With the permission of the House I would like to share my time with Deputies Rabbitte, Mac Giolla and Byrne.
Private Members' Business. - Financing of Local Authorities: Motion.
Is that satisfactory? Agreed.
"That Dáil Éireann, deplores the failure of the Government to honour commitments given by Fianna Fáil in 1985 to (1) abolish local charges and to repeal the legislation under which they were introduced, namely the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Amendment) Act, 1983,
(2) put local authority financing on a sound basis by the introduction of new legislation to provide that local authorities would receive a guaranteed statutory contribution each year;
noting that the failure of Central Government to provide adequate finances has led to a further erosion of local democracy and
(a) the virtual ending of local authority house building,
(b) the deterioration of existing housing stock,
(c) pot-holed roads,
(d) cutbacks in a whole range of local authority services, and
(e) a general deterioration in the environment;
believing that service charges are unjust and represent a form of double taxation, calls for their immediate abolition; further calls on the Government to ensure the provision of a fixed proportion of central funds for local government to be allocated on a fair and equitable basis; and conscious of the appalling unemployment crisis now facing the country, believes that properly funded local authorities could play an important role in job creation through joint ventures with public, private and co-operative companies, using the skill and enterprise of local authority staff.
In nine days time the people will elect over 800 councillors to city and county councils who are in a financial crisis. The councils are under-funded and overdrawn. They are no longer financially capable of maintaining essential local services such as housing, road maintenance and refuse collection; yet, the Government are silent on the funding of local authorities. They have announced no policy on how local government is to be funded for the future. A few weeks ago they rushed through this House a new Local Government Act, which ignored the central issue of money. They postponed local elections last year and set up an expert committee, but gave them little or no function in relation to financing except to make recommendations on how the existing inadequate cake should be shared out.
We are a week away from the local elections and this House has not yet debated the financing of the local authorities; the important question of how all the election promises which are being now made throughout this country, are to be paid for. The Workers' Party are determined that before the people go out to vote next week, there will be a debate on local government financing, when the financial crisis in the councils will be highlighted, the broken election promises of 1985 and 1987 remembered and this House asked to make up its mind about water and service charges.
The Government's silence now about council fundings is in sharp contrast to the position in 1985. Then the Fianna Fáil local election manifesto declared that Fianna Fáil were opposed to water and service charges and that when re-elected to power, Fianna Fáil would repeal the local charges legislation. This commitment was spelled out in a letter dated 23 May 1985 from the then Fianna Fáil Director of Elections, Deputy Robert Molloy to the secretary of ACRA, Mr. Fergus Martin. The letter stated:
"1. Fianna Fáil are totally opposed to the new system of local charges and, on return to office, will abolish these charges and repeal the legislation under which they were imposed, namely the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act of 1983.
In its place, we will introduce new legislation which will end the present unsatisfactory position and put local finances on a sound basis.
This legislation will provide that Local Authorities will receive a guaranteed statutory contribution each year from the Central Exchequer. This Exchequer contribution will be sufficient to provide for a satisfactory level of necessary services.
The new legislation will eliminate the present uncertainty whereby Local Authorities cannot anticipate what the grant from the Central Exchequer each year will be and which has compelled County Managers to impose a new and unacceptable level of service charges against the wishes of the great majority of the local community.
The legislation which will provide for the new statutory grant from the Central Exchequer will not contain any new power to enable elected members to introduce new charges.
The promise was repeated for the 1987 general election. In a letter dated February 1987, to the general secretary of NATO, Mr. Matt Larkin, the new Fianna Fáil National Director of Elections, Mr. Paddy Lalor MEP, stated:
In relation to local charges, Fianna Fáil is committed to the revocation of the 1983 legislation which gave power to levy charges. It is our intention in Government that Local Authorities will receive a statutory contribution each year from the Central Exchequer which will be sufficient to provide for a satisfactory level of necessary services.
These promises were given the imprimatur of the Fianna Fáil leader. Prior to the 1985 local elections he stated:
Our policy is clear — as soon as we are returned to office we will repeal the legislation which imposes these water charges. This is a specific and clear statement by us.
No doubt, it was this specific and clear promise which elected so many Fianna Fáil councillors in 1985 and which gave the Fianna Fáil party control of several local authorities. But what has happened to the promise? On 7 March last, my party colleague, Deputy Joe Sherlock, at columns 432 and 433 of the Official Report asked the Minister for the Environment "if the Government have any plans to amend the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1983, to provide for the abolition of water charges". The Minister gave no answer. Perhaps he was too ashamed.
But shame was not a condition bothered the Taoiseach last week when he launched the Fianna Fáil local election manifesto — the 1991 version. He made it clear that water and service charges are here to stay, that the Government have now no intention whatever of abolishing them and delivered the following epitaph for the 1985 manifesto: "I am the least embarrassed man in Ireland".
The official abandonment of the 1985 promise comes as no great surprise because, since the 1985 local elections, Fianna Fáil councillors and various forms of Fianna Fáil Government have presided over the reintroduction of and the increase in water and service charges; in every council throughout this country, except Dublin city and county, Fianna Fáil councillors have voted in the water and service charges; since 1985, far from abolishing the charges, Fianna Fáil councillors have voted to double the level of charges being made; since 1987, the Government have continued the policy of their predecessors by cutting back on local authority funding and staffing; and since 1985, the Government have presided over an aggressive collection regime for water and service charges, which is unprecedented in the tax collection history of this State.
Big time tax evaders and tax avoiders enjoy an official tolerance in this State which is unequalled in Europe or America. In the Republic of Ireland there are no Lester Piggotts, no Patrick Gallaghers, no Spiro Agnews. At one point the very possibility of large-scale tax avoidance was denied by Government Ministers until an "amnesty" produced £500 million in uncollected taxes. At local level, large farmers, still owe £20 million in agricultural rates in respect of the period prior to 1982 and no effort at all is being made to collect it.
Contrast this with the treatment meted out to law abiding, taxpaying householders, who have not paid their water charges. In this country, the only people who have ever been sent to jail for not paying a tax have not been the big time tax evaders, but PAYE workers who objected to paying a second time for domestic water.
Householders have had their water supply cut off — in one case in my own constituency from November 1988 to July 1990. Council pensioners have £1 a week deducted from their small pensions to pay the charges. Students have been refused higher education grants until their parents paid the charges. Tenant-purchasers have been refused the deeds to their homes until they paid the charges. Over the past six years householders have been threatened and bullied into paying a water tax which has never won public acceptance.
The heavy handed approach to collecting water charges has been deliberate and it has had the full support of the Minister for the Environment, who disingenuously claims that it is a matter solely for the local authorities. The whole idea has been to soften up the tax paying public for an extension and an increase in these charges.
The study carried out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies and published in the Barrington report showed that since 1970, and especially since the abolition of domestic rates in 1978 and agricultural rates in 1982, there has been a significant change in the sources of local authority revenue. The proportion of the council income from Government grants and from rates has fallen sharply, but the proportion from charging for goods and services has almost doubled from 17 per cent in 1970 to 33.1 per cent in 1990.
The Government really want to continue this trend, but they are reluctant to say so before the local elections. Fianna Fáil's silence on funding, the PD slogans about value for money and their antipathy to local authority staffs, the terms of reference given to the expert committee and the various coded remarks from the Minister for the Environment, all point in one direction. After these local elections, the Government intend to increase local charges and to reintroduce them in Dublin. The Government also intend to privatise many local authority services and to charge the public for them on a consumer pays basis. Indeed this process has already started, in a number of counties where the local authority no longer provide a refuse collection but have licensed private contractors to collect refuse and to charge house holders for the service.
What we are now beginning to see is the formal dismantling of local authority services because these services have been crippled from underfunding by the Government. We can trace this underfunding back to the abolition of domestic rates and the ending of agricultural rates.
When domestic rates were abolished, central Government undertook to make up the loss of local authorities' domestic rate income by paying grants equivalent to the revenue that would have been received if domestic rates had not been abolished. In reality this commitment was never honoured and was formally abandoned in the Local Government (Financial Provisions) Act, 1983.
At present the total rate support grant for all local authorities is £162.75 million. This includes the grants in lieu of both domestic and agricultural rates. In 1978 the first year after the abolition of domestic rates, the grant in lieu of domestic rates alone was £81 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would now be worth £241 million or £80 million more that the combined domestic and agricultural rates grants together. In 1977, the grant in lieu of agricultural rates that is for small farmers who did not have to pay rates, was £40 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would now be worth £119 million.
The up-dated figures for domestic and agricultural rates support grants would, therefore, be £360 million. And when account is taken of the rates which big farmers would have paid and the fact that 250,000 new houses have been built since 1978, another £50 million at least can be added to the equation. In other words, local authorities should be getting rate support grants totalling £410 million and not £160 million simply to keep pace with inflation since 1978. As the Kildare county manager put it last October, when he was addressing the Foundation for Fiscal Studies annual conference;
It is estimated that there is approximately a shortfall of £250m in the amount of rates foregone by local authorities on private dwelling and not made up through the Rate Support Grant for the financial year ended December 31st 1990.
Or put another way, local authorities are getting only £4 out of every £10 to which they are properly entitled. But the cut in the rates support grants has not been the only way that local authorities have been savaged by Government cuts.
Since the last local elections, the total amount of non-discretionary grants paid to local authorities has been cut by 40 per cent. Since the last local elections the capital expenditure of local authorities has been cut by over 30 per cent. Since the last local elections, local authorities' staff have been cut by 10,000 through voluntary redundancy and natural wastage. A further 5,000 have been cut in the health services and yet another 5,000 have been lost in other local services, putting 20,000 on to the bulging unemployment figures. Is it any wonder then that local services have deteriorated, that communities have been neglected and that the environment has been exploited so badly since the last local elections?
The evidence is everywhere. The potholes on the roads, 6,500 local authority houses with no bathrooms, and the public libraries with empty shelves because there is no money to replace the books.
People at every level are affected. The person in a wheelchair cannot travel because the footpaths have subsided, or perhaps do not exist at all, the unlit streets and substandard public lighting are facilitating the scourge of suburban crime, the quality of some drinking water is poor and local communities become frustrated when they cannot even get a reply to their letters, much less a solution to their problems.
Meanwhile, the Government's professed initiatives on the environment simply cannot be implemented because there is no money to do so. I will cite examples. The Control of Dogs Act, 1986, has failed because the local authorities do not have the money to hire dog wardens. There are six dog wardens to patrol the entire city and county of Dublin and three-quarters of the country's dog population is unlicenced. Not a single local authority has yet complied their register of derelict sites under the new Derelict Sites Act because there are no resources or staff to carry out the inspections. There is no staff or money provided to implement the new Water Pollution Act; to regulate environmental impact assessments, to regulate the quality of drinking water or for any of the new environmental legislation.
You cannot protect the environment by sticking your head in the air and peering over the chimney pots of Dublin. If you really want to see clearly, look at what is happening on the ground where environmental protection is all theory and no practice, because the Government who have made the rules have not provided the money to enforce them. Yet the public have paid their money. It is a fact that when domestic rates were abolished, PAYE tax was increased to make up the shortfall, but the increased tax has not been passed on to the local authorities.
In 1977, the year before the abolition of domestic rates, the total tax paid by PAYE workers amounted to £523 million. Last year it amounted to £2,738 million, an increase of 423 per cent in a period when inflation increased by about 200 per cent. To put it another way, the State's take from the PAYE sector has increased since 1987 by 12 times the rate of change in the rate support grant for local authorities.
The PAYE taxpayer has therefore been paying an increased amount for local services, but the taxpayer's money has not been passed to the local authorities whose job it is to provide the services. The PAYE taxpayer is, therefore, perfectly entitled to object to paying a second time for the services which should be provided from his or her income tax.
The real solution to local government financing is for central Government to pay over an adequate sum to the local authorities. If the £250 million shortfall, or even a significant portion of it, were available to councils, it would transform local services and enable councils to act as development agencies for local communities and contribute in a real way to reducing unemployment.
Such an arrangement will never apply, as long as the funding for local authorities is at the discretion of the Minister for the Environment. The funding of local authorities, and their entitlement to a fixed proportion of central funds, should be enshrined in legislation as promised by Fianna Fáil in 1985 and again in 1987. Some people argue that local authorities will only have real autonomy when they can raise their own funds, but experience elsewhere does not bear this out. Already 44 per cent of all local authority funds here come from central Government grants. In other countries the proportion is much higher. In Italy and Holland, for example, it is as high as 80 per cent and 81 per cent respectively and those countries have healthy autonomous systems of local government.
We are seeking in this motion to get Fianna Fáil to honour the commitment they gave in 1985 and repeated in 1987. We are seeking the repeal of the 1983 legislation which introduced water charges, as promised by Fianna Fáil. They have reneged on that promise. We are seeking the provision of a fixed-proportion of central funds for local government, just as Fianna Fáil promised in 1983.
Deputy Gilmore has outlined in some detail the run down of local government financing over the past few years and specifically the effect of the depression of the rate support grant. The first casualty of this deterioration in local government financing has been jobs. In a document which The Workers' Party published today we estimate that there is an inherent capacity in the local authorities to create about 10,000 new jobs. That must be put against the record which shows that since the last local elections in 1985, 10,000 jobs have been lost in local authorities, on the basis of voluntary redundancy and natural wastage.
The debate on job creation which got underway at the beginning of the local elections campaign has concentrated on the performance of the public and the private sectors. The predominant responsibility for job creation will rest with those sectors. Our view is that local authorities can be a dynamic third force who can contribute substantially to the job creation exercise. In the context of the current crisis, all sectors of the economy must be pressed to develop new and radical responses to the employment crisis in a major national effort to provide sufficient sustaining jobs for all who are available to work. Reliance on the public and private sectors is a totally inadequate response, as we have seen. More and more cutbacks are taking place in the public sector, while in the private sector there is a manifest inability to deliver on job targets. All parties in this House are now agreed, as are the opposite sides of industry, that the private sector has not managed to deliver on the job creation targets set.
For that reason we have come up with a new and radical proposal in our document today which would see a local levy imposed on the profits of companies and devolved to local authorities in terms of contributing to a fund that could provide the finance for job creation at local level. The fact that the Minister shakes his head at the possibility of job creation in this fashion surprises me since the record of debates in the sixties will show that it was the former Taoiseach, Mr. Lemass, who put forward the idea of local authorities as development corporations. We are suggesting in the document we published today that local authorities can effectively be used as community development agencies. I cannot see any reason that this should not recommend itself to Government.
Only a few years ago I had the pleasure of serving on Dublin County Council under the chairmanship of the present Minister for Justice, who was extraordinarily concerned in those years, 1985 to 1987, about the unemployment crisis — so much so that he caused Dublin County Council to establish local employment committees. These committees did an enormous amount of research but unfortunately we were deprived of Deputy Burke just as their efforts were about to come to fruition. He became a member of the Government in 1987 and an early impact of the cutbacks which affected Dublin County Council was the abolition of the local employment committees. We never had the opportunity to put the ideas into practice.
Our view is that there is an enormous reservoir of ideas in the local community which should be released as a potent third force for job creation. Expertise and funding are needed. The expertise is available in the local authorities. There is a great under-utilisation of professional and technical expertise. The great bulk of the workers who were let go under the voluntary redundancy schemes were workers at the coal face, with the consequent run down of the environment, house maintenance, potholes in the roads and so on. A great many of the professional and technical staff are still in place and their skills are under-utilised. They could be put at the disposal of local community organisations in the fashion that we recommended in our document.
On the question of funding, the recommendation that there ought to be a levy of 1 per cent imposed on company profits, which would be devoted to the councils for the purpose of job creation and which would be refundable in circumstances where the companies could be proved to have met their job targets, is an innovative idea which should recommend itself to the Government. It has a wider significance. The projection for company profits this year is just over £5 billion. A levy of up to 1 per cent on those profits would provide a fund of the order of £50 million. A great many community organisations and people involved in enterprise at local level could do a great deal with £50 million. It serves a more useful purpose than that. The Taoiseach, and the Minister for Labour, have agreed in this House that despite the unprecedented period of wage restraint under the Programme for National Recovery, despite having concluded a new agreement under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, despite having achieved favourable economic indicators in a number of areas, the jobs simply have not come. Our view is that there is a necessity for some trigger mechanism to cause these spiralling profits to be translated into jobs. It is the height of folly for any Government to believe that private employers are going to produce additional jobs merely because of targets set in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress and because employers are securing unprecedented profits at the moment. Such job creation will not happen, it has not happened in the past, and we ought to have learned that lesson. What other country in Europe can claim to have had the climate and conditions we have experienced under the Programme for National Recovery— most modest pay increases, favourable interest rates and unprecedented high profits, yet the jobs did not materialise. I predict the same will happen, under the Programme for Economic and Social Progress.
It is generally accepted now by most economists that you can have the growth rate of the order projected by the Minister for Finance of 2, 2.25 or 2.5 per cent. Anything less than 2 per cent in this economy, because of the impact of technology and the changing structure of the workforce does not necessarily anymore result in additional net job creation. Against that background there is a necessity to come up with new mechanisms that will encourage at least some of the enormous profit generating to be translated into hard net new jobs in this economy.
I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy but he is straying somewhat from the local authority financing measure before the House.
Company profits and all these other matters are rather extraneous, to say the least.
Sir, I will accept your admonition except to say I am trying to explain why local authorities could be a productive source of job creation, having regard to the fact that the public and private sectors are an inadequate response in themselves. Specifically I am trying to explain why the proposition of a 1 per cent levy on the profits of companies going to local authorities could be a productive fund to assist job creation at local level. That is the significance of my point, and it knits in neatly with our inability to force these companies to produce jobs at home. If the Ceann Comhairle wishes I will move on from that except to say that in my experience, and I think in that of most Members of this House, the very many good ideas at local level have faltered because of the absence of two essential ingredients: one is expertise and advice and the other is funding. The Workers' Party suggest that this idea of a 1 per cent levy on profits is precisely the source of the funding that is necessary.
In our view this local response to job creation should be a flexible and multifaceted one, assisting co-operatives, creating new joint ventures between public and private enterprise, developing local skills and projects with potential for becoming self-sustaining, improving the environment or upgrading tourist related facilities, expanding local services in the sport, leisure and fitness areas and generally assisting all forms of local enterprise and initiative. It is an idea not 100 miles removed from the idea of the late Seán Lemass back in the fifties and sixties, but instead of going down that road this Government have cut jobs in local authorities by 10,000.
The same applies in the housing area. Apart from the consideration of the desperate social need to be met in that regard at the moment, there is the job creation aspect of housing. My colleague, Deputy Gilmore, at the time of our party's ArdFheis predicted that the real figure on the housing list would emerge in the wake of the local elections to be closer to 30,000 than the 20,000 suggested at that time by the Minister. That has turned out to be the case. In addition the figure on the homeless list is well nigh 5,000 at this stage. That must be set against a performance last year in the Twenty-six Counties of fewer than 1,000 new houses and of fewer than 800 in the previous year. That is the scope of our housing crisis, the worst this country has seen since the sixties. The Minister has produced a very well presented and attractive document containing all kinds of concepts, some of which I welcome but most of which are incomprehensible to the unfortunate people on the housing list who are waiting to have the document explained to them. Even Fianna Fáil hopefuls in this election find the document beyond their capacity to understand. I recommend that the Minister ask his officials to prepare easily intelligible summaries of what is in the document for his local canvassers. This would greatly free up the time of the rest of us even if it would make no serious impact on the housing situation. In my local authority, Dublin County Council, there are 1,100 families on the housing list, some of them living in desperate conditions. The arrival of Fine Gael to present themselves in the House——
Not Fine Gael, just Deputy Cotter, a personal visit.
——perhaps to offer to contribute to the debate may mean I might cut my peroration short if they are ready to address the House on this subject. If they are not, I want to say the 70 houses we plan to build in Dublin County Council this year will make very little impact on the 1,100 families waiting to be housed. That is the extent of the crisis and of the jobs that could be created in that area.
House maintenance is an additional area that requires attention not only because of the tragic deterioration of the housing stock but again because of the jobs that could be created in this area. In my constituency, especially in the Tallaght part of it, housing maintenance is an unmitigated disaster. We have the largest homogeneous block of public sector housing in Western Europe. One part of my constituency must have something in excess of 5,000 local authority houses. I want to say to the Minister tonight and I am prepared to stand over this, that at least every second house of those 5,000 houses has a complaint the length of your arm about routine maintenance requirements. There is a depot in that enormous local authority housing area and if if it were in the Minister's constituency in Castlebar or in the Minister of State's constituency in Tuallmore or some other much smaller Irish town it would be laughed out of it for reasons of inadequacy and inadequate staffing.
And in Ballindine.
It would be more appropriate to Ballindine because the number of people employed in the Tallaght depot is totally unsuited to the demand. I have raised with the Minister previously the question of that responsibility being transferred to the new housing authority. I ask him again to repeat his comments on that when replying to this debate. Apart from the misery being inflicted on the tenants, it is a public waste that housing maintenance should be allowed run down to the present level.
One of the subject matters of this debate is the question of the Fianna Fáil turnabout on the question of water charges. It seems almost inexplicable that Fianna Fáil can treat Dublin differently from the way they treat the rest of the country. The Workers' Party are very proud of how we have opposed, consistently, double taxation on the PAYE citizens of Dublin county and Dublin city, but we were at least matched house for house in our campaign by Fianna Fáil county councillors and city councillors. The same county councillors and city councillors who are members of the largest party in the State have doubled and otherwise increased these charges elsewhere throughout the country. It is, indeed, reminiscent of the same kind of commitments that Fianna Fáil councillors and now the Minister of State have given to my constituents concerning the abolition of ground rents. Some of my constituents in the Old Bawn area will be before the courts again next week on the question of ground rents. The Minister of State promised he would work for the introduction of a referendum to have ground rents abolished contemporaneous with the holding of the poll on 27 June.
Deputy Rabbittee might now bring his speech to a close.
In referring to the ground rents and the water charges at Old Bawn I am merely seeking to highlight the duplicity of Fianna Fáil in what they practice and what they preach. The then director of elections, the Minister for Energy, Deputy Molloy, gave a clear and unequivocal commitment to ACRA but they have reneged on that commitment except where The Workers' Party have a significant presence in local government in Dublin city and Dublin county. I regret that and I sincerely hope when responding to this debate, the Minister will offer some hope to the people who are currently before the courts for non-payment of water charges.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann notes the positive achievements of the Government in relation to local government policies and the delivery of services and calls for the continued implementation of the policies and programmes being pursued by the Government in these important areas".
The Workers' Party motion seems to be unusually self-contradictory: it calls for better local services and the abolition of the means to pay for them; more local government but less local financing; and more local initiatives but paid for by the taxpayer nationally.
Who do The Workers' Party think they are kidding? They are like someone ordering every expensive item on the menu and just shrugging off the question of where the money is going to come from. It must be marvellous to be so far from responsibility that, as a political party, you can play those kind of games. It must have seemed to The Workers' Party to be a good tactical move in their game to set up this Dáil debate in close proximity to the local elections and to seek to criticise the Government over their record in relation to local authority finances and related activities.
Their tactics are badly flawed on this occasion. What they have done gives me a welcome and timely opportunity to put on the record some of the positive achievements of the Government in relation to environment and local government. In the process, I will demolish The Workers' Party arguments and show up their motion of what it is, a cynical exercise in cheap political point scoring.
The attitude of the Deputies, who have put down this motion, leads one to wonder where they have been over the past number of years. Surely they are aware of the extensive legislation I have promoted through the House since becoming Minister for the Environment, dealing with environmental, planning, housing and other matters and most recently, local government reform? Surely they know of the administrative reforms in the local authority financial area, which have improved the financial position of local authorities? Can they not see the evidence of the major new programmes for infrastructural development and environmental improvement? The fact is, of course, that the present Dáil debate is prompted purely by party political motives and aims only to try to embarrass the Government but this debate will show how hollow The Workers' Party motion really is.
This Government have been the first for many years to take action on local government reform instead of just talking about it. The Government's reform programme will strengthen local democracy and enable local authorities to perform effectively on behalf of their communities and to provide the services they require, effectively, efficiently and economically. The Local Government Act, 1991, represents the first stage of that programme and it is a bit strange to see The Workers' Party calling for reform now, having regard to the position they adopted when the Bill was going through the House.
We did not have much time to adopt it.
The 1991 Act will remove outmoded, outdated and inappropriate controls. It provides local authorities with a flexible framework in which to operate. The focus on the ultra vires principle, which local authorities over the years have pointed to as a constraint on their involvement in projects of benefit to local communities, is replaced by a broad general competence for local authority activity. The Act specifically provides for the removal of controls, not for the imposition of new ones as was alleged recently in this House. As the reform programme is progressively implemented in the period ahead, local authorities will find that their freedom to operate, coupled with their improved financial position, will provide a sound basis for development in co-operation with other public, private or community organisations.
When I took up office as Minister for the Environment in March 1987, I was appalled at the state of the local finances. Local authority finances had been allowed to deteriorate to the point where there were accumulated deficits on day-to-day running costs of over £80 million. This meant that the authorities were living off costly overdrafts to run their current services and were paying interest to the banks instead of using the money to provide and improve their services to the public.
Did Deputy Molloy not know that?
This tailspin of deficits had to be reversed and I embarked upon a programme of financial restraint combined with administrative reforms to restore stability. As a result, deficits were cut by half and better financial management was introduced, leading to better value for money. This is real progress in an area where it matters.
I put in place the arrangements needed to enable local authorities to go ahead with their annual estimates before the commencement of the financial year, not after the year had commenced as had been the practice previously. The benefit of this reform alone was very significant in that local authorities were better able to plan their annual expenditure.
Another major financial reform was the introduction of 100 per cent grants for capital works on housing and sanitary services as well as for libraries and fire stations. In adopting this method of financing, the Government eliminated a huge merry-go-round of loans and subsidies between the Exchequer and local authorities. This reform improved administrative efficiency in local authorities and it had the additional benefit of improved cash flow. It also removed the burden of the local share of loan charges from the local authorities, releasing additional funds for their day-to-day services.
On the capital side, the effect is even more direct. In the past, important water and sewerage schemes and other major works could not be undertaken because their share of the loan charges simply could not be borne by some of the local authorities. The needs of those local authorities could not be catered for and infrastructural development was restricted as a result. This no longer applies. With the benefit of the 100 per cent capital grants, major schemes are now going ahead and are being planned in places where they were previously only a dream. Local authorities have widely welcomed this financial reform. It shows that this Government do not just talk about reform but implement necessary change in critical areas.
The statutory demands and levies made on them by other State agencies, over which they had no control, were a real and a serious burden to local authorities. Most of these demands have now been eliminated, thus freeing up more local resources to be spent on local services. For example, in 1988, the arrears owed for contributions to arterial drainage maintenance were written off. The burden of VEC pensions was transferred to the Exchequer in 1990 and this year the cost of providing and maintaining courthouses is being transferred to the State. Here again these reforms have been widely welcomed by local authorities.
This Government are not content to sit on their achievements over the past four years in turning around the state of local financies and in making worthwhile changes. There have been more reforms in the financial area in the past four years than at any other time since the abolition of domestic rates in 1978 and more improvements are planned. It is a common misconception, however, to claim that more fundamental financial reform must be a first priority in tackling local government reform. This indicates a lamentable lack of understanding of local government.
In addition to the significant improvements in local finances which I have touched on, the Government have been looking at the criteria on which the contribution from central funds to local authorities should be made. International experts in the London Institute of Fiscal Studies were asked to examine the structure of State grants to local authorities and their report, which was published, indicated that our system of local authority funding is close to the average in international comparison, and our mix of grants is not out of the mainstream of comparison, given the mix of functions. It identified a potential for equalisation, primarily in relation to the rate support grant, with a view to achieving greater equalisation. It also acknowledged the need for existing specific grants, which it felt were on the whole well designed.
I have commissioned a second phase study by the institute to examine options for the distribution of the rate support grant with a view to achieving greater equalisation. I expect this study will be completed later this year and will, I hope, lead to other practical reforms.
On the issue of service charges, the first point which must be made is that it was the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition which introduced the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (No. 2) Act in 1983 to provide a broad framework for allowing local authorities to charge for services. It is true that my party opposed this legislation at the time. However, when the Government took up office in March 1987 and discovered the appalling state of our public finances, and the extent to which local authorities had overspent in the years previously, the question of repealing the 1983 legislation faded into insignificance in comparison with the huge financial problems facing us. It certainly would have been popular to repeal the 1983 Act but the Government's first duty was to face up responsibly to the situation we inherited, no matter how unpopular it might be, and to straighten out our national and local finances. We have achieved a considerable measure of success in both these areas.
The Government's position is that domestic service charges will continue to be a matter for elected local councils. It will be at the absolute discretion of local councils if they want to levy domestic service charges and to decide the amounts of any charges. Any local authority are free to drop service charges if they so wish as long as sufficient finance is available to fund their services. Because of their concern to meet local needs, most local authorities value the income from service charges for funding local services. This even applies where Opposition councillors have a majority. They have voted and continue to vote for charges. Deciding whether to charge for services is a financial management decision for the elected members.
The Workers' Party are trying to kid the public into believing that it is possible to have hugely improved local services without paying for them. That would be great, if it were possible, but those of us who live in the real world know it is not possible.
When the Labour Party were in Coalition Government with Fine Gael, they were forced to be realistic about getting the money for the services of the local authorities. In fact, service charges were introduced by the Labour Party leader, Deputy Spring and his deputy leader, Deputy Quinn, and enforced by Deputy Kavanagh in 1984-1986 at the time of a massive increase in taxation, direct and indirect. The whole context has altered since Fianna Fáil came to office. We have given back in cumulative tax reductions over £1 billion, both in income tax and VAT, or about ten times the amount raised in service charges.
Given a choice between abolishing service charges, or major reductions in income tax and VAT, there is no doubt in my mind as to which is the priority.
These figures have been challenged by Deputy Quinn. I would point out that £800 million of the £1 billion pounds relates to income tax in the period 1988 to 1990, and is stated in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress. That statement has been accepted and endorsed by the social partners, and the £1 billion figure is simply an extrapolation based on the net VAT reductions in the 1990 and 1991 budgets and the income tax reduction in the 1991 budget. Of course, economic growth will lead to higher tax revenues, but that does not invalidate the point about the lightening of the tax burden on the individual.
Labour as well as The Workers' Party now seek to abolish the old service charges legislation, but give revenue-raising powers to local authorities by way of local referenda. That is simply a cop-out. The elected representatives, who go before the people, can decide whether there should be local charges. The Labour Party did not like having to live in the real world, so they have gone off into fantasy land too. They are another party who are not being straight with the people about their policies. Their full economic policy is contained in Labour's Agenda — An Economic Programme for the 1990s, filled with formidable and draconian tax increases. This was endorsed at the Labour Party Conference in 1989 and has never been retracted. If Labour have their way, there will be a 2 per cent wealth tax, a land tax on farmers and a property tax on homes.
That is not all. Labour intend to restrict mortgage interest relief to the standard rate, and will ultimately abolish it altogether. In addition, the PRSI ceiling will be abolished on higher incomes. The threshold for capital transfer tax will be reduced by two-thirds, with no relief for agricultural land or business assets. So what we would have in place of service charges is one of the most draconian tax systems ever proposed in this country, which would totally impoverish anyone on middle incomes. Understandably, the Labour Party are not playing up these proposals on the doorstep.
What about Fine Gael? Their record in Government over the last 20 years shows them to be the party of new taxes and higher taxes, even though in Opposition they make all sorts of attractive promises. On the last occasion they introduced service charges, residential property tax and land tax. A close reading of all their policy documents in the last few years shows that they too want to introduce a property tax.
Deputy Bruton in his 1992 document of January 1989 stated:
Fine Gael also recognises that we will have a genuinely dynamic and highly representative system of local government only if Local Authorities have responsibility for raising a significant proportion of their own resources.
This clearly involves some kind of property tax. Deputy Michael Noonan in 1988, when he was seeking £660 million in income tax cuts, accepted that some of the money could be found through an extension of the tax base, through a property tax or by way of further cuts in expenditure. It is my firm belief that Fine Gael share the agenda of these other Opposition parties and want a property tax introduced.
This is the political background against which the debate on service charges should be seen. If the Opposition want a property tax, they should put that proposal now to the people.
Fianna Fáil's policy has been to reduce the burden of taxation, whether on individuals or ratepayers, to create a cost effective system of local government, and to pay for improved social services by stimulating economic growth.
There are 250,000 people unemployed.
The reference in the motion to a general deterioration in the environment shows how far removed from reality and how unconcerned for the facts are the proposers of the motion. Never in the history of the State has a Minister for the Environment done more to improve the environment and to increase public awareness of it than has been done in the past four years. This is clear from a few examples of the action taken: the Government's environmental action programme, published last year, committed one billion pounds over the decade towards solving many of the country's worst environmental problems; recent improvements in air and water pollution legislation have strengthened considerably the regulatory controls of local authorities; serious pollution of river channels has fallen from 7 per cent to 2 per cent and over 74 per cent are pollution free; and the smokey coal ban in Dublin has ensured that the perennial winter smog in the city has been brought to an end.
There are further examples: a licensing system for industrial plant has been brought into operation, ensuring effective controls on air emissions; unleaded petrol has been introduced, actively promoted, and encouraged by tax reductions, so that it is now available at 53 per cent of outlets and accounts for 23 per cent of sales; greater enforcement of water pollution control legislation by local authorities, combined with surveys of farms, environmental awareness campaigns and generous State grants for pollution prevention measures, have reduced the number of fish kills caused by farming from over 90 in 1987 to 23 in 1990.
Because there was a change in the weather.
The quality of our bathing areas is reflected in the awarding of 66 blue flags this year, which is our highest number to date and compares more than favourably with other EC countries.
A grants scheme to encourage new waste recycling projects has been operated since 1989. Glass recycling has increased from 8 per cent to 17 per cent since 1986, and can recycling has risen to 10 per cent in the same period, from a position of virtually zero in 1986. The Government's commitment to combating the problem of litter is shown by a variety of policies ranging from the annual tidy towns and tidy districts competitions to grant assistance for environmental awareness schemes, local authority clean-up campaigns and environmental improvement works. The proposed environment protection agency will allow environmental protection measures to be enforced in a consistent and cohesive way.
The quality of our environment is generally very high and there is no basis for the allegation in the motion that there is a general deterioration. The last four years have been marked by an unprecedented level of attention by the Government to environmental issues, at national level and internationally. This is widely recognised and understood. Our Presidency of the EC was a major success on the environment issue and action at national level has been stepped up quite dramatically. The Workers' Party are out of step if they fail to recognise this. They should ask some of their so-called erstwhile friends in Europe for a steer on environmental progress in this country.
Turning now to roads matters, I want to reiterate the Government's determination that Ireland should have a top class road network appropriate to the needs of a modern economy, and I can assure the House that we intend to deliver on this commitment. Since 1987 £970 million has been provided in State road grants.
The Minister is the only person who can be seen above the potholes.
The House will appreciate that these corncrake-like interruptions are not welcome and are not permissible. Could we give the Minister the same audience that he gave to other speakers?
They cannot do that because they know I am demolishing their argument. This is their usual tactic when the Minister has the high ground and is showing them up, but I will not be deflected from making my point.
The Minister is flying upside down.
Since 1987 £970 million has been provided in State road grants, £300 million more than the amount provided in the five years before 1987.
Thank God for the German taxpayer.
Within this total, discretionary grants for county and regional roads have been increased from £23 million in 1986 to £68 million in 1991, almost a threefold increase. Having regard to the enormous financial problems left by the 1983 to 1987 Government, this increased spending by the Government on roads represents a considerable achievement.
Last December, I launched the operational programme on peripherality, the most important transport investment programme in the history of the State. Road investment under the programme will amount to £615 million, of which £416 million will be recouped from the EC. Twenty nine major improvement projects are scheduled for completion and 28 for commencement during the period of the programme.
Including the Eastern by-pass.
We are now engaged in building some of the finest stretches of road ever built here. The evidence of this is there to see on any of the major national routes. By the end of this year, several other major schemes and bypasses will be in service, with more to follow on a planned basis in the next few years. We have introduced a Bill to set up a statutory National Roads Authority to ensure that progress is maintained and accelerated, where possible.
And to levy tolls.
Primary responsibility for funding works on non-national roads has always rested with the individual local authorities. However, arising from concern about the deterioration of the network of county roads, the Government, at my initiative, provided significantly enhanced levels of road grants in the last few years to supplement local authority expenditure.
In 1989, the Government made a commitment that £150 million would be provided over three years in discretionary grants to county councils for these roads. This has been more than fulfilled, in fact total grants over the three years will amount to £182.4 million. The conditions governing expenditure of the grants were also changed at my direction in 1989 to give more discretion to county councils and to allow more funds to be spent on surface restoration. This is a clear indication of the ability of the Government to focus on particular problems and to take concrete action quickly. There is more to be done. A new three year follow-up programme for the further improvement and maintenance of county and regional roads will therefore run from 1992 to 1994, with a continuing high level of State support.
In regard to housing which was mentioned this evening, the motion refers to a deterioration of the existing housing stock. Let me say quite clearly, there is no such deterioration.
The Minister should come to my constituency.
In fact the opposite is the case. The preliminary results of the 1990 survey of the housing stock indicate a very significant improvement over the past ten years. Deputies will be aware of the expansion of the remedial works scheme for improvements to substandard local authority dwellings, which I have extended considerably in my time in office. In 1986, less than £1.6 million was spent on remedial works. This year I allocated £16 million and work is in progress on 75 estates throughout the country. An additional £2 million has been set aside for the new subprogramme to provide bathrooms in local authority dwellings still lacking these facilities. This is real progress and I am at a loss to understand on what basis The Workers' Party informed themselves on the so-called deterioration in the housing stock.
On taking office in 1987, the Government consciously set out to reverse a continuous eight year decline in annual housing output and succeeded in doing so.
That is rubbish.
Where did the Deputy come from at this late stage?
The Minister cannot count.
Annual housing output fell from 28,917 new houses in 1981 to 15,654 in 1988 and then increased to 18,068 in 1989 and to 19,539 in 1990.
It is lower now than it has been since the war.
The statistics are there, printed and published.
The Minister is misleading the public and the House.
The plan for social housing will create additional demand for private housing through the shared ownership and mortgage allowance schemes. There will be significant increases in voluntary housing output both under the existing voluntary housing scheme and the new rental subsidy scheme. The plan envisages some 750 houses in progress at the end of this year under the new measures.
The reduction in the number of local authority houses built in the mid to late eighties reflected the falling numbers on the waiting list. In September 1989, local authorities carried out the first comprehensive assessment of local authority housing needs under section 9 of the Housing Act, 1988, a measure which I introduced as Minister for the Environment. This assessment, which for the first time in many areas included homeless persons and single individuals who were not elderly, showed an increase in the numbers on local authority waiting lists but with the overall levels still well below the figures of the early eighties. Following this increase, the Government increased the capital allocation for the provision of local authority housing by 52 per cent in 1990 and by a further 35 per cent in 1991. Last year, there was just over 1,000 additional new local authority dwellings provided, this year, there will be 1,300 provided and a further 1,500 commenced. Total lettings in the last two years were 10,800.
Deputies will be aware that I directed local authorities to make a further assessment of needs as at 31 March last with a view to providing an up-to-date basis for planning the housing programme for the future. The returns from all of the 87 local authorities involved have not yet been received in my Department, despite continuous reminders. However, this has not prevented Deputy Spring, in the last ten days, from putting out mischievous statements suggesting that the returns from local authorities add up to a total need of 30,000. It now seems that this figure was trumped up by the Labour Party's kitchen cabinet. Deputy Spring is doing nobody any service by putting about "guesstimates" like this.
What really concerns me, however, is Deputy Spring's allegation that a completed report on the assessments is sitting on my desk and is being withheld from publication until after the local elections. That is totally without foundation. The fact is that my Department are still awaiting the returns from a significant number of local authorities and are in no position to complete an overall assessment at this stage. That is the simple truth of the matter.
In February of this year I introduced the Plan for Social Housing, under which a wide range of new housing options have been put in place for low income households. The plan represents an integrated approach catering for the full range of housing needs — from those on lowest incomes, who can avail of rental subsidy, to those on the margins of ownership, who can avail of shared ownership. The plan contains many new ideas and represents progressive thinking in the social housing area. When fully operational it will result in the provision of accommodation for some 5,000 households each year. When added to existing programmes this means that we will be catering for the needs of over 10,000 households a year. That contrasts sharply with the absence of any positive proposals from The Workers Party, from whom we hear only time-worn cliches.
Cliches are true.
In conclusion, I would have to say that, far from creating an opportunity, The Workers' Party have shot themselves in the foot by putting forward this motion. The facts of the situation over the past four years, as I have indicated, do no bear out their arguments. As a result of sound Government policies since 1987, local authorities are now well placed to adapt to the needs and demands of the future.
I therefore ask the House to approve the amendment to the motion which I have moved.
With your permission and the permission of the House, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I should like to share my time with my colleague, Deputy Bill Cotter.
The Deputy is seeking the permission of the House. Is that proposal agreed to? It is agreed.
Deputies have just heard a tirade from the Minister for the Environment of the past four years. Local government has experienced its worst four years since the Second World War, no matter how one considers the record of the present Minister for the Environment and the present Government — whether one considers housing output, the state of the roads, sporting and recreational facilities, or discretion in local government.
I wish to refer to the figures trotted out by the Minister in his speech just a few minutes ago. I cannot say that the Minister deliberately misled the House, but the fact is that he in reply to my Parliamentary questions in the House, only ten day ago he admitted that in each of the past three years the lowest number of local authority houses was built since those of the three years immediately following the Second World War, and they were the worst years since 1932.
I notice that in today's Irish Times, according to a report by Joe Carroll, the Minister claimed that although the local authority housing effort was down — it is down dramatically to one sixth of what it was under the Fine Gael-Labour Government: 1,000 per year compared to 6,000 per year — private housing completions were up. Of course, that statement is manifestly untrue. Housing completions in the past four years are down compared to those of the preceding four years. The Minister told me in the House that there were 65,000 completions in the four years just ended and 73,000 private housing completions in the preceding four years. Whether one takes account of private sector housing or local authority housing, the output in each of the past four years is down, and employment is down with it. In the past three months Ireland has had record unemployment. The Taoiseach acknowledged in his reply to me today that there was all-time record unemployment. May 1991 was the worst May in our history and April 1991 saw the worst unemployment figures ever for any month of any year. One of the best employers is the construction industry. It is also the industry that uses the most home-produced raw material, whether for building houses or building and repairing roads. However, the Government have run down the house building programme in both the public and the private sectors. This is not good enough. It is below the standards that the House should expect for a Minister to give the opposite impression from what is the truth.
Ireland has record unemployment because the Government have no strategy to beat unemployment. Hundreds of millions of pounds is being spent on actually causing unemployment, and that is because of Government policy. Every successive budget in the past four years has worsened the poverty trap and has made it less and less possible for people already badly off in receipt of social welfare to take up employment because by doing so they would be even worse off unless they managed to earn considerably more than the average industrial wage. That is why the record of the Government and the Minister in the Department of the Environment is rightly described by objective assessors as being the worst four years in the history of local Government.
On the one hand the Government argues that the growth in unemployment has occurred because emigration has stopped; in other words, the population is increasing and the workforce is increasing. The workforce happens to coincide with the kind of people who are looking for housing, yet provision for housing is down dramatically. The Minister then argues that there is no real increase in housing waiting lists. That is playing with mirrors. The Minister expects the public to believe that in the same way that he expects the public to believe the promise made in 1985 by the Fianna Fáil director of elections — now the Minister, Deputy Bobby Molloy of the Progressive Democrats — that local charges would be abolished. The same litmus test to the veracity of that promise can be applied to the veracity of the claims about housing output made by the Minister this evening. The Minister ought to be ashamed of himself.
The Minister is. He is beginning to cry.
In housing the Minister's record is the worst since Mr. de Valera ran down house building in the immediate aftermath of the war. Of course, there was scarcity after the war, which can excuse those three years. I have the housing statistics bulletins from the Department itself, and the record is there for all to see. The records show the output of each year going back to 1921 when the first Government made housing a key part of its programme to develop this fledgling State. Since 1921 most Governments of all persuasions have looked after housing very well, and I think it can be rightly claimed, although it is not widely acknowledged, that Ireland as a nation probably has the best housing in the world. That is not an overclaim or an exaggeration but one of the great social stabilisers that helps us as a society to survive without revolution during a period of and at a time of record unemployment when emigration has doubled — as it has in the past four years compared to the preceding four years. The vast majority of our people live in good housing conditions, yet the Government have neglected housing as did no other Government before it.
Two weeks ago at Question Time I asked the Minister how many dwellings within a half mile of his office in the Custom House were without bathrooms. He did not know — he did not care. The Minister and the Government have managed to spend millions of pounds in renovating the Custom House. That may well be justified expenditure but, by God, in ordering priorities it is just not good enough in the last decade of the 20th century, as we come into the 21st century, to know that 21,000 homes in this country are without bathrooms and that most of them do not have an indoor toilet either. The Minister's priority was to do up his own little place in the Custom House, in much the same way as the Taoiseach spent £17 million on his palace here in Merrion Street. That shows some sense of priority. That £17 million added to the bathroom building programme would have made a very big dent in the backlog of applications by people awaiting the provision of bathrooms. Fine Gael want that backlog brought to a quick end. We want to ensure that no family remains without a bathroom at the end of this century. We want everyone to have a bathroom within the next five years and we want the Minister to agree that any dwelling without a bathroom after five years will be declared unfit for human habitation and that a policy will be implemented to ensure that none of the 6,000 local authority homes, and none of the 50,000 private homes, without bathrooms are still without them by the time the council about to be elected have completed their term of office. However, under the Minister's programme, there will still be homes without bathrooms in 20 years time.
The Minister has a programme. The Deputy's Government had none.
I have also referred to potholes. What sense is there in having so many roads that are almost impassable because of potholes when the raw materials to fix those potholes are all home produced and when record numbers of those people who could fix those potholes are on the dole? Why can we not put some people to work using home produced raw materials to fix those roads?
The Minister says we cannot afford it, that it will cost too much. I say it would save money if we fixed the roads. The damage to the roads is costing this economy hundreds of millions of pounds in damage to cars and in higher insurance costs because of higher insurance claims and, unlike the roads where all the materials are home produced, virtually every part of every car is imported. The damage to cars as a result of those potholes is immense and it is costing the economy millions of pounds. Not fixing the roads is false economy.
The Minister has presided over the worst roads programme in living memory as well as the worst housebuilding programme. This is the Government who solemnly promised in 1985, and again in 1987 going into a general election, that they would abolish local charges. Who could believe even the Lord's Prayer out of the mouth of the Minister or any of his colleagues? This is not the only promise the Minister has not kept.
I want to turn to the motion put down by The Workers' Party. It is far too simplistic.
Has the Deputy read it?
The Workers' Party are a protest party who can always criticise everything without ever being expected to proudce answers themselves.
The Deputy was not here to hear them.
Deputy Gilmore learned a lot from Fianna Fáil.
We know that The Workers' Party do not like to be called a Marxist party, but they are.
We never said we were a Marxist party.
They are a Marxist party whose policies were implemented on a grand scale in eastern Europe for the past 70 years. We have seen the result of that — controls, rigidity, queues, orphanages.
The Deputy is wasting his time. That gets us no place. Reds under the beds is dead.
Those are the sort of policies which The Workers' Party are trying to hide from the public.
The "Reds under the beds" scare is dead.
Deputy Mitchell must be allowed to make his own contribution.
The motion before us is presented in that simplistic mode. When it was suggested that there should be an all-party committee on local reform, Fine Gael proposed that the terms of reference should include a review of local government funding. We got no support from The Workers' Party or the Labour Party. We saw that local authority funding was one area that needed to be teased out on an all-party basis. The Workers' Party did not touch that, and so they produced a simplistic motion.
The Labour Party, whose Minister and leader introduced the legislation, are now, for electoral purposes, campaigning to abolish it. Those policies are in the same league as Fianna Fáil's promise six years ago to abolish it. That is the sort of politics that is bringing politicians in general into disrepute.
Do not put us in the same boat as them.
This sort of dishonesty, saying one thing one year and another thing another year, is nothing but hypocrisy.
Where does the Deputy stand?
That is ridiculous.
We made our position clear. Fine Gael wanted an all-party committee to review local government funding. We are not prepared to support motions even in the week before local government elections which could have the effect of creating even more redundancies. I see no reference in The Workers' Party motion to the impact of unemployment.
That is because the Deputy has not read it. Read the last paragraph.
How many more people will be put out of work by The Workers' Party motion? There is not the slightest consideration of employment. They did not even mention employment in this House until it was raised by this party. They did not even notice that the unemployment figures has reached an all time record until we drew it to the attention of the House.
It happened mostly when you were in Government.
We say this is a completely cynical exercise in the week before local elections. It is the sort of politics that has brought us into the gutter.
I am glad this motion was put before us tonight. It brings back some pretty bad memories because it was at this time in 1985 that I, as a new candidate for the local authority elections, had to bear the brunt of the Fianna Fáil hypocrisy that was in vogue at that time where they campaigned on a particular platform, part of which was that they would abolish the local charges and when they got in to power, they would change the whole system. What did they do when they got back to power? They did a wonderful stylish U-turn. I do not know whether it was the first U-turn or the 69th U-turn, but it was the kind of U-turn that the present Minister is able to do with a flourish, and he is quite used to it at this stage. He should not attack The Workers' Party for their irresponsible attitude in Opposition because I have a funny feeling that The Workers' Party learned a lot of the tricks of the trade from the Minister and the members of his party.
In truth the Fianna Fáil of 1985 who went around telling the people they would abolish the water charges were a most irresponsible bunch of politicians. They are the people who filled the Irish electorate with a wonderful cynicism, that is what I find when I am canvassing these days. They remember the mid-seventies when Fianna Fáil in Opposition went around the place rabble rousing. When the country needed stability Fianna Fáil were not there to offer it. They urged every pressure group they could to create as much hassle as possible for the Government of the day. This is in stark contrast with the position adopted by the Fine Gael Party of 1987 who could have brought Fianna Fáil to their knees any time they wanted between 1987 and 1989, but they decided to put the nation before party interests. It cost us, and it is still costing us to some degree, but we are gradually pulling our way out of it again. It cost us, because it seems that sometimes honesty does not pay. It certainly does not pay for a while. One is better in the short term to use sleight-of-hand and shady tactics. It is probably a bit more exciting, it probably grabs more attention. In the short term it probably pays, but it did not really pay for the Fianna Fáil Party of the mid-eighties, because twice they failed.