I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. It is very timely that we discuss these matters as we consider what should and should not go into the coming budget. There is sufficient evidence to show that this country has a form of apartheid which is every bit as bad as that experienced in South Africa at its worst, although our form of apartheid is not on the basis of the colour of one's skin.
A briefing document presented to Members of the Oireachtas by the CORI justice commission included a social protection and expenditure timetable which indicated that in 1997 Ireland had social protection expenditure, as a percent age of GDP, of 17.5%. What is sad about that is that it had declined from 19.1% in 1990 when we were a much poorer country. What is even sadder is that the amount of money we spent on social protection, 17.5% of GDP, was about half that spent in Sweden – 33.7% of GDP. The United Kingdom spent almost one and a half times as much as we did on social protection – 26.8% of GDP, Denmark spent almost twice what we spent – 31.4% and France spent almost one and three quarters of what we spent – 30.8%. In fact, of the 15 EU members states, we were the lowest by far. The next lowest after us was Spain at 21.4% of GDP and Portugal at 22.5% of GDP. We are simply not using our resources to help the poorest people in this country, and it is not as if we cannot do it.
When I first become a councillor in 1979 and a TD in 1981, I recall that Dublin Corporation alone was building 1,750 houses per year when we did not have a bob. We did not have anything like the money we have in the coffers now. Is it any wonder that the demand for housing is such when the supply, particularly of public housing, has all but dried up? This year between what it purchases and what it builds, Dublin Corporation will provide something like 300,000 housing units. People say there is no room in this city to build these houses but there is as the corporation's housing policy committee has been told. Most of the 1,750 houses per year we built were not, in any event, built in Dublin city. They were built for people from Dublin city who were in need of housing.
In relation to justice and the need for prison reform, 75% of prisoners in Mountjoy come from five identifiable areas of Dublin. There are no prizes for guessing that we are not talking about the nicer parts of the city. We are talking about parts of the city where there is real deprivation. We are talking about parts of the city, for example, where the residents of whole flat complexes as big as major villages outside Dublin never go on to third level education, areas where the participation rate in third level education is something of the order of 5% while elsewhere in the same city, in good neighbourhoods, it is about 55%. These are the areas from which the prison population comes. We talk about the terrible problems of crime and we build bigger prisons and recruit more gardaí. Why do we not spend money on education?
According to research done by ARC, Area Response Crumlin, in my constituency, those who abuse heroin are likely to come from a group where only one in ten have done their leaving certificate whereas the average is that eight out of ten teenagers do their leaving certificate. Among those who abuse heroin, it is as low as one in ten – in other words, these are largely people who have no access to education, for whom third level education is not on the agenda and for whom second level education is almost not on the agenda. The housing conditions in which they live are, in many cases, very deprived.
If these people happen to fall sick, God help them because we have an arrangement with the IMO, the Irish Medical Organisation, where we can have 40% of the population in the medical card system. In fact only 31% of the population is in the medical card system. The effect is that a single person who earns over £95 per week, a married couple who earn over £135 per week or a married couple with two qualifying children who have an income over £167 per week do not qualify for a medical card. That was never intended. Only the poorest of the poor now get a medical card. There are people whose children are sick week in, week out who will not go to the doctor because they cannot afford to do so.
What I have said about housing, prison reform, education, drug abuse and health in the few minutes available to me indicates that social apartheid is alive and well and only we, in this House, can put that right. This debate gives us an opportunity as we prepare for the budget, for future budgets and, indeed, for the election ahead to set the agenda, an agenda which considers social justice to be as important, or more important, than something called "economic success". We are not running an economy, we are running a country and when running a country, we have to take into account the weakest people. The sooner we are obliged to do that, the better.