Bhí an Teachta Seán de Brún os comhair an Tí agus tá cúig nóiméad fágtha aige.
Financial Resolutions, 1991. - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed).
(Carlow-Kilkenny): Ní leor é sin. On the last occasion I spoke I referred to the fact that the budget, and other events, had proved that the Government were a PR Government. On that occasion I referred to two different Ministers who had highlighted all they were doing and, in particular, that it was the biggest budget ever. I pointed out that that would be the case if we take inflation and normal wage increases into account.
In the few minutes I have left I want to mention the position of agriculture. A little increase has been given to farmers to encourage them to spend more money on pollution prevention. I wish to inform the House that farmers will be spending very little on pollution prevention because they are in serious financial difficulties. Part of the PR policy of the Government was that the Minister, and his advisers, would continue to tell the people that there was no difficulty in farming, that the cutback in income was in single figures even though everybody in the country — and most of all the farmers — knew that their income was cut by over 20 per cent. No other group in Ireland would accept a cut in income much less a cut of the magnitude suffered by farmers this year. The dreaded GATT talks are hanging over us like the sword of Damocles. We have Commissioner MacSharry's plan and there are so many things going wrong in farming that my sympathy goes out to farmers who are trying to survive.
There is the mistaken idea that because a farmer has land, or a big house or even a big car that he has large sums of money. Many small farmers are living in poverty. It is too easy to be glib and say: "Look at them, they have this or that". Their income has dropped and if any of us took a 20 per cent reduction in income we would crib. In the past farmers may have been accused of having a tale of woe when they were doing well. The chickens have come home to roost. Things are not well on the farming scene and the budget has done very little for farmers.
This budget has done very little to help employment or to keep our emigrants here. Another PR exercise is taking place. Throughout the entire year we will hear Ministers say that unemployment is under control. If the way to control unemployment is to let our young people go abroad as emigrants that is a simple cure. We now have the difficulty where the unemployment figures given before the budget had to be changed immediately. Many of the people who came back from England are not now returning and this will result in a further rise in unemployment. The allowances provided for in the budget will not be sufficient to look after those who are unemployed.
We are in a difficult situation where the finances of this country are concerned. I do not think any amount of PR work will sell the idea that this is the best Government ever. This is a PR Government from another point of view in that they have postponed reality.
I hesitate to interrupt the Deputy but I would now be grateful if he would please bring his speech to a close.
(Carlow-Kilkenny): I will do so on this last statement, that this PR Government postponed reality and pretended things are better than they actually are.
I realise I have 15 minutes in which to make a contribution and in the discipline of things it would be my intention to divide up my time into three five minute slots under three headings, first, my position as the chairman of the Irish language committee of the Oireachtas; second, some observations in relation to the constituency which I have represented for almost 26 years and, third, a general resumé in relation to the budget introduced by the Minister for Finance.
Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mar Chathaoirleach an Chomhchoiste don Ghaeilge, labhairt ar an gcáinaisnéis seo agus fáilte a chur roimhe. Measaim go bhfuil na céimeanna cearta á ghlacadh ag an Rialtas chun feabhas a chur ar staid eacnamaíochta na tíre agus measaim go bhfuil na spriocanna atá mar bhunús don cáinaisnéis seo insroichte.
Faoi mar is eol don Teach tá mise ag feidhmiú mar Chathaoirleach ar an gComhchoiste don Ghaeilge anseo i dTeach Laighean. Coiste an-ghníomhach atá againn agus tháinig muid le chéile fiche uair ó athbhunaíodh an choiste i mí Eanáir 1990. Ar ndóigh bhí dhá Chomhchoiste ann roimhe seo agus rinne siadsan sár obair. D'fhoilsigh siad ocht tuarascáil san iomlán ag clúdú nithe cosúil le leathnú úsáid na Gaeilge i dTithe an Oireachtais, an Ghaeilge sna páirtithe polaitíochta agus tionchar na ríomhaireachta ar an nGaeilge.
I measc na n-imeachtaí a bhí an Chomhchoiste s'againne páirteach iontu ó athbhunaíodh é ná an feachtas chun seomra ar leith a chur ar fáil anseo i dTeach Laighean chun a chumasú do Chomhaltaí den dá Theach a gcuid Gaeilge a chleachtú. Is cúis áthais domsa mar Chathaoirleach an Chomhchoiste don Ghaeilge go bhfuil an seomra sin ar fheabhas agus go bhfuil úsáid mhór á baint as ag Comhaltaí.
Is é an fáth a bhfuil mé ag lua an méid seo anois ná go bhfuil an obair seo go léir á dhéanamh gan aon acmhainní cearta a bheith curtha ar fáil dúinn. Níl ach cléireach páirtaimsearach ag an Chomhchoiste. Níl a dhothain airgid á chur ar fáil don Comhchoiste ach an oiread. Anuraidh diúltaíodh iarratas uainn chun comhairleoir a fhostú d'fhonn staidéar a dhéanamh ar airgeadú na Gaeilge agus dúradh linn gur seo gnó don chléireach. Ach mar a dúirt mé níl ach cléireach páirtaimsearach againn agus níl ach a dhóthain ama aige chun an obair riaracháin a dhéanamh. Tá obair fhiúntach déanta ag an Chomhchoiste seo agus tá a lán oibre le déanamh fós má tá an Chomhchoiste seo chun a dtéarmaí tagartha a chomhlíonadh.
Iarraim ar an Rialtas mar sin na hacmhainní a thabhairt dúinn chun a chumasú dúinn ár gcuid oibre a dhéanamh.
As chairman of Chomhchoiste don Ghaeilge I want to make a special appeal to the Government to take this committee out of the fourth division of committees of this House. This committee seem to be the poor relation of all the committees operating in Leinster House. It is unfortunate from the point of view of those people who wish the Irish language to move on apace that this committee have been relegated to a fourth division position.
I want to refer to my hopes for Chomhchoiste don Ghaeilge so that we can continue the great work we have done under very restrictive conditions. I want a full-time secretary or clerk to be appointed to the committee and some small injection of funds which will enable us to carry out some of the plans we have in mind for the Irish language. As I have said, the Irish language room in this building remains effectively unused because the committee do not have a full-time clerk. I should like all political parties to adopt an Irish-speaking programme in the House. Unfortunately this cannot be done until such time as a full-time clerk is appointed to the committee. I appeal to those in power to ensure that these problems are resolved.
In the second part of my contribution I want to refer to my constituency of Dún Laoghaire, which I have represented for a considerable period, and to a number of proposals for the area which are under consideration at present. The new Garda station in Dún Laoghaire should be situated at the back of the town hall so that the people of the area will have immediate access to the law enforcement agency. The plan to locate the Garda station outside the heart of the town would be a mistake. There is a housing crisis in Dún Laoghaire at present and there is an urgent need for new housing. I look forward with great anticipation to the announcement tomorrow in regard to housing by the Minister for the Environment. I hope the first class College of Art which has been in existence in Dún Laoghaire for a number of years will be retained and upgraded.
The question of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour complex has been on the long finger for too long. The two items of concern to the people of Dún Laoghaire are the retention of the Sealink Stena Line and its upgrading in the context of new developments within the harbour complex itself and the provision of a marina or marinas for Dún Laoghaire, which has been the subject of controversy for a considerable period. I have been consistent in my approach to these issues over the years. The people of Dún Laoghaire await with great anticipation and hope the report of the interim harbour board set up by the Government. We have the goodwill of the Minister for the Marine behind us in regard to these issues, as he indicated in his reply to my question during grievance time last night.
I applaud the Minister for Education not only on her contribution on the budget but also for the part she played in the decision to allocate Carysfort College, Blackrock, to the authorities of University College, Dublin. I know the Minister will not be dissuaded by those who are critical of the decision to put Carysfort College, the former college of education, in the hands of University College, Dublin. This is a good decision and I know the Minister will stick by it. The members of the Fianna Fáil Party in Dún Laoghaire welcome this decision, as I think do the members of the Fine Gael Party there.
I want to refer to the location of industry in the constituency. To this day I cannot understand why small factory complexes are not located in local authority areas so as to ensure that young people remain in their communities. There are many marvellous local authority areas in Dún Laoghaire where environmentally friendly factories could be located. If small factories employing 20 to 30 young people were located in Sallynoggin, Ballybrack, Loughlinstown and Shankill it would be a wonderful addition to these marvellous communities.
This is a balanced and equitable budget — I have no doubt that in the next two years or so we will see that it is a balanced budget in a fiscal sense — which takes account of those in employment, those looking for employment and those dependent on State resources. I am not an economist and I do not pretend to have any great competency in this area but I can recognise a good budget when I see one. Given the financial constraints under which he had to operate on this occasion the Minister for Finance is to be congratulated on this budget. Suffice to say that the Irish economy is in its best state for many years and is still progressing. The Minister described the budget as a bridge between the Programme for National Recovery and the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. This is a fair description of the budget.
Since 1987 Fianna Fáil have delivered on their promises in relation to tax reform. The Opposition parties may try to claim that tax reform is their sole preserve but it can be seen, despite all the talk, that it was the budgets introduced by the former Minister for Finance, Mr. Ray MacSharry and the present Minister for Finance, Deputy Albert Reynolds, which brought about real change in our tax system. Tax reform may mean different things to different people but at the end of the day it means more money in taxpayers' pockets. The changes introduced by Fianna Fáil since 1987 have meant that the take-home pay of taxpayers has increased considerably in real terms. The other people who will recognise the advantages and benefits of the budget are that large group in our community who are in receipt of social welfare benefits. The low paid workers will also recognise the advantages of the Minister's efforts during these difficult times.
While other parties may talk about tax reform and the need to look after the have nots in our society it is fair to say that since 1987 the Government have delivered on their promises in the areas I have mentioned. They inherited an economy which had been devastated by the economic dithering of the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition during the previous five years. That Government did not have the courage or vision to meet the challenges presented to them.
Major steps have been taken by the Government to reduce the tax burden, particularly for the lower paid workers, to increase in real terms the living standards of those dependent on the State and to restore economic and fiscal stability. This budget consolidates the achievements of the Government since 1987 and is another building block in the progress made over the past few years. We have come too far to throw it all away with a lax budget. This budget takes account of the progress made to date, our targets for the future and the current world economic climate. I have no hesitation in commending and supporting this budget.
It is my intention in dealing with the 1991 budget to demonstrate how the Government made no attempt in the budget to alleviate the problems in a number of areas. Like other speakers, I do not get any satisfaction from speaking on issues which cause grave inconvenience and hardship to the community. As public representatives we have both a moral and political responsibility to speak on such issues. I do not get any pleasure from doing this.
The greatest problems confronting the Irish economy and the Irish people today are unemployment and emigration. The 1991 budget made no provision to meet that challenge. It was regrettable to hear the Minister for Finance saying that the Government had no direct responsibility for job creation. He said the Government's responsibility rested with creating an industrial climate that would provide an attractive basis for private investment on which job creation totally depended.
This is not the first time such utterances came from a Minister for Finance. We have heard it from Ministers in different Governments. The reality is that year after year we have an abnormally high level of unemployment and added to that an abnormally high level of emigration of our best and brightest people. Leaving politics aside and acknowledging the reality of that situation and its impact on our community and our economy, is it not time for a new, broader and bolder outlook on this cancer in our society that is robbing it and has robbed it down the years since we established native government 70 years ago.
We are unique today in the EC as regards the percentage of our population who are in employment, but above all as regards the numbers emigrating year after year. It is time we asked ourselves if the policies we have been pursuing during all those years have worked in fulfilling our aspirations for full employment in an Irish economy, even with a small population. There are 230,000 people on the live register plus 30,000 to 40,000 emigrating. That is frightening for a community who have had control of their own destiny for 70 years.
I suggest that the Government should at this stage critically and closely examine the strategies we have been pursuing. I am not saying this with any condemnation of the IDA or any other body. I know how dedicated and committed the IDA are and I know they work extremely hard, but all of us as public representatives will have to make an assessment on our present position. Millions of pounds in grants have been paid to industrialists as incentives to create employment, but regrettably we have to accept that it has not worked. It is on that basis that I am appealing to the Government tonight to give recognition to the magnitude of the unemployment and emigration problems. This is the greatest challenge that ever faced an Irish Government. I would strongly urge them to see what steps can be taken as a matter of urgency, whether it be an overhauling of the existing strategies in the IDA, CTT or whatever. I do not think the Irish people are concerned about what the strategies are once they succeed in creating employment.
Many people who are conversant with rural Ireland today can see the total decimation of many rural parishes. This year is national census year and when the results of that census are revealed and the current level of population is compared with that which existed some years ago it will create a shock throughout rural Ireland. There is need here for a total rethink. County councils and public bodies could give deserving and productive work to thousands of people in the morning if a means could be found. They have jobs on hand and there is every opportunity to employ more people. This is the angle at which the Government must look in tackling this greatest problem that ever faced Irish people. If we put people into employment they will be paying tax and relieving the Department of Social Welfare of a massive amount of money which is paid out every week, without even providing the recipients with a reasonable standard of living.
I want to deal briefly with the chaotic situation in the health services. Every person in public life is aware of the very serious shortcomings in the current level of health services. On tonight's news I heard that two nursing organisations as well as a medical organisation, people who are not involved in politics but in giving a service to patients, are calling on the Government to take some steps to improve the treatment of patients. There are long delays in admissions to hospitals and early discharges. In the general operation of the service — I come from an area that has been particularly badly hit — terminally ill patients frequently have to travel over 100 miles to hospitals. They are denied transport and in many cases they have not the wherewithal to pay for a taxi. Some of those people have denied themselves treatment no matter how necessary it was because they have not the resources to get it. Fiscal rectitude and balancing the books is all right, but it is on the backs of the people in the poorest circumstances, the people in the most remote areas, that the burden has fallen.
People who have the resources and have access to private hospitals experience very few problems. They are treated overnight. General practitioners tell people who are treated under the national health service, people who should be provided with a reasonable service to go privately if possible because otherwise they cannot be guaranteed a bed, and that is a sad situation.
I put down a question to the Minister for Education last week on school dental services. I come from an urban area with 1,200 primary school children. Since 1977 there has been no school dental examination in that area. Unfortunate parents have to borrow money from credit unions and lending agencies in order to treat their children's teeth. Nobody should be put in this position. The assessment for medical cards is rigidly adhered to. In my county there are 3,500 more people with medical cards now than there were two years ago. Regrettably, many of those people had the facility of a medical card over a protracted period and their whole economy was built round that type of medical service. They have now been taken from them.
Housing is a particularly difficult problem and, as Deputy Andrews said, we are all anxiously awaiting what the Minister for the Environment will reveal tomorrow. I represent a rural constituency and agriculture is in confusion which arises from a variety of statements and leaks in relation to the Common Agricultural Policy. Commissioner MacSharry, in exposing his negotiating hand six months before the bargaining commenced, certainly weakened his own position. Were it not for the strength of the Germans and the French in radically adhering to their position, perhaps the full extent of the cutbacks would not be known. The position of the small farmer is particularly difficult and, unless positive action is taken now for farmers under the 30,000 milk quota, rural Ireland will become a forest and there will not be any dairying. It will not be possible, if there is a further reduction in milk quotas, for farmers to make any semblance of a viable living. That would be a tragedy for rural Ireland because it would distort the whole social fabric that has been built round the small farming community in regard to schools, churches, voluntary and sporting organisations and so on. This diminution in income and security in relation to small farmers will create a major social change. Now is the time to say that from the social aspect — as well as from that of the population — that community must be retained. There must be a basis for the viability of such an energetic community.
There are talks of changes in the production of goats, greyhounds, rabbits, deer and racehorses. The cow is the wealth of the small farmer in the west and there is no substitute. It is gimmickry to think that substitute can be introduced, as mentioned by the Minister for Agriculture. These are not viable and will not attract the attention of the small farmer because he cannot be converted to that kind of life.
I thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me time to speak. I hope that in the serious matters of employment, health, housing and agriculture, the Government are conscious of the real problems. That is my purpose in expressing my views here and I do not get any pleasure from doing so.
I wish to thank Deputy Moynihan for his observations on the budget. As usual he expressed himself well and there is very little with which one could disagree in his speech. However, I should like to make an observation or two. When the health problems were at their most severe there was a Labour Minister in office, Deputy Desmond. The problems have not really changed since he held office. There are the same pressures on the public purse and demands for more — and better — health services or, perhaps more correctly, demands for services to alleviate sickness.
Deputy Moynihan also made the point that we have been in control of our own destinies for 70 years. I do not think that will stand up now. John Donne said that no man is an island, he is part of the mainland. We have been part of mainland Europe, for better or for worse, since 1973 or thereabouts and, in this context, I should like to look at the background which shaped and controlled our budget and which will shape and control budgets for the rest of the century. The most recent was the Programme for Economic and Social Progress which is a strategy worked out between the Government and social partners, unions, farmers, employers, and so on, covering most fields of industrial and social endeavour. It tries to reach common ground and to hammer out common aims between all the partners in Irish life. It does not seek to exclude anybody and to be, in as far as possible, all embracing.
Why am I speaking on the budget when the parameters have already been laid down for as far into the future as we can see? Now that the major partners have agreed a programme, Deputies will have to be more wary and questioning in relation to these parameters. They must ensure that those without a voice, who are not members of the great social groupings, are not ignored, left out or hurt in this movement towards underpinning social progress with economic stability. It is in this Chamber that these items should be teased out.
All the parties who were privy to the programme represented sectional interests and they brought their own from of tunnel vision to the negotiations. In framing the budget the Minister for Finance also had to bear in mind what effect events in the Gulf will have on economic and social life in Ireland over the next few years because it now looks as if this war will last at least until the end of the year, with horrendous economic effects on us. It will push up the price of oil with downstream effects on our economic competitiveness, not to mention the social dislocation of innocent people who are not participants in the war. They do not own oil wells and are not arms manufacturers, they are men and women trying to raise and educate their families along the Arabian peninsula because it is now evident that the war has spread from Iraq and Kuwait and that the surrounding countries, to a greater or lesser extent, are involved. They have to pick up the tab for the social dislocation; over one million refugees have had to flee Kuwait and Iraq.
Tonight we discussed a Bill regarding foreign adoptions and I am sure its author was thinking in the context of Romanian adoptions as a result of the upheavals there in the last 12 months. In framing the Bill we must be careful to ensure that it applies broadly across the board because there will be major social dislocation and many more orphans in the Middle East. We, as a nation and a member of the European Community, will be involved financially, if no other way, in helping to clear up the mess after the war.
Another factor which must have played on the mind of the Minister for Finance was the developments in Eastern Europe over the last 18 months. I refer specifically to East Germany whose reunification with West Germany and absorption into the European Community has caused major financial problems for the Bundesbank and, by extension, for us. Our inflation rate of 2.7 per cent is one of the lowest in the European Community — it stood at 4.7 per cent in November 1990 — whereas the UK inflation rate is 9.7 per cent. However, our interest rate stands, on average, at 11.25 per cent mainly because of the large demand for money in Germany for the reconstruction of East Germany. We are all paying for this if not at first hand, by extension at second hand.
In the context of what Deputy Moynihan had to say on farm incomes, we should bear in mind the release into the Common Agricultural Policy system of the huge German agricultural land bank, as East Germany was the bread basket for Germany as a whole prior to its division into eastern and western zones. We are talking here about farms of 2,000 to 3,000 hectares, with downstream manufacturing industries, not all of which are efficient — very few of them are — but during the next few years they will gear up and be a source of concern for our small 40, 50 and 60 acre family farms which support either one or two families. It is in this context that we have to consider the MacSharry proposals for a restructuring the Common Agricultural Policy which are designed to support family farms as we know them in Ireland. Rather than attacking the commissioner in Europe and the Minister at home, farming organisations such as Macra na Feirme, the ICMSA and the United Farmers Association should get together to see how these proposals can be implemented without doing too much damage to the infrastructure of our family farms.
I should also say in regard to the entry of East Germany to the farming community of the EC, that we must look at the Sugar Bill, the Second Stage of which is being debated in the House. I do not know what name has been thought up for the new phoenix which will rise from the ashes of Comhlacht Siúicre Éireann Teoranta, but when it is up and running it will find that it is a minnow in a very large pool. As I understand it, the food retailing sector in Europe is controlled by about five major players most of whom do not have the marketing strength of the major American players. It is in this context that we will have to consider the way in which we structure the Sugar Company and help it to develop.
Aontáim leis an Teachta Andrews in a ghlaoch go ndéanfaí leathnú agus forbairt ar an chóras coiste atá againn i dTeach Laighean. I had the honour to serve as a chairman of the Special Committee on the Child Care Bill and learned just how effective this House can be. Under the committee system, people who held different political views sat down together, and with goodwill and without relinquishing any of their principles, hammered out a Bill for the benefit of the children of Ireland who are under threat.
I would like to join other Members of the House in calling for the building of further low cost housing, particularly in my own constituency. However we should avoid the temptation to build huge estates similar to the ones built in the fifties and sixties with all their attendant social and economic problems and which have cost the people living and working in them dear while providing good and adequate housing. When planning these estates we did not look far enough down the road.
I am glad to have this opportunity to address the budget which was presented in the House on 30 January. It is true to say that few, if any events of less significance have occurred in this House for a considerable period of time. As we are all aware, the agreement which had been signed the previous week with the social partners indicated what would be contained in the budget. There was a time when the unemployed, the income tax payer, the VAT payer and so many others expressed concern and apprehension about whether the rates of income tax would be reduced, but that did not happen on this occasion because the decisions were taken outside of the House.
Despite this, it is important and appropriate that we look at our constituencies and the country as a whole to see in what direction we are travelling. Above all else, one should speak about one's own constituency. I speak for Cork Noth West which I have represented for almost ten years. I have never witnessed there such a lack of confidence in all that time and I say that with regret. It is a rural constituency containing a substantial number of farmers who in many cases are without hope at this time. The GATT talks were bad enough, when Commissioner MacSharry proposed reductions of 30 per cent, but in addition to that he spoke about substantial cutbacks in milk, beef and cereal prices and in milk quotas, which for many people was the final straw. Then last week the Minister for Agriculture and Food who had indicated that he would reluctantly have to oppose these proposals, informed the United Farmers' Association that he found them to be quite satisfactory. Is it any wonder that the farmers are confused and bewildered and have no confidence when the Minister for Agriculture and Food does not know where he is going and has no sense of direction?
One statement the Minister made about ten days ago caught the eye of many people. He suggested to farmers, with perhaps 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 gallons quotas, a wife and two or three children as well as substantial debts that they should provide bed and breakfast and breed greyhounds and rabbits, but that was fairly hollow and one could laugh at it were it not so frightfully serious. More and more of these people are coming to my office and my clinics and I am sure every Deputy in this House has the same experience. These people are looking for a sense of direction, for some confidence, for any ray of hope. They are certainly not getting it now from the Government.
In my area in the past 12 months unemployment rose by 11 per cent. I know practically every house in my constituency and I am aware of the haemorrhage of emigration, its causes and consequences. If the emigration figures were added to the unemployment figures the increase would be about 20 per cent over the past 12 months. Is it not tragic? Parents come to our clinics asking whether there is any hope of getting a job for their son or daughter, John or Mary or whoever. In Charleville there is a vacancy for a librarian to do part-time work and my information is that in the region of 120 applicants are hoping to get the job. Imagine the disappointment of 119, their last ray of hope gone, the last straw. In my town of Kanturk a factory which employs 66 people let 60 workers go a fortnight ago. The management and staff worked hard over a number of years to keep that factory in production. There was no Minister there for the closure although there were plenty of them there for the opening. It is all very well to say the IDA will treat the area as a black spot. The IDA will say they will give it priority but we hear that every second day from the IDA and it is not good enough.
Deputy Moynihan touched on something very close to my heart tonight when he spoke about the strategy and policy of the IDA. Perhaps it is time local authorities, and the IDA, became more closely involved. I have lost faith in the IDA. Speakers from the Government side tonight spoke about the IDA and jobs but they were not speaking about rural Ireland. They spoke about centres of population. In Cork city, and its environs, the IDA now are employing contractors to build advance factories and my information is they are paying the contractors rent for the factories until they are utilised. Some months ago a term used regularly in this House by the Minister for Justice and Communications was, "a level playing field". While such factories are being built within the environs of our cities and not in rural areas or country towns such as Kanturk, Charleville or Newmarket we do not have a level playing field.
Unless Cork city and county get representation in the Cabinet, until we have power at the Cabinet table, we cannot expect very much. A Fianna Fáil corporation member asked some time ago what the people of Cork city and county expected when they did not vote for Fianna Fáil. I suggest we are getting absolute contempt from the Government. I do not say that lightly but it proves to me that either the Taoiseach has not faith in the Fianna Fáil Deputies in Cotk city and county or he has no respect for the people there. Perhaps the day will come when his eyes will be opened and he will have to face the music on that issue.
In the last week we have had statements and policy document from An Post. I do not want to raise this issue again but it affects rural areas to a degree few people realise and people who do not know rural areas will have no idea of its consequences. Imagine the position of elderly people who see the postman two or three times a day, he is really the only comfort and company they have. Imagine the person living out on the mountain far away from post offices travelling nine or ten miles to collect his pension. That is a frightening thought for an elderly man who has no mode of transport and no friends. It has been brought to my attention that any youngster can put his hand into the post boxes which have been used so extensively in the last couple of years and take out what is inside. That is an indication of what An Post think of rural people.
In the past two years we have seen the abuse of lottery funds. In north Cork we were expecting in the region of £300,000 from the lottery and we got the grand total of £45,000 for groups who have worked hard and spent a tremendous amount of time and money developing community centres, parks and so on. They have been treated with total contempt by the Minister in charge of the lottery funds. I regret that; it is wrong. Until we make sure that money is distributed fairly and evenly any faith the public have in the lottery funds and the Minister of the day will diminish.
After all that a 6 per cent increase in crime in rural areas was announced today. It is time the Government shouted "stop". It is time they said that this cannot continue. If they think it can then they are in for a rude awakening. The Minister for Communications, Deputy Brennan, announced today that he was asking An Post to defer their proposals to close post offices and the cutbacks in general. I suggest the only reason he has done that is to put back the evil day until after the local elections. If that is his view, and the view of the Government, then Fianna Fáil may well pay a terrible price in the local elections. The views I have expressed are sincerely held and they concern all the people I represent, the people in rural areas without hope. They are entitled to better than they are getting.
I congratulate the Minister on his budget. It represents a continuation of the progress set in train in 1987. Not only does it continue to prepare us for 1993, it sets out to deal with many anomalies. The Minister has given special attention to the old and disadvantaged and to tax adjustments. With careful management the Government have brought the country's finances under control and have managed to hold our inflation rate at the record low level of 2.7 per cent. It is important that the confidence built up over the last number of years be maintained. Job creation has been and must continue to be a top priority of Government especially with the slowing down of the British and United States economies leading to many of our emigrants returning home, in turn, placing a very severe strain not alone on finance for social welfare and health schemes but also for the provision of housing. A few years ago there was adequate housing accommodation in many areas and, in some areas very few on local authority housing waiting lists. That scene is changing.
The agricultural sector has been looked to to provide jobs. As the outcome of the present GATT talks will determine agricultural policy in future years, it is an opportune time for us to examine our performance at EC level. The two areas of production most in surplus are our two main sources — beef and milk. I would like to give a small illustration with regard to each. At present we are placing 90 per cent of our kill of prime quality steer beef in intervention. An exporter, when interviewed at the green week in Germany in January, stated there was a good demand in Germany for that type of beef but he was unable to compete with intervention prices. In the seventies we exported 40,000 tonnes of beef annually to Germany which figure has now fallen to 12,500 tonnes. While many outlets have been closed as a result of the conflict in the Gulf, we must engage in a more aggressive sales campaign to ensure there is less use made of intervention.
In the milk sector major co-operatives are competing with one another in the production of dairy spreads for the home and export markets while intervention stocks of butter stand at between 250,000 and 300,000 tonnes. Our EC partners, especially France and Germany, have discouraged the manufacture of dairy spreads in an attempt to save the butter market. It must have been ironic for them to observe a major Irish co-operative promote dairy spreads during the green week in Germany. It is my belief that the co-operatives who are displacing butter fat in the market-place with imported vegetable oil dairy spreads should not have unrestricted access to intervention for the butter they are displacing. I would appeal to the Minister to tackle this problem.
In contrast, we have the poultry industry in respect of which we are appealing in this House some eight or ten years ago seeking protection against unfair competition from imports. At that stage we claimed that it was tantamount to dumping the produce. Ten years later we have producers within that industry with massive investments not receiving a penny of assistance from either the national Government or the EC for their development by way of housing or equipment. We must remember that they have built up the industry to a £300 million turnover annually, employing directly 3,500 people and indirectly another 6,000 with an export market of £40 million covering a wide range of poultry-based products. That industry has grown rapidly, has changed from having been a net importer to being a net exporter. Seventy five per cent of the national poultry and egg production is located in my constituency. There are employed in the processing plants alone — apart from the production end — approximately 100,000. The previous speaker claimed there were no alternatives. I contend there are alternatives if we look hard enough for them. We had that alternative in the poultry industry and a similar one in the mushroom industry, employing upwards of 1,000 people. In many such circumstances it is a case of necessity being the mother of invention.
In his Budget Statement the Minister announced more flexibility in the conditions under which the young farmers' installation aid scheme will apply. This is something Macra na Feirme and many rural Deputies have been advocating for a long time, which will ensure that more young farmers will qualify under its broadened scope. The Minister has provided a sum of £600,000 this year which will amount to £1 million in a full year. This flexibility should influence many parents to pass on their holdings to young members of their families. In the case of such younger members it is essential that they have obtained their leaving certificate so that they will be well qualified and competent to run their farms in a business-like basis.
With the severe restriction on beef and milk production there will have to be a serious look taken at any alternative enterprise that might help maintain our rural population. In that respect I welcome also the additional aid recently announced for the mushroom and potato industries by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Kirk. A survey undertaken since shows that there is a market for potatoes in Sweden, North Africa and the Canary Islands, for varieties with a high cropping rate, suitable for Irish soils, varieties which have been grown extensively here over the past 25 years. In line with that we import £5 million worth of grass seed annually. Grass seed is very suitable as a follow-on crop to potatoes. Here I might congratulate Bord Glas on their performance and the Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, who have been so successful in reducing fruit, vegetable and potato imports. I have no doubt but that they will continue their efforts and provide many jobs. Indeed, our importing potatoes and vegetables over the years was nothing short of tragic. Yet, when Bord Glas was established under the aegis of an active, energetic Minister we observed how he could turn the tables within a very short period.
Now that there are a number of spheres of joint funding between the EC and national Governments I would appeal to the Minister for Finance to adopt a well structured approach in co-ordinating the various programmes so that we can derive the maximum benefit therefrom. For example, there was the recent rural development programme announced by Commissioner MacSharry, the INTERREG Fund for Border counties and the International Fund for Ireland also applicable to that region. While it is accepted that the Department of Finance must have overall responsibility for the schemes selected and financed, I would appeal for more flexibility so that such schemes would reflect the needs of the various regions allowing local democracy a real opportunity. It is all very fine contending that groups could draw up their proposals or write their agendas with regard to such schemes but invariably things do not work out that way. When such schemes come into operation we discover that the flexibility about which we are told in advance does not materialise, very annoying to their participants.
While the International Fund for Ireland is comprised of an independent board who initially talked of supporting job creation and private enterprise projects to date that has not been how they have operated. An examination of their annual report for 1990 demonstrates that, in respect of the southern Border counties, a substantial amount of the take-up went to urban councils for urban renewal, support for hotels in the provision of swimming pols and amenities and some other minor allocations with little recognition being given to individual projects in respect of which applications were submitted.
I wholeheartedly welcome the removal of the tax anomaly with regard to cross-Border workers because, to date, people employed in Northern Ireland — born and residing in the South, working in the North — were not eligible for the PAYE allowance while a person born in Northern Ireland, working in Northern Ireland and living in the South, qualified. That serious anomaly was rectified by the Minister.
On many occasions I advocated import substitution. Recently on examining an empty domestic gas cylinder to find out where it was manufactured, I found only a number stamped on it but on making further inquiries I discovered it had been imported. I checked with the Central Statistics Office and found that in 1990 2,314 tonnes of cylinders valued at over £3 million were imported. This would represent more than 200,000 gas cylinders. Jobs could be provided here making those cylinders because it would not involve high technology skills, but mostly welding and turning. I discussed this with a number of engineers in my constituency. There is a manufacturer of pressure container vessels in Clones who is manufacturing some of the world's best upmarket stainless steel Claddagh tanks which cost £25,000 to £35,000 each. They employ about 130 workers and turn out ten to 12 of those tanks per week. Despite that industry we have the unnecessary importation of gas cylinders. The Minister for Industry and Commerce in reply to a question said he understood that imports of gas cylinders during 1990 were exceptional due to the setting up of a new distribution company and that it seemed doubtful whether normal domestic demand alone would be adequate to justify the large capital investment. I am informed that there would not be large capital investment as the equipment required for this work is available in many areas. This is one area in which we should have import substitution and the. IDA should monitor this type of thing and should alert engineering firms to the possibilities.
The Minister in his budget referred to social housing and said that there would be an increased demand here. The Minister referred to a rental subsidy scheme for voluntary housing and shared ownership for low income house purchase. This would be of great help to many young people who wish to own their own homes. The Minister also gave an allowance for people leaving local authority housing to erect their own houses. I ask him to reintroduce the house improvement grant scheme now that the inspections for the 1985 scheme are almost completed.
I welcome the continued reduction in the tax bands and the Minister's commitment to reaching a 25 per cent standard rate by 1993. This could not have been contemplated five, six or seven years ago. I have no doubt the Minister will reach his goal.
In relation to job creation, the Minister should look at afforestation. Private afforestation has been very successful. There is a lot of mature timber coming on stream. At present the IDA will not grant aid any small timber based projects for debarking and treating wood. They should re-examine that attitude especially in a region like mine where there is a reasonably substantial amount of mature timber which is going to Northern Ireland to be processed.
At this stage in the budget debate since most of the points have been made, Deputies use this debate to refer to constituency matters which they cannot discuss in the Dáil during the year. My speech will probably be on those lines and I would ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to bear with me.
I noted the Minister's comments at the start of his budget speech. He said that this year television was bringing his budget address quite literally home to the people for the first time. Certainly, the Minister achieved this end. His performance on the television screen was similar to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production directed by John Huston or an Abbey Theatre performance directed by one of the excellent Abbey directors who ensure that performances are well rehearsed. However, his performance finished there.
Once again I had to sit on this side of the House and watch an act of financial terrorism being perpetrated against the Irish people. I had about a week to study its effects on my constituents and they are nothing short of horrendous.
The Minister gave two examples of the combined effect of the exemption limit and the FIS changes. A married employee with two children gains £9 per week and a married employee with three children gains £12 a week. These increases will be offset by the 2½ per cent rise in VAT on heating, clothes and shoes which comes into effect on 1 March. This is a farce; it is an insult to the intelligence of my constituents, especially those who are long term unemployed and who instead of gaining, will lose because their paltry increase does not take effect until late July, just in time for them to pay back the money lender, and then they will have to renew their loans in order to pay for school uniforms and books in our so called free education system.
I will give an idea of the public perception that may be abroad when people look at the £10,000 given in the budget to the Connemara Pony Society in the Minister's constituency. The people who run the society are excellent; they probably meet 12 times a year and arrange to have their annual show which I know is a success and arrange to have a Minister on hand to present the prizes which this £10,000 will buy. The Minister from the area will probably present the prizes, and if it is a Fianna Fáil Minister, the Progressive Democrats might object and perhaps Minister Molloy would like to present the prizes. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will agree, in our constituency we have people who have ponies — in Ballymun and Finglas — who would like something from the budget to run their pony clubs, as would pony clubs in Howth and Baldoyle. The perception in the constituencies on the north side of Dublin is that the Government do not care about them.
The Minister has generously allocated £1 million to Bord Fáilte for marketing and promotion in 1991. I offer my condolences to Board Fáilte. They are being asked to market a product which year by year becomes even more hopeless. Let me give an example. Dublin Bay has a serious problem with pollution and it is imperative that we cease dumping raw sewage in the bay in order to bring an end to an intolerable problem which is worthy of the Middle Ages. The European Community plan to ban dumping of raw sewage at sea and published a report recently which stated that towns with a population of 10,000 or more should have a secondary or biological treatment plant for sewage before it is discharged into receiving waters. More stringent treatment will be required in cases where water quality is a problem. We have that problem in Dublin Bay. At present most of the Dublin sewage is processed at the corporation's treatment plant at Ringsend. This is only a primary treatment facility which merely separates the solids from the liquids. It has been estimated that the cost of upgrading this facility to a full treatment works would be in the region of £45 million.
On the far side of the bay at the Nose of Howth the North Dublin Drainage scheme empties totally untreated raw sewage directly into the Irish Sea beside Howth Harbour. This scheme, which starts at Finglas and serves all the large housing estates, factories and hospitals on the north side of Dublin, discharges all this raw sewage into the receiving waters at Howth. The tidal pattern in the outer bay is very dynamic and the dumped material is spread over a wide area. This has caused serious damage to fish life and over the past few years raw sewage has ended up on such beaches as Portmarnock, Dollymount, Portrane, Donabate, Sutton and all the beaches on the east coast. This must surely be a danger to our citizens' health and will certainly deter tourists from using our beaches. Fishermen at Howth tell us that the best herring spawning grounds in the world are just off Howth and they are being completely destroyed. The day of the famous Howth herring has long since passed.
Because of certain easterly tides raw sewage also finds its way to the famous Blue Lagoon. This is the strip of water between Clontarf and Sutton which forms a very nice view with the Howth peninsula in the background. It is silting up very fast because there is a causeway which is preventing the scouring of the inner estuary. On several occasions when I was a member of Dublin Corporation I put down motions calling for the causeway to be breached to allow a scouring process to take place. My constituency has since been changed to the county council area and I am now a member of the county council. I have asked for action within the council chamber but this has been ignored. I will be taking up the matter with the Minister for the Environment. One could take a walk from the middle of Dublin city along the seashore to Howth but the wonderful walks there and in the Howth Peninsula are ruined. There is an obnoxious smell from time to time due to the silting of the estuary. It certainly deters tourists.
The European Community have a system of blue flag awards for clean beaches. In 1989, 49 Irish beaches sought this award but only 35 were selected. Only five of the nine beaches entered by Dublin County Council won a blue flag. Dublin Corporation did not enter the competition. The beaches were judged on water quality, beach quality, management, environmental, education and information aspects. The problem with Dublin beaches certainly accounted for the poor showing, mainly because of sewage outflows and litter. It should be our ambition by the early nineties that all our beaches should attain the EC blue flag standard. We should clean up and make our beaches environmentally sound.
The pollution of our rivers seems to have grabbed the headlines in recent years. Our rivers are used by anglers from abroad who are an excellent source of revenue. However, there is a danger that we may lose this wonderful facility because of pollution. Most of that pollution is effluent from the agricultural sector. I understand that the effluent from agriculture is ten times the amount produced by the urban sector. The discharge of effluent into our rivers is caused by a minority of irresponsible farmers. I understand that slurry is 100 times and silage 200 times more pollutant than ordinary domestic sewage.
Let me now outline to the Minister an accurate cause history which typifies a growing trend in Irish society. I had occasion to meet at my advice centre a married couple with one child who were earning £16,000 a year. They stand to gain the princely sum of £11.80 per month according to the Minister's budget speech. Perhaps I should advise them to save and invest in a new car or possibly a child minder in order to allow the wife to return to work to supplement their income. Car tax is up by 10 per cent. That takes care of the first payment of £11.80. I have been informed that insurance companies are loading people in the 25 to 29 age group by an extra 40 per cent. They would have to rethink about the new car and consider the viability of the old. If they were considering buying for the first time they would have to do without. The cost of their clothing and shoes is about to spiral. The necessities of life are becoming a luxury. Their heating bills will also increase. At this stage we are beyond looking at investment and wondering how this family can budget to maintain their standard of living while raising and educating a child. Their spending power and the incentive to work are dwindling very fast. There are no gains for them and this case history would be representative of a large proportion in society.
Another great problem in my constituency is housing. There are approximately 5,000 people on Dublin Corporation's housing list and probably another 4,000 or 5,000 on the transfer list. We should at this stage declare a housing crisis in Dublin. Dublin County Council, of which I am a member, has a housing list which is extending daily. Neither body has built a houses to mention during the past three or four years. I note the Minister has stated that he will be introducing measures tomorrow to overcome this problem. Among those measures I think the may introduce a grant whereby a council or corporation tenant may surrender the house and buy another house.
That scheme was introduced by Fine Gael and Labour while in Government some years ago. It worked in some cases but I caution the Minister to be very careful. This grant led to the break up of some excellent estates. The grants were mainly taken up by people who were the leaders in their community and they bought houses elsewhere. These communities were left without leadership because the best people had gone. Some of the estates on the north side of the city were decimated. Some good communities lost their best people. I would ask the Minister to consider this. However, he will have to address the problem of housing in Dublin. People are coming to us at advice centres who are living with parents in over-crowded and unhealthy conditions. Something will have to be done.
Over a period of years the budget has lost a lot of its significance and impact on budget day. The primary reason is that much of the information is known well in advance of that day. Due to the commendable exercise by the Government in introducing the Estimates, usually in October, people can easily work out the changes, which should be made in the budget. Before every budget practically all of it is published in the newspapers. For a number of years the budget has not contained any surprises. I suppose the Minister can congratulate himself on striking the right balance. Some commentators said the budget was too cautious; others said it was too dangerous. If he went independent he probably took the right course, since there were so many differing opinions.
I have what is probably an old-fashioned view about what a budget should be. We will have to get back to a stage of having what I call a barrier in regard to current budget deficits. Prior to 1972 it was believed that one had to balance one's current expenditure against one's current income. During the recession in the seventies caused by the oil crisis it was felt that one could not possibly operate within balanced budgets. The underlying theory was that in times of recession one pumped more money into the economy by taking less taxation or borrowing more. That was always meant to be a short term measure, but like most short term measures in politics it assumed a life of its own and we have not had a balanced current budget now for nearly 20 years.
Since 1987 this Government have been very successful in getting the total Exchequer borrowing requirement down, and more important, in coming near having a balanced budget again. If the progress of the past few years was to be maintained I thought 1991 would likely to be the year we would have no current budget deficit. That is important for all kinds of reasons but mainly for psychological reasons. When a Government once reaches a stage of having a balanced current budget, it will be politically impossible for future Ministers for Finance to ever again go down the road of having unbalanced current budgets. Perhaps in 1992, but certainly in 1993, I hope this Minister for Finance will achieve that aim.
In the past few years under various Governments we had programmes for wiping out the current budget deficit in five years or three years or whatever, but the situation got worse. I am hoping the Minister will be able to maintain the progress of 1987, 1988 and 1989 so that this psychological barrier will be put up and it will be impossible to breach it again. What has happened over the past 15 years or so is that the discipline of balancing the budget has not been imposed and that is one of the main reasons we have had such financial disaster over a long period. I would hate to think we were heading down that road again.
As public sector pay makes up a large part of Government spending, commentators are right to make the point that, with some special increases and with the proposed agreement, public sector pay will cost the State considerably more than last year. It is also fair for commentators to point out that for the first time in three years current spending has increased in real terms. The Minister will have to do a miraculous job if the outturn for this year is to be an Exchequer borrowing requirement roughly in line with last year's because there are many hang-over effects from previous agreements that the Minister had to take on board. However, if it turns out that we are not going to hit the target set in the budget, I would see nothing wrong with the Minister coming back to the House later in the year and introducing a mini-budget. We should learn from our mistakes. I may not have learned much from my mistakes, but I think in some respects I have, and any Government must take cognisance of mistakes that were made in the past. There was nothing wrong initially with trying this policy of over-spending, of trying to buy our way out of recession. However, it did not work and we should not go down that road again.
The reason we cannot give all people very high social welfare increases, have an educational system par excellence and solve the health problems so that there would be no protests in any of the health boards, is that we have to keep some semblance of order in the public finances. I believe in the simple equation in regard to the budget. If the Government want to spend a certain amount of money on current services they should be prepared to match that with increases in taxation. It is only a short term expedient measure to do anything else. It would be wrong to tie the hands of any Government and force them to do this on all occasions, but we must learn something from the mistakes we made over the last 15 years. The principal mistake has been that as political parties of various hues we were not prepared to impose that discipline on ourselves because it is unpopular with voters. We are all subject to the whims of the electorate and successive Governments have not been prepared to bite the bullet.
Most people favour lower tax rates and so do I, do not believe in having lower tax rates if the result is to put the finances of the country totally askew. I have heard no debate in this House and very little outside it about either 25 per cent or 45 per cent tax rates. The idea of tax is to collect sufficient money for the State to enable it to provide a certain level of services and to redistribute income.
Since 1989, in particular, we seem hell bent on achieving a particular target as far as tax rates are concerned, regardless of the cost. That is a foolish policy, whether it is proposed by Progressive Democrats or Fianna Fáil. It may be electorally sound in order to get votes but it is nonsensical to decide to bring down the tax rates every year in order to arrive at a particular target. Yet all parties in the House have swallowed this particular fish. We are all in favour of it because to be against it would be like being against sanctifying grace, and no one is prepared to be against that. I have to congratulate the Minister because, under very severe pressure, he held out against both political parties, probably his own colleagues in Cabinet from all sides, and implemented a very minor reduction in tax. I would have seen nothing wrong in the Minister saying that this year there would be no income tax reductions because we just cannot afford it.
I did not count how many times the Programme for Economic and Social Progress was referred to — I would say it was referred to about 100 times. I am one of those who have reservations about this programme. I am not against a Government entering into national wage agreements. The last programme worked very well and it is hard to knock something when it is successful. However, if everything is to be decided among the social partners, the employers, the trade unions and the Government, when the logical conclusion is that people should not bother to go and vote in an election but should join their local trade union or their local employers' organisations because that is where they will get the job done.
It is unpopular to say that particularly when the programme has worked well, but I think it is important to put on the record that while I welcome the great strengths of the last programme and what it achieved — it was partly the reason this country has done so well in the past years — I would not welcome having everything decided by the social partners. There is an ethical concept about that which does not ring true to me. Given that that is what we have — and I wish this programme as much success as the last one — I must enter some caveats about the new programme as it affects budgetary matters. In this programme we have entered into commitments on health, education and a wide range of public affairs over a period of years. All of these will cost the State a considerable amount of money in the future. I am also aware that when the Taoiseach was announcing the programme he said that it was totally dependent on our achieving the levels of growth in the programme and if we did not, what was projected would not go ahead. I am long enough in politics to know that that may not necessarily be the case. I also remember a very famous document known as the 1977 Fianna Fáil Manifesto. While I have been portrayed as having been critical of that particular programme, and I was, there was nothing inherently wrong with it if one thing was matched against the other. The goodies that were given away in that manifesto were to be matched by certain levels of growth and employment. What that proves is that we will be committed to implementing the goodies of the programme, as we were in 1977, but the nearer it comes to an election — no matter what party is in power — no one will be too anxious to say at that time that we have not achieved the levels of growth and therefore we will not go ahead with the goodies. I know that will not happen, so I hope that if we do not achieve the levels of growth as forecast — and there are considerable doubts about the world economy — the Government will be strong enough to say that the commitments in the programme were dependent on these factors and we now cannot go ahead with them. Politically, I hope I will live to see that day, because that is all right in my book but I have grave doubts about it.
On budget night I was critical of the financial resolution on the business expansion scheme put before the House. I did much of my talking on that particular point on that evening before it had become the hullabaloo it has since become. I honestly believe that the Minister should take some corrective measures in the Finance Bill, because he has cut off this scheme in mid division. The way the resolution was framed means that lots of good schemes that were going to go ahead will not now proceed. I am not just talking about schemes in the hotel and tourism area. I will give an example which has been drawn to my attention quite recently. The owners of a factory in my constituency who have increased the numbers employed in the past three years, whereas the previous owners were going to close it down, have been in negotiation with the Revenue Commissioners since last October for an approved business expansion scheme. It is totally a manufacturing industry and qualifies on all the grounds, but now they will be caught under the capping proposals that the total amount of money raised must be £500,000. This factory, which qualifies on all other grounds and is not asset backed and it complies with all the conditions, will be caught under the proposals put forward in the Financial Resolution on budget day. I know there have been abuses of the business expansion scheme but, as I said so on budget night, we have taken out the slegehammer to crack a nut.
I congratulate the Minister sincerely on holding the line as best he could. I wish him continued success in trying to sustain the line and I wish him the best of success the nearer it comes to an election in continuing to hold the barrier.
In terms of public perception, budget day is the most significant and important say in the political and economic life of the country. Budget day, 1991, had the added significance of being the first budget speech to have been broadcast live to the nation. Those who accept the traditional posturing of the Minister with his briefcase as a Santa Claus bag must have felt cheated and bored for 90 minutes at what turned out to be a non-budget. It was an elaborate confidence trick played on a unsuspecting audience which failed to recognise the underlying problems in the Irish economy, namely, high unemployment and high personal taxation, both of which I believe are inextricably linked.
If the Minister for Finance and his Government colleagues fail to recognise the underlying problems of the economy, then their budget cannot even begin to tackle those problems. Budget day merely attempted to present in the most acceptable way possible policy decisions which had been entered into elsewhere. In the context of this budget, most of those policy decisions had been entered into in negotiations with the social partners in the new Programme for Economic and Social Progress and in the publication of the Book of Estimates some months ago.
My contribution tonight will attempt to extract from these areas some semblance of Government policy and highlight what I believe are its inadequacies and its failings. We in Ireland have the highest levels of personal taxation on those who work and consequently we have the highest levels of unemployment as the incentive for hard work is rewarded by higher taxes. In this scenario, the Government continue to tinker with the tax bands and tax brackets, which leaves nobody better off at the end of the week and condemns to the dole queues many of the brightest and best educated in our population and indeed condemns many of them to emigrate. Surely the net benefit to the PAYE sector of reform of the tax system must mean more money in their pockets and this budget has failed to do that. Others in the workforce realising that this Government placed little value on their labour saw there was admiration and greater remuneration for their talent in other countries and headed off. It is this voluntary emigration which is the greatest indictment of this Government and makes them unworthy to continue to hold office.
Lower taxation on job creation and on work will mean lower unemployment. Lower unemployment will remove the necessity for higher taxation, as much of the revenue which is collected is used to ensnare people in a continuous poverty trap which in many circumstances means that they are better off unemployed rather than taking up employment which will possibly reduce their entitlements to social benefits such as the medical card, rent reductions, etc. That is the vicious cycle which this Government have failed to tackle in the budget. While having the highest rates of personal taxation in Europe, our tax base is quite narrow, and there is a perception, which I share, that many of those who hold and generate great wealth do not pay their fair share towards the cost of running the State. Their ingenuity is continually taxed in devising and exploiting tax avoidance schemes. Some progress was made in the budget in this regard but much more needs to be done. We need to cultivate an ethos here where the wealthy have a moral obligation to pay their fair share and lift from the shoulders of the working man the shackles of high taxation on his wages.
The programme to instil that ethos needs to be enshrined in people from the first days of school and has to be continued throughout their lives. Obviously, as a nation we cannot afford to reduce the amount of money the Government have at their disposal to provide the many social services we need and expect. Neither can we afford to neglect the necessity to reform the manner in which that money is collected which unfairly burdens the PAYE sector. The Government in the budget failed to tackle the question of tax reform. Surely that is the primary weapon at their disposal to revive an ailing economy.
I should like to pose one question which exposes the inadequacy and unfairness of our taxation system. Is it right and proper that citizens of rural areas pay double taxation for local services while the population of this metropolis pay nothing for those services?
In the second part of my budget speech I wish to highlight the implications of Government policies, through the budget, for my constituency. Cork North-West is a microcosm of life in rural areas, a constituency of mediumsized market towns such as Charleville, Newmarket, Kanturk, Millstreet and Macroom which are dependent to a large extent on a vibrant agricultural community in their hinterland. It is a constituency which has all too few industrial employers and one that is constantly raped by migration and emigration; a constituency of vibrant village communities and, above all, one with a human resource that is highly skilled, motivated, yearning for recognition and longing to contribute to the economic wellbeing of the Irish countryside.
Rural Ireland is facing a crisis. Decisions being taken today, and in the next couple of years, will determine by and large the future for rural areas and whether those policy-makers have in their hearts the will and the capacity to protect the way of life which is unique in Europe and is worth preserving.
Rural Ireland is like a prisoner on death row searching for a pardon but unlikely to find a sympathetic ear on Government benches. Policies of centralisation adopted here have resulted in a concentration of economic opportunity on the east coast. For example, the super-Euro routes are concentrated from Wexford to Belfast, from Dublin to Portlaoise and Kinnegad, yet the whole of the west and, indeed my constituency is by-passed regarding the resources available to the Government for the purposes of infrastructural improvement.
The agricultural community is in chaos. Incomes were reduced in 1990 by 15 per cent and the prospects for 1991 are daunting. Clouds on the horizon of capitulation at the GATT negotiations and feeble defence of our agricultural interests at Council of Ministers level leaves no room for optimism. The question of the disadvantaged areas which, for many years, was a perk which some farmers enjoyed is now a necessity to bolster falling incomes yet the manner in which our Agricultural Ministers have handled the whole question of extensions of the disadvantaged areas is nothing short of contemptuous towards those who derive their livelihoods from agriculture.
In the eye of the storm Commissioner MacSharry told Irish farmers that they would be net beneficiaries from his reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy. The Common Agricultural Policy needs reforming but not in the manner Commissioner MacSharry envisages: 10 per cent quota reductions and price reductions to Irish farmers, large and small. What a cute and mean political ploy he has engaged in to set neighbour against neighbour in the agricultural community under the pretext that one can rob the big to pay the small, that the small can be made better off by penalising the larger commercial farmers.
Quota reductions of 10 per cent and price reductions of 10 per cent will benefit no Irish farmers and will seriously damage the Irish economy. It will mean job losses in the food processing sector and at the farm gate. For Commissioner MacSharry to insist that we will be net beneficiaries from these proposals is nonsensical. It is asking to urinating on the agricultural community and trying to persuade them that they are sweating.
The management of An Post are another of the angels of death stalking rural Ireland. Job losses of 1,500 and the closure of 500 sub-post offices will affect rural areas exclusively. One must in this debate consider that An Post have a social obligation in the context of the legislation which initiated that body. In that context a policy of attrition, degradation and mismanagement by senior management of An Post left much to be desired and a question must be raised about the competence of management at senior level in that organisation. Lack of employment opportunities, inability to compete with the favoured locations of the east coast, a declining population, a flight from the land and poor infrastructure are the hallmarks of rural areas in 1991. Something needs to be done to save rural areas and the budget we are discussing failed dismally in this regard.
I want positive discrimination in favour of rural Ireland. We have seen and heard much about the designated areas programme in the context of urban renewal and much has been achieved under this concept. I suggest to the Minister that he apply his time and ability to devising a similar to reward investment in rural areas which in this day and age could only be categorised as high risk investment.
The business expansion scheme is one vehicle that could be used for this purpose. I ask the Minister to consider its continued application in certain designated disadvantaged areas.
I should like to bring my remarks to a conclusion with a few words about the health services. The health services here are in a dismal state. We could continue to pour financial resources, year after year, into the health services and fail to tackle the problems because there is a fundamental malaise on the administration side of our health services. We need to reform health board structures and yet maintain an input for local democracy in our health services. There are eight health boards and the Eastern Health Board administer health services for in excess of 60 per cent of the population. That prompts the question whether there is a justifiable case for the continued existence of eight health boards, perhaps it should be four or two. Certainly, a revision of the structures, and the wasteful way money is spent in the administration of our services, should take place. Many thousands of public hospital patients are condemned to waiting lists for basic medical procedures in 1991 such as, for example, hip operations, ear, nose and throat surgery and cataract operations. Those problems have to be tackled to ensure that a streamlined efficient service regarding public access to medical treatment is introduced in the health services.
We have also in the budget a proposal to streamline access to medical treatment and introduce only two categories of patient, namely, medical card patients and all others.