Adjournment Debate. - Parliamentary Questions

On Tuesday, 4 March last I tabled a parliamentary question to the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and all Ministers in which I asked if they would be prepared to be accountable to taxpayers for money spent on what can only be described as pet projects. In some cases these projects were essential and necessary. My question related to projects which cost £500,000 or less and which were grant-aided by the State between Christmas 1996 and 4 March last from national lottery funding and departmental budgets. I also asked for details under a number of headings.

The refusal of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and most Ministers — the Minister for Social Welfare gave me details for 1996 only and did not really address my question — and the smart alec answer given by the Minister for Finance who attempted to fob me off is a blatant example of an arrogant negation of democracy. This is a total contradiction of the basis on which the Government came into office in January 1995. At that time the Taoiseach stated that he would operate behind a pane of glass. However, instead of doing this the Government immediately erected a wall of arrogance and cynical indifference to the democratic right of taxpayers to know how their hard earned money is spent. The only thing that is clear about the Government's behaviour is its concealment of monstrous and reckless overspending.

So much for democracy.

The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, is leaving with his letter.

If ever there was an example of blatant arrogant refusal to be accountable and do the opposite it is the refusal by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers to answer my question. They denied me the right to have my question answered, and this from a Government which has no public mandate and was formed as a result of a modern day Irish stylecoup d'état.

I did not ask for something special, unreasonable, unnecessary or inessential. I asked the Government to be accountable to taxpayers for the manner in which it spent moneys on special projects between Christmas 1996 and 4 March last and to give an aggregate comparison in amount terms between Christmas 1996-97, Christmas 1995-end February 1996 and the corresponding period for the previous year. Everyone knows that the Government spends money like it is going out of fashion; it throws it around like snuff at a wake. All one has to do is to give a pet project to a Labour or Democratic Left TD or, latterly, a Fine Gael TD and it will be funded on the spot. This puts the stroke politics of yester-year in the shade. All we are short of witnessing in this spending spree is grants for pooper scoopers.

My question sought information on each and every one of these projects in the interests of taxpayers who want the Government to be open, transparent and accountable and to justify the rampant overspending which seems to have consumed Ministers. I ask the Taoiseach to state honestly what the Government is doing. The decision to deny my question represents blatant dishonesty by the Government and is a deliberate concealment of how, where and why taxpayers' money is being spent. I ask the Taoiseach at this late stage to ensure my question is resubmitted to all Departments so that taxpayers have an opportunity to study the details on how, where and on what basis their money is spent. If these details are provided we will have a much clearer view of the criteria, if any, used by the Government and the Minister for Finance for the spending of taxpayers' money. I am firmly convinced that there are no criteria.

The Government does not have vision, and while the Minister for Finance had one it has been diverted to other interests. The ultimate objective and motive of the Government is to buy votes during the next general election. The Culliton and FORFÁS reports on how the economy should be managed have been ignored, cast aside and consigned to dust filled shelves in Departments. We all know that taxes are folowing into Government coffers. However, I ask the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers to stop spending them in the current manner. They are spending money as if it is going out of fashion. They cannot believe their luck in getting their hands on the loot and they are throwing it about like snuff at a wake. It is not their money, it has been entrusted to them by the people for the specific purpose of forging their destiny, but the Government seems to want to forge its own destiny by buying votes. It is funding every pet project in every community. The Government is indulging in the worst form of self-delusion but the people are not fools. They will take the money but they will not deliver the vote. They will give the Government its answer at the earliest opportunity because they know they are not getting value for the billions of pounds the Government is spending. They know the Government is mortgaging away their children's destiny.

I have a professed regard for the Minister for Finance but he has been slaughtered by his leader, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Social Welfare. The manner in which this Government is being mismanaged was best illustrated recently in a cartoon inThe Irish Times which showed the Tánaiste on a bicycle firmly holding the handlebars and pedalling with fury. Minister De Rossa was pedalling desperately to keep up with him while the poor Taoiseach, armless and with no handlebars, was floundering behind. The cartoon clearly illustrates a Taoiseach who is directionless and out of control having totally capitulated to his junior partners. Not alone has he lost the handlebars of State but he has lost the hands with which to attempt to control them.

I wish to respond to the wider comments made by the Deputy. I understand the frustration of a Fianna Fáil Deputy who is confronted with a certain set of factual economic statistics. The national debt has come down in absolute terms for the first time in 40 years. The Government deficit is the lowest it has been for six or seven years, at just under 1 per cent.

The Minister inherited it.

I did not.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:

We must not have interruptions. Deputy Fitzgerald was well facilitated. Let us hear the reply.

We are planning for a current budget surplus of approximately £260 million next year and beyond. While doing all those economically orthodox things, which Fianna Fáil never managed to do, we are spending money in areas of social need at the same time.

(Interruptions.)

It might be helpful to explain that allocations of national lottery funding are decided by the Government as part of the annual Estimates process. The 1997 allocations, amounting to a total of almost £93 million, are summarised in an appendix to the recently published Revised Estimates for Public Services. The allocations are in accordance with section 5 of the National Lottery Act, 1986 which sets out the categories for which lottery funding may be provided. These include sport and other recreation, national culture including the Irish language, the arts and the health of the community. Additional purposes approved by Government under the 1986 Act include youth, welfare, national heritage and amenities.

While I, as Minister for Finance, have overall responsibility for the operation of the national lottery, once the lottery allocations have been approved by Government the responsibility for the disbursement of grants rests with the relevant spending Minister.

That is a contradiction.

I would also point out that lottery funded expenditure is subject to the same rigorous financial controls and procedures which apply to voted expenditure generally. The only person who was found to be offside in respect of lottery expenditure was a former colleague of mine and Deputy Fitzgerald, the former Minister John O'Connell.

Lottery-funded expenditure is administered by a number of Departments and related agencies and covers a wide range of programmes and schemes. Details of lottery-funded expenditure are contained in the annual Appropriation Accounts, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library. As indicated by me in response to Deputy Fitzgerald's parliamentary question, there is also the Compendium of National Lottery Grants, recently published by my Department after much delay and procrastination by people in various Departments, which brings together in one volume details of all lottery spending for the years 1987-94, inclusive. The Deputy's party was in office during all that time, either in Coalition or on its own, yet it did not manage to do this. This massive document, which none of the Deputy's party colleagues produced when they were in the Department of Finance, provides detailed information and gives a comprehensive picture of the allocation of lottery funds. Similar information for 1995, based on the Appropriation Accounts for that year, will be published shortly. The 1996 data will be published as soon as possible following publication in the autumn of the 1996 Appropriation Accounts.

Because of the wide range of activities and spending programmes covered by lottery funding — as summarised in the appendix to the Estimates volume — it would, as indicated in the reply, require an inordinate amount of time and expense to compile the information in the format requested by the Deputy.

This would involve extracting information in relation to isolated periods of time over a large number of schemes and programmes for each of the years 1995, 1996 and 1997 and would require the allocation of many staff in the Departments concerned. If certain projects successfully obtained by Labour Deputies in Deputy Fitzgerald's constituency have caused him offence, I would be happy to provide him with the details, but if he wants details for the period indicated by him it will require a great deal of time. If the Deputy wants to confine the information to his own area I can provide him with that. I am simply giving the Deputy the standard format of reply that has been given on many occasions to Government backbenchers and Opposition Front Bench spokespersons, something to which Deputy Davern may testify. I am sorry our success is causing Deputy Fitzgerald so much distress.