Bhí mé ag caint ar an gcáin-fhaisnéis an lá deirneach agus is mian liom inniu tagairt a dhéanamh do roinnt ghnéithe nach raibh sa cháin-fhaisnéis chomh maith le rudaí a bhí ann.
I express, on behalf of the Green Party, my support for the motions which have just been debated. Would that I had more time and resources as a single Deputy because, if I were in a party, I would be able to more fully express that support. I ask the Minister of State's indulgence in taking what I say now as an indication of that support. In relation to the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, I ask him to take on board the announcement in regard to Luggala and to consider whether it might be time to return the Mullaghmore site to its natural state. No other solution will be acceptable from a heritage point of view, but that is an argument I would like to make more fully at a more appropriate time.
The motion on nuclear test bans relates to the budget although it might not initially be apparent. I support the Government's efforts in this regard and in regard to landmines. I add my concern to that of Deputy O'Malley's in relation to the stockpiling of landmines. That matter must be addressed but this has not happened if the manufacture of landmines is anything to go by.
Ireland has a number of economic choices internationally and there are also the wider issues of human rights and development. They go beyond the issue of condemnation, which appears to be the most comfortable position adopted by Government spokespersons with regard to the nuclear industry and landmines, if one is to judge by the two who spoke this morning. Obviously condemnation counts for something, but it should generate further thought about this country's economic system and how we spend moneys raised in taxes.
Take, for example, the funding paid by this country to EURATOM. EURATOM is a European Union institution and one of its objectives is to promote the nuclear industry. The Irish taxpayer, whether he or she is aware of it, supports that institution by virtue of this country's membership of the EU. That is a choice made by the Government; it is not a matter of saying we have no choice. The people who produce landmines, who were involved in nuclear testing and who still produce arms and who indirectly but by their own choice, cause much destruction and misery throughout the world, also claim they have no choice. They claim it is an employment issue and is part of their economic system so they are stuck with it. There is an obvious comparison in this regard which requires further examination. It puts demands on us and, unfortunately, gives rise to difficult decisions, which must be contemplated in the context of our funding of EURATOM, if we are to be consistent and not hypocritical.
Ireland contributes a portion of its taxes to EURATOM. How much do we contribute? What percentage of our contribution to the EU does it account for? Are we prepared to put our money where our mouths are, in effect, and stop funding the nuclear industry? There is a deafening silence on that issue, a silence that must be broken.
The economics of the nuclear industry are, in many ways, similar to the economics of the drug trafficker or the landmine manufacturer. Its success or otherwise is measured by profit margin criteria. It does not measure quality of life or general well-being and future prospects. It concerns itself with end of year profits. This country's Government operates under a similar set of criteria — the end of year profit margin and GNP and GDP figures.
On behalf of the Green Party, I wish to start an alternative economic debate. The real issue is to look at alternatives to GNP based growth economics, or the type of economics whose priority is a sustainable future, quality of life and equitable social justice. Those factors are not measured in the GNP/GDP figures which were discussed yesterday at Question Time. In calling for this debate I am in a minority of one and I would prefer if that were not the case. All debates on economics, in the context of the budget and on other occasions, discuss how effectively GNP/GDP growth economics can be organised and not whether they are good in themselves, if there are alternatives, how damaging they are or where the benefits lie. The debate is simply about how to do something in a different way or more efficiently and that, unfortunately, does not get to the root of the problem.
Yesterday, Deputy Bertie Ahern asked the Taoiseach if GNP figures could be released more frequently by the Central Statistics Office. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Higgins, replied. I asked a supplementary question about indicators other than GNP and GDP, but the Minister of State's answer praised GNP and GDP and did not refer to any alternative indicators. I have put down a question to the Taoiseach on foot of that reply because a more extensive reply is warranted and I did not receive it.
If the answer to my parliamentary question has not been drafted, I might be able to help by providing some of it in this debate. The "New Scientist" magazine discussed in detail the deficiencies of GDP and GNP figures as indicators for measuring progress. Its editorial stated:
A rapid increase in GDP is a sign of a healthy, booming economy, a source of national price and envy by others. Right? After all, graphs showing GDP always decorate reports from government and big international agencies where they paint a vivid picture of economies on the slippery slope or heading exuberantly upwards. And there is nothing like some good GDP figures to send the financial markets into a frenzy.
But a simple faith in the joys of growing GDP is to be avoided. For the man or woman on the street, the effects of economic growth are a lot more complicated.
There are lots of bizarre ways of boosting GDP. A really good crime wave can help by creating a massive new security industry, supplying everything from private guards to bolts and locks. And a bit of inconvenience does wonders, too. If your giant new supermarket or hospital is sited well out of town, you'll have to drive and pay for the fuel to get you there.
Or what about a nice environmental disaster? The Exxon Valdez oil spill scored a magnificent double-whammy for GDP. All the oil that was spilt had to be replaced at extra cost. And then there were those extra billions that had to be spent on the cleanup.
GDP is, after all, merely a measure of total national expenditure (or income). It doesn't discriminate between expenditure you might enjoy (eating better) and that which you'd prefer to avoid (having to buy big new padlocks).
That sets the theme for the debate which ought to be happening in this House, a debate on whether we are following a false set of indicators to the exclusion of all others. I have many questions about other indicators and I hope the Government will come forward with answers and outline what other indicators it looks at when measuring social progress and economic welfare.
Last year in Britain the office of national statistics established another indicator aside from GNP and GDP. It set out an accounts system to set environmental costs of different sectors against their contribution to GDP. This is a step on the road towards recognising that there are alternative ways of measuring progress. Three years ago the Department of Commerce in the United States set out an indicator called the "economic environmental accounting framework". This recognised the limitations of the economic system under which the USA had worked and under which we still work. Both indicators, while they recognise a need for change, are far too broad to point out the specific policies which would be required to complement any changes which ought to be undertaken. It is not enough, for example, to know the damage being done by one's economic policies. It is vital that there be pointers towards the changes that need to be made. It is not enough simply to consider the environmental effects of an economic system. There is a whole range of elements which are not environmental such as unpaid work, parenting, general work in the home, youth clubs, in which the Minister will be particularly interested, and growing food. They are vital to society but are negative in terms of GDP and GNP in that they cannot be measured in the economics practiced at present.
To set parameters of new indicators would be a step in the direction towards green economics, which is the only real alternative to the proposals put forward by other parties. The best known indicator internationally is the GPI, the genuine progress indicator, which covers work done in the home, voluntary work such as neighbours looking after each other's children, the effects of crime and what is known as defensive expenditure, that is expenditure incurred as a result of unfortunate incidents such as car accidents. It also covers destruction of the environment, loss of resources, the unequal distribution of income, the amount of time off from work and so on.
The new indices are far from perfect, but Governments, including the present Government, ignore them at their peril. The GPI gives a close assessment of the economic health of a nation. It is only one of many indicators internationally — others can be seen in Sweden and other Nordic countries. I hope the Taoiseach will provide information on the indicators the Government is considering to measure economic progress.
A second step towards green economics relates to taxation. We must remove our dependence on labour for income tax from the nineteenth century model when human labour was scarce and it was difficult to get a job in a factory. That is no longer the case. Now labour is plentiful and there is a scarcity in the area of energy, where the taxation burden ought to be heaviest. That is not simply Green Party policy, it is supported by the ESRI, the European Commission and many independent commentators in the area of tax reform. Those commentators do not simply say, as the Government does, that we must wait until every other country moves in that direction. The ESRI, in its report, found that tax reform of the type to which I referred would be consistent with a unilateral move on Ireland's part. It would be consistent with maintaining competitiveness on the international stage, with an employment driven economy, an economy which encourages job creation and would result in the well-being in which the Government claims to be interested but is not prepared to take the decisions to bring about. I urge the Government to take that on board.
The car scrappage scheme and dependence by local government on car tax flies in the face of that shift in policy. It is contrary to the policy of encouraging more people to use public transport and provide a comprehensive system of cycle ways. The Government is penalising itself in that regard.
Step three along the road towards more sustainable economics relates to work sharing. Some work has been done in this regard, but it is largely voluntarily undertaken by companies who believe it is worth taking on board. The Government has a greater role to play in encouraging job-sharing. Step four relates to merging the tax free allowance system with the dole payment system to bring about a social payment called guaranteed basic income which would apply to all citizens. It would encourage work-sharing and greater participation in the workforce and would contribute to better parenting and care facilities in society. It is regrettable those matters were not included in the budget.