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Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 19 Feb 1991

Vol. 405 No. 3

Programme for Economic and Social Progress: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann approves the Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

The Dáil debate on the new Programme for Economic and Social Progress provides all parties in the House with the opportunity of approving the broad thrust of economic and social policy as set out in the programme for this decade.

I urge approval of the programme by the House because it builds on the success of the Programme for National Recovery and maintains the consensus approach to economic and social planning, it provides the basis for continued social progress throughout this difficult decade and its economic and social provisions will transform Irish society into a more prosperous, more equitable and more enterprising society.

The achievements of the Programme for National Recovery are clear to all. The country was rescued, just in time, from economic and financial crisis which threatened our economic viability. The national debt has doubled in four years, employment was rapidly decreasing, taxation was growing unsutainably, investment was steadily declining, business confidence was at a low ebb, and capital was leaving the country at a rate which undermined the stability of our exchange rate.

Three years later we can clearly see the benefits of the consensus approach adopted in the Programme for National Recovery. The national debt has been held at £25 billion, the debt/GNP ratio has been reduced by 20 percentage points since 1987 and the Exchequer borrowing requirement by almost 11 percentage points as compared with 1986. Economic growth of an annual average rate of 4 per cent was achieved compared with GNP growth of less than 1 per cent in the preceding three years. Unemployment fell by 20,000 but, more importantly, there was a net increase of 40,000 in employment including a net increase of 70,000 in the private non-agricultural sector. Income tax was reduced, the standard and top rates by 5 per centage points in each case, personal and PAYE allowances increased, the standard and 48 per cent bands extended and tax exemption limits raised. Social welfare recipients, particularly the long term unemployed, received substantial increases in real terms.

The biggest achievement of the programme was that it created a low inflation competitive economy which is essential for economic progress and is the only basis on which we can increase employment and reduce unemployment and emigration. All this was possible due to the willingness of the major economic and social interests in our society to establish an agreement on the policies necessary to restore the public finances and secure economic and social progress.

The success of the Programme for National Recovery has been hailed internationally. I have already drawn the attention of the House to the judgement of the EC Commission in their Annual Economic Report that “the most spectacular results were achieved in Ireland”. The Guardian has also recently referred to “the continuing Irish economic miracle”.

I have outlined the approach to the Programme for National Recovery and the success it achieved because it is that success which encouraged the Government and the social partners to embark on a new programme to succeed it and to negotiate this Programme for Economic and Social Progress which I now commend to this House for approval. Naturally there were some who were sceptical of the merits of the first programme when it was debated here over three years ago. I would hope that its proven success will encourage the House generally to take a constructive and approving view of this successor programme.

The second reason I commend this new programme to the House is that it continues the spirit of consensus and social harmony established by the preceding programme. A small open internationally trading economy like ours can best advance in prosperity if the main economic and social interests recognise and accept the benefits of a united approach. We all want the best possible education for our children, job opportunities to match their skills and abilities, a growing standard of living, an end to involuntary emigration, satisfactory access to a high standard of modern health care and adequate social welfare provision for those who become disadvantaged or deprived. All this is possible through greater economic growth which, in turn, means that all interests in the economy must combine together to make Ireland a low cost competitive and efficient economy.

It is surely welcome and encouraging that our trade unions, employers and farmers united in both these programmes to make Ireland, by their common efforts in co-operation with the Government, a more prosperous and more just society. I am optimistic that Deputies will respond positively to what has been achieved and consider that the new programme deserves every support and success. Our history has been too often marked by disunity of effort and purpose. In these two programmes we have turned away from aggressive confrontation and look forward to a decade of common purpose and concerted effort to make Ireland a much better place for us all.

Before turning to the content of the new programme, I would like to comment on the fact that a number of Deputies in recent discussions in the House have expressed concern that these types of programme represent a diminution of the functions of the Oireachtas. I think that the concern of Deputies in this regard is entirely unjustified. In the first place, it is and always has been the function of Government to draw up programmes for economic and social progress. Economic and social planning has for many years been an accepted instrument of Government here and in almost every other Western European parliamentary democracy. In this country it has been adopted by successive governments, some I may say with more success than others. It is now a well recognised, normal procedure for Governments in the course of drawing up such plans or programmes to consult with the different interests and groups in our society.

Essentially the Programme for National Recovery and this programme do not differ from previous plans or programmes in that they are drawn up by Government in an approach of consulting with major economic and social interests. Without that such plans and programmes would have little hope of success. In return for the commitments made by Government in this programme in economic and social policy areas the social partners have themselves made a number of vital, realistic commitments on key issues.

The prerogatives of the Oireachtas are not impinged upon or infringed by this programme any more than they were under previous programmes. To give effect to many of the commitments under the programme the Government will require financial and legislative approval by the Oireachtas. I do not delude myself that, if the House gives overall approval to this programme when we come before the House in due course for financial or legislative approval for individual items, we will not be subjected to criticism, scrutiny and the rigours of parliamentary debate. We can, in principle, be prevented by Parliament from giving effect to provisions in the programme when we come for specific parliamentary approval to individual provisions. It has been said that some of the provisions extend beyond the lifetime of the Government. It is normal for Governments to make financial and legislative proposals which extend beyond the lifetime of a Government. Any succeeding Government are free to propose amending proposals and would in such cases enter into the necessary negotiations with the social partners to vary the programme.

There is, therefore, no infringement or diminution of the prerogatives of the Oireachtas by the negotiations of the last two programmes or by any of their predecessors. In fact, it could be argued that if, as some Deputies have urged, the political parties should become involved in the negotiations outside this House that would in effect transfer outside this House the political debate which is properly the function of Parliament. It would require the Oireachtas to rubber-stamp economic and social policies which the political parties would have already agreed in another forum outside the House. That would really diminish the status and function of the Oireachtas.

Finally, on this topic, let me point out that there is no certainty that the social partners would be prepared to enter into negotiations involving representatives of political parties as distinct from the Government. In fact, I understand that the National Economic and Social Council have indicated that council members are of view that the council should remain as currently constituted and that they should not have participation, whether by membership or observer status, by representatives of political parties.

I appreciate that Opposition Deputies are impressed by a procedure whereby the Government and the social partners are able to agree on an agenda to transform Irish society in this decade. Their role is the political role, the prerogative of Parliaments is to assess Government proposals, policies and agreements negotiated and to approve, amend or reject them.

I would like in this context to deal also with the amendments to the motion put down by the Opposition parties proposing, inter alia, that an economic and social affairs committee of the Oireachtas or a Dáil review mechanism be established in order, in the words of the Labour Party amendment, “to complement the important work of the social partners with a clear and representative democratic mandate”.

The Government cannot accept these amendments. The programme is now before the House for approval. Such approval gives the ultimate democratic mandate to the programme. The specific legislative, financial and administrative provisions of the programme will come in due course before the House for discussion and decision in the ordinary course of parliamentary procedure. Furthermore, the central Review Committee under the programme will publish periodic progress reports. I am prepared to undertake to have these reports debated in the House whenever there is a request to do so. Furthermore, Deputies can through the democratic process of the parliamentary question seek information from members of the Government on an ongoing basis about developments as regards specific provisions in the programme. I see no practical value, therefore, in duplicating what can be dealt with in the ordinary course of business in this House by establishing the suggested economic and social affairs committee or Dáil review mechanism.

I reject the implication in the Labour Party amendment that a programme of this nature, if approved by the House and with all the other parliamentary processes that individual provisions must undergo, could lack a clear and representative democratic mandate. The direct opposite is the case. There can be nothing with a greater representative democratic mandate than a programme approved by the Government and, hopefully, by all the representative organisations who are party to it and by this House.

I will now turn to the principal provisions of the programme.

Essential to the growth of our economy is that we maintain firm control of our public finances so that there is a steady reduction in the ratio of national debt to GNP. That was an objective which the Government and the social partners agreed on and achieved under the Programme for National Recovery and which is now continued in this programme. Specific targets have been established of reducing the debt-GNP ratio to about 100 per cent by 1993 and, as part of this, to achieve a broad balance on the Exchequer current account. No other course will ensure the lowest possible interest rates and inflation, two essential conditions for enterprise and investment to grow. I am sure that there are few, if any, Deputies in the House who would not approve of these objectives of the programme having regard to the havoc wrought upon our economy by uncontrolled public expenditure and a spiralling national debt of former years.

I want to make clear that throughout the programme there can be no weakening of that firm fiscal framework. Without it, we risk rising interest and inflation rates, lower real incomes, declining standards of living and collapse of the investment needed to create and sustain jobs.

To support the policy of macro-economic stability, the programme provides for restraint on pay for the coming three years. Everyone now recognises that the pay restraint of the Programme for National Recovery contributed greatly to the lowering of inflation which, together with the income tax reductions under that programme, significantly increased real take-home pay and thereby directly improved living standards. There is no benefit for anyone in high nominal pay increases which are outpaced by inflation. We see examples of that in other economies. I think that one of our most satisfactory achievements in the past three and a half years has been to have broken out of that spiral of rising prices which so harassed and angered housewives trying to manage family budgets which were being constantly undermined by rising prices.

The pay increases provided for in the programme are fair and reasonable in that they will maintain our competitive costs in relation to our trading partners while ensuring that employees can expect, with the further income tax reductions provided for in the programme, a significant improvement in their living standards. A special feature of the pay provisions — as it was in the Programme for National Recovery— is that those on low incomes will receive proportionately higher pay increases than those on higher incomes. These higher pay increases for those on low incomes will be further increased by the bigger family income supplement payments which were such a socially-important innovation in this year's budget.

I have already mentioned the reductions in income tax provided for in the programme. This continues the process we began in the Programme for National Recovery under which more than £800 million in income tax reliefs were provided mainly by reducing the standard rate from 35 per cent to 30 per cent and the top rate from 58 per cent to 53 per cent. This process will now be continued so that by 1993 the standard rate will be 25 per cent and there will be a single higher rate of 48 per cent. This and related reforms will reduce income tax further by £400 million in current terms in a full year.

This reform — and there is no greater reform in tax matters than to reduce the burden — is revolutionary as compared with the long history of increasing income taxation in the years prior to 1987. It has been possible only because of the consensus approach which controlled public expenditure, restrained pay and caused the rebirth of growth in what had been a stagnant economy. Lower taxation lowers inflation, improves standards of living and generates confidence and enterprise. That is our objective in the income tax provisions of this programme, as in its predecessor. I commend that part of it strongly to the House.

The programme also envisages continuation of the process already begun of harmonisation of indirect taxation with our Community partners. The eventual form the harmonised structure of indirect taxation will take is not yet clear. The programme makes clear that we will approach the community discussions with a view to ensuring that the burden of adjustment is not borne disproportionately by member states which have traditionally, and for wider social and economic reasons, relied upon indirect tax revenues. The programme also envisages an increased contribution from capital taxes, continued improvement in our already very successful programme of improving tax administration, collection and enforcement and sustained pressure on the black economy.

It is our intention that the social reform provisions of the programme will profoundly change the equity and quality of our society and I believe they will. Successive Governments have built up our social services which, given the resources of our economy, compare well with those in other comparable economies. But, in too many respects, our social services have deficiencies, inequities and imperfections which we are now committed in this programme to eliminate.

Our education system must provide the opportunity for all to develop their potential to the full. Only the highest standards in educational instruction and facilities can satisfy us. All children must be given equal opportunity. Only as a highly educated and skilled people can we achieve the standard of living to which we rightfully aspire.

The programme, therefore, contains a comprehensive series of measures which we have worked out with the teacher unions which will greatly enhance the quality of our educational system. The principal measures will ensure: improving pupil-teacher ratios; greater resources to remedy disadvantage in education; extra vice-principal and guidance posts in post-primary schools; a sixyear cycle of post-primary education; in-service training of teachers; expansion of caretaking and clerical services in primary and post-primary schools; provision of an extra 8,800 third-level places to respond to rightful additional demand for higher education; upgrading or replacement by 1997 of all substandard school buildings; expansion of continuing and adult education and measures to improve access to third-level education particularly by those from disadvantaged areas.

A Green Paper on Education will be issued by the summer of this year to be followed by a White Paper early in 1992 and then by an Education Act. Youth services will be kept under review in consultation with the social partners and youth organisations. The role of parents is recognised and their involvement will be promoted.

These measures represent a coherent and comprehensive set of measures which, pursued throughout the decade, will ensure we have an educational system second to none, geared to the needs and opportunities of the modern world and, most important of all, accessible to all.

We have similarly decided to overhaul radically and reorient the health services so that they are comprehensive, equitable and efficient and so that the patients' interests are central. The principal measures include: development of community-based medicine which will develop and expand services for the elderly, the physically and mentally handicapped or disabled and children, and will establish local health centres and expand the dental services. This programme will be developed over seven years commencing with the provision of £8 million made in this year's budget; reforming eligibility for hospital services so that all inequity of access to hospital treatment is removed; continued support for Voluntary Health Insurance; uniformity and consistency in assessment for medical cards; rationalisation of the administration and management of the health services; improvement of women's health services; a charter of patients' rights; better and more comprehensive health promotion and controlling the cost of drugs by price reduction and changes in prescribing practices.

This programme of reform which takes account of various studies and reports on the health services will ensure that our standards of medical care are organised and oriented equitably and efficiently towards the needs of the community.

Our social welfare services are already highly developed. This has been our response over the years to an economic and social structure characterised by relatively low incomes, exceptionally high dependency ratios, large families and high unemployment. Under the Programme for National Recovery, we set out to make significant real increases in our social welfare rates. Long-term benefits were increased in three years by 27 per cent. As a society, we already devote a higher proportion of our resources to social welfare than the OECD average. This reflects our fundamental commitment as a caring society. We recognise, however, that those forced to live on social welfare benefits particularly those with large families deserve, as our economy grows, to share in the rising living standards of the community as a whole.

The programme, therefore, contains a Government commitment for the first time to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission on Social Welfare. By 1993, all benefit rates will be brought up to the priority rates recommended by the commission and the full rates recommended by the commission will, thereafter, be applied as the resources of the economy grow. This will represent a major improvement over time in the living standards of those in receipt of social welfare benefit. The full improvement cannot be made overnight as the cost in 1990 would be £327 million but it will be made steadily as a priority claim on our growing economy.

We will make other improvements in our social welfare system under the programme. These include extension of social insurance to part-time workers, improved child income support and the major improvement in family income supplement announced in this year's budget.

There is a major debate in our society about the incidence of poverty. We are not among the wealthy societies but we already devote a higher proportion of our resources to social welfare than betteroff countries. Our record as a society in this matter is not one to be decried or denigrated. The Government under this programme are giving priority in the allocation of resources to making a new major contribution to reducing the incidence of poverty.

Decent accommodation is a major necessity of life. We have a record in social housing which is second to none in the world. As an independent State, we were left a fearful economic and social legacy in what were among the worst slums in Europe. We have successfully eliminated that major social evil.

In the programme, we have now outlined a housing policy for the nineties which will ensure every household a dwelling suitable to its needs. Increased funding for local authority housing and new forms of social housing are part of that policy. We will eliminate homelessness and ensure that the accommodation needs of the travelling people are met. We will also ensure that reasonable safeguards are introduced to protect tenants in the private rented sector while encouraging continued investment in that sector.

On employment, the programme continues and expands the successful policies of the Programme for National Recovery which reversed the downward trend in employment. The approach is twofold. First, to create the low-inflation economic conditions which stimulate investment and enterprise and make us competitive in our trading markets. Secondly, to develop, by special measures and incentives the sectors with potential for increasing employment. Our exports have been growing at a rate unprecedented in our history so that we have had a balance of payments surplus for the past four years. This has not only increased employment in our exporting industries but the balance of payments surplus has supported the stability of our exchange rate, itself a significant positive aid to our trading enterprises.

Our sectoral approach has been highly successful. Tourism, financial services, forestry, construction are all sectors in which the policies continued in this programme are giving increased employment.

In the manufacturing sector the programme will continue to generate 20,000 new jobs annually as the previous programme did. Here again, the low-cost low-inflation competitive conditions created by the programme will enable us to continue to attract overseas investors at the high rate of the past four years. The development of indigenous exporting industry will be a firm priority under the programme. The objective of industrial policy is to increase by 100 over the decade the number of Irish manufacturing companies having an annual turnover greater than £5 million in real terms.

We cannot be complacent about our employment targets. We suffer very high unemployment by comparison with many other countries because our labour force has a natural annual increase of 1.8 per cent as compared with 1.0 per cent for Community countries generally. In most other Community countries now, the population has stabilised and the number leaving the labour force on retirement and death is roughly equalled by those entering it. We have, therefore, a formidable task to create new employment at a rate which will absorb our exceptionally rapid growth in the labour force. We cannot solve it by increasing public expenditure specifically to create jobs. We have learned that lesson. We can only do so by the policies contained in this programme.

Our response to the long term unemployed may well come to be recognised as the most fundamental change brought about by this programme. We are establishing a new integrated partnership between the local community and public agencies to remedy the social deprivation that exists in many black spot areas and to increase the job chances of those who are long term unemployed or who are in danger of becoming so. The new strategy spelled out in the programme will enable the public agencies, the social partners and local communities to band together in local companies which will tackle in a comprehensive way the social and employment problems of their local communities.

For people who are unfortunate enough to find themselves with a disability, we have set down a series of significant positive and constructive measures to improve the quality of life and the possibility of obtaining employment. The Government will examine, in consultation with the ICTU and the organisations representing people with disabilities, how best the right of the disabled individual can be promoted.

In the area of equality we have a series of positive measures that can be implemented now. The work of the Second Commission on the Status of Women will provide a positive and constructive input to improving the position of women in our society.

The programme also sets out objectives for the development of agriculture and the maintenance of farm viability. The agriculture and food industry continue to be of central importance to the Irish economy. I want to reiterate that. I have given that assurance to the farmers. They require reasonably favourable economic conditions especially with regard to inflation and interest rates, if they are to compete in a more difficult and challenging external environment and cope with the changes that are likely to emerge from present developments. The programme recognises the importance of negotiating compensatory arrangements in the form of increased EC-funded income supports orientated towards the family farm, as well as the need to promote structural reforms. Our overriding shared objective is to maintain as many farm families in the countryside as possible with acceptable income levels, recognising that family income in many cases will not come exclusively from farming, while at the same time promoting an Irish food industry of high quality and efficiency. It is very important at this time of uncertainty to maintain confidence and motivation among farmers, and the best way to do this is undoubtedly full participation in the national programme, so that problems, anticipated or unforeseen, can be dealt with in a mutually supportive framework operating at the very highest level.

In debating this programme in the House, I hope all will acknowledge the gratitude we own to the trade unions, employer bodies and farming organisations for coming together with Government to negotiate this programme. It was not easy for them. In such negotiations, there are always gains and losses to be weighed. In the case of the trade unions, and the employers, their memberships will be meeting later this week to consider ratifying the programme. I understand that the FIE have already approved the programme.

It has been an historic development that the social partners have reached such a comprehensive, radical and beneficial consensus in regard to the direction and content of our economic and social policies. Let us recognise that in this House. In doing so, we should also recognise that the National Economic and Social Council by its painstaking research and its process of free discussion between the social partners laid the foundations for this programme and its predecessor. We should, therefore, in this debate also express our thanks and appreciation for the work of the members and staff of the National Economic and Social Council.

I will conclude by emphasising to the House the importance of the decision we will make by approving this programme. It will continue the stability of the public finances and the economy in the face of challenging world trends. It will give us a competitive base from which to expand our output and increase employment. It will enable our economy to grow — the only way in which we can improve our living standards. It will enable us to become a more just and equitable society sharing fairly the fruits of our increasing prosperity. It will, above all, enable us to face the challenges and opportunities of a changing world, united in our policies and objectives at all levels of society This is the essential principle that a small nation, confident of its abilities, should adopt and this programme is the embodiment of that principle.

Dáil Éireann is being asked to approve the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. This programme was approved, finalised and printed over a month ago. The Dáil had no part whatever in its preparation but is now being asked to accept it lock, stock and barrel just the same. The Dáil is not being given the opportunity in this debate to amend even a comma or a full stop; we are being asked by the Government simply to say “amen” to the document.

Apart from the issue of public sector pay and pay in general, this programme is no longer even a matter of public debate. It was subsumed in the debate on the Government's 1991 budget and given the relatively neutral character of that budget the public debate on it lasted about 24 hours. At this late stage, when the debate was concluded almost everywhere else, Dáil Éireann, the elected assembly of the Irish people, is finally being asked to discuss and approve, without amendment, a programme that was negotiated elsewhere.

I believe that in a democracy legitimacy stems from one place only, that is, the ballot box on polling day. I believe that the job of Dáil Éireann goes beyond simply meeting after an election to appoint a Government and taking no constructive part in public affairs thereafter, apart from occasional carping and criticism after the event about what the Government are doing. Unfortunately, this Government see the role of Dáil Éireann as no more than that. Once they put in the Government it is for that Government to agree things with everybody else and present these agreements for the unamended approval of this House. It is because the present Government have this very limited view of the role of Dáil Éireann that Fianna Fáil in particular have never shown any interest at all in attempting to reform Dáil Éireann. It is also because of this very limited view of the constructive function of Dáil Éireann that the Government have presented to us today for unamended approval, long after the event, a programme which they agreed with others outside this House, whose mandate, however valid, does not stem from the ballot box.

Referring to the role of Deputies, the Taoiseach in his speech today stated:

Their role is the political role, the prerogative of Parliaments is to assess Government proposals, policies and agreements negotiated and to approve, amend or reject them.

A debate of this kind which consists of a series of monologues, each Member speaking to increasingly empty benches, each speech broadly unrelated to the previous one, does not provide the type of forum we need for any kind of assessment of something put forward by the Government. If we want an assessment we should have a committee where there could be discussion between one side and the other, where Government could be questioned and give answers in regard to particular provisions in the programme. This debate with its series of monologues does not provide a means for assessment — to use the Taoiseach's own word — of the Government's proposals.

The Taoiseach said that the role of Parliaments is to approve, amend or reject proposals. Certainly we can approve or reject these proposals but there is no provision in this debate for Dáil Éireann to amend the proposals in any way. Even taking the Taoiseach's own limited conception of the role of Parliament in this matter, this debate does not live up to that because we do not have the capacity either to assess the proposals in a realistic way or to amend them. We must either accept in toto or reject in toto.

From a political point of view, one of the interesting things about today's proceedings, and perhaps the only element of news, is the position being adopted by the third party in the State — the Labour Party. The Labour Party have decided in their addendum to the Government motion that they will back Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in their Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

In that regard, will Deputy Bruton please avail of the opportunity to move his own amendment?

I was about to do so, if it is in order. It fits into the structure of my speech. The Labour Party accept the Government motion in toto and seem to accept in full the words proposed by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to the effect that “Dáil Éireann approved the Programme for Economic and Social Progress”. The Labour Party merely wish to tag on to the Government motion the establishment of a Dáil committee to monitor how Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats will implement their policies on this matter. This is quite a change from the attitude of the Labour Party during the period 1987-89 and their often virulent condemnations of the Tallaght strategy. Roles, perhaps, have changed.

Let me tell this House why I and my party are not prepared to accept this programme lock, stock and barrel, as are Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and the Progressive Democrats: we do not accept that the programme necessarily meets all the problems faced by this country. We say that quite clearly in our amendment which I will now move.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and insert the following:

"Notes that the Government has concluded an agreement with the social partners on the Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

Notes the Fine Gael proposal of January 1989 for a National Forum for 1992 involving all the Oireachtas political parties together with the social partners long term economic and social planning.

Affirms its support for the concept of social partnership as a means of promoting long term economic and social development.

Congratulates the social partners on reaching agreement on pay levels over the next three years.

Regrets that the current programme was drafted without any involvement of Oireachtas Éireann or of elected representatives generally, apart from some members of the Cabinet, and that many interests in society, notably young people, dependent spouses, the homeless, the unemployed and the non-agricultural self-employed, were not represented in direct discussions on the programme.

Regrets that the provisions in the programme in regard to the health service will have the effect of increasing the pressure on hospital beds and of lengthening queues for services.

Regrets that the Government's 1991 Budget is not consistent with the achievement of the fiscal targets set in the programme, and that the programme omits essential information as to how the spending and tax commitments contained in it are to be reconciled with the target of broad balance on the current budget.

Stresses its alarm that the economic projections in the programme, and the policies of the Government as expressed in the programme, will not lead to any reduction in the level of unemployment or emigration, and may well increase both, and that the industrial policies in the programme are not the ones best suited to establishing research-intensive autonomous industry in Ireland.

Regrets that the particular income tax proposals in the programme make no provision at all to widen the tax bands and thereby to reduce the excessively high marginal tax rates facing low and middle income workers.

Regrets that the programme contains no commitment to long term structural reform, with a view to creating employment, in areas such as tax policy, food and agricultural policy, the public service, education and social welfare,

and in view of the foregoing, directs the Government to establish an Economic and Social Committee of Oireachtas Éireann, involving members of all recognised groups, which would:

1. review the content of the programme;

2. put forward remedies for its deficiencies;

3. nominate representatives of Oireachtas Éireann to sit on the National Economic and Social Council;

4. discuss how the programme ought to be adjusted in the event of the assumptions for growth and tax revenue underlying it not being reached;

5. participate, on behalf of Oireachtas Éireann, in the consultations leading to the drafting of any future programmes for economic and social progress."

While we accept parts of the programme, we do not accept other parts of it. As the main Opposition party in this House, we will not agree to accept the programme lock, stock and barrel and in view of this we propose that Dáil Éireann should direct the Government to establish an economic and social committee of Oireachta Éireann involving members of all recognised groups which would perform the five functions listed in the amendment on behalf of Dáil and Seanad. It is fair to say that the assumptions in regard to growth and tax revenue are extremely optimistic and may well not be reached and, therefore, it would be appropriate that the Dáil should have an opportunity to participate in any discussion on adjustments that may have to be made if these optimistic assumptions are not reached.

I believe there is a need for an amendment such as this to be supported. I do not accept that we must take everything in this programme as a package. One cannot accept the spending proposals in a programme like this, as three of the other parties in the House seem to do, without also accepting the implied cuts and the implied extra taxes that will have to be imposed, if the Taoiseach's words at the press conference are true, to pay for these specific proposals. There are very specific proposals for reductions in tax, very specific proposals for increases in expenditure and a very specific statement from the Taoiseach that money will have to be found to pay for these, and the budget will have to be balanced by 1993, but no information whatever about how the money will be found to bridge that gap. Those who vote for this programme are also voting for the increases in taxes and the cuts in spending that will have to take place in order to pay for the commitments that are being entered into in this programme. They are voting for it and they are accepting those parameters, and I will ensure that they are reminded of their decision in that regard.

On various occasions, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and the Progressive Democrats have all expressed deep anxiety about the problem of unemployment. I have not the slightest doubt that these anxieties were and are entirely sincere. Yet, the programme which all these three political parties are prepared to approve tomorrow night lock, stock and barrel, actually accept that unemployment and emigration will be as high in three years time as they are today. The National Economic and Social Council estimates that even economic growth over the next three years is almost twice as much as the Government themselves project for this year and there will still be emigration of 19,000 a year in three years time and unemployment in 1994 at the same level as today. That is the reality, what will actually happen under the programme which many seem to be rushing to approve.

The Programme for Economic and Social Progress, supported by Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and the Labour Party produces no coherent strategy to overcome the unemployment problem. The National Economic and Social Council expressed the view that there should be a strong attack on unemployment black spots through a system of area based job creation. What does the programme suggest in that regard? All the programme produces is a few underfinanced and tepid pilot schemes in section 7 of the document. These schemes will probably not be up and running 12 months from now and they are likely to make little or no impact on the overall unemployment problem. Yet, for that small commitment to unemployment, the three parties in this House are prepared to endorse the programme as being sufficient in regard to unemployment.

In my view this programme is not sufficient in regard to the problem of unemployment. This programme is not sufficient in regard to the problem of emigration. It is not good enough, and it is not true, as the Taoiseach said today, that there is no alternative. There seem to be echoes of the former British Prime Minister who was known as "Tina"— there is no alternative. He said there was no alternative to his policy because in regard to unemployment he says that we can only deal with the problem by the policies contained in this programme. The Taoiseach is saying there is no other possibility, no other approach to the problem of unemployment, other than the one contained in this programme. That, as we know, was the attitude of the former British Prime Minister. It did not solve unemployment in Britain and I do not believe this proclaimed exclusivity of knowledge in regard to policy which now seems to unite 93 Deputies in this House behind this programme will actually solve the problems of unemployment and emigration. The complacency in this House about unemployment and emigration, where those who are already in employment are endorsing a programme that would certainly be beneficial to them, will not solve the problem of the excluded in our society. As far as I am concerned, Fine Gael will continue to speak from the Opposition benches for those who are excluded from the benefits of the current consensus that seem to unite so many others in the ark in front of me.

If one accepts this programme one must accept it in its entirely. This programme says that the aim of fiscal policy will be "to achieve broad balance on the current budget in 1993". In other words, there will be no borrowing for current purposes. Now, as Deputy Garret FitzGerald illustrated in the Dáil last Thursday, the true current budget deficit for 1991 is actually £350 million or 1.5 per cent of GNP, and we have to eliminate that by 1993, according to the programme. I compliment Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and the Progressive Democrats on their commitment to eliminating all borrowing for current purposes by 1993 because that is what they are doing if they endorse this programme. Unfortunately, however, the programme fails to tell us how this is to be done. It tells us indeed that expenditure and borrowing is to be increased, but it does not tell us how it is to be reduced. Yet, that is what the programme commits itself to do. It tells us nothing at all about where the cuts and tax increases are to be made.

If that fiscal target of eliminating current budget borrowing by 1993 is to be achieved two things must be done. First, the existing borrowing for this year of £350 million must be eliminated. Second, money has to be found to pay for £550 million worth of tax reductions and expenditure increases contained in this programme. There is not a single measure in this programme to contribute towards the cost of those two commitments. Let me add them up — £350 million is this year's deficit plus £550 million which is the commitment to expenditure or tax reductions contained in the programme. That adds up to £900 million. This programme, if it accepts the concept of a current balanced budget in 1993, is accepting that there has to be either £900 million worth of tax increases between now and 1993 or £900 million worth of expenditure cuts between now and 1993, or a combination of the two, and we are not told in this debate where a penny of that is to be found. Yet, approval for that proposition is something which unites Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and the Labour Party. I do not believe it is appropriate that the House should accept such a one-sided presentation, where all the goodies are up front and none of the costs is revealed at all. If this House approves this programme, it is implicity approving cuts or tax increases of a magnitude of £900 million between now and 1993 and I hope that the parties who are now so keen to bask in the reflected approval of the trade unions, the farmers and the employers, as expressed in this programme, realise what they are agreeing to.

There is absolutely no developmental vision in this programme and there is no attempt to mobilise the imagination or the creativity of the Irish people to overcome the problem of unemployment. There is no attempt, for example, to change the climate of Irish industrial relations by aggressively promoting workers' shareholding and profit sharing. There is no attempt to remove the complex poverty traps in the means testing system for health services, differential rents, PRSI payments, for income tax and family income supplement, which makes it pointless for many families to try to work that bit harder. There is no attempt in this programme to introduce a system of training such as exists in Germany where there is a systematic programme of apprenticeships for entry to all trades. In fact, we are to continue on with the limited and narrow system of apprenticeship which we have had for many years. There is no imagination in this programme.

This programme is not a plan for the development and expansion of Ireland plc. This programme is an essay in entropy, a study in statis, a document which says do not bother. Ireland plc is not to be managed, not to be led, not to be expanded and energised — it is to be left alone. All critics outside Dáil Éireann are to be brought off. We are to have a cobbled-up consensus which does not stretch the imagination, or the productive resources, of any of the social partners. It is based on the lackadaisical principle that if you cannot do the economy a good turn, do not do it a bad turn — the do nothing, say nothing, let sleeping dogs lie economic policy of Fianna Fáil. That is the policy which two other parties in the Dáil are tomorrow night prepared to endorse.

As I have said, this is a programme designed to let economic sleeping dogs lie. Sleeping dogs on Irish roads frequently get run over. Sleeping dogs should be asked to get up and run.

Economics is not about saving money, it is about using money. There is nothing in this programme which represents a creative vision about how our capital, our money, our labour, and our land, could be used better to achieve more. The low level of activity that has been endemic in this country and insufficient for the employment of our people for 20 years is quite simply accepted, and it now appears to be endorsed not only by the social partners but by three of the five political parties in this House.

As the Fine Gael amendment to this motion says, we support the concept of social partnership. We believe that the pay terms in this programme are good and reasonable from the point of view of the commercial sector of our economy. The pay terms for the public service are also reasonable, and the special pay increases which have been postponed up to now must be paid. We do feel, however, that the Government ought to have taken the opportunity of re-examining the present arbitration arrangements in the public service. These arbitration arrangements create a succession of leap-frogging special pay claims. These claims are approved by arbitrators, whose terms of reference presently exclude any consideration of the state of the public finances or the overall fiscal targets of the Government. I acknowledge that in this programme there is an overall cap on these increases for the next three years but I would have expected that the Government would have sought to re-examine the underlying terms of reference of the arbitrator, in return for immediate pay increases. I think that this, from a long term point of view, would have been a very good deal, and money well spent, because it would have made a permanent structural change rather than effecting simply a temporary patching-up operation.

The economic assumptions underlying the programme are vulnerable on a number of fronts: as is the 1991 budget, this programme is based on very optimistic projections for economic growth. If these projections are not realised the tax receipts projected in the programme will be lower and the expenditure provisions higher than projected and the economy will descend into a vortex.

The programme takes no account of the prospective extra costs to the economy arising from higher international interest rates, nor does it take adequate account of the almost certain dramatic cut in the value of Irish food exports as a result of the EC Commission proposals on the Common Agricultural Policy.

The industrial policy which underlies this programme is, in my view, a mistake. It is based on the idea of tax incentives designed to encourage foreign industrialists to establish assembly-type plants here in Ireland. That policy has quite simply not worked as far as employment is concerned. It is a policy which encourages high output and high repatriated profits but low employment.

I wonder do people realise that between 1980 and 1990 Ireland had the highest rate of growth in manufacturing output of all OECD countries? Manufacturing output over that decade rose by 98.4 per cent. The next highest increase for manufacturing output in the OECD countries in the 1980s was for Portugal which had barely a 49 per cent increase as against our 98.4 per cent increase. All other OECD countries achieved even less — Austria 34 per cent, the Netherlands 30 per cent, Belgium 24 per cent, Britain 22 per cent, Germany 22 per cent, down to 10 per cent in France and 4 per cent in Greece. This compares with our 98 per cent increase in output. Yet despite this huge increase in output over the 1980s, we still have the highest rate of unemployment in Europe. That industrial policy simply has not worked as a means of solving the unemployment problem, and this programme accepts that this policy will continue until the year 2010. The output is being produced, the profits are being made, the profits are being exported, but the jobs created here are insufficient.

This is a direct result of a single central mistake in industrial policy. This mistake is one of guaranteeing a low corporate tax rate of 10 per cent up to the year 2010. The Fianna Fáil policy of guaranteeing that corporation profits tax on manufacturing will not exceed 10 per cent up to the year 2010 is quite simply perverse from the point of view of a country which needs employment, not high profits and high output. We should instead have a tax policy that would encourage foreign companies to locate labour or brain-intensive parts of their business here in Ireland, rather than output and profit-intensive parts as is encouraged by the 10 per cent tax policy.

If we want foreign firms to create really permanent jobs in Ireland, we must get them to set up their research and their marketing operations here. It is only if the brain-based part of the business is in Ireland, that jobs will be really secure. But a 10 per cent tax policy actually discourages the location of labour or brain-intensive parts of a business in Ireland. This is because marketing and research cost money. Things that cost money can be set off against tax, so the lower the tax rate the less of anything that costs money will be located here. The last place where a company will want to locate its research and development facilities is in a country where it has its lowest tax rate in its overall multinational operation. Likewise the last place that a company would want to locate its marketing, which is a cost centre in a business, is where it has its lowest corporate tax rate; it will certainly locate its manufacturing plant here, which generates high profits and low costs, but it will not locate the central strategic part of the business, research and development, marketing, the brain-based rather than the brawn-based part of the business, here.

I believe it was a mistake on the part of Fianna Fáil to say that the 10 per cent corporate tax regime would be extended to the year 2010. Certainly a commitment had been given up to the year 2000 and that commitment was and would have been adhered to by any Government taking office in the intervening period, but it was an unnecessary mistake and a repetition of a central mistake in industrial policy which gave us high output and low employment to have extended that provision to the year 2010. I am in favour of giving tax incentives to industry and I would not reduce the total value of tax incentives being given but I question the form in which they are being given. Foreign companies should be given direct incentives to invest in research and development, in marketing and in employment-intensive parts of their business rather than in the high output, high profit parts of their business. This would make far more sense as an industrial policy for a country with high unemployment problems such as we have. Those who endorse this programme are endorsing a mistaken industrial policy.

They are also endorsing a mistaken tax policy which is contained in the programme. The programme commits the Government explicitly to reductions in the rates of taxation and to increases in the exemption limits but there is no commitment whatever in it to widen the tax bands or to raise tax allowances. Clearly all the effort will be put into reducing the rates and no effort will be put into widening the tax bands or increasing the allowances. The rate reduction will absorb all the available resources but the effect of that policy will be that many people will find they are moving from a lower tax rate into a higher tax rate when their income increases because the allowances and the bands will not have been indexed. Lower and middle income workers under this tax policy will find that they will be paying more tax proportionately in three years' time than they pay now. Obviously those already on the top rate of tax will benefit all the way under this tax policy because their rate of tax will come down and they will not be affected by the fact that tax bands and allowances are not being indexed.

Those on higher incomes will do well as a result of this tax policy which three of the parties in the House are prepared to approve. In many cases those on low or middle incomes — the typical industrial worker — will lose under this tax policy. That is another reason why the Fine Gael Party — and I am glad to say another party in Opposition, represented by Deputy Sherlock — are not prepared to accept the tax policy proposed in this programme. However, it would appear that 93 Deputies have actually accepted the tax policy of six Deputies. The Progressive Democrats' tax policy has been enshrined in this document and is now accepted by Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. It is a tax policy which, by concentrating all the improvements on reducing the rates and doing nothing about increasing the allowances or widening the tax bands, gives disproportionate benefits to the better off and gives little or no benefit to those on middle or lower incomes. That is the policy which has been mistakenly endorsed by 93 Deputies but is not endorsed, I am proud to say, by the Fine Gael Party. What time have I left?

Actually, the time available to the Deputy is well nigh exhausted. Perhaps the Deputy would make his concluding remarks.

A Deputy

The Deputy is not exhausted.

There is a lot more I wanted to say. I regret the Taoiseach has been given more time in this debate than the Leader of the Opposition and I intend to make an issue of that in the future. I will not be agreeing to anything but equality of treatment with the Taoiseach in this House in debates of this kind in future. I do not believe this restriction on my speech is either democratic or correct.

The Labour Party welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the Irish Congress of Trade Union's proposal to adopt a long term strategy for the development of this country over the next decade. The ICTU proposal, which was supported by employer and farming organisations, indicates the emerging consensus in our society for the need to manage our affairs efficiently and effectively within agreed parameters and constraints. It is the Labour Party view that the over-riding priority of such a strategy should be the creation of an efficient and modern social market economy which would provide every individual in our society with the opportunity for personal growth and development. Economic benefits derived from such a strategy must be shared, on an equitable basis, and no section of our society must be left behind as we move forward, together, in the last decade of this century.

The Programme for Economic and Social Progress recently negotiated between the Government and the social partners covers a three year period from 1991 to 1993 inclusive. For the vast majority of employers and employees — unlike some people in this House — it is essentially a national pay agreement which provides for pay increases not exceeding 4 per cent in 1991, 3 per cent in 1992 and 3.75 per cent in 1993. There are special provisions for lower paid workers which would allow for basic increases of up to £15 per week over the three years. In addition, to the national pay increases, employers and trade unions may agree to additional pay increases up to a ceiling of 3 per cent. In the first appendix to the programme there is a draft agreement on pay and conditions between the ICTU and the employer organisations. It is to the small print of this appendix that most workers have paid attention and it is on those pay and conditions that the delegate conference of the ICTU which will take place in Dublin on Thursday 21 February will be most concentrated.

There are a number of additional proposals which directly or indirectly affect the pay and conditions for workers as set out in this programme over the next three years. These include the improvements in the family income supplement and personal income tax reforms some of which have been given partial effect to in this year's budget.

The context within which the programme was negotiated and the pay component agreed was the international economic situation in which this country finds itself. Following the major work undertaken by the NESC during the difficult period of the seventies and the eighties a major report entitled. "A Strategy for Development 1986-1990", Report No. 83 was published in November 1986. This report which followed many months of discussion between the social partners formed the basis for an agreed analysis of the opportunities and constraints which face the Irish economy in an increasingly competitive world.

There is now a general recognition, on all sides, that we, as a nation, will have to earn our own prosperity. To do so, we must, as a small open economy trading in a competitive world, produce goods and services which have a competitive advantage in terms of quality and cost. This realisation documented at length in the NESC report No. 83, and followed up in NESC's sequel report of 1989 a strategy for the nineties, lies at the core of the acceptance of the framework of financial constraint by the trade union movement as presented in the PESP.

However — and I say this in the absence of the Leader of the Opposition — it should be stated quite clearly that not all sections of the trade union movement accept these constraints. They believe that the individual worker, or group of workers, is entitled to the maximum return on the value of their labour, a view shared by many capitalists. They do not believe, and in many cases have reasons to substantiate this, that the restraint exercised by them will result in an improved performance by the company for which they work and ultimately, leading to them sharing in the enhanced benefits at some future date. They do not believe that the Government have the social commitment to bring about the changes in the political sphere to which reference is made in the PESP. For that reason they will remain sceptical of the programme if not completely opposed to it.

A major justification for further scepticism is the massive failure of the PESP to significantly deal with the problem of long term unemployment. In a document of over 90 pages less than four are devoted exclusively to the questions of employment and training. The dramatic failure of the 1991 budget to focus on the issues of unemployment and in particular long term unemployment has been widely commented upon across the political spectrum. Scepticism will remain if the Government continue to fail to deliver on the non pay elements of this programme.

As I have said before in this House, there are approximately 66 measures listed and identified in the programme which involve the Oireachtas directly or indirectly for their delivery. These include commitments to introduce new legislation and undertakings by the Government to make representations to the EC Commission for example, to carry out a rigorous examination of State aided schemes throughout the European Community which have an effect of hindering the work of the IDA here in Ireland. All of these 66 measures and many more matters related to the economic and social policies of the Government over the next three years are ultimately the responsibility of the Oireachtas. It is for that reason the Labour Party have proposed the establishment of an Oireachtas economic and social affairs committee which would compliment the work of the social partners in general and advance in particular, the non-pay elements of the present programme.

Only the Oireachtas has the democratic mandate to undertake such a task. The attitude of the Government is putting seriously at risk the present economic and social consensus that exists between the social partners. In view of the experiences of the late seventies and early eighties the Labour Party believe it is essential that we do not allow that consensus to be replaced by confrontation because of the Government's refusal to allow the Oireachtas to assume its full, legitimate and democratic role in this process.

We believe an Oireachtas economic and social affairs committee should be representative of all parties and serviced with a permanent staff. The various organisations that go to make up the social partnership could, from time to time, make formal presentations to them and those sessions would be open to the media in the normal way. For example, the different concerns of the social partners to the proposal that a statutory minimum wage be established could be articulated by those organisations directly to the Oireachtas legislators who will have the ultimate responsibility of deciding whether such social protective legislation is desirable or not. Those discussions and points of view should be articulated in a democratic forum that is ultimately accountable to the electorate.

The present practice — and I know because I have been a party to this — is that secret discussions take place between the social partners and representatives of the Ministers concerned behind closed doors and away from any democratic scrutiny. The final product of these smoke-filled rooms is then presented by the Minister to the Oireachtas and no amendments of any significance can be considered because it is claimed that they have been agreed in private discussions.

I want to focus on this aspect of our amendment because in many respects since we were not a party to the negotiation of the national programme it is not up to us at this time to go into it in detail line by line. I want to focus on our amendment and to answer some of the mistaken fears which the Taoiseach has in regard to the role of the committee as put forward by the Labour Party.

Unlike the Leader of Fine Gael, we do not believe that such a committee should have a role in negotiating any programme with the social partners. We do not believe it is the function of passengers on an airline to crowd the cabin occupied by the pilot. We believe it is the prerogative of Government to negotiate unequivocally and it is the right and necessity of the Oireachtas to agree or disagree. We are not seeking to be at the negotiating table, nor are we trying to suggest that the political parties should be represented in the NESC — I accept the recommendations of the NESC in that regard — but what we are looking for is a correct and effective forum where points of view can be expressed in a manner which will make sense and consolidate the existing consensus.

In regard to the legislation which will be brought to the floor of this House over the next three years as a result of the commitments in this programme, Ministers will say in private across the floor of the House or during the time between votes that while they basically agree with some of the points put forward they cannot be accommodated because the employers, trade unions or agriculture interests have a particular point of view. I do not believe that is healthy any longer. We are extremely fortunate that this country was turned around in the eighties not by one Government but by a series of Governments. We are fortunate that a consensus now exists which is understood, respected and intellectually agreed upon by a wide spectrum of the social partnership. If that consensus and framework of consensus intellectually is to be maintained and be subject to rigorous examination over the next number of years it is absolutely essential that there is a constructive role for the Oireachtas to participate in it. A series of statements like this is not the most effective way of doing this. We need a committee structure or committee-type debate to do this.

I know the Taoiseach has a certain reluctance with regard to the establishment of Oireachtas committees. Having regard to the way in which the Leader of the Fine Gael Party articulated his vision of a committee I can understand the opposition of the Government to such a committee — it seems to confuse the legitimate role of the Executive with that of the Oireachtas. If, as will be the case, this House is going to have to agree and process sections of legislation and administrative components of Government policy, some of which are in the programme and some of which will emerge from time to time, we will not be adequately equipped to deal with this as we regulate our affairs at present.

Underlying all of this is the recognition that there are constraints on this economy and that, if anything, the parameters which were agreed in October and November when the non-pay elements of this programme were being discussed with the social partners have become more difficult and pessimistic than was the case then. It is possible that the growth forecasts for the Irish economy are probably less than what the Minister for Finance put on the record of the House in his budget speech.

It is not the intention of the Labour Party — it is certainly not my intention — to attempt to talk down the Irish economy or anticipate doom and gloom in a difficult and uncertain situation. That would not be in the interests of the people I represent or working people. Nevertheless, those constraints, and new constraints which may be imposed upon the Irish economy, will need the forebearance of all of us in society, including elected representatives. If there is not an effective framework within which the consequences of those constraints can be teased out in a non-confrontational format, which I suggest the committee structure is, then the Taoiseach, perhaps unconsciously but certainly inevitably, is putting at risk a social-political consensus which many of us have striven to achieve over a long number of years.

As Deputy Bruton said, there are many elements in the programme and we could be here for a long time talking about them but we will have to wait until the programme is finally ratified by those people who are parties to its agreement before we can go into the detail of the programme. However, there is an element in the programme which some Government speakers should clarify between now and Thursday. I refer to the proposals on pages 58 and 59 in regard to the role of commercial companies and the ultimate destination of the proceeds of privatisation.

Earlier today the Minister for Finance stated clearly that as far as he was concerned the proceeds from the sale of State assets, including shares in their entirety or in part from commercial companies, would be used to reduce the capital sum of this country's debt. That is what I understood him to say. When I asked the Minister in colloquial terms if it would come off the mortgage or whether we would get two or three free months payment he said quite clearly that it would come off the mortgage. Yet, paragraph 89.2 (b) (ii) of the programme under the heading "Funding" provides that private involvement could consist of:

sales of shares in a State company to the private sector where this will enable the company to survive, to make a better contribution to the economy, to protect or increase employment, or is desirable on policy grounds,

Those are the basis upon which such sales would be acceptable to the social partners. Further on in that paragraph it is stated:

The Government have no ideological position in this. The approach should be a practical one of enabling State companies to improve their contribution to the economy and to employment.

On Thursday afternoon delegates representing many workers in State companies will vote on this programme. As we saw last week, many of those workers have accepted restraint in the operation of their companies and have foregone wage increases to which they are entitled in the belief that this was in the best interests of their companies and that in the short term it was the only option open to them. If the harvest of their restraint, the benefits of the additional wealth which will be created in State companies, whether it be the Sugar Company, Aer Lingus or whatever, is cashed in by the Government and set off not to create new employment but simply to reduce the total debt, in other words the State mortgage, they will have been betrayed, their commitment to further flexibility will be undermined and there will be no motivation for them to co-operate with management as they have done in the past. I would urge the Taoiseach and successive Government speakers to clarify this point because it is precisely for this reason that many of the delegates are opposed to parts of the programme.

There is a need to use scarce capital resources for the growth of Irish companies and to increase employment. Nearly 8 per cent of the entire workforce work in State companies which are under Irish control and whose headquarters are based in this country. It is those companies which should be getting the capital and should be encouraged to grow. For example, Bord na Móna — a classic company that have turned themselves around and transformed their internal culture in a manner that is a marvel to anybody who has a knowledge of industrial relations or company strategies — are still crippled with a mountain of debt and are deprived of any State aid to which they are legitimately entitled. The creative efforts and contributions of the workforce of that company have not been recognised in the formal commitment given by the Minister for Finance in reply to my priority question earlier today.

There are many other aspects of this programme to which one could refer in some detail, and I am sure many speakers will do so. As to what is in Ireland's best interests as regards our relationship to the European Community, within which our future is inextricably linked, I will quote the following statement from the Programme for Economic and Social Progress:

The parties to this programme have, therefore, agreed that Ireland must continue to pursue a clear national strategy directed to promoting full and balanced European integration in the economic, monetary and social spheres, in the framework of an evolving Political Union and on the basis that essential to this process must be a Community commitment, backed by practical and strengthened action, to ensure major progress towards the achievement of economic and social cohesion.

That is lovely, but it would be nicer if we knew what this clear national strategy is. Notwithstanding repeated requests in this House in the last two years to have debates in which we actually talk to rather than at each other, we have not been told what the clear national strategy of the Government is. In response to a question from a number of Deputies today the Minister for Finance finally made available in the Oireachtas Library the paper on economic and monetary union which was submitted to the EC in January.

We are simply being excluded from the detailed formulation of much of what is essential to the maintanance of a consensus in our society, which is necessary if we are to survive in an open and increasingly competitive world where the barriers which protected us in the past have, by agreement, been removed. It is simply wrong parliamentary strategy for any Government that occupy that side of the House to revert to what I would describe as Westminster style imperial traditions of parliamentary confrontation. The concept of social consensus is a continental one and the continental parliamentary tradition is one of the national assembly consensus.

Professor Joe Lee in his work on the performance of the Irish State since independence — a large volume of approximately 700 pages based on primary research, including his own experience as a former official of the Department of Finance — asks why Ireland, with a similar per capita income and wealth to Denmark, Finland, Austria and perhaps one or two similarly sized European countries, has lagged so far behind that we have virtually half their per capita income. Professor Lee analysed the failures in the performance of this State and identified many factors over which we had exclusive control — one is this House, another is the way Departments do business, the way legislation is formulated and the slow response to economic realities.

It has taken 15 years through long, patient, private negotiation in the rooms of the NESC to come to an agreed analysis as to why we had to change our policies in a whole range of areas. It is frequently proclaimed by trade unionists, farmers and employers' organisations that that process has been successful and yet the Oireachtas has been excluded from it. Our legislative record in keeping pace with the commitments in the PNR, and now in the PESP, is abysmal. Our legislative performance in terms of the programme of this Government and indeed of previous Governments of which I was a member is appalling. There is a log jam called the parliamentary draftsman's office which is effectively preventing a large volume of legislation that is vital to the operation of this economy from coming onto the floor of this House.

Something that concerns all of us, particularly the Labour Party, is the protective social legislation for a statutory minimum wage, to which reference is made in the programme. The ICTU stated their position in favour of it while the FIE stated their opposition to it. The arguments which both sides articulate in favour or against such legislation should properly be put directly to legislators from all sides of the House by way of a committee. The concerns — in many cases legitimate — of the FIE should be considered by those of us who hold the view that you can have statutory minimum wage legislation while not endangering prospects for employment. That is a view I hold but others on the employer side would argue with it. Doing business in private rooms in the Department of Labour or the Department of the Taoiseach, having delays in the drafting of legislation and queueing up to speak on these matters on the floor of the House, is not the proper procedure. These matters should be discussed in different committees.

The consensus that is represented in the programme is something we welcome. It is part of a ten year strategy first formulated by NESC and then formally put on the table by the ICTU at the commencement of the negotiations for this programme, but it will last for only three years and no longer. The failure of the Government to deliver on the non-pay elements of the programme will critically determine whether in the last seven years there will be the same degree of consensus as appears to be in the first three years, notwithstanding Deputy Bruton's contribution. If all the Members of the Oireachtas, including the Government backbenchers, do not have a legitimate role in this area, the foundations upon which this new confidence has been built, to which frequent reference is made by Ministers — will be endangered. The Taoiseach referred to an annual report from the Commission and made complimentary comments on the performance of the Irish economy. If that new confidence is undermined, it will not be in the interests of the Government and it certainly will not be in our interests. As I have said, the programme is fundamentally a pay deal negotiated, as is right and proper, by those who are party to a pay deal and outside the sphere of this Assembly. In so far as the non-pay elements helped to bring about that pay deal — I believe they did — and in so far as they are legitimately the concern of this democratic assembly, the role that is envisaged for us — the Taoiseach, effectively promised more of the same — is not enough. Our exclusion from participation in such a consensus approach will, over time, erode the confidence that brought about that consensus in the first instance.

I say with all due formality to the Minister of State representing the Government, notwithstanding the taunts from the Fine Gael party in respect of a cheap debating point in relation to this, that they should seriously consider — as they did last week in respect of the foreign adoption legislation — the potential benefits of such an Oireachtas committee and proceed to discuss with all the representatives in this House the details of such a committee and how it might function. May I move the amendment in the name of the Labour Party?

No. One has already been moved which justifies debate, you addressed yourself to your own amendment but, later, if it is put to a question, you would be asked to formally move it.

I wish to inform you and the House that I am not the main spokesperson for my party on this issue. I will be speaking for 15 minutes.

The Deputy will confine himself to 15 minutes.

The Workers' Party support the concept of centralised negotiations between the Government and the principal economic and social interests on a programme which will not just provide for wage and salary increases but which will lay the basis for broad economic and social development.

Despite what has been implied on a number of occasions in this House by Government representatives, The Workers' Party did not oppose the previous Programme for National Recovery when it was negotiated in October 1987. In a statement issued on 11 October 1987, the then President of The Workers' Party, Tomás Mac Giolla, said that the trade unions were to be complimented for trying to broaden the concept of collective bargaining to include social and economic planning, especially the plight of those on social welfare. At the same time we expressed doubt about the willingness of the Government to deliver on many of the promises contained in the programme — a doubt that subsequent events proved to be well founded.

The new Programme for Economic and Social Progress covers a long and detailed agenda from a national medium to long term strategy in the nineties to specific industrial agreements for particular sectors of industry. In a few areas it is quite specific and detailed but in others it is more aspirational than precise. While the pay element has naturally received most of the attention, the document has to be viewed in its totality — as a social wage bargain rather than a traditional pay agreement.

The value of that "social wage"— that is the value of all the package, both pay and non-pay elements — is more difficult to evaluate but it is just as real, and can sometimes be of more lasting value than a straightforward pay increase. The programme does not provide a comprehensive economic or social plan, but it does set down an agenda for social and economic progress. That agenda will not be translated into significant advances for our people unless there is determined pressure from the trade unions and general public and unless the Dáil is given a formal role in monitoring the Government commitments in the programme.

This is a highly political document but it is not the property of any one Government. It proposes a strategy for the nineties and — if accepted — will be the responsibility of whoever are in Government during that period. The Taoiseach pointed out today that it is normal for Governments to make financial and legislative proposals which extend beyond the lifetime of a Government, that any succeeding Government are free to put forward amending proposals and would, in such a case, enter into the necessary negotiations with the social partners to vary that programme. While I accept the principle that a future Government cannot be absolutely bound by an agreement made by a previous Government, particularly if the incoming Government are one of a different complexion, nevertheless the social interests which have negotiated this agreement have done so in the context of a ten year strategy. I wonder what their attitude is to the Taoiseach's statement today and whether they were told in advance of the Government's attitude. In theory, in any event, it links together all the major social interest groups in a strategy to accelerate economic and social progress and is built on a form of class bargaining which is more akin to the European model than the more traditional Irish or British approach.

One of the merits of the programme is that it places social and economic planning firmly on the agenda, and quite rightly rejects the approach advocated by the British Tory Party, and the Progressive Democrats in this country, that all these areas are best left to the mercy of market forces. It has allowed the trade union movement to make a positive input on a wide range of subjects, many of which are far removed from the traditional union areas of interest.

It would be hard to fault the key objectives of the strategy, set out in section 1.6 of the programme — sustained economic growth and the generation of greater income; a substantial increase in employment; a major assault on long term unemployment; the development of greater social rights within our health, education, social welfare and housing services; the promotion of collective and individual social responsibility in relation to the discharge of tax liabilities and the development of worker participation, women's rights and consumer's rights. These are all objectives that The Workers' Party wholeheartedly endorse.

It is, however, when we come to look at the detail — or rather the lack of it — of how these objectives are to be achieved, and when we examine the record of the Government in regard to the promises contained in the previous Programme for National Recovery, that we have cause for concern. As we point out in our amendment, many of the commitments given by the Government are vague, conditional and imprecise, and in some instances, merely aspirational.

For many workers the main area of interest, and the issue which will largely determine how they vote in their unions on the programme, will be the wage increases. The wage increases are generally in line with the expected level of inflation, so they will leave most workers no better off than before. If inflation is higher than expected — a prospect which many economists feel is increasingly likely, especially against the background of the Gulf conflict — workers will suffer and their living standards will decline. In this situation the absence of an "escalator" clause, which would have allowed for higher increases if inflation jumped, is a major omission.

It is by no means certain that all workers will even get these increases. The programme says quite clearly that these increases will have to be "negotiated through normal industrial relations machinery, due regard being had to the economic and commercial circumstances of the particular firm, employment or industry". This will provide a major loophole which will, no doubt, be exploited to the full by unscrupulous employers.

Much has been made of the extra 3 per cent allowed for through local bargaining, which may be paid not before the second year of the agreement. Again it is by no means certain that this will be paid to the majority of workers. A whole series of employers quoted in The Irish Times of 22 January last, make it clear that this increase will not be automatically paid.

It is in its treatment of the low paid that the agreement is most disappointing. Increases for the low paid are set at £5 per week for the first year, £4.25 for the second, and £5.75 for the third. While the principle of providing a specific amount — rather than a percentage — for the low paid is a good one, the amounts specified are far too small to make any real impact on the problem of low pay. In addition the qualification I quoted above, regarding the "economic and commercial circumstances of the firm" apply even to these miserable increases, so there is no guarantee that they will be paid. Many of the low paid are in firms or industries with a relatively low level of union organisation, or none at all, and may not have the industrial muscle to force their employers to deliver, regardless of whether the firm are prosperous.

The Minister for Finance made much in his budget speech of the proposed removal of some 18,000 low paid from the tax net through an increase in tax exemption levels. However, many of those who get the increases specified for the low paid will find that this has brought them back into the tax net, thus snaring them once again in the poverty trap.

Many workers will note that while they are once again being asked to accept very modest pay increases, no such restrictions are being imposed on profits, dividends or professional fees. Under the last programme workers were told that restricting wage increases would create extra jobs. All it created was vast profits for the employers. Between 1986 and 1989, the national wage bill rose from £10 billion to £11.5 billion, an increase of 15 per cent. In the same period profits rose from £4.3 billion to £6.1 billion, an increase of 45 per cent. Most top companies, during the period of the Programme for National Recovery, reported profits of between ten and 20 times the level of wage increases allowed under the programme. The share of national income going to labour is declining and that going to profits increasing. In 1980, for every £1 in wages there was 35p going to profits. By 1989, for every £1 in wages the income going to profits went up to 53p.

A major gap in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress is the failure to extract any commitment from the employers to reinvest profits towards job creation. This is especially true in regard to the multi-national sector, which continues to export huge sums out of the country. Annual profit repatriations by foreign companies amounted to £3 billion last year, well in excess of the total tax take on all income. The workers in this country are producing wealth but it is flowing out at a massive uncontrolled rate. As I said in the budget debate, we cannot afford to endure this massive financial haemorrhage. Virtually every worker and unemployed person in this country has been asked to make sacrifices to get the economy in order, to accept lower wage increases and to endure inadequate social welfare levels. Why are the profit takers not asked to make similar sacrifices? When we get an agreement which not just restricts the level of wage increases for workers, but also restricts the right of foreign multi-nationals to export profits and sets specific targets for the investment of profits in job creation, we will have a national programme which will make a real contribution to economic and social development.

Many people will experience a sense of déjà vu when they read the section in the programme on job creation. In 1987, the Programme for National Recovery (PNR) said that “the objectives of policy in manufacturing industry involve creating approximately 20,000 extra jobs on average per year over the next ten years, the actual provision accelerating as the programme policies take effect”. Three years later the aim of this programme, we are told, is to “create 20,000 new jobs each year of the programme in manufacturing and international services”. Many workers believe that they were conned by the Government in regard to the job creation promises in the PNR. Most reasonable people believed that extra jobs meant additional jobs over and above those already in existence. However, the Government continued to claim that they had met the targets of the PNR once 20,000 new jobs had been created, irrespective of the number of jobs lost or the sector in which they were created.

The real failure of the PNR to make any significant dent on our unemployment problem is clear from a look at the numbers on the live register. In October 1987, when negotiations on the PNR were concluded, there were 238,000 on the live register. In January 1991, when negotiations on this new programme were concluded there were 241,000 on the live register. Three years of sacrifices by workers and three years of profit taking by the employers has left us with an additional 3,000 people on the dole queues. In the same three year period well in excess of 100,000 of our people emigrated.

The Government's commitment in the programme to the "maintenance of a viable and commercial semi-State sector" sounds impressive, but how seriously can this be taken, when there is currently legislation before the Dáil which provides for the selling off of one of our most successful semi-State companies, the Irish Sugar Company. The Sugar Company is a commercial State company which has hauled itself back from the brink, largely as a result of efforts made by both management and employees. Losses of £22 million in 1982 have been transformed into profits of £22 million in 1990. It clearly has the potential for further expansion and development, yet it is being sold off.

Despite the statements in the programme, it is clear that the Government are embarking on a major programme of ideologically motivated privatisation. The legislation to facilitate the privatisation of Irish Life was passed by the Dáil last year, and other candidates include B & I, the ICC and, possibly, the ACC. The decision to appoint Minister Brennan, widely considered to be the Minister for privatisation, to the Communications portfolio, where he has responsibility for two of our biggest commercial State companies — Telecom Éireann and An Post — has been viewed with understablable concern by workers in these companies.

Failure by the Government to honour the commitments given in regard to the health services casts grave doubt on the seriousness of the commitments made in other areas of the programme, and there is already a breach of the Government's commitment under the programme to provide a "comprehensive, equitable and efficient health care system", as is shown by the chaos now facing a number of health boards because of inadequate funding from central Government.

Exactly a year ago the chaos in the hospitals was being blamed on the flu' epidemic. This year there is no epidemic, but patients face cutbacks and a seriously reduced level of service. Several health boards have made it clear that, far from moving towards the type of comprehensive service promised in the programme, they cannot even maintain existing services at their present levels because of inadequate Government funding. This will mean even longer waiting lists, beds in corridors, the early discharge of patients, longer closures of wards and beds during holiday periods, a worsening of the plight of the physically and mentally handicapped and even less money for child care services and facilities for the elderly.

The fact is the health services have never recovered from the severe cutbacks imposed by the Fianna Fáil Government in 1987 and 1988 and still require significant additional funding even to allow services to be restored to the levels operating in the mid-eighties. An indication of the seriousness of the situation is given in this morning's edition of The Irish Times, which quotes a confidential memorandum as saying that patients at the Mater Hospital's accident and emergency departments are inadequately supervised, left unattended on trollies and subjected to humiliating overcrowding. A similarly bleak picture can be found in many other hospitals around the country. I saw the conditions for myself when I visited St. Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny last Friday, which has up to 12 beds in a corridor and inadequate facilities in the children's ward.

In conclusion I wish to state that we will not be going into the lobbies with Fianna Fáil in support of the programme and regret that the programme which has been negotiated is totally inadequate.

As a card carrying trade unionist for over 30 years, I will be quite happy to recommend very strongly acceptance of this proposed agreement and have no doubts about its potential. While a number of issues will have to be discussed and commitments delivered on, I support its contents and was glad to see Deputy De Rossa welcome the concept of long term agreements. Deputy Bruton made a fairly vicious attack on the programme and I will deal with that later.

As stated in the preamble to the agreement, we are a very small community and have a very high dependency rate. Figures, published recently, indicate that there will be approximately 400,000 people aged 65 and over by the end of the year. This figure, taken in conjunction with the number of young people, will create certain problems for us as a small community. However, the Taoiseach was positive in opening the debate and pointed out that this programme builds on the achievements of the Programme for National Recovery and represents the logical step forward. He also pointed out, quite correctly, that different Governments have had varying degrees of success in their approaches to the social partners. Indeed, in this context, there may have been an element of petty political jealousy in Deputy Bruton's contribution. If I recall correctly — I was not a Member of the House then — at the time of his historic failure to put his budget through Dáil Éireann, mainly because of his proposal to put tax on children shoes, the social partners refused to enter into talks on an agreement.

It is scandalous political opportunism for Deputy Bruton to take a particular stance on this proposal merely to wrong foot the Labour Party and he seems to be heading down that road today. If he is doing this merely to build his own power base or his vote base regardless of the damage he could inflict on the consensus approach he should think again. In that context, as the Taoiseach said at the beginning of his contribution, under Deputy Bruton and his colleagues the national debt had doubled in four years. That was the scene we faced, and prior to the Programme for National Recovery we had run up a debt of £25.5 billion which simply cannot be dealt with properly by this small community. It is a burden on us and we must work our way out of it and the only way to do that is by all the social partners pulling together and working together.

The Taoiseach was quite fair in pointing out that there will be pluses and minuses for almost everybody in this agreement but, again, Deputy Bruton described a whole range of sectors who, he said, will not be included in this programme, who are not catered for in it or who are not participants in the talks, such as young people, dependent spouses, the homeless and the unemployed. I do not think he has even read the programme. As Deputy De Rossa pointed out there are many aspects in it apart from the pay element which are difficult to evaluate but which will be a greater contribution to the community sector in the years to come than the pay element. The programme includes many innovative moves which will benefit the young, the homeless and the unemployed. It is incorrect to state that such sectors are not included and that suggestion will be of no help to us. I said at the outset that different people have different levels of success because of the factors of credibility and confidence. Those two factors drew the social partners to this agreement and got the proposal from the ICTU of a ten year programme.

It is impossible to separate this programme and these discussions from the budget debate, and recent budgets must all be considered as well as those that will be presented in the next few years. Indicators should be given of what is intended in years to come in areas like taxation. I take Deputy De Rossa's point that if there is a change of Government all agreements are null and void and may be renegotiated. That is democracy, but it does not tend to happen in the Irish context. I was amazed at Deputy FitzGerald's attack on indications that in the next few years there would be a reduction in tax rates. I thought this would be part of the consensus approach and that people would be aware of what would be involved.

In regard to the budget, the Government's performance in the past two years has created enough confidence to encourage the social partners to come forward and participate in drawing up the programme. They all must go back to those they represent. Nine groupings were involved, the most wide-ranging representation ever, and that is an indication of confidence and willingness to work and participate. Compare that with the 1982-87 efforts. The unions had a say at that time but although the Labour Party were involved for three years and seven months the unions seemed reluctant to become involved. They did not trust the people in power at the time as far as I could read it. Now there is a feeling of confidence which is closely associated with the credibility of the Ministers and the Government. That credibility results from really delivering, and we must deliver on what is in the budget which lays out the financial provisions for the year to come.

If we review the debate on the past four budgets we will see on one side a set of proposals, a set of figures and a set of targets that have been delivered on all occasions and exceeded on many occasions. On the other side we have invariably had, particularly from Deputy Noonan, an ongoing contribution in which the phrase "lost opportunity" was used in each of the four years, a declaration that the targets could not possibly be achieved and a statement that the growth rate at least in 1989 would be nil. That was his forecast. I happened to pick up his contribution last year. I had thought it was only this year he turned to the mechanical side but last year he spoke about a jet landing in the field outside but really it was not a jet, it was bankers snoring up in the Gallery. Such rubbish has no place in the debates aimed at turning this economy about. Talk about selling secondhand cars and tinkering with them and jets landing in fields outside is complete rubbish. Thus, Deputy Noonan carried on the track record he had established when in power.

On the other hand the former Deputy Ray MacSharry in his time and now the Minister, Deputy Reynolds, established credibility. The important thing is that they have delivered on and even exceeded targets. If somebody comes into a forum to speak for the farming Community — again I emphasise Macra na Féirme, the young farming sector, are included in this programme — for the trade unions or anybody else, it is important that the credibility of the people they are talking to is not under question but inspires confidence.

Budgets have been geared to correcting the financial problem we inherited, therefore people accept that the right things are being done. The Opposition forecasts are on the record of the House and are worth perusal at some stage by anybody interested in this question. The Government's rating has been very important in gaining the commitment of the various people involved in the discussions. That commitment is based very much on the credibility I have referred to and these people are anxious to work, to co-operate and move ahead. Such co-operation is a prerequisite for full economic recovery and there is no possibility of achieving that without co-operation. We must exploit the advantages we have, and they are many and can be listed some other time. It behoves all of us to work together to achieve the highest possible standard of living and quality of life for all our people.

In the past few weeks I noted what I took to be a concerted effort by Fine Gael spokespeople whom I have read, heard or seen in action to undermine not just this programme but the integrity of its competent parts. I witnessed one of the Cork Deputies, Deputy Allen of the Fine Gael Party and former spokesman on Health, stating that in his estimation the leaders of the trade union movement were isolated in ivory towers. As a trade unionist I took umbrage at that at the time. We cannot go around attacking people in that way but that seemed to be a concerted attack on this programme, for whatever reason I do not know. We must move forward in this area whether under this or any other Government in the years to come. That is the way forward. I do not need to come in here and defend the leaders of the trade union movement who are acting in a practical, honest way on behalf of their members.

There are many other elements included in the programme with which we could deal. I think it was Deputy Quinn who said there are 66 separate elements requiring legislation while one or two other commentators contended there was nothing of any substance included. Obviously, there is a contradiction there. I welcome particularly the measures aimed at dependent spouses, the homeless, the unemployed, the down and out, the handicapped whom we will have to target very deliberately. We will have to siphon off moneys to be targeted at them specifically whether from those allocated for health care or whatever.

I welcome also the structuring of wage agreements. I have argued in the past that, in a free for all — which I thought for a moment Deputy De Rossa was recommending — the weaker, such as the handicapped, unemployed, social welfare recipients, deserted wives and so on, fell behind. With a proper structure and properly implemented programme utilising the moneys now being targeted at these areas, these people will do better.

I welcome also section VII under the heading, Area-based Response to Long-Term Unemployment. As one who has been working for community development I have long argued that local communities must be involved, that we could not allow people work alone. I felt there was a need for such an area-based response in many circumstances. For instance, we have seen this response take off in regard to the care of the mentally handicapped. I can speak only for my experience in the Cork area but I observe tremendous steps initiated in that respect.

This programme, if fully implemented and supported, will enable us encourage that type of community-based development, a commitment to the unemployed, the less well-off, those people most in need of our help and our support. Every Member should be in favour of this progressive step. I strongly recommend this agreement or programme. Having carried a trade union card for 35 years I feel competent to comment on the wishes of the ordinary working man and woman.

Like Deputy Dennehy I too carry a trade union card. Hopefully, I will carry one in the future because I am a fundamental believer in the role and record of the trade union movement. But I was somewhat amused at his description of Deputy John Bruton's comments on the Programme for Economic and Social Progress as being petty political jealousy. In fact, what Deputy Bruton was doing was giving a factual, forthright, analytical critique of what is an inadequate, lacklustre document. He based it, first, on the document before the House this afternoon and, second, on its predecessor, the Programme for National Recovery which failed to deliver or impact on the key areas of our economy, that is jobs, unemployment, emigration or real visible, tangible, meaningful growth.

Anybody looking from the outside at the pomp and splendour of the launch of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress would be forgiven for thinking we were witnessing the end of a glorious era of economic fortune which had put this country into a new orbit of economic prosperity. One would get the impression, from all the post-launch celebrations, tipping of glasses and so on, all the jubilation between the Government and social partners, we were witnessing chapter two of a success story that would send us into even dizzier and better economic heights. I have been amused at the kinds of clichés and words bandied about, such as confidence, credibility, partnership.

Last Saturday at my clinic I met a young man whom I had taught at school. He is married with two children, a boy aged three and a girl aged two. Three years ago he operated a small plant hire firm, a nice tidy operation, with his brother; nothing spectacular but it ticked over nicely giving them a nice living. There were grants for drainage, sites to be excavated, contracts taking the odd bend off a county road here and there, roadworks, sewerage works, water schemes. The grants disappeared, the work evaporated, the local economy went dead, the machines disappeared and the hire purchase companies moved in. His brother went to England. This very evening, that man is in Kilburn looking for a job, plying his wares in the already hopelessly overcrowded labour market of London while his young wife, son and daughter remain at home waiting for the telephone to ring. That is the story of thousands of young husbands throughout the length and breadth of this country. Indeed, it is the story of thousands of wives and so-called orphaned children who will in future see their fathers only on his annual visit at Christmas time. How meaningless to them must be the Taoiseach's nicely rounded rhetoric in the preamble to this document which said:

The Programme for National Recovery showed what can be done when we work together to improve our standards of living and social equity.

Let us examine where we stand after three years of that Programme for National Recovery. Again in the preamble to the latest programme the Taoiseach said:

To secure such an economy we need this partnership in commitment and co-operation between the Government and the principal economic and social interests in our society.

Agriculture is, always was and will continue to be the mainstay and backbone of the economy of rural Ireland, but today agriculture is on the broad of its back as never before. Cattle prices are back at £100 per head; sheep prices reduced by 30 to 40 per cent, with pig producers struggling hopelessly trying to compete with rising input prices. Wool is down from 95p per lb. last year to 20p per lb. this year and, in some cases, one cannot even give it away. Milk has been reduced by 20p per gallon with no visible sign of any improvement on the horizon. The GATT negotiations being conducted by a former Minister for Agriculture, the Irish Commissioner, were bungled hopelessly by giving away 30 per cent, three out of the ten cards in his hand, before he even sat down at the negotiating table.

Reading Section VI — Agricultural Development — of this document one can perceive no tangible measure to improve matters generally. Instead of the impetus of new ideas needed to resuscitate agriculture there is empty, recycled jargon which, when stripped down, means absolutely nothing. The Government do not appear to realise that Santa Clause simply did not come to many children in rural Ireland this year because the headage cheques did not arrive. Indeed, the 1990 headage cheque still has not arrived in many households I represent. Over £20 million have been spent on animal disease eradication. In the new programme there is a section dealing with this.

We are as far away from solving the problems of TB and brucellosis as we were when the programme was begun, TB being rampant in particular. There are major loopholes ruthlessly being exploited by people in the trade. I call on the Minister for Agriculture and Food to instigate immediately a top level inquiry into the use of the drug cortisone. This drug is freely available among farmers, jobbers, cattle men and is being injected into animals in order to reduce the visible presence of TB. It reduces the swelling, rendering detection extremely difficult which means diseased animals can literally waltz through the disease eradication dragnet. I now call on the Minister for Agriculture and Food to deal with this as a matter of urgency because the implications are all too clear. The programme's commitment to further research might well be directed into plugging the glaring loopholes in the present scheme.

Instead of measures to improve the lifestyles of farmers we have layer upon layer of red tape. For example, a widow with a non-contributory pension whose animals contact TB cannot get her compensation grant unless she produces a tax clearance certificate. Imagine the amount of red tape that must be gone through to prove that a widow who has already been means tested for a social welfare pension does not have taxable income.

This document has 17 lines in relation to operational programmes. There is a new programme called a leader programme. Based on experience in the past two or three years, I see nothing to indicate that this type of programme will do anything to enhance rural economies. I note with a certain amount of sceptism the new concept called "leader initiatives". If thinking up new titles for old initiatives would solve our economic problems we would have been home and dry ages ago. Agriculture is going down the tubes and farmers are going to the wall. Rural communities are disintegrating. People are depressed, demoralised and unsure. The sad thing is that the problems are not of our own making. This Government failed to impress our innocence in relation to over production on the EC. We sometimes flaunt our credentials in relation to trying to arbitrate in a difficult world situation and yet we have failed to make any dent in the international logic which has on the one hand millions of tonnes of beef and butter in costly storage facilities, while millions of children are dying of starvation in Sudan. Our jet-lagged Deputy Collins might be better occupied in everybody's interests in trying to bring some sort of sanity and humanity to bear on the scandal of unused food surpluses on the one hand and gross malnutrition and starvation on the other.

This country is in a sad state. We spent 800 years trying to get rid of the invader and we have made an unmitigated mess of our affairs in the interim. This programme is full of catchphrases such as those we had from Deputy Dennehy about credibility, confidence, sustained economic growth, structural reform, collective and individual social responsibility and so on. Major play is made of the fact that we have the lowest inflation rate in Europe but what good is that if we have the second highest rate of unemployment in Europe. There are 250,000 people out of work, exactly the same level of unemployment as when this Government took office in 1987. We do not actually know the true emigration rate but it is pitched somewhere in the region of 30,000 although this programme blandly accepts a figure of 19,000. Unemployment of even 19,000 is much too high. We are in fact a nation in exile. There are more Irish people living outside the country than in it. This week for example in Mayo, which cannot exactly be described as an industrial boom area, 1,000 employees have gone on short time and seven enterprises are tottering on the brink of survival. We have the worst roads in Europe, the longest health queues and we are about to dismantle our postal services because we are losing money. We have a failed tourism policy in relation to developing the industry to its full potential. The launches and the desires become more glittering and expensive, but everyone knows that without the annual influx of emigrants many of the glowing statistics furnished by Bord Fáilte each year in an effort to sustain their own credibility would show a paltry return for the investment put in. This nation has totally underperformed. I do not see this programme giving the impetus needed to give us the economic lift we so badly need.

The programme, the budget, and every initiative this Government have launched seem to be based on the premise that if we get the main economic nuts and bolts right the rising tide will lift all boats. It has already been proved that the rising tide philosophy does not work. It works for the craft that are buoyant but the smaller craft remain in the mudbanks, depleted and dilapidated. It is the poor I am talking about here.

One of the cornerstones of economic revival and economic policy and one of the major social instruments we have for doing something tangible about poverty is education but under this Minister for Education things have disimproved. The Minister has a very good public profile. She spends quite an amount of time preening her feathers and making nicely crafted speeches while opening projects most of which were approved by her predecessors, Deputies Cooney and Hussey. At primary school level the Minister launched into the task, with Thatcherite ferocity, of introducing the infamous circular 20/87. She worsened the pupil-teacher ratio to 27:1 with the result that within one year 1,029 primary school positions were suppressed. While in this document, the Minister is committed to improving the pupil-teacher ratio to 25:1 and is talking about putting 500 jobs back on a two year basis, she is only barely plugging a minor hole in the dent she created in the first instance.

One in every ten children does not benefit from the primary school system. One in every ten children comes out of school at 3.30 p.m. more dejected and demoralised than when he or she went in. A considerable number of children simply cannot cope with the existing curriculum. We have a moral, social and educational obligation to provide for these children. There should be remedial facilities in every school. Our educational system is at nought when every child coming out of sixth class after nine years of primary level cannot, at the minimum, read, write, multiply, substract or divide. Many of these children having come through the educational dragnet will leave post primary school as soon as they reach the minimum leaving age of 15.

This programme does not contain any real commitment to eliminating educational disadvantage. Even allowing for a pupil teacher ratio of 25:1 we still have the largest classes in Europe and the lowest per capita spending. The review body report on primary education identified the population trend whereby pupil numbers in primary schools will drop from 544,900 this year to 427,000 in nine years time, that is by the turn of the century. Even allowing for a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio to 25:1, at least 3,000 fewer teachers will be required. I implore the Minister to give a commitment to the teacher unions, the educational interests, parents and children, that the children will be facilitated by having those 3,000 teachers left in the system and by providing every school with a remedial teacher in order to have the early intervention that is required.

Massive changes are taking place at second level. I implore the Minister to forget about green papers and discussion documents and to do what she did at primary level — establish a review body. Vocations are dropping, the interest of the Catholic Church is wanting, the population is declining and major changes are occurring. School level education is in a stage of drift. It is the Minister's duty to intervene, to oversee and to rationalise.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Dáil debate on the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. This programme records a remarkable consensus between Government, trade unions, employers and farmers in the major areas of economic and social policy. It provides a firm base for ensuring continued economic growth and social development through the nineties, when as a nation we will have many serious challenges to face both at home and abroad.

The programme creates a framework for a ten-year national strategy. It builds on the outstanding success of the Programme for National Recovery of 1987, which transformed the whole economic climate during the past three years. As the House is aware, many solid achievements were recorded in the period of the last programme from 1987 to 1990: annual economic growth averaged 4 per cent; inflation was brought down to low single figures; the volume of investment grew significantly; and the public finances exhibited a dramatic improvement. These positive economic developments led to a net increase of 70,000 jobs in the private sector outside of agriculture, and a net 40,000 increase in employment in all sectors. At the same time, taxes were reduced and there were substantial improvements in the social benefits to the least well off. Significant progress was made in reducing the key debt/GNP ratio — the ratio, which was up at 131 per cent in 1987, was reduced to 111 per cent at the end of 1990. That is substantial progress.

We are now in a position to consolidate and build on the achievements of the past three years. The new Programme for Economic and Social Progress, as in the case of the 1987 programme, has had the benefit of an excellent guiding report from the National Economic and Social Council. The council's recent report entitled “A Strategy for the Nineties: Economic Stability and Structural Change” laid the groundwork for the new programme. Of course, well laid groundwork alone is not sufficient. The Government had to engage in intensive negotiations over a three-month period with the social partners before the programme was finally agreed. I would like at this stage to commend all of those who worked so hard to ensure the successful outcome to the negotiations. A lot of very hard and difficult work went into it from all sides of the social spectrum.

The programme is based on a strategy of accelerating economic and social progress in the nineties. The strategy is based on maintaining a low-inflation economy, with a stable exchange rate which can compete internationally, and which can lead to higher standards of living and improved social services. The strategy will have to be pursued in the context of very radical changes that are now taking place in the international economic environment. It is clear that developments within the European Community, in particular the completion of the Single Market and the creation of the Economic and Monetary Union, mean that Ireland will become even more closely integrated into the international economy over the next few years. We must prepare for that.

The Government record their commitment to the maintenance of a viable and profitable commercial semi-State sector in the programme. It is clear that the sector will continue to play a very strong role in the Irish economy. As it is, the impact of the commercial State bodies on the economy is very considerable. It is estimated that they account for 10 per cent of gross national product, with assets in the region of £9 billion and employment of some 73,000.

I should point out that the seven commercial State bodies for which I am responsible, in the transport and communications sectors, represent nearly 70 per cent of employment and over a quarter of the total assets held by the commercial semi-State sector. I hardly need to emphasise to the House the importance that needs to be attached to ensuring that these commercial State bodies not only operate efficiently in the domestic economy, but also that their performance compares favourably with corresponding sectors in our main trading partners. As it is, Ireland's geographical position in the European Community represents a major disadvantage in competitiveness terms. The additional distance, time and associated cost factors contribute significantly to Ireland's communications costs. The fact that we will soon be the only island nation of the EC makes the provision of efficient, economic and competitive transport and communications services even more essential than heretofore.

The tourism sector is clearly identified by Government as a major axis for economic development in the programme. There is no doubt that Irish tourism has come of age, and has adopted a more sophisticated, market-led approach which emphasises the need to diversify, improve and promote the quality, value for money and overall attractiveness of its product in a very competitive international environment. In particular, very valuable lessons have been learned about the need to market our tourism product skilfully, to target that product, selectively, matching specific products to particular market segments and paying particular attention to demand in more affluent markets.

The development of the tourism sector in recent years has been stimulated by the favourable operational climate created by the Government's policies which have elicited an upsurge in new investment — £420 million in the three-year period to end 1990. A £300 million investment package under the Operational Programme for Tourism agreed last year with the European Community will run until the end of 1993 and ensure that the momentum in development is maintained. Under the operational programme, some 150 projects have been approved so far, representing a total investment of almost £140 million, of which the EC contribution is nearly £40 million. Work under the programme is proceeding in 1991 and is expected to involve further investment of the order of £100 million.

In the light of the prospective difficulties arising for tourism, from the Gulf crisis and from the climate of recession in some of our main markets, the Government have at my request, allocated in the recent budget an additional £1 million for Bord Fáilte for marketing and promotion in 1991. This I understand is being targeted by Bord Fáilte, particularly in the UK and mainland European markets, as a matter of some urgency.

As a general response to difficult marketing conditions in 1991, Bord Fáilte are intensifying their product development, marketing and promotion efforts, finetuning their strategies to take account of the most promising markets and market segments. A positive approach along these lines is, I believe, the only course of action we can afford to contemplate, if we are to maintain the momentum on tourism which we have already so clearly established. Our determination to press ahead with our growth programme for tourism, with its emphasis on the creation of new jobs, is clearly stated in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress.

The transport sector has an important role to play, both directly and indirectly, in improving the competitiveness of the economy and underpinning employment creation. To this end, a major development of transport infrastructure and facilities, which will be co-financed by the European Commission, is planned during the period of the new programme in the following areas: State and Regional Airports; Commercial and Local Seaports; and Public Transport.

As regards the State airports, at Dublin, Shannon and Cork, £74 million will be invested in passenger terminal facilities and runway and other infrastructures. Approximately £20 million will be spent on improving the existing regional airport facilities at Carrickfinn, Connacht, Galway, Kerry, Sligo and Waterford Airports. The works to be undertaken will include terminal and runway development and the provision of navigational aids.

In addition, the commercial seaports of Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Rosslare will be the subject of a development programme costing about £59 million. The particular emphasis will be on providing appropriate port capacity and quality port infrastructure which is strategically linked to the main internal transport arteries.

As far as public transport is concerned, investment of about £36 million is to be made over the next few years. The major proposed project is the development and improvement of rail services to Blanchardstown, Clondalkin and adjoining areas. Other planned projects include the extension of the existing rail freight link within Dublin Port along the North Quays and the provision of new rail freight gantries at Cork, Dundalk, Limerick and Sligo.

In addition to developing Ireland's internal transport infrastructure and facilities, it is a key objective of Irish transport policy that enhanced sea and air access transport services be developed between Ireland and other European Community States.

Debate adjourned.