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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 13 Feb 1997

Vol. 474 No. 8

Financial Resolutions, 1997. - Financial Resolution No. 5: General (Resumed).

Debate resumed on the following motion:
THAT it is expedient to amend the law relating to customs and inland revenue (including excise) and to make further provisions in connection with finance.
—An Taoiseach).

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.

I am proud the record of this Government in terms of education is an excellent one. We have broadened the horizons of educational opportunity for young people at every level and targeted resources at those in society who, through a variety of circumstances, have been unable to take advantage of those opportunities in the past. The recent publication of the Education Bill demonstrates the Government's commitment to fundamental reform of the education system which will underpin the huge investment being made in our young people. This investment is more than justified given that our young people represent the future of social, political, cultural and economic life. It is all the more important, therefore, that while we strive to enhance the academic development of our young people, we do not lose sight of the need to provide, in parallel, for their personal and social development.

Members of the House will be aware of the social pressures that nowadays confront young people in every strata of society. What community has not felt the consequences of family breakdown, unemployment or the omnipresent scourge of drugs? How do we ensure our young people who are emerging into this vastly changing society have the essential values and competencies to deal with and surmount these challenges? Alongside, and no longer in the shadow of our formal education system, voluntary youth organisations, youth clubs and community youth projects provide valuable opportunities for the social and personal development of young people. Youth work is a non-formal educational process where young people acquire in a practical way the qualities and skills they need to realise their potential as individuals and as active and responsible members of their communities.

As Minister of State with specific responsibility for youth affairs, I have endeavoured to secure resources to enhance and expand youth work provision. Voluntary youth organisations, which provide the bulk of youth work opportunities through their network of clubs and volunteers, continue to receive substantial grant aid for their activities under the youth services grant scheme.

I am particularly conscious of the special developmental needs of those young people who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves on the margins of society. In 1996, I provided significant additional resources for this area, which benefited most of the projects, almost 200 in all, supported under the grant scheme for special projects to assist disadvantaged youth. In addition, I was able to provide for the establishment of seven new special projects, the first ever expansion of this order since the scheme was introduced in 1988.

I also examined the needs of youth information centres which, by providing young people with a wide range of information resources, promote personal autonomy and encourage active participation in society. Two new centres received funding from my Department in 1996 and I provided additional financial support for the introduction of up-to-date computer systems throughout the network. All these areas of youth service provision are in need of constant review and development. In 1997, I intend to consolidate the expansion secured in 1996 and examine the scope for further improvement of the youth work services provided for our young people.

I am strongly of the view, however, that the provision of financial resources is not, in itself, sufficient to sustain the level and quality of youth services necessary to equip young people for the challenges and opportunities that are emerging as we reach the threshold of a new millennium. Since my appointment as Minister of State, the development of policy has been the central item on my youth work agenda. It is vital for Ireland to get its youth work policy right for the simple reason that people under 25 years of age — 43 per cent of the population — represent a higher proportion of the inhabitants of this country than any other member of the EU.

I am convinced that a legislative framework for the provision of these services is essential and am pleased to report to the House that work on a youth work Bill is now nearing completion. I anticipate that the Bill will be published in a matter of weeks. We are, therefore, on the brink of a new era as far as youth work is concerned. The enactment of legislation for the development of youth work has been an aspiration since the early 1980s, and before much longer, this key mission should at last be accomplished. The planned legislation should place our youth work services on a sound statutory footing and ensure the provision of comprehensive, high quality, effective and efficient youth work services.

The importance of consultation has been borne out by the process which my officials and I undertook with youth organisations and other relevant bodies. In addition, the usefulness of research was shown by the worthwhile learning gained from our examination of the legal and administrative framework for youth work in Northern Ireland and England.

The desirability of a proper system of assessment of youth work was also highlighted by our work. The proposed provisions for assessment in the planned legislation should support the development of good youth work practice, confirm that public funds expended on youth work services are spent efficiently and effectively and assist in attracting additional resources for youth work. Our work also identified the need for a mechanism for consultation at national level and we propose to include provision in the legislation for the establishment of a national youth work advisory committee. We intend that the committee should include nominees of the national body recognised as representing the views of the voluntary youth work organisations and nominees of all the relevant Departments. The Bill will include regionalisation of the services in the truest sense.

The service will not develop without safeguarding volunteerism, the bedrock of our youth service which plays such a significant strengthening role in the web of Irish society generally. Our work affirmed our belief in partnership decision making at regional level between the statutory and voluntary sectors and our belief in significant representation in this context for voluntary youth councils of local voluntary youth work organisations. I believe that the legislation will help to demonstrate the value for money of youth work and will permit the provision, within available resources, of an optimum level of youth work services through a real partnership between the voluntary and statutory sectors.

As Minister for Sport, I would now like to address the issues relating to this area of responsibility. Next Tuesday, 18 February, I will be publishing the national strategy for Irish sport. This will be the culmination of over 12 months of the most intensive and extensive work carried out by the sports strategy group, under the chairmanship of John Treacy, and the officials of my Department. During the course of the year there were detailed discussions with the national governing bodies of sport, Departments and agencies, vocational education committees, local authorities and education interests. In addition, public meetings were held where local clubs, volunteers and members of the public contributed to the process. Over 300 written submissions were also received by the group.

The strategy team also consulted the political parties in the preparation of the strategy document. When the strategy is published it will be seen that the views of the sports organisations, the social partners and the general public have been taken into account. This process of consultation in the preparation of policy is totally without precedent in the history of Irish sport. The strategy will map out the road ahead for the coordinated and effective development of sport into the next century. It will help deliver a new deal for sport in Ireland. It will set out new structures and procedures which will help ensure a greater involvement of all the sporting partners in the decision making process and will introduce a greater degree of openness and transparency in the funding of Irish sport.

The extensive consultation which was carried out highlighted the special needs which exist in a number of areas in Irish sport. The strong message which came through loud and clear from the people was that the area of children's sport, physical education and school sport is in need of special attention. The strategy will propose a variety of measures to tackle this sector of Irish sport. It will also outline measures which will enhance and strengthen the key role of the national governing bodies of sport; the early identification and ongoing support and development of our outstanding and elite sports people; the co-ordination, planning and provision of sports facilities; the training, qualifications and development of coaches and volunteers and the effective promotion and expansion of sport for all and recreational sport. The Government has provided £1.6 million in this year's budget to enable work to begin on the implementation of the strategy. This funding will enable me to put in place the structures and systems necessary so that the key elements of the strategy can be put into effect without delay.

The provision of this £1.6 million in addition to the moneys already allocated in the Estimates is a clear and positive indication of the Government's commitment to sport and to all those organisations, clubs and individuals in Irish sport at all levels, who contribute so much to our country and to our social and community development. This is a particularly challenging time for sport. There are many new demands and pressures coming from within and outside sport. After a century of relative stability the old traditions and practices are being challenged and over-turned. It is vital that sport is organised, strengthened and coordinated so it can operate effectively and positively in this new environment.

We must achieve a balance between the essential role of the volunteer and the need for increased professionalism and efficiency in the administration and running of Irish sport. We must fully appreciate and take on board the economic impact of sport and its huge potential in terms of sports tourism and job creation. Sport also has a very important and significant role to play in the health and social well-being of our society. A key element of the Irish Presidency of the EU was the tackling of drug abuse in society. As Minister of State with responsibility for sport, I introduced the role of sport in combating drug abuse, crime and social isolation, particularly among our young people. I put this key role for sport onto the agenda at European Union level and I am determined it will remain at the centre of all future policy development in Europe. Co-operation at community level between sports organisations, schools, youth services as well as other statutory and voluntary services can have a major effect in improving the quality of life, particularly of young people at risk.

The provision of appropriate sports facilities, with funds being directed to special programmes, can result in young people becoming involved in a challenging, interesting way in positive activities to the advantage of the individual and community involved. Sport plays a major part in the interests and activities of Irish people. Our international competitors and teams have performed with honour and distinction throughout the world and have won many accolades on and off the field for their ability and qualities of sportsmanship and fair play.

"Sport for All" remains at the core of our policies and initiatives and we seek constantly to achieve an ever increasing involvement in fun sport and healthy physical recreational activities. The development of the strategy has entailed a radical examination and critical review of every detail of our present system. The work is built on wide consultation and research, including studies on the economic impact of sport in Ireland and the first ever national survey on participation in sport. We have also studied sport systems in Europe and further afield. I am confident that with this new coherent strategy the promotion and development of Irish sport will flourish in the years ahead.

I appreciate the co-operation of my Cork colleague.

As it is some considerable time since the Budget Statement was delivered in the House, it is appropriate to adopt a reflective approach to the question of budgetary procedure. I rarely agree with Mr. Vincent Browne but on this issue I am in total agreement with his assertion that it was a farce. It is time to change the basis on which it develops.

Traditionally, there were reasons for secrecy as in olden days measures announced in the budget could materially affect the Stock Exchange and business decisions but that is no longer the case, the world has changed. There is a need for openness and transparency rather than secrecy. This applies to the budget as to almost every other issue.

Budget secrecy is honoured more in the breach than in the observance. It is no longer a one man operation; many parties and officials contribute to the process. There is a need to radically change the procedures so that a draft budget is produced to be followed by an effective debate on the options available. Any decisions announced in the draft budget would be crystallised on taking into account the views expressed in the debate. This would place an onus on parliamentarians to produce constructive rather than simplistic proposals. In suggesting changes they would specifically have to indicate how they would be financed, possibly by cutbacks in other areas.

We should aim to have income tax rates of 45 per cent and 25 per cent in the next two to three years. I am delighted that some progress was made in this direction in the budget in which the standard rate was reduced. There are other changes I would be prepared to substitute, for example, service charges. On balance I would favour further cuts in income tax but under current procedures that is not possible.

In referring to people who pay income tax rates of 45 per cent and 25 per cent, I am not talking about financial fat-cats but the 500,000 people who pay tax at the top rate. They should have more encouragement. We should aim to have a system under which it would be a case of £1 for Caesar and £1 for the individual. It would be necessary to cut the top rate of tax to achieve that biblical balance.

I will refer to the reaction of the parties to the budget and focus on one specific area which has been given little publicity. The Progressive Democrats, as usual, trotted out the old canards about the need for further cuts in public expenditure and had great ideas about what could be done with the extra money. The phoney nature of their approach is illustrated by the fact that when it comes to focusing on the specific items to be cut they become very reticent.

This can be seen clearly in their approach to the nurses' dispute. On the one hand, there is the McDowell approach, that is, to keep the lid on public expenditure, and, on the other, the caring approach. I am delighted the Government has accepted the decision of the Labour Court which is both fair and reasonable. It appears to be the right formula but it involves an extra £80 million in expenditure. It is, however, justified in this case. In six months time the Progressive Democrats will still talk about the need to cut public expenditure. That is a phoney approach, they cannot have their cake and eat it.

The Progressive Democrats remind me of a famous German Lutheran theologian in the early part of the century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose name became associated with the concept of "cheap grace". This was defined as an attempt to acquire the grace of God without making any effort. The cheap rhetoric of the Progressive Democrats, in the context of their approach to politics and public expenditure, equates with cheap grace. Unless they are prepared to focus on identifying specific items to be cut and take the political fall-out, they should stop trying to cod us. Their cheap rhetoric, like cheap grace, is a debased and devalued commodity. I wish to deal with Fianna Fáil's approach to the budget and to fiscal matters generally. When I was elected to this House in the late 1970s, Martin O'Donoghue was the guru on fiscal matters. We are only now recovering from the ill-effects of the infamous Fianna Fáil manifesto of 1977 which advocated a policy of spend, spend, spend.

We are recovering from the 1984 coalition.

When Fianna Fáil came to office at that time the national debt was £3,600 million. This is more revisionism. In six years it managed to treble the debt figure which then stood at £12,000 million. Further increases were used to pay off the very high interest repayments at rates driven wild by inflation which was out of control. That is the history of it.

I wish to deal with the present situation and the infamous history under Fianna Fáil——

The Government has not addressed that history.

The Deputy will have an opportunity to speak later.

I will deal with Fianna Fáil's attitude to this budget. If it had been fortunate enough to have been involved in the good management of the economy evident during the past few years and to confront the figures which faced this Government in January, the budget it would have introduced would not have been so different from this one. That balanced approach was the way to proceed. The people think this is a great budget. There have been changes with increases in some areas and decreases in others. However, Fianna Fáil would not have been in a position to produce this budget because we would not have had the stability that led to the figures that presented themselves during the past few years.

I want to focus on the inability of Fianna Fáil to provide the stability that this country needs. We have a coalition Government. We have had a number of them and we will have many more of them. It is patently clear that the twice divorced Fianna Fáil Party is an utterly unsuitable partner for any other party and any coalition arrangement it might enter into would be inherently unstable. That was proved in the past. As the saying is, by their fruits ye shall know them. That was the case when it was in partnership with the Progressive Democrats. The comments made at the beef tribunal blew that partnership apart. We all know the intransigent approach that led to the bust up of that partnership. In the years ahead people will be faced with a choice of parties. There is no major difference between the economic or fiscal approaches of any of the parties in this House. All parties are coming towards the centre, they may be centre, centre right or centre left. It is important to be able to provide a stable Government, particularly in an era of coalition Government. Fianna Fáil is inherently incapable of providing that. That is its record on which it will be judged in the forthcoming election.

The old mindset of Fianna Fáil became evident again in the past few weeks when I had a verbal tussle with an old friend, the Fianna Fáil Whip, Deputy Ahern. He talked about the Progressive Democrats and said that, in any arrangement with that party, Fianna Fáil would be in the driving seat and any contribution by the Progressive Democrats would be very insignificant and that it would be an insignificant part of any coalition. It reminded me of the famous Kanturk declaration of the former Fianna Fáil leader, Deputy Reynolds, when he talked about the temporary little arrangement.

What about the arrangement with Democratic Left?

That is the mindset of Fianna Fáil and why it will not be able to provide stable Government. Some people occasionally speak of the remote possibility of Fianna Fáil and Labour cosying up together again, but that was dealt with by the Fianna Fáil Front Bench. A leading member of that Front Bench, the spokesperson on the environment, Deputy Dempsey, recently paid a visit to Cork and was asked about that possibility en route to a function. He was very firm about it. Asked about the Labour Party and its leader, Deputy Spring, he said that they have had a number of deals with him all of which he broke and that he certainly would not trust him in a political context. That is the basis on which Fianna Fáil suggests and will be suggesting it is a suitable partner for a future coalition Government.

The Deputy was not trusted, he was left outside for hours.

God help the country if that should happen. It will not happen.

Apart from the Ministers involved, most Deputies do not take any notice of one aspect of our economy of particular concern to me for historical reasons and because I come from a coastal constituency — the standard of our fishing fleet which is very old. Only 6 per cent of our fishing fleet is under ten years old, 24 per cent of it is more than 30 years old and 11 per cent is more than 40 years old. That applies particularly to our white fishing fleet.

The mackerel fishing fleet off the north west coast has been modernised and is one of the best in Europe but the white fishing fleet which is much larger and more centred off the south and south-west coast is, by European standards, very out of date. That creates problems not only in terms of the fish catch but also from the point of view of safety. The year 1995 was disastrous for our fishing fleet. Many ships were lost and 19 fishermen were lost at sea. This problem cannot be ignored. It is being tackled and the report of the fishing vessel safety review group was submitted. The white fishing fleet must be renewed. It will involve the purchase of new or good second-hand vessels. Finance must be made available to fund the renewal of that fishing fleet. I am not calling for a Government handout. Such renewal could be financed by grants. Three to four months ago I prepared a scheme, presented it to BIM and asked it to consider it from the point of view of establishing a business expansion scheme to fund new vessels which would not impose a major cost on the Exchequer other than foregoing the tax on a BES scheme. Given that there are other such schemes, why can one not be set up to renew our fishing fleet? By providing grants and/or a business expansion scheme we can begin the necessary process of renewing our white fishing fleet.

I got some publicity for that proposal and I was delighted Fianna Fáil put forward a fishing proposal yesterday that incorporated this idea. It can learn. I agree with it on this idea about which I have spoken for months. I will be happy if it is incorporated in its policy paper on this area. The renewal of our white fishing fleet will be an ongoing process and I ask that this area be addressed.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Leonard.

Acting Chairman

That is agreed.

Tugann an cháin-fhaisnéis ócáid dúinn gach bliain le súil a chatheamh siar ar obair an Rialtais sa bhliain roimh ré, agus a bpleananna don bhliain amach romhainn a mheas.

Mar is eol don saol mór is furasta bád a sheoladh nuair atá cabhair mhaith gaoithe léi agus nuair atá farraige chiúin faoithe.

I am sorry Deputy O'Keeffe is leaving as this would interest him.

I will stay and listen.

Ní mór an chreidiúint don mhairnéalach turas tapaidh faoi choinníolacha fabhracha; is mo ar fad an chreidiúint a bheadh ag dul dó as turas slán in am na donana.

Is amhlaidh an scéal maidir le bainistíocht na hEacnamaíochta. Is furasta rudaí a stiúradh nuair atá na coinníolacha fábharach. Agus tá coinníolacha fabharacha don eacnamaíocht i láthair na h-uaire agus tá siad mar sin le blianta beaga anuas. Dá bhrí sin níl moladh nó creidiúint ag dul don Rialtas as an stiúr a choimeád siad le bliain agus níl aitheantas nó creidiúint ag dul dóibh ar a ndearcadh mar a léirítear sa cháin fhaisnéis. Níl ann ach meascán mearraidh de cur's cúiteamh ar éileamh na mion pháirithe atá sa Chomh-Rialtas seo.

Anything I say in relation to Northern Ireland does not detract from my unambiguous and unequivocal condemnation of the murder of a young soldier last night, irrespective of who committed that evil deed.

I am amused at the references Deputy O'Keeffe made on a number of occasions to Fine Gael policy because I intend to deal with them in my speech, if not by direct reference then certainly by inference. I am slightly amused also that his strong views in relation to the fishing industry were not reflected definitively in the budget.

The budget debate provides an annual opportunity to evaluate the performance of Government and to assess its vision — an important word in any country — as reflected in its budget. The performance of the Government is at best unspectacular. Its vision is but a mish-mash of ideas from the minor parties in the coalition. This is not surprising as the Taoiseach's sole priority seems to be self-preservation. He is apparently prepared to sacrifice whatever economic priorities his own party might have for the expedient of personal survival.

Loyalty to a principle is not this Taoiseach's strong suit. In the past he had the reputation of being dull and colourless, but decent. He is indisputably dull and colourless in his role as Taoiseach, but his decency is obviously more a softness to capitulate to the demands of the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring and the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa——

Mr. O'Sullivan

Shame, Deputy.

——than a compelling drive to do the decent thing for the taxpayer, the poor and the unemployed. The Taoiseach, Deputy "Brutal" Bruton, is not a man with whom I am impressed. As he made clear in the Dáil last week, he is not my best friend, and I rejoice in that. He was the avowed best friend of Deputy Lowry until it became expedient to cut him adrift. What kind of vision or performance can be expected from a Government led by this man? Unclear vision and muddled management is what you would expect, and the budget is clear testimony that that is what we are getting from this brutal Government.

Does anyone remember the Culliton report, which was presented to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, in 1992?

I must remind the House that Members are expected to be referred to in accordance with the position they hold, such as Deputy, Minister of State, or Minister.

Mr. O'Sullivan

With due respect to Deputy Fitzgerald, I do not think those are his words. He is having difficulty delivering them. I can well understand that because I do not for one moment believe they reflect the Deputy's own views. Deputy Fitzgerald never took up such a script in his life and he never would.

The Minister, Deputy Quinn, commissioned a report on how it could be implemented and then there was a report setting out the Government's response to the report on the Culliton Report. At the end of the day, we had a report on a report on a report, a classic Labour fudge. It did not like the central theme of the report which was less taxes, less Government and, consequently, less interference in people's lives.

In 1996 this Government was presented with a major strategic report on the economy by Forfás. The report is a credit to the team who prepared it. One of its central themes — again — is less taxes, less Government and, consequently, less interference in people's lives. What has happened to this report? I asked the Taoiseach this morning if there were any legislative or non-legislative proposals in response to this report from the Government, but all I got was fudge.

The Culliton and Forfás reports make the point that servicing our national debt is absorbing too much of our tax revenues. In 1996 over half the income taxes raised were spent in this way. The solution that Culliton and Forfás put forward was to reduce the national debt thereby freeing tax revenues to allow tax rates to be lowered but this Government ignored the advice. We all know that taxes are flowing into the Government's coffers, but it should stop spending it like it is going out of fashion. The Government cannot believe its luck; it has got its hands on the loot and is blowing it like snuff at a wake. Remember, it is not the Government's money, it has been entrusted to it by the people for the specific purpose of forging their destiny, not the Government's. The taxpayers themselves know how best to spend this money. Why not control public spending and really reduce taxes?

This Government cannot resist the temptation to spend. Whenever anyone has the audacity to point this out to the Government, the stock response is "But what would you cut?" This is the response of a Government that is totally out of its depth.

It is not as if we are getting value for money for the billions it is overspending. The Government is like a spending junkie that has deluded itself into believing it can spend its way back into Government. I challenge the Government to study the fact that every major western economy is reducing state interference in people's lives. They are reducing spending and taxes, so why is the Government going in the opposite direction? This patchwork quilt coalition is piggybacking on the sound financial management of previous Fianna Fáil Administrations. Let us face it, the economy did not become successful the day after the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, stabbed Deputy Bertie Ahern and Deputy Albert Reynolds in the back.

Mr. O'Sullivan

That is not true, Deputy.

The Deputy's own party stabbed him in the back.

The truth is hard to take at times. Successive Fianna Fáil Minister for Finance, such as former Deputies Charles J. Haughey and Ray MacSharry and Deputy Bertie Ahern, had the vision to take the necessary, if sometimes most unpopular, action to put the basics in place and permit the economy to realise its potential. The growth we are now experiencing is no accident, nor is it due to the spending excesses of the present Administration. It takes time for the seed to develop and grow.

It is downright insulting to people's intelligence to hear the continual bragging of Government backbenchers and Ministers who claim they are personally responsible — by working their fingers to the bone — for reducing the dole queues and getting our economy to grow. How insulting and naive. The Government seems to be rewriting history and, in the process, ignoring the great vision and strategies of its predecessors.

All economic commentators agree that the economy is experiencing an amazing period of growth. We are going through a golden age; an unusual and unprecedented economic period. It was brought to my attention recently that if the Government had managed to curtail its spending frenzy to 2 per cent above the level of inflation it would now have £1.6 billion to spare. That is a huge amount of money. If any economic commentator or financial guru wants to challenge that, I will take him on. The former Minister for Finance, Ritchie Ryan, would have given his eye teeth back in 1977 to have had such an amount, or even to have had the opportunity of releasing it back into the economy. The Government of which he was a member would probably have been re-elected, irrespective of what Deputy O'Keeffe said.

What concerns me most is the haste with which our economic commentators, financial experts and stockbroker elite rush to the barricades to praise the budget. I am only a humble graduate of the 1970s UCD school of economics, nevertheless I challenge them in that regard. One would have thought it was their professional duty to challenge the reckless and irresponsible overspending of so many Government Departments. We have phenomenal growth, almost zero inflation and money is pouring in from Europe at a rate never before experienced and never likely to be repeated. It is not coming in buckets or in oil tankers, it is coming in shiploads. In this context the Government had a clear duty to take a radical step in the management of our economy.

Mr. O'Sullivan

Where would the Deputy make cuts — in health or in education? The Deputy's views seem to be at variance with those of some of his colleagues.

The professionals, to whom I referred earlier, had an even clearer duty to publicly challenge the Government on its abject failure. Last night, and again this morning, I trawled through the daily papers and the Sunday editions that were published from budget day onwards. Apart from a serious article on tax reform in the Sunday Tribune, an article by Mark O'Connor in the Sunday Business Post in which he said it was hardly a give-away budget and that it failed where it should have succeeded, and Kevin Daly's headline that economists' warnings should be heeded, I have yet to find any serious debate in the print media challenging the folly of this budget.

Having £1.6 billion to spare would have created the long-awaited opportunity to radically reform our tax system. Four out of five of our people could now be paying tax at 25 per cent. The top rate of tax could have been reduced. Incentives could have been given to businesses to expand and create jobs, especially for those who go straight from school into the jobs market and who are neglected and, in some cases, end up turning to drugs. The Government could have dealt with pensioners and carers in a meaningful way. It could have dealt with those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on social welfare. The marginalised, the poor, the socially excluded could have had their quality of life significantly improved if the Government really cared.

The Conference of Religious of Ireland aptly put it in their response that the Government had the resources to impact dramatically on poverty unemployment and exclusion — any financial guru who denies it is telling lies; that in the interests of the common good different choices should and could have been made to reduce social exclusion; that a golden opportunity has been lost and that the divisions in our society will deepen as a result of this budget.

Why did this reasonable policy with 2 per cent growth in expenditure, obviously favoured by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, not materialise? Was it bad policy making, bad management, bad choice of options? I have no doubt the Department of Finance tried its best to dissuade the Ministers from the minority parties from overspending, but what can the public service do at the end of the day with personalities like the Tánaiste, Deputy Dick Spring, the man who thought he could broker peace in Northern Ireland but has floundered without the guidance of Deputy Albert Reynolds, and whose party puts the rights of criminals above those of law abiding citizens; Deputy Pat Rabbitte, the man with the fictitious letter that would rock the foundations of the State; Deputy Nora Owen, the Minister for vanishing portfolios; Deputy Brendan Howlin, the man who was advised to set up a tribunal but who said that he knew better; Deputy Niamh Bhreathnach, the great and formidable rezoner of education and Deputy Proinsias De Rossa, the man who is hiding his excessive spending behind a charade of cracking down on fraud?

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, has a vision. I do not mind admitting it publicly. However, in this budget, his vision has been slaughtered on the altar of election expediency. Can anybody imagine any of these monstrous egos taking advice from public servants on an issue as sensitive as controlling public spending? This Government did not take the advice of Culliton, of Forfás, or of its public servants. As a result, the taxpaying public are paying too much tax.

This Government has failed in its management of the economy. It has also failed in its desperate attempts to cover up its mismanagement. This Government has been driven from the back seat. It is no wonder they trip over each other to praise their Fine Gael colleagues and the wonderful leadership of the Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton. What leadership? Public transport workers are being asked to surrender thousands of pounds from their individual pay packets without knowing the strategy being proposed for their employers and their industry. Nurses almost went on strike for the first time in the history of the State because they were reckoned to be a soft touch. A Minister is forced to resign because of dubious financial arrangements, and the Taoiseach, his forever friend, with the support of certain high profile journalists, is seen to unashamedly defend his actions.

Is this the real cosy cartel? Taxpayers are being ripped off because of excessive Government spending. I firmly believe this budget was drafted not by the Minister, not by the Taoiseach — I have said not by the Tánaiste, although I have a suspicion it was — but by the Tánaiste's spin doctors with an eye to the opinion polls.

It is time to call an end to the photo opportunities for Ministers, to call an end to the mad scramble to give some sort of good news to the press every day. The Government is deluding itself in hoping that the opinion polls will eventually move in its direction. They will not. The voters can see the Government for what it is, a Government of monstrous egos. Everybody in it wants to lead but none of them knows where to go. They should go to the country now and let the people have the final say on their reckless, irresponsible overspending Administration.

I, in common with previous speakers, condemn the atrocity in south Armagh. Coming from a Border area that has harboured the hope of peace in recent years, this is a shattering example of what we face in that region.

A valid criticism that we on this side of the House could make about the budget relates to the Government continuing to increase our national debt, now in excess of £30 billion. With the availability of additional funding, there should have been a commitment not to borrow any further. The time has come for the Government to peg the debt at £30 billion. Until 1973 the books were balanced at budget time. The previous speaker on the Government side spoke about what Fianna Fáil borrowed, but the really heavy borrowing happened between 1982 and 1987 when the debt was increased from £12 billion to £24 billion.

The Deputy should not forget 1977. That was when it all started.

It did not; it started in 1973 with the most disastrous Coalition Government. I was sitting on these benches when it was in office from 1973 to 1977.

The Deputy should study the economic history of Ireland — I graduated in it.

As far as I am concerned the provision of jobs should be the priority of any Government. The Government Ministers, the Taoiseach included, are making great play of job creation, but jobs are not being created in the region I represent. Jobs are being created in a very selective way. During the budget debate the Minister for Finance said that 100,000 jobs had been created and that unemployment had fallen by 31,000. My constituency has a static population. The population of one of the counties increased a little between the last two censuses while that in the other dropped by 100. Despite that static population, between 1 January 1995, nearly in line with the Government coming into power, and 31 December 1996, 402 more people have registered as unemployed in Monaghan and 49 more in Cavan. From the time this Government went into power until December unemployment in County Monaghan increased from 3,073 to 3,475.

Mr. O'Sullivan

How many people have come into the workforce?

Very few. How could people come into the workforce when the population remains static? Over the past two years there has been much talk about reconstruction. There was the famous Washington Conference and partnerships and strategic alliances were set up with North American firms, but unemployment has increased. This region has hosted many meetings, conferences, lunches, photo-calls and interviews in the past two years. Ministers' Mercedes cars were as common as school buses in the Border counties yet Ministers have delivered nothing.

The Border region has good reason to fear a Fine Gael-Labour based coalition Government. In 1983 duty on petrol was increased resulting in the closure of petrol stations and devastating the retail grocery trade in places like Belturbet and Clones, which became ghost towns. There was a similar hike of over 11p on a gallon of petrol in this budget. This region was returning to normality due to action taken by Ray MacSharry and other Fianna Fáil Ministers for Finance after it was returned to power in 1987.

This Government has presided over the demise of the pig slaughtering and processing industry, which provided much employment. There is no pig processing plant in the six Border counties. Hundreds of job have been lost in an area where 0.5 million pigs are produced annually, although they have been created in Newry and Belfast. The Government and State agencies have done nothing to rectify the situation.

Between 1994 and June 1996 the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Michael Higgins, provided £9 million to County Galway for cultural development initiatives and schemes. He has not given one penny to Cavan-Monaghan for projects put forward. The recent announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Deputy Howlin, about group water schemes was unwise and ill-advised. The £5 million plus the £10 million block grant he proposes to allocate for the takeover of group water schemes would be sufficient for only half a dozen counties. Half that figure could be used in Cavan-Monaghan alone.

Group water schemes were set up voluntarily and have ensured that most rural households have an adequate supply of running water. With higher quality standards, many schemes needed to have treatment plants installed. Water has been provided at a reasonable cost and the management of group water schemes are loath to hand them over to local authorities in the knowledge that prices will increase substantially. I formed a small group water scheme, read meters and paid the county council. All manual and clerical work was done free of charge. It was a great community effort, the decision of the Minister for the Environment is wrong and he should reconsider it. The response to a parliamentary question I tabled indicated that the Minister had no contact with local authorities or group water schemes in advance of making this decision.

Despite Ministers and State agencies trying to put a brave face on the economy of the Border counties, the figures speak for themselves. IDA-supported companies claim to have created 13,179 jobs in 1996, 100 of which were in three counties in the north east — Cavan, Monaghan and Louth. While there was a 16.4 per cent increase in the east, there was an 11.4 per cent reduction in the north east. Only one other region, north west Donegal, showed a slight reduction. If funding is available, why is it not being used to better advantage by the State agencies involved to prevent an increase in unemployment and a reduction in our workforce? The IDA announced a total of 17,725 new jobs in 1996. Connacht-Ulster, which receives so much lip-service from the Government, commanded only 152 jobs, less than a 0.85 per cent increase.

The Taoiseach appointed a Minister of State to prepare a report on funding arrangements in the Border region which was published in July 1996. I welcomed that report because I pressed the Taoiseach to carry out such a study. Now that he has the figures, he should act on them. The report states that the operational programme, 1994-9, and INTERREG, 1994-9, provided £9 million for the six Border counties for major investment planned projects, none of which was in County Monaghan. Some £924,000 was allocated to Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal and Louth for cross-Border business and cultural links under the Peace and Reconciliation Fund. From that allocation, the four counties with the worst performance in terms of job creation, Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo and Leitrim, received less than 5 per cent.

A company in County Monaghan applied for a grant to generate electricity from waste, which was expected to be successful. Fianna Fáil introduced a scheme but with the change of Government, this area was neglected. The idea is to generate electricity from farm waste. Some 30 megawatts have been set aside for a competition in which there are a number of applicants. We understood we would be heavily involved in this but others had taken the lead. I appeal to TDs and Senators in the constituency who have been vocal in other areas to make their voices heard and ensure counties Monaghan and Cavan are successful in this regard.

I wish to share my time with Deputy McGahon.

I am sure that is satisfactory.

I condemn the atrocity last night in the Bessbrook area. It does no good for anybody and was not in the name of anybody on this island. We should move as quickly as possible towards getting the peace process back on the rails.

Deputy Leonard referred to the national debt. The rot started in 1977 with the promises made by Fianna Fáil in Government — Mr. Martin O'Donoghue gave a commitment to eliminate unemployment and Mr. Jack Lynch promised that if it went above 100,000 it was a resigning matter. Jack Lynch did not resign, he was pushed out. Perhaps Deputy Fitzgerald who made an extremely wild bombastic speech, full of waffle, which signified little and who was involved in a later push against Mr. Charles Haughey will give us some information on what was happening behind the scenes in Fianna Fáil at the time. Certainly it was not of any benefit to the economy and nothing was done to reduce the national debt or unemployment, both of which increased enormously.

This is a good Government and it has tackled unemployment. Some 100,000 jobs were created in the past two years. That is a sign of prudent management of the economy. The wild statements by Deputy Fitzgerald conceal the lack of ideas and vision of his party on the economy and on unemployment. They conceal the pain that Fianna Fáil does not have its hands on the levers of power when the economy is doing so well, so that it could dole out the taxpayers' money to its cronies in various sectors of the construction industry and elsewhere.

We have had prudent management of the economy, which is now probably the strongest economy in the European Union and one of the strongest in the world, an economy which fulfils all of the Maastricht criteria of low inflation, high growth, high productivity, increased exports and a strong currency in the international arena. We are known as the Celtic tiger on the world map and our debt ratio, this year alone, is reducing at a rate of 8 per cent in the GDP debt ratio. We are now close to the 60 per cent rate which is the requirement at the end of the century for the first tier of European countries in terms of the Maastricht criteria and bonding Europe together in the economic market.

All of this has been done while we have maintained spending in all the critical areas such as education, health and in respect of the homeless, the old, the disabled and the unemployed. What would happen if the Progressive Democrats — the new partner for Fianna Fáil — was in power? It has only one objective, to cut the tax rate from 48 per cent to 40 per cent in one fell swoop for the better off who do not have to think about job losses, endemic unemployment and the cost of education, health and so on, and to reduce the standard rate to 20 per cent. It is the wolf at the door and let us keep it away as long as possible.

Some £12 million has been allocated to services for the mentally handicapped and the disabled, this includes increases which had been unheard of in previous Administrations. Under the back to work allowance scheme 100 jobs have been specifically earmarked for the disabled and there is a commitment to have 3 per cent in employment in all public services by the end of the year. More money than ever before has been provided to reduce hospital waiting lists.

In education, the number of changes in recent years has been phenomenal. The early start scheme for pre-school children, operated on a pilot basis, has proved successful. Under the breaking the cycle scheme there has been a focused targeting on areas of disadvantage and where the pupil teacher ratio has been reduced from 50:1 to 25 or 26:1 in blackspot areas it is proving a phenomenal success. It has been done on the advice of the Combat Poverty Agency and we hope it can be extended as more funds become available.

Free fees have been introduced at third level and this has opened up education at all levels. There have been many innovations in curriculum development. New leaving certificate courses have been put in place and the transition year, which is a unique innovation in the education world, has been introduced across the board. Other countries in the international arena are looking to this as a model for their education systems and at how our education system compares and is reflected in the jobs market in the multinational companies who locate here largely because of the perception that we have an attractive, well educated, intelligent, young workforce. This results in no small measure from the prudent funding of the various sectors of education in the past two years.

Social Welfare benefits have been increased by 4 per cent, more than twice the rate of inflation. The family income supplement has been extended considerably, based on net rather than gross income. The rate for child benefit which has doubled in the past two years has been maintained. Those who find it difficult to manage their lives are receiving substantial supports.

In terms of the environment — Deputy Leonard referred to the potholes in Cavan and Monaghan — the Minister for the Environment has provided £750 million over a five year period for non-national roads. Deputy Leonard did not refer to this funding which will solve the pothole problem in County Cavan.

The Government has eliminated service charges which had to be introduced as a result of the recklessness of Fianna Fáil in 1977. It took much courage and vision to deal with this issue.

What about group water schemes?

The Government has also done away with residential property tax. However, the Deputies on the benches opposite have not given the Government any plaudits for doing so.

What about group water schemes?

I am sure I will hear all about them when the Deputy makes his contribution. He should not worry as the Government will also deal with this issue.

Deputy McGahon will deal with it.

Deputy Costello without interruption, please.

Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for protecting me from the Deputies opposite. This is an eminently capable Government and it will deal with all issues in time. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this positive and prudent budget which will ensure that the economy continues to progress.

The Minister for Finance has made the biggest ever investment in the economy. This has been achieved within the context of a planned budget surplus, which is expected to continue in 1998 and 1999. Critics, some of whom are on the benches opposite, said this could not be achieved but the Government has proven them wrong. Since 1994 more than 100,000 new jobs have been created, while an unprecedented 25,000 people have been taken off the live register during the past six months. It is important to acknowledge that there are now more people at work than at any time in the past.

The Minister has increased child benefit by 50 per cent over the past three years. While the budget will stimulate growth in the economy I am concerned that it will not be distributed evenly. The measures in the budget will enable us to continue the attack on the scourge of unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment which must be kept at the top of the agenda. Many parts of my constituency suffer from a high level of unemployment. In addition, communities are being devastated by the scourge of hard drugs. Many communities have taken it upon themselves to fight drug pushers. These mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children are guarding their communities against drug barons and deserve the support of the local authorities, the Garda and other State agencies in doing this. However, this support has been slow in forthcoming in many instances. These communities have little or no resources, yet they are prepared to take on drug pushers. We must listen to what they say and build on it.

The Government has taken a number of measures in the war against drug pushers. I particularly welcome the establishment of the Criminal Assets Bureau which has specific powers to take decisive action against professional criminals and drug barons. We must ensure that drug barons who seemed up to recently to enjoy their ill-gotten gains with impunity are properly dealt with. The assets and property seized by the Criminal Assets Bureau must be placed in a special fund which is targeted solely towards the fight against drugs. In my constituency houses owned by drug pushers had to be taken off the market after the intervention of the Criminal Assets Bureau. The equine centre in County Kildare owned by Mr. Gilligan, the self-confessed prime suspect in the assassination of Veronica Guerin, and similar assets which would yield only a limited return on the open market — many people would not like to buy property owned by drug pushers — should be held by the State and transferred to, say, the Department of Health which could use them as centres for the socially deprived or disabled or as drug treatment centres. These are the sort of measures which must be taken if the public is to be satisfied that we are deeply concerned about the drugs problem and willing to fight it. In cases where money is seized it must be used for the benefit of the local community to lift morale.

I welcome the decision by the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Bruton, to extend the local employment service to Ballyfermot which recently lost the very valuable Semperit factory which employed approximately 600 people. Even though Walsh Western International recently opened a factory which employs 100 people, there is a great need for further industry in the area. The local employment service will be an added boost to the area as it will focus directly on the long-term unemployed. The resources of the State agencies will be pooled to provide guidance, training and job placement services for those seeking work. I very much welcome this development.

This is the best budget ever introduced by a Minister for Finance. The economy is in good hands and I hope this will continue in 1988, 1999 and into the next millennium.

I thank Deputy Costello for sharing his time. Unlike him, I will not devote much time to political point scoring or referring to what happened in the past, except to say that I believe all those involved in politics accept that the 1977 manifesto was a disaster. Even though they do not say so publicly, I believe Fianna Fáil Deputies privately accept this. The economy is recovering from that diabolical manifesto which offered the nation a bribe which it accepted. However, this is water under the bridge.

This is an outstanding budget and acknowledged as such by all independent observers. It is stated that a rising tide lifts all boats. The tide is now at a very high level and all parties have shared in the benefits provided by it. We have the best economy in Europe and it is only nitpickers who could find fault with the budget.

I regret the Minister did not avail of the opportunity to abolish stamp duty on houses under £50,000. In recent years there has been a decrease in the building of local authority houses and greedy landlords have been the beneficiaries of the enormous sums of money made available through housing subsidies. We all know who they are, they are in every town in the country. I am concerned that those vultures can get away with charging single parents £100 to rent their houses. That is unfortunate but it is typical of human nature and the practice is widespread.

Ireland has the highest level of home ownership in Europe. It is nice to see a young couple buying their own home but it is a costly exercise in terms of taking on a large mortgage. Stamp duty is often an impediment to buying a second hand house and I hope that problem will be addressed in the years ahead.

To be parochial, I regret the refusal of the Department of Education to sanction the extension to the De La Salle College in Dundalk. I do not understand the reason behind that and I have made a personal plea to the Taoiseach in that regard. Considering the amount of money spent on County Meath, it is natural for the people of County Louth, who have experienced difficult economic circumstances for many years, to look askance at the money spent on adjoining counties.

I am unhappy that one of the leading colleges in Dundalk has been by-passed. I was certain the college would be given approval for the extension because of its continuing success over a 20 year period. One class is currently being held in a coal shed. That is a disgrace and I appeal for the decision to be overturned on educational and common sense grounds.

I ask the Government to support the proposal to establish a ferry service across Carlingford Lough between Greenore in County Louth and Cranfield in County Down. This project is supported by the east Border committee which comprises the county councils of Monaghan, Louth, Newry and Mourne. Unfortunately, the proposal is meeting some resistance from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. This ferry service would link the scenic areas of the Mourne countryside with the Cooley Peninsula. It would also be a means of strengthening ties between the two counties, North and South.

I am concerned about the social welfare aspect of this budget. We all want a caring society but, despite the country's economic success, I wonder about the direction in which we are going. All Deputies are aware of the break up of family units and the staggering increase in the numbers of single parents, some of whom are little more than children. The problem has now reached crisis level but can it be said that we are creating a caring society when we pay these girls to be promiscuous? I am not a moralist but I believe society is heading into an abyss. In ten to 20 years brothers will be marrying sisters because of the dreadful problems in society today.

I do not begrudge single mothers payment from the State but it should be limited to two children, not five or six. In doing that we are encouraging promiscuity under the guise of a caring concept. I question that caring concept. All political parties should be aware of this problem which is of national concern. They should agree on a common policy to address what will become the major problem facing our society.

Two months ago the management of a leading Dundalk factory expressed concern to me about difficulty in getting workers. Over the past 20 years unemployment in Dundalk has been double the national average. Those figures are unacceptable. A person visiting the supplementary welfare offices is met with queues forming outside the doors, yet the management of this factory cannot attract workers to the plant. That is alarming.

People are not prepared to take up employment and instead of creating a caring society we are creating a lazy one. A boy or girl of 18 years of age should not be given £65 per week to do nothing. They should be required to work and, if they refuse, they should lose their social welfare payment. Every Deputy knows that what I am saying is correct.

There must be a limit on social welfare payments. People should be rewarded for work. In that context I welcome several of the initiatives taken recently because they are pro-work. I welcome also the return of the work ethos in social welfare policies.

The initiatives that will be of benefit include the increase in funding for the back-to-work allowance scheme which will embrace a greater level of participants in the scheme. The scheme encourages unemployed persons to resume employment or become self-employed and gradually wean off their dependence on social welfare support while, at the same time, retaining a proportion of their primary entitlements and all secondary benefits such as medical cards.

Any scheme that encourages and rewards work is a boost to the economy while restoring dignity to the unemployed person who can engage in worthwhile economic activity. It also offers an alternative to persons engaging in the black economy while remaining on gradual social welfare payments, leading eventually to full participation in society.

The deployment of additional funding to the partnership boards in each of the core urban areas identified in the Programme for Economic and Social Progress in another pro-work initiative that should be applauded. For those at work earning medium to moderate wages, the social welfare system can be a disincentive to remain in employment as the net effect of PRSI and PAYE deductions can have the serious effect of lowering net take home pay to a level just above or equal to the equivalent social welfare rate. To address that problem, the Minister has reduced the PRSI rate for those employees by 1 per cent and for the employer by half of 1 per cent. Allied to the PAYE reduction of 1 per cent, this serves to broaden the wedge of take-home pay for those on equivalent social welfare rates. The increase in the threshold for family income supplement and the alteration from a gross to a net basis in the assessment for this allowance is also a useful incentive to keep people at work and to encourage those on social welfare to resume employment, even on a part time basis.

I also welcome certain aspects of the new measures which help to alleviate poverty and encourage a caring society for the elderly. Of particular significance in this regard are the changes in the eligibility conditions and increases in payment for those in our society who are required by necessity to care for more than one elderly relative or friend. The carer's allowance is a much needed payment which recognises the contribution made by many people in our society who choose to stay at home and care for their elderly and incapacitated relatives. The improvement in the rates of payment signals that social welfare policy is leaning towards a more caring society.

Debate adjourned.