Nineteen hundred and ninety-one will also see a further significant increase in the public capital programme affecting the building industry. The £51 million increase, provided for in the "Summary of Public Capital Programme, 1991", represents an increase of 5 per cent over 1990. This will have a positive impact on overall output in the industry and should generate up to 1,500 new jobs.

The Government recognise that the improvement of our national road network is essential to offset the effects of Ireland's peripheral location within the EC. The recently published operational programme provides for roads investment of £616 million over the period 1989-93, of which £416 million will be financed by the European Regional Development Fund. Other non-programme investment will bring central Government expenditure on roads in the period to over £900 million.

The fundamental objective of the operational programme is to reduce the impact on economic activity of Ireland's peripheral location and, in particular, to reduce the cost of internal and access transport. This complex undertaking requires a balanced, co-ordinated approach to the whole question of transport investment strategy. The operational programme goes a long way towards meeting that objective by setting out a coherent medium-term strategy for investment in roads and other transport infrastructure. Activity under the programme will underline our commitment to providing support to industry, tourism and other forms of positive economic development.

The 1991 Estimates provide £233 million for State road grants. This is the highest provision ever in the history of the State and £17.3 million more than in 1990. A sum of £200 million is being provided for improvements, which is an increase of £15.5 million or 8 per cent over 1990. The maintenance grant is £33 million, an increase of almost 6 per cent. These grants will enable work to start next year on a number of major improvement projects including the Dunleer by-pass, Northern Cross Route in Dublin, Clonee by-pass and the Lucan-Kilcock by-pass.

Thank you, Minister.

It is very necessary work and I look forward to an early start to it next year.

In addition, I am pleased to inform the House that the commitment given in the 1989 budget that £150 million would be provided over three years in discretionary grants to county councils for regional and county roads has been more than fulfilled: in fact total grants for regional and county road development over the three years will amount to £173 million.

The operational programme for water, sanitary and other local services 1989-1993 was also published recently. It will bring EC assistance of some £92 million, giving a co-financed programme of £184 million. At national level we are, of course, committed to investment in water and sanitary services over and above the level provided for in the operational programme. This additional spending is needed to meet domestic and other essential needs and generally to improve water quality and waste water treatment standards.

To illustrate this wider programme, I recently published a document called "Water and Sanitary Services in Ireland — Policy and Programme for 1989-93." This document, which has been circulated to Deputies, sets out the wider policies and priorities governing the additional investment which will be undertaken in the water supply and sewerage programme over and above the level being co-financed by the EC.

In the past year, I have issued approval for the construction of some 133 water and sanitary service schemes costing in excess of £68 million. Work on many of these schemes is to continue through 1991. Planning for an additional 51 schemes, costing about £146 million, is at a very advanced stage. I intend that construction on these schemes will commence next year.

I am pleased that the Government have provided for an expansion of the local authority housing programme in 1991. The overall allocation for 1991 is £62.6 million, an increase of £11.6 million or 23 per cent on the 1990 provision. As in 1990, the capital proceeds of local authority sales schemes, amounting to £32 million next year, will be used to assist the financing of the local authority housing programme. The Exchequer's contribution to the expanded programme is being increased from £6 million in 1990 to £30.6 million in 1991 — an increase of more than 400 per cent. In addition, I am actively considering some new and innovative social housing measures on which I hope to make announcements in the not too distant future.

The voluntary housing scheme enables local authorities to advance capital grants to approved voluntary organisations for the provision of accommodation for disadvantaged groups, including elderly persons in need of housing, and the homeless. In line with developments in other European countries, the voluntary sector is playing an increasingly important role in the provision of housing for persons unable to house themselves. The voluntary housing sector will provide about 500 units of accommodation this year bringing to approximately 1,500 the total number of units provided since the inception of the scheme in 1984. The 1991 provision of £9.275 million will ensure that the voluntary sector can maintain their important and valuable contribution towards meeting the social housing needs of some of the most disadvantaged groups in the community.

One area of Government policy which has been particularly successful over the past few years is that of urban renewal. The Government's success in restoring favourable economic conditions and a climate conducive to investment has been a major contributory factor in the regeneration of cities and towns the length and breadth of the country. The designated areas scheme for urban renewal, under which generous incentives are available to promote development and which targets private-sector investment on rundown urban areas, has had enormous impact. The scheme has been vigorously promoted by the Government and we have taken a number of important measures to ensure its continued success.

In 1988, the scheme was extended to ten towns. On 1 May last, I again extended the scheme to eight further towns and also to additional areas in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. We have also extended the deadline for take-up of incentives by two years, to 31 May 1993.

One of the yardsticks used for measuring the success of the scheme is the level of development activity and investment generated in areas previously shunned by the private sector. In all, projects involving investment of some £490 million have been generated or planned, and these will give rise to over 10,000 construction jobs, as well as long term employment. We are succeeding in eradicating the decay and dereliction which has blighted many of our towns and cities.

I recently allocated to local authorities their rate support grants for 1991, which were increased by nearly 4 per cent over 1990 which is in excess of the current inflation level. The total rate support grant was increased by £6 million to £168.75 million.

I wish to commend local authorities for the business-like way in which they have adopted their estimates for the coming year. All of them have disposed of the estimates at this stage. Setting spending levels is never an easy task, but praise is due to local authorities for the responsible approach they have demonstrated in drawing up budgets over the past few years. Their resolve in maintaining strict spending discipline is commendable and I am confident that they can maintain this approach for the future.

Before I move on from the area of local finances, I want to mention new financial arrangements in relation to courthouses. For many years, local authorities have pressed for the removal of the financial burden of the cost of providing and maintaining courthouses, on the basis that courthouses are integral to the administration of justice and should be a central charge. The Government have accepted this proposal and provision has been made in the Courts Estimate — for which my colleague the Minister for Justice is responsible — for such expenditure in 1991. This means that local authorities will receive capital grants for courthouse improvement rather than having to raise loans. Where there are existing loans from the Local Loans Fund, the balances outstanding are being written off. In addition, a provision has been made towards the cost of maintaining courthouses. Local authorities will continue to look after the maintenance of courthouses at local level on an agency basis under the new funding arrangements. This is an additional financial burden removed from local authorities which I believe will be widely welcomed and will enable local resources to be redirected to other pressing needs.

Most people now accept that our future is very much dependent on the way we treat the environment. This new awareness of the importance of the environment must guide the work of businesses, large and small, international trade and the relationships between nations.

This Government's commitment to the environment is clear and unambiguous. The Government have set out in the environment action programme a whole range of environmental measures to be undertaken by public bodies across the broad public sector over the coming decade at a cost of £1,000 million. This level of investment underscores the Government's intention to ensure that our natural environment is fully protected and enhanced for the health, safety and wellbeing of this and future generations.

The Government are continuing to provide a high level of resources for the protection and improvement of the environment through the Environment Vote and otherwise.

A sum of £1 million is provided for the start-up costs of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1991. This figure excludes funds which may be transferred to the agency as a result of the assignment or transfer of staff from other bodies for which budgetary provision has been made separately. The actual funds available for the agency in 1991 will accordingly be considerably more than the £1 million specifically provided in the Estimates.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposals have been developed in response to a specific undertaking in the Programme for Government 1989-1993. The objective is to reform and modernise Irish institutional arrangements for environmental control. Many countries are operating or developing specialised agencies to provide environmental regulation of heavy industry and other activities with major environmental impact. It makes particular sense to establish such a body in a small country like Ireland where the full range of environmental expertise cannot easily be replicated through a large number of local authorities. Public confidence in the control of development which poses a risk of pollution will be greatly enhanced by an agency which will be fully independent, professionally competent and dedicated to improving the quality of, and access to, environmental information.

Government action alone, however, will not solve environmental problems. Individuals must play their part in protecting and saving the environment on which we all ultimately depend. My Department have made a special allocation in recent years in respect of environmental activities and this will be continued in 1991. My Department will also be developing special promotional campaigns in respect of particular environmental issues which need to be highlighted. A total of £410,000 is being provided for these activities.

The outstanding innovation in the environment awareness area in 1990 was the establishment of ENFO, the Environmental Information Service. I am delighted to say that a high level of funding for this service is being maintained in 1991 with £600,000 included in the Estimates. The public response to the establishment of ENFO has been extremely encouraging. Since it opened in September, it has had over 1,000 visitors each week. Such a high level of demand for environmental information is an encouraging sign which should lead to increased levels of participation by the public in an even wider range of environmental issues and concerns.

Before I conclude I would like to take this opportunity, a Cheann Comhairle, as the busy holiday period commences, to ask the public to take extra care on the roads or in areas where there is a fire risk. People should abide by the advice that is generally available and in particular the advice from the National Safety Council. If driving, avoid alcoholic drink and use seat belts. Compliance with a few basic rules would avoid more tragedies and make the holiday season more enjoyable for all.

Teaspáineann na Meastacháin Choimrithe dáiríreacht an Rialtais i leith smacht a choinneáil ar chaiteachas poiblí agus soláthar a dhéanamh ag an am gcéanna do shéirbhísí riachtanacha, eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta don bhliain atá romhainn. Tabharfaidh an díospóireacht ar Meastacháin 1991 mo Roinne deis dúinn plé níos doimhne a dhéanamh ar Mheastacháin chaitheachais na bliana atá le teacht.

As Labour Party spokesman on Defence, I wish to refer briefly to the Defence Estimate. The report of the first independent commission to examine pay and conditions within the Defence Forces in the history of the State was issued last July. On the basis of the Estimate we will not see any real movement in 1991 towards implementing the recommendations of the Gleeson report, except for salary increases. This is gravely disappointing in view of the number of recommendations contained in that report. It seems that it will be assigned to the shelf. I recommend to the representative bodies that they do not allow this to happen.

Provision has not been made in the Estimate to improve the working conditions at the apprentice school to ensure that they comply with the basic standards in FÁS training establishments. The commission recommended that workshops in various barracks should comply with minimum health and safety standards. Is it too much to expect that the personnel in our Defence Forces should work in conditions which meet basic requirements? The Government have not provided the money to deal with any of these areas and the Estimate can only be regarded as totally inadequate.

The commission visited barracks throughout the country and noted that the quality of sleeping accommodation was extremely poor. It is deplorable that members of our Defence Forces are sleeping in draught-ridden conditions. In one instance cardboard was being used in window frames. Is that not totally unacceptable to us as a nation? The allocation for maintenance barely keeps pace with the rise in the cost of living. Clearly there is no commitment on the part of the Government to implement the commission's recommendations.

There is a need to establish a representative body for the members of the reserve force, the FCA. At Question Time in November I asked the then Minister for Defence to give statutory effect to the establishment of such a body. His reply was a cop-out, a delaying tactic. Members of the FCA are working on the ground with the PDF but in many cases they are not receiving adequate recompense, being paid for perhaps only one shift. In relation to sleeping accommodation, they get the worst of the poor accommodation available. The Taoiseach, who is the current Minister for Defence, was himself a member of the FCA and I would ask him to consider the real needs. Let us not have a repetition of what happened two or three years ago when members of the PDF were looking for their legitimate rights. The Taoiseach might give a commitment to consider this matter before Christmas. When he nominates a new Minister for Defence he should give that Minister the responsibility of dealing with that issue as a priority.

I now turn to the Environment Estimate. A matter which I have consistently highlighted is the local authority housing crisis. Do the Minister and the Government acknowledge that over 60,000 individuals throughout the country are living in intolerable conditions? In County Dublin alone there are over 1,000 applicants on local authority housing lists. In respect of those fortunate enough to have the money to purchase, or who may receive the present of a mobile home, would the House consider for a moment the cold, damp conditions that prevailed this very morning; consider the condensation on and dampness of bed linen in such mobile homes affecting adults and children alike? Does the Minister for Health, present in the House, not realise the effects of such conditions on the health of our children? It must also be remembered that there is the extended family with perhaps ten, 12 or 14 individuals living in a three-bedroomed dwelling who may have been awaiting a local authority house for three or four years. Yet we hear the Minister say that he does not accept that there is a problem. Are the Government or the Minister really not aware of the problem obtaining?

I believe that their moral conscience must be awakened once and for all to this fact so that there may be some hope of greater social justice obtaining here. In a Christian country such as this how can the Government and Minister continue to overlook such a problem while everybody knows that a house is an absolute prerequisite to the growth and development of the individual and family alike? Is it any wonder that we have the current levels of marital breakdown while we have not only unemployment but a huge lack of housing for people who cannot afford to provide housing for themselves?

I wish now to refer briefly to a matter of grave concern to all Members. The passage of the Child Care Bill through this House last week was warmly welcomed by most people involved in the area of child abuse. While it was appropriate that this House should update legislation to deal with this evil in our society, there is needed a definite commitment on the part of the Minister for Health and Government to provide the necessary resources for the treatment of victims and their families. From my experience dealing with people in this area — particularly in Temple Street Hospital — such assistance has not been forthcoming. Temple Street Hospital centre caters for child abuse cases in the greater north city and north County Dublin areas. The St. Clare validation clinic attached to Temple Street Hospital is relatively well staffed and operates effectively, particularly when one acknowledges the unprecedented increase in references thereto in recent years. I would remind the Minister that the crisis extends to the treatment unit at present provided by the child guidance clinic attached to Temple Street Hospital which, five years ago, had a staff of six but which today has three only. Given the increased workload and the unprecedented increase in references in recent years, one must pose the question: is there not something wrong here? This service for the treatment of cases of child abuse scratches the surface only. It is my belief that the requisite personnel and knowledge are available within the overall health services, with people prepared to give of their expertise and knowledge to the Department and the Eastern Health Board in order to provide that service. What is needed is a firm commitment on the part of the Minister and Government to do something about this. What is needed is the establishment of a special unit, properly staffed, in order to treat victims of child abuse and their families. As we all know, it can take anything from eight years to a lifetime to come to terms with such tragic occurrences.

It would be my hope that the Minister would take some action in relation to some of the points I have made. Not only do we need legislation but it must be implemented alongside the provision of the requisite resources which are not available at present.

I want to refer now to the Agriculture Estimate, in particular its effect on Teagasc and its knock-on effects on horticulture, the field vegetable industry on our eastern coast, particularly in my constituency. I noticed a headline in last Sunday'sBusiness Post to the effect that the State commitment to Teagasc falls £3 million short of requirements which, in turn, highlighted its effect on the services they provide. I understand that the board of Teagasc are expected to examine personnel and other cutback possibilities in addition to the disposal of assets. On the basis of this Estimate, if Teagasc are to carry through their proposals on the premise of cutbacks in their allocation from the Department, that will have major implications for horticulture and the food and fresh vegetable industry in north County Dublin. If implemented, the proposal to transfer the vegetable research programme from Kinsealy to Oak Park would have serious implications for the future development of the fresh vegetable sector here. When research into vegetable crops was initiated in Kinsealy — not far from the Taoiseach's home — in 1959 that location was chosen because of the concentration of fresh vegetable growing on the east coast, particularly in the north County Dublin area with its climatic advantages and proximity to the capital city and its growing population. This remains a relevant factor in 1990 as the growing of vegetables has expanded into the adjoining counties of Meath and Louth, so that north County Dublin, along with Meath and Louth, now account for 33 per cent of the national fresh vegetable acreage. There has also been an expansion of vegetable growing in Counties Kildare, Wicklow and the coastal areas of Wexford, Waterford and Cork where the use of plastic cloches helps to extend the growing season further.

Current trends favour the production of fresh rather than processed produce. This means there will be extended acreages of vegetable growing in milder areas around our coast where the growing season can be extended, thereby taking advantage of import substitution and exploring a potential export market. If we are serious about our agricultural and horticultural industries, we must examine their potential. It is illogical to take the research area out of north County Dublin.

In regard to asset disposals I want to put the Minister on notice that the Teagasc proposal to sell up to 60 acres of vital agricultural land at Kinsealy will have major implications for the horticultural industry. I will resist this move as far as possible. The proposal is mind-boggling. When we want to expand our horticultural industry I do not want to see this proposal making millionaires of a couple of people at the expense of the entire industry. I hope I will not have to come back here to say that these proposals have had that effect. The Minister should take on board what I have said. This Estimate does not deal adequately with the social and economic problems we face today. Therefore, I have no problem in opposing it.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the 1991 abridged Book of Estimates. The overall provisions in the book reflect the Government's sensible approach to the public finances and strike a balance between control of public expenditure and maintenance of essential public services. This balance has been made possible by meeting the challenge which the public finances have presented over the last few years and by making informed and courageous choices.

The health service has played its part in this process and has contributed to bringing about renewed confidence in the economy generally, while at the same time management and staff in the health agencies have met the challenge and maintained the basic fabric of the services which are being delivered with commitment and dedication in a very high quality of service.

The Government have recognised the needs of the health service. For example, in the 1990 budget, £10 million was announced to develop further services for the elderly, the mentally handicapped and the dental service. Furthermore the House agreed to a Supplementary Estimate yesterday to provide additional funding in order to support the enhanced services in our acute hospitals.

As can be seen from the provisions in the 1991 Book of Estimates, the Government are continuing their commitment to providing a first class health service. Table 5 in the Book, which lists gross non-capital supply services by functional classification, shows that while overall spending on social services shows an increase of 5 per cent, the health services provision increases by 9 per cent over the comparable 1990 figure. It is also clear from a summary of net non-capital Estimates — Table 2 in the Book — that the health service share of the total expenditure has risen from 21 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 1991. This further demonstrates that, despite a continuing difficult economic situation, the Government are determined to continue to provide high quality health care for the community.

Members of the Opposition have stated that, despite the increases in health funding contained in the Estimates, the proportion of national spending devoted to health is considerably short of what is regarded as a basic minimum. I would have to ask what is the basic minimum, and who determines it. The Commission on Health Funding, a distinguished independent committee of experts, have gone on record to state that, "the appropriate level of expenditure can only emerge in the context of the resources allocated to each of the services, having regard to their relative cost effectiveness".

The commission also advance the view that the overall level of funding required for the Irish health services cannot be determined by reference to international comparisons, due to the fact that there are no universally accepted statistical definitions for what constitutes health expenditure.

There has also been much attention given to the fact that a considerable proportion of the increase in health spending is in respect of pay awards. It is true that these awards will add considerably to the pay bill in 1991.

Compared with the equivalent 1990 provision, the Health Vote for the coming year includes an additional £59.4 million for pay awards and the effect of the one hour reduction in the working week. Given the 24 hour nature of the health services this latter measure will actually result in an increase in health services employment mainly in the area of care staff. In my view such increases are deserved by the hardworking staff to whom they have been awarded. This reflects society's recognition of the fact that health staff provide a much-valued service in difficult circumstances. If we wish to continue to attract and retain staff of the high calibre necessary to provide a modern service, we must pay the appropriate salaries.

The financial resources being provided in 1991 do not obviate the need for agencies to continue to use such resources in the most cost-effective manner possible. The quest for greater efficiency and better value must be unending. Given the huge public investment in the health services we must ensure that the budget is spent for the maximum benefit of the people for whom we have responsibility. In this regard my Department will continue the efficiency drive throughout 1991 which, with the outcome of the Fox-Kennedy studies and local initiatives by health agencies, will free up resources which can then be applied for the betterment of services. I intend to continue to work with the health boards to ensure the maximum benefits for patients from the resources available.

The combined purchasing muscle of the health agencies will be a very powerful tool in securing the very best value in the procurement of supplies and services. One small example of how this is already working is in the area of hip replacements, where a combined procurement initiative co-ordinated by my Department has resulted in quite substantial savings in the purchase of hip implants. As well as purchasing and stockholding, initiatives can also be shared in relation to income generation, the management of risk and a whole range of worthwhile and cost effective management techniques.

In the past year or so the number of acute hospital beds has increased by 1,000 to about 12,000 and the number of people employed has also risen by about 2,000. The 1991 provision allows for services to be maintained at this level, while at the same time allowing for enhancement, in the quality of the service through the bringing on stream of new facilities. These will include acute hospital developments in Waterford, Wexford and Sligo and the development of acute psychiatric services in Kildare.

Since the middle of last year the Government have progressively improved services in the acute hospital sector. In 1989 an additional £15 million was made available to address some of the gaps which existed, and these funds were used primarily to make inroads into waiting lists in specialties such as ENT and orthopaedics. This extra £15 million was reflected on a full year basis in the 1990 base provision.

In February of this year I gave a commitment in this House that I would provide sufficient resources to fund 12,000 beds, nationwide. This represented an increase of 800 beds on the number which had obtained in the middle of last year. Furthemore, I promised that funding would also be made available to meet the costs associated with the `flu epidemic which occurred last winter and which, as is always the case in such emergencies, stretched the resources of the health agencies.

I am happy to say that by providing an additional £23 million for acute hospitals in the Supplementary Estimate which was passed yesterday, I was able to honour in full the commitments I had made. This additional provision is fully reflected in the expenditure base for 1991 and I am confident therefore that the national acute bed stock can be maintained at the appropriate level and thus cope with the ongoing level of demand for acute hospital services.

I referred a moment ago to the resources that were targeted at waiting lists and I would like to touch again on this point. I constantly make the point that the existence of waiting lists is not an indicator of an inappropriate level of funding. As we all know, the demand for health services is dynamic and can never be fully satisfied, no matter what level of resources is provided. Indeed, this is true of all developed countries. The United States, Britain and Germany, with much stronger economies, all have the same problem. As long as there is a health service, any service, there will be patients waiting to avail of it. The position is further complicated by the fact that the frontiers of medicine are constantly being pushed back and new developments result in previously unmanageable conditions becoming amenable to treatment. Indeed, we heard a lot of talk about hip replacements over the last few years. Now there is more and more emphasis on knee joint replacement and the number of patients coming forward and the number of knee joint replacement operations being performed is rising at a very rapid rate.

At the same time one cannot ignore waiting lists, and I have made determined efforts to ensure that long waiting lists in particular areas are reduced and these efforts have been fruitful. In my speech to this House yesterday on the Supplementary Estimate I detailed the very real improvements which have been made in relation to hip replacements and ear, nose and throat services. I accept that we must build on these results and push for even greater improvements, not just in these specialties, but in other areas such as cardiac surgery. I am confident that we will continue to make good progress.

The Government have decided to increase the monthly threshold above which patients can recoup in full the cost of drugs purchased from £28 to £32. Given that there has been no increase in this figure for quite a number of years, the change is a modest one, and is only half the increase which could be justified if general inflation had been used as a guideline.

I have already introduced a new drugs subsidisation scheme for those patients who are regular users, which reduces the personal financial burden on these patients.

The daily charge applying to those patients who use public hospitals is also being increased from £10 to £12.50 per day from 1 January next.

The Minister gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

It is time Fine Gael made up their minds whether to spend money or not to spend money. Deputy Noonan came into the House telling us we are spending far too much, that we are spendthrifts. Deputy Yates comes in every day looking for us to spend £5 million, £7 million and £10 million.

It is a 25 per cent increase.

He does not understand the whole system.

The Minister is taxing the sick.

Deputy Yates is taxing the Chair and the Chair does not like to be taxed. Would you allow the Minister to continue without interruption and perhaps the Minister would refrain from acknowledging the invitations of Deputy Yates?

While I take the Chair's advice, it is important to point out to that party the difficulty they have in trying to hold both ends of the political spectrum.

The charge on in-patients of £12.50 per day will mean that the maximum that patients will be charged will be £125 in any one year and exemptions will continue to apply to particular groups of patients, including those covered by medical cards. This charge is only a small contribution, by those who can afford to pay, to the overall cost of hospital treatment. It will provide additional income to hospitals which will be a valuable supplement to the net allocations provided by my Department.

As regards psychiatric services the implementation of the report "Planning For The Future" will continue in 1991. As Deputies will be aware this programme focuses on de-institutionalisation to ensure that patients receive services in a more appropriate setting. The provision of hostels, day care facilities and training workshops has been invaluable in the rehabilitation of former patients of psychiatric hospitals. Such placement in the community undoubtedly helps society in general to come to terms with a type of illness which in the past was often scorned and ignored. The greater concentration of services in the community is not the cheap option. Rather this concentration is being made because it offers the best level of care and treatment of mental illness. Of course not all psychiatric conditions can be treated at community level, and acute psychiatric units are of vital importance to the delivery of an integrated and comprehensive psychiatric programme.

Continued progress is also being made in this area and in 1991 health provision will be made in a number of areas. I am very pleased that Deputy Durkan is here to learn that one of the areas where there will be new development is Naas. This will provide a much needed boost to services in Kildare. I would like to pay tribute at this point to the broad spectrum of professionals delivering the psychiatric service who have been enthusiastically supportive in the implementation of "Planning For The Future".

As with the psychiatric service, the programme for the mentally handicapped has also concentrated in recent years on moving mentally handicapped persons from an institutional setting into an environment which is more suited to their needs. There is a requirement for continued close co-operation between the regional health boards and many voluntary organisations who provide services in this area. It is only with this type of co-operation that a unified plan of action can be developed which maximises the benefits from the resources devoted to this area. Since coming into office I have provided funding for this sector which ensured that this sector was fully protected. The 1991 Health Vote is structured to continue this fundamental protection. The provision for the coming year reflects in full the additional resources provided in the 1990 budget. This provision was of great benefit in allowing improvements in the service to take place, in line with the multi-annual plans of the regional co-ordination committees, which are representative of the main statutory and voluntary agencies in each region.

I might mention that the national lottery has contributed valuable complementary funding in this area targeted mainly at community-based voluntary grants, and I would also urge the agencies providing services for the mentally handicapped to ensure that funding available in 1991 from the European Social Fund is applied to the maximum advantage in enhancing the relevant services.

In 1990 an additional £5 million was provided to improve services for the elderly. The Government remain committed to continue the process of providing care for the elderly in the most appropriate setting with access to the necessary acute facilities as required. The 1991 allocations to the health boards which I announced yesterday reflect a continuation of the improvements achieved last year and also provide for the implementation of the Nursing Homes Act, which is a response to the need for updated legislation in this area.

1990 saw the provision of a special allocation of £3 million for dental services. This was in recognition of inadequacies in the service, provided by the health boards for eligible persons which had been obvious long before I became Minister. The improvements in the service which this special allocation has allowed are very heartening. This funding facilitated 28,000 additional dental treatments and 2,500 orthodontic patients were dealt with. I want to see these achievements built upon and I will be providing a further £3 million in 1991 for this purpose.

Totally inadequate.

While the revised remuneration package for participating GPs introduced in 1989 has as I said yesterday, operated very satisfactorily, I nevertheless, remain concerned about the cost of drugs. Since I came into office there have been two rounds of negotiations with the drugs industry and both have resulted in very satisfactory agreements on pricing. However, the cost factor which most concerns me at present is the type of drugs being prescribed. Earlier I referred to medicine constantly pushing back the frontiers, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of drug treatments.

I am satisfied that the new drugs formulary which is due to be issued shortly will be of great assistance in this area. I am also approving the restoration of analgesics and antacids to the GMS prescription list in order to obviate the prescription of more costly alternatives. It is my view that the hospital-community relationship in the prescription of drugs needs to be explored. A considerable proportion of drugs prescribed initially at hospital level follow the patients into the community. Given this feature, hospitals are being asked to take all steps possible to review prescribing habits in a manner consistent with the needs of the patient. It is important that the patient is prescribed the drugs necessary for his or her particular illness.

General practice will continue to have a leading role in determining the development of primary care and the current review process will allow us to focus on key issues in this area. Deputy Ryan referred to the increase in the reporting of child abuse and the need for facilities. I am glad to be able to tell Deputy Ryan that since I came into office we did put in place a number of new facilities in Temple Street and the Children's Hospital in Crumlin. We made a special allocation to each of the health boards to ensure that there would be proper services available for the provision of the necessary care and management of children who are the victims of child abuse, and we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation.

The provision in the 1991 Book of Estimates for balances of grants due in respect of previous years is £98.5 million. This represents an increase of £18.2 million or 23 per cent on the comparable 1990 figure. These balances will be used to improve the cash flow of health agencies in the coming year and come on top of the extra £9.75 million which was provided in the Supplementary Estimate for 1990. Cash flow difficulties have resulted in the agencies being unable to take full advantage of favourable credit terms from suppliers. A proper level of liquidity is essential in the drive for efficiency on procurement to which I referred earlier.

A sum of £32.33 million has been provided for capital in the 1991 Estimates. This will be supplemented by a further £9 million from loans and balances in the hospitals trust fund, which represents the proceeds of the sale of surplus properties. Of the total £41.33 million capital available, £4.83 million will be used for the acquisition and implementation of information systems both in the health agencies and in my Department. The health services are vast in their complexity and adequate systems must be in place to ensure that appropriate, accurate information is available when and where it is required. The investment in such systems will result in an efficient, cost effective allocation of resources and will allow the services to respond quickly to the ever changing demands placed upon them.

A sum of £36.5 million will be available for the building, equipping and furnishing of health facilities. This will allow contractual obligations to be met in 1991 and will also allow for some minor essential works, such as fire precautions. During 1990 I have conducted a very thorough review of the capital needs of the health services and I remain committed to introducing a five year programme for capital expenditure. Given the multi-annual nature of major projects in the health area, this represents a sensible and rational approach to the renewal and development of our health facilities.

In conclusion, I am of the view that, given the additional pressures created by the effects of public service pay increases and the uncertainties in the wider international environment, the overall Estimate for 1991 balances the need to maintain services at reasonable levels with the duty to maintain order in the public finances. Within the overall provisions, 22 per cent of Exchequer funding, the Government have again signalled their intention to provide a first class health service responsive to the needs in 1991.

The allocations now being made to the health agencies in respect of 1991 should enable the existing level of service to be maintained and limited developments in specific areas to be undertaken if agencies co-operate fully at local and national level. As I said earlier, in 1991 we will be intensifying our commitment to ensuring that we get value for money spent, and that all the money allocated to the health services will be spent for the maximum benefit of the patients for whom we all have responsibility.

An Teachta Bernard Durkan.

Deputy Yates has vanished.

Not for long, I am sure.

He will be on the media.

He is big enough not to be invisible. I would like to compliment the Minister for Health on his Estimate. I welcome many of the positive measures incorporated in it, particularly in relation to my constituency of Kildare. I am glad to note the development of the psychiatric services in Naas, which is long overdue. All of us, including the Minister, have been beavering away for the provision of that facility, and hopefully it will be part of a superstructure within which the services will operate in the county.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): What about Carlow?

The responsibilities for south Kildare will thankfully be transferred back to Kildare, which is their rightful place. I am not saying that Carlow did not provide a very good service but we needed such a service in Kildare and I welcome this move. While everybody understands that health services are very obvious consumers of funds, because of the age structure of our population it has been difficult for the Minister to provide sufficient funds for the services in line with the increased demand, not just politically but by virtue of the increased numbers of people who require the services. That applies to hip replacements and all the other operations that have been referred to. Those of us who are members of health boards have first class knowledge, as has the Minister, of the obvious urgent needs there.

Recently I met an unfortunate constituent who, last year, required surgery for the removal of cataracts. Thankfully the service in that area is not as bad as it was a year ago, but it is still not great. The person in question was grateful that I had helped him last year but said he now needs an operation on his second eye, and hopes he will not have to wait three or four years for it. I am not going into detail again on what I said in the House about long waiting lists, and the Minister referred to this both today and yesterday in the Estimates debate. Waiting lists can be determined in many ways. I am sure the Minister knows quite well the difficulties that exist, with conflict between public and private services and the way they operate. There is great difficulty with the system that operates here. I have my own views on that but I will not go into it today because it would take too long.

One matter I want to address briefly, and which has been covered already in the debate, is the Estimate for Industry and Commerce. At a time when trade and marketing is obviously to the fore in the context of the GATT negotiations I have been very disappointed with the total lack of imagination that has gone into the production of this year's Estimates in that area. At a time when the GATT negotiations have reached a crucial stage, which will have a very obvious impact on this country's economy over the next 20 or 30 years, very little time, effort and energy have apparently been given to producing a careful programme and providing the necessary finance in this year's Estimates.

Let us quickly look at what has happened. I have to blame the Government — this is not a political allegation but a fact — because while this country held the Presidency of the European Community we failed to play a pivotal role internationally. While it was all very well to have photographs taken and to give regular interviews, this Government were silent on the very important and sensitive area of trade. Nothing was done, and no impact was created internationally as to the importance of the GATT negotiations from this country's point of view.

I wonder what was the reaction of the Americans and the CAIRNS group to the response from the national parliaments in Europe to the GATT negotiations. There were repeated requests in this House for a debate on that very urgent issue, but on every occasion the Government deflected the attempts of the Opposition to have a full scale debate. Consider the advantages of having a full scale debate on that matter at that time. The people in other countries would have taken on board the reaction of the parliamentarians throughout Europe. They would have seen what the politicians, particularly in this country, thought about the proposals. But what happened in this House? Absolutely nothing. We had statements on a couple of occasions and questions were raised on the Adjournment, but no time was given specifically to a full scale debate on a major economic issue. That was an abdication of responsibility on the part of the Government, and whoever on that side of the House is prepared to accept responsibility for it, let them step forward. It was a total dereliction of duty on their part.

The Americans and the CAIRNS negotiators saw, throughout the summer, that there was no concern expressed in this Parliament on the Government side although the Opposition clamoured for a debate. There was no public expression of concern in this House on an issue which has a huge impact on the lives and future of every man, woman and child in the country, which is very sad. During Ireland's Presidency of the EC and throughout the summer months we lost a great opportunity to nail our colours to the mast and to let it be known to the Europeans and the other parties in the GATT negotiations that we were fully aware of what they were doing, what they intended to do and that we resented and rejected it.

Unfortunately and ironically, a mere three or four days after Ireland relinquished the Presidency the then British Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher, went to a meeting in Houston, Texas, with President Bush and announced a new policy which appeared to be on behalf of the European Community but which was not. from its tone, in the interests of Ireland. Since Ireland is a full member of the Community I thought it was very poor form that somebody somewhere did not say that, while it was Mrs. Thatcher's point of view, it was not in the interests of the European Community and that those interests were paramount as far as Ireland was concerned.

Our commitment to the Single European Act was fully supported by the great majority of the people and it showed our commitment to the European concept without reservations. We gave responsibility to the Europeans — with ourselves — for looking after our affairs. In so doing — and this has been referred to already by my party leader, Deputy John Bruton, in another context this morning — we were then in a position where our own reaction to world events and to EC policy would obviously be reflected in our input at ministerial and commissioner level. That input, from the point of view of the Government, was most disappointing.

Many people in this country believe that GATT affects only the farming community: it affects the entire community, industry and agri-business generally. Since we are basically an agricultural nation, one can imagine the impact on this country if the current proposals are allowed to go unchallenged. My information is that the Americans and the CAIRNS representatives are surprised and shocked at how easy it has been to "cannon" the European negotiators. They very skilfully adopted the usual US negotiating policy of talking big, well ahead of their target, making exorbitant demands and hoping that they would come home with more in their pockets than they had ever dreamed possible. Their technique has been worth watching over the last 12 months because, in response to their exorbitant demands, the European and Irish negotiators were so cowed, they immediately withdrew from the arena and — before they reentered it — they offered huge concessions, including the offer of 30 per cent by the commissioner. He adopted a timid approach, he barely poked his nose in the door of the negotiating conference and his approach was met with disdain by the other negotiators. That was understandable as it was the object of their exercise, they wanted to gain something before they started negotiating and they got it. It was a soft target, they fully relished the opportunity before them and took full advantage of it.

Since then there have been prolonged negotiations in Brussels and — more recently — in Paris which, as we are aware, have been inconclusive. There is a threat over the heads of this country and Europe generally that there could well be a total breakdown which would be a catastrophe. Interestingly, the Minister for Industry and Commerce — the first time I heard a Minister indicate any awareness of what was happening — asked yesterday in the House why Europe and European interests should have to concede to US demands. That is a very valid and interesting point because we have no greater liability in that area than anybody else. The people involved in the negotiations have equal responsibility and the Minister was quite correct in pointing that out. I am amazed that nobody else on that side of the House mentioned it. There seems to be a tendency to repeatedly touch the forelock to the power and might of US proposals, which is dangerous.

Farming and business interests in this country are aghast at the reaction of the Europeans and our representatives — in this House and outside it — in Europe and rightly so because the farmers and business people fully recognise what the consequences will be. Because of that they are now attempting to make the running. They are now making representations and coming forward with proposals, and I appreciate what they are doing, simply because there is a lack of action in other quarters. We have been elected to represent interest groups but the Government represent the country at the negotiating tables in Brussels or anywhere else. The issues now being talked about all over the country are the ultimate responsibility of the Government. If the Government do not accept their responsibilities and deliver, they will pay a very heavy price.

As I said before, my only conclusion in regard to the Government's attitude — and the European attitude — in the GATT negotiations is that they have acted wimpishly. They have whinged and whined and changed tack on several occasions and each time they have lost ground. They remind me of a sailor who finds the going rough and tries to utilise the wind as much as possible but who, on every occasion unfortunately, turns into the wind and loses ground. I plead with the Government, before it is too late, to recognise their role in the GATT negotiations at ministerial and heads of Government level. I also ask the European Commission to recognise its responsibilities which have been delegated to it by the various people throughout Europe to look after Europe's interests. We should remember that the European Community consists of 340 million people who are also a worthwhile trading bloc. They are a powerful consumer force and they are also a powerful producer force. When the European Community was first instituted it was assumed that this new powerful trading bloc would be the biggest advantage for a Europe which had been war-torn for years, in our lifetime, perhaps forever.

The unfortunate thing is that at the very first obstacle, the first international joust at economic level, they seem to have floundered and gone in diverse ways to accommodate themselves. For some unknown reason this House has never had an opportunity to state clearly exactly what we think about the matter. I am sorry that other Ministers with more direct responsibility are not present in the House.

The Minister for the Environment was in the House this morning. I thank him for his proposals in relation to road realignments, the national primary routes in particular which are of major concern, and the Lucan bypass in which I have a personal passing interest.

I would draw the Minister's attention to the housing programme. As a former member of a local authority the Minister should take account of this. I warn him that we have an acute housing problem for a segment of the population which requires urgent attention. The problem arose due to the large scale sale of local authority houses a few years ago which meant that since then there has been very little movement. Very few people have sold those houses and moved out of them. We are not catering for housing for the lower income groups.

The Minister has a policy in relation to the banks, where the banks have responsibility for housing those with an income of over £10,000. Who will house the people whose income is under £10,000? It is virtually impossible to get a local authority housing loan because the local authorities fully recognise that they are only getting the tail end of the market, those that the banks and the building societies have refused. In order to get a loan from a local authority one must have a refusal from a bank and a building society.

What incentive is there for local authorities to give loans at all? We are failing miserably to live up to the requirements of the 1966 Housing Act. We are treating people in an awful fashion. Families with three, four or five children are living in mobile homes and they have not a hope of being housed within the next year or year and a half. Will the Minister, for God's sake, recognise the problem and do something about it before it is too late?

The Minister in his speech on the Supplementary Estimate yesterday mentioned special grants for disabled persons. Will he look at the way they are operated at present? Like the housing loans to which I referred, they are extremely hard to get and the operation of these grants would need to be reconsidered if the Minister is to live up to the commitment in the original Act.

The 1991 Estimate for the Department of Social Welfare provides for an increase of £100 million in overall expenditure. Gross expenditure for 1991 is projected at £2,900 million as compared with a projected outturn of £2,800 million in 1990. This amount will finance and preserve all our existing schemes and services, including the new schemes which were recently introduced such as the carer's allowance, the lone parent's scheme and the free travel scheme for companions of the handicapped. It also provides for a back to school clothing and footwear allowance next autumn.

Each day of the year we now spend in support of the elderly over £2.3 million, the unemployed over £2 million, families over £2.1 million, the sick and disabled over £1 million, and in total £7.4 million.

In accordance with normal practice, the Estimate provides for the carry-over cost of increases given in the 1990 budget — some £100 million. It does not include any provision for increases in 1991. These will be provided for in the forthcoming budget.

The net Estimate for 1991 to be provided by the general taxpayer is £1,554 million. This is the Exchequer's contribution to the social welfare services and is £78 million higher than the published Estimate for 1990.

Gross expenditure in 1991 is estimated at £2,900 million. This comprises insurance based payments, funded from the social insurance fund, and assistance payments which are totally Exchequer funded. The social insurance fund is funded by the Exchequer, employers, employees and the self-employed. The Abridged Estimates show the Exchequer contribution to the SIF which is 23 per cent lower in 1991 than in 1990.

The reduction in the Exchequer's contribution to the social insurance fund of £28.367 million, or 23 per cent is mainly due to the projected increase in PRSI income, arising principally from increased numbers in employment. This is offset mainly by the extra cost of the 1990 budget improvements. There are substantial increases in expenditure on a number of schemes.

The 1991 estimate for family income supplement is increased by 14 per cent to £9.7 million. This takes account of the carry-over costs of the 1990 budget improvements to this scheme. Substantial improvements introduced last July include increases in the income levels and maximum payments for eligibility for the scheme and a new minimum payment of £5 a week.

The 1991 estimate for unemployment assistance is increased by 11 per cent. Again the increase arises primarily because of the carry-over costs of the 1990 budget increases. Personal rates for the long term unemployed were increased by almost 11 per cent while the short term rates were increased by over 7 per cent last July. The forecast for 1991 is an average number of 221,000 unemployed. This estimate provides for the continuation of the special arrangements under which the long term unemployed can now avail of second chance education.

A sum of £116.1 million has been provided in 1991 for the new lone parent's allowance. There is a corresponding reduction in the Estimates for the widow's and orphan's non-contributory pension and the deserted wife's and unmarried mother's schemes. All lone parents with children, who were catered for under these schemes, are now part of the new lone parent's scheme. In addition, a major feature of the new scheme is that it caters for the first time for separated spouses rearing children without the support of a partner. Overall, the 1991 provision for these families shows an increase of £29.75 million, 21 per cent.

The 1991 Estimate provides £9.7 million for the carer's allowance which I introduced in November last. This was a major innovation and has been widely welcomed. It provides, in addition to improving the basic rates of payments, a direct payment to people on low incomes who provide full-time care and attention for invalided social welfare pensioners. It is expected that up to 10,000 carers will qualify and to date some 3,500 claims have been received.

The overall provision for grants to voluntary bodies in 1991 is £1.3 million. This includes the provision for once-off grants to voluntary social service organisations and the continuation of the community development initiative which I introduced this year. In the 1990 budget additional provision of £500,000 was made for grants to locally based women's groups. There was a very positive response to the introduction of the new scheme which was seen as recognising the increasing involvement of women in identifying the issues and tackling the problems which affect them in their daily lives. The scheme is now being reviewed and provision for a further scheme will be a matter for consideration in the budget.

The 1991 Estimate for my Department provides for the preservation of all existing schemes and services and the continuation of the new schemes which were recently introduced. Further increases in payments and other improvements are matters which will be considered in the context of the 1991 budget. Along with controlling expenditure we have ensured that the position of those on the lowest levels of income has been continually improved in real terms. At the same time, our duty to the taxpayer requires us to be vigilant and to ensure that this money is spent effectively and directed towards those who are genuinely in need. TheProgramme for National Recovery has underpinned the developments in social welfare and provided the framework within which substantial improvements have been achieved for those dependent on social welfare.

As Minister for Social Welfare I am particularly conscious of the need to ensure that those dependent on social welfare benefit from the improvement in the economy as a whole. Over the past three years considerable improvements in the basic rates of payment have been achieved. For example, a special increase for those on the lowest levels of payment, the abolition of the rural rate of unemployment assistance, the streamlining of adult dependant and child dependant rates and the introduction of a minimum payment for child dependants have all resulted in substantial improvements for this group. The basic rate of unemployment assistance, long term, has been increased from £36.70 in July 1986 to £52 in July 1990, an increase of 42 per cent in nominal terms and almost 26 per cent in real terms. A family with three children has come from a rate of £89.45 up to £116, in July 1990, an increase of £26.25 in money terms representing an increase of almost 30 per cent in nominal terms and 15 per cent in real terms.

The personal rate of contributory old age pension has increased from £53.45 in 1987 to £61.50 this year. The rate payable to married pensioners where the dependent spouse is over 66 years increased from £93.35 in 1986 to £107.20 this year. The rate for married non-contributory pensioners was increased from £68.75 to £79.50. This year, for the first time, special additional increases were made not only to the long term unemployed but also to old age non-contributory pensioners and widows.

The personal rate for contributory widow's pension and deserted wife's benefit was £48.10 in 1986 and has increased to £56 this year. A lone parent with three children on assistance payments received £87.80 in 1986 and this has increased to £101 this year. Again the highest increases have been targeted at lone parent families who depend on assistance payments.

Contributory widows and recipients of deserted wife's benefit have received increases of over 16 per cent in the personal rates of benefit. The personal rate in 1986 was £48.10; in July 1990 it increased to £56.

In addition to improving the basic rates of payments, a number of other important changes have been made in the social welfare code. The most significant of these changes this year were the new carer's allowance and lone parent's allowance schemes which I have already outlined. Other important improvements have also been made.

The £5.3 million back to school clothing and footwear scheme was introduced this year to help social welfare recipients provide for their children's needs. This provided £25 for each child at primary school and £40 for each child at second level at this expensive time of year for families. Over 170,000 children have benefited and will benefit again this year.

The process of introducing greater flexibility into the unemployment payments system was continued by the introduction of the vocational preparation and training scheme and a new pilot scheme to enable the long term unemployed pursue a third level course. This latter scheme is a particularly innovative one and at present 68 people are participating at various third level institutions.

Further improvements in the family income supplement scheme include increases in the income limits and maximum rates of payments; the introduction of a minimum payment of £5; receipt of FIS no longer affects entitlement to a medical card and workers who expect to be employed for at least six months as against 12 months can now qualify.

We have introduced new arrangements to allow a companion to travel with a person on disabled person's maintenance allowance. Many recipients of the disabled person's maintenance allowance were unable to avail of the free travel concession because a companion brought along to assist mobility had to pay the appropriate fare. To date almost 6,500 free companion travel passes have been issued.

A new social welfare appeals office was established. This is a major development in the social welfare area as the new appeals office has been set up as a separate office under its own director and chief appeals officer and administrative staff. This new office acting independently will ensure that social welfare clients have an appeals system which is clearly seen to be modern, efficient, fair and easily accessible.

A special smokeless fuel allowance of £3 per week is being paid from mid-October 1990 to mid-April 1991 to recipients of social welfare and health board payments in restricted areas under certain conditions. There will be PRSI exemption for up to 50,000 low paid workers. Workers with gross earnings of £60 or less weekly paying class A contributions are exempt from paying the employee's insurance contribution. The Christmas bonus was paid to 595,000 people on long term social welfare payments and their 370,000 dependants. The bonus cost £25.6 million this year, an increase of £1.6 million on the 1989 allocation. The introduction of a pre-retirement allowance scheme for those on long term unemployment assistance who are over 60 years of age allows those concerned the option of transferring to payment by pension order book which they cash at the local post office. They are only required to make a declaration regarding unemployment once a year. To date approximately 6,500 claimants including smallholders have availed of this option.

I have spoken often of how social welfare services should meet the needs of clients in an efficient way. I want to provide clients at a local level with access at one point of contact to all social welfare services. I introduced, and I am committed to developing, the concept of the one-stop-shop. This involves providing access to a broad range of services at local level. Ultimately, my intention is that clients will be able to have all their social welfare needs catered for at their local office.

Early in 1991 I intend to set up a regional structure for social welfare services. This will be a major development for my Department. The new regional management structure will bring greater efficiency to the services, will enable greater devolution of responsibility to the local level and give easier access to social welfare clients. Eight regional centres will be established at Cork, Limerick, Sligo, Longford, Dundalk, Dublin, Athlone and Waterford.

I will continue the process of introducing one-stop-shops, of modernising the system to make it more accessible and user-friendly and of enhancing the dignity of those who rely on our services. In the period since 1987, under the Government's decentralisation programme, we opened a new pensions services office in Sligo and a new child benefit office in Letterkenny this year. Nine new employment exchanges were opened throughout the country while extensive renovations were carried out at ten other centres.

In addition projects are currently under construction or at an advanced planning stage at eight other centres. Renovation works are proposed at three further centres over the next year. We have also invested heavily in computerisation to speed up and simplify payments and claims. This will result in an integrated and much-improved service for the public. A wider range of services will be provided, information services will be improved and extended. There will also be adequate private facilities for transacting business in a private and confidential way.

Computerised facilities will in turn open up the possibility of providing more flexible payment methods for social welfare clients. I see the introduction of more modern payment methods as an essential pre-requisite to enabling us to provide a better service. Ultimately as we get away from the need to provide payments in cash at all offices with the security and other restrictions which this imposes, and begin to use more efficient payment methods, in co-operation with other bodies like An Post, we can develop our own offices to provide a broader range of personal services to social welfare clients.

One of the other benefits of having a more modern system of payment is that it will enable the introduction of more flexible signing arrangements for unemployed people. There will still, of course, be a need to exercise proper control over schemes. The introduction of new payment systems, however, would enable the present signing arrangements to be modified in certain cases and be replaced by more systematic and selective, and therefore more effective, reviews of claims.

One of the major developments in the social welfare system in recent years has been the increasing involvement with voluntary organisations. I see my Department as not just being in the business of providing money but also being involved in the welfare of people in the broadest sense. Voluntary organisations have a major role in this regard. Many such organisations are working on a daily basis with social welfare clients and are aware of their needs and their difficulties. I was glad to be able in recent years to provide assistance to many such organisations. In particular I have received a great deal of assistance from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in meeting the needs of the poor. The society now have over 10,000 voluntary workers in the field. The society have been to the fore in tackling the problems associated with moneylenders, in providing job opportunities through a major innovative, community-based scheme and in organising a programme of home management and personal development courses, designed to help families acquire basic skills of budgeting and self-development. In April 1988 I made a special grant to the society to fund the setting up of these courses on a nationwide basis. The success of the courses has convinced the society of the value of these courses. Over 7,000 families have already benefited under the programme and it is regarded by the society as, "the Society's most effective strategy for helping families on low incomes".

The value of this sort of practical action in helping people to help themselves is evidenced by the number of groups which applied for funding to run similar courses, under the new scheme of grants for women's groups which I introduced earlier this year. About 70 women's groups received assistance for this purpose this year which benefited an estimated 1,400 women. Further courses have been provided through the voluntary grants scheme. In all up to 10,000 families have benefited from these courses over the last three years.

I am therefore pleased to announce that I am making a grant of £100,000 to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to expand and develop these innovative and worthwhile home management and personal development courses.

We have made substantial progress in the last three years in improving the position of the least well-off in our society. This progress has been underpinned by theProgramme for National Recovery and, in particular, the consensus which the Taoiseach initiated between the Government and the social partners. Through the programme the imbalances in the public finances have been addressed and inflation has been reduced to below 3 per cent. Over the three year life of the programme, total non-farm private sector employment has increased by some 70,000. This is striking evidence of the success of the programme. It is crucial to the interests of the less well off who depend on social welfare that a new programme for the nineties is agreed.

Despite the continuing need to control expenditure, we have maintained and significantly improved our social welfare system and made sure that special consideration is given to the most vulnerable sections of our society. We have also introduced many new and innovative schemes. There is, of course, much more to be done. I am confident that, with the agreement of the social partners on a new programme for economic and social development, we will be in a position to lay the foundations for further major improvements in social welfare in the years ahead.

Debate adjourned.