Private Members' Business. - Ministerial Failures: Motion (Resumed).
The following motion was moved by Deputy Gilmore on Tuesday, 6 March 2001:
"That Dáil Éireann condemns the 15 failures of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government namely:
1.his failure to contain house prices, which have doubled during his term of office and which have put home ownership beyond the reach of most working families;
2.his failure to protect the environment which has resulted in Ireland, with 1% of the EU population being the recipient of 10% of all EU Environmental Complaints, leading to legal action being initiated against this country by the European Commission;
3.his failure to reform local government despite the postponement of local elections to allow him introduce a local government Bill;
4.his failure to manage the waste crisis, which has resulted in chaos and controversy over incinerators, dumps and refuse charges;
5.his failure to tackle homelessness which has resulted in over 1,000 homeless children in Dublin alone;
6.his failure to deliver on Ireland's Kyoto commitments on greenhouse gases and his long delay in producing the national climate change strategy;
7.his failure to publish the long promised road safety bill which would introduce a penalty points system to help reduce the carnage on our roads;
8.his failures on planning, including the shortage of planning staff, his introduction of a charge for the public's comments on planning applications, and his delay in implementing the new Planning and Development Act;
9.his failure to produce a national spatial strategy to give coherence to the National Development Plan and to integrated investment in infrastructure;
10.his failure to put a moratorium on genetically modified organisms despite his pre-election promise;
11.his failure to take effective measures to reduce traffic gridlock in all our urban centres, including his failure to introduce legislation to control road openings;
12.his failure to introduce legislation to protect the country's 150,000 private tenants, despite the recommendations of the Commission on the Private Rented Sector last July and whilst his Government has proceeded with financial reforms in favour of landlords and investors;
13.his failure to tackle the litter scandal including his failure to introduce his long promised tax on plastic bags;
14.his failure to provide homes for the 60,000 families who are now on council housing lists;
15.his failure to respond to the public demand for reform of political funding, specifically his intention to legislate for corporate funding to political parties of up to £20,000, his determination to increase Fianna Fáil's election spending by 50% and his blocking of the Labour Party Bill to ban corporate donations;
and that Dáil Éireann therefore requires the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, within one month, to make a special report to the Dáil setting out how he proposes to reverse these 15 failures of his Ministry.".
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
1.To delete all the words after "That Dáil Éireann:" and substitute the following:
"commends the action taken by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to promote sustainable development through infrastructure provision, including securing record levels of housing output, environmental protection and policies to advance balanced regional development and social inclusion and, in particular, welcomes and endorses:
in relation to housing
the comprehensive range of initiatives which has been taken by the Government and which has
–maximised and expedited housing supply;
–secured house price moderation and balance in the housing market;
–addressed social and affordable housing need; and
–improved the institutional arrangements and facilitated the delivery of housing related infrastructure;
–the record levels of new housing output which have been achieved in each year since the Government took office;
–the achievement of the highest level ofper capita housing output in the EU;
–the trebling of resources allocated to housing since the Government took office with a total provision for housing of over £1.1 billion in 2001;
–the expanded four year multi-annual local authority housing programme which has been introduced together with a greatly expanded voluntary housing programme, and the significantly increased financial resources provided by the Government for these programmes under the National Development Plan;
–the Government's integrated Homelessness strategy which has provided for substantially increased resources, additional accommodation and improved inter-agency co-operation;
–the completion last year of the comprehensive report by the Government's Commission on the Private Rented Residential Sector, the recommendations of which are now being implemented with a view to achieving expanded supply and ensuring the long-term viability of the sector;
in relation to the environment
–the high priority given by Government to environmental protection and, in this context, notes that Ireland has implemented 96% of environment-related EU Directives;
–the clear policy leadership which has been provided by Changing Our Ways, published in September 1998, towards the long-overdue modernisation of waste management practice based on the internationally accepted hierarchy of prevention, minimisation, reuse-recycle, energy recovery and safe disposal, and the Government's firm intention to bring the waste management planning process to an early and satisfactory conclusion;
–the publication of a comprehensive and ambitious National Climate Change Strategy in November 2000, which will ensure that Ireland meets its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, and the intensive action already under way to ensure effective implementation of the Strategy;
–the value of the ground-breaking consultation process which led to the policy statement on GMOs and the Environment published in October 1999, and the major strengthening of safety and transparency provisions in the EU regulatory framework, adopted by the European Council and Parliament in February 2001, and, in going forward, endorses the importance of placing primary emphasis on precaution well grounded in scientific risk assessment and management;
–the intensified anti-litter measures introduced since 1997, including
–support for National Spring Clean,
–increased enforcement, including, since 1997, a threefold increase in the number of litter wardens, a fourfold increase in the number of litter prosecutions and an increase in the number of on-the-spot fines from less than 1,000 to over 16,500, and
–greater education-awareness measures,
culminating in the Litter Action Plan published in February 2001 in response to the work of the National Anti-Litter Forum; and notes that the levy on plastic bags will be provided for in the forthcoming Waste Management (Amendment) Bill;
in relation to road safety
–the putting in place of the first ever Government Strategy on Road Safety and notes that –
–the end-2000 interim targets under the Strategy have been achieved in full, with the road fatality rate per million population falling to 112 by end-1999 compared to an end-2000 target of 116 and accident reduction schemes having been completed at 268 locations by end-2000 compared to a target of 240, and
–considerable progress has been made towards meeting the overall targets of the Strategy, with road deaths falling by 13% between 1997 and 1999 relative to the Strategy target of a 20% minimum reduction by end 2002, and serious injuries decreasing in the same period by more than 15% relative to the 20% reduction target by end 2002;
–the forthcoming Road Traffic Bill which provides the legal basis for the introduction of a system of penalty points to track infringements of driv ing behaviour of those who commit these offences on a recurring basis;
in relation to traffic management
–the £14 billion strategy for a comprehensive and efficient transport system for the Greater Dublin Area outlined in the recently published Dublin Transportation Initiative Strategy Update ‘A Platform for Change';
–the investment of £1.6 billion under the National Development Plan 2000-06 for public transport and traffic management in Dublin, including £200 million in respect of traffic management grants;
–the provision of £650 million for a regional transport programme under the National Development Plan;
–the traffic management grants for Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford which were introduced by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government in 2000, with a further allocation of £1.75 million for this purpose in 2001;
–the Communications (Regulation) Bill being finalised by the Minister for Public Enterprise which will include proposals to modernise legislation in relation to road openings by telecommunications operators, with appropriate and updated powers for road authorities to regulate road openings in the public interest, and the commitment of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to also consider the need for wider legislative updating to deal with this important matter;
in relation to Local Government renewal
–the major programme of Local Government renewal which has yielded–
–constitutional recognition for local government,
–an enhanced role for elected members through the Strategic Policy Committees,
–significantly increased local authority funding which, in addition to massive increases for capital investment, is providing local authorities with over 63% more for discretionary spending in 2001 compared to 1997;
–modernised financial systems,
–strengthened management structures,
–a wider role for local government through County Development Boards, and
–measures to improve efficiencies and customer services;
in relation to electoral reform
–the comprehensive proposals in the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2000 for reform of electoral law generally, including provisions in relation to electronic voting, electronic vote counting and the inclusion of photographs and logos on ballot papers;
in relation to planning
–the enactment of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, which provides for the most radical overhaul ever of the modern Irish planning system including–
–improved arrangements for public participation in the planning process;
–provisions which will ensure an element of public gain from rezoning decisions through empowering local authorities to acquire, at ‘existing use' prices, up to 20% of residential land for social and affordable housing; and
–measures to meaningfully address for the first time ever the vexed issue of unfinished estates;
–the increased staffing resources being made available for local authority planning departments and An Bord Pleanála; and
in relation to the national spatial strategy
–the fact that the National Spatial Strategy will be completed on time by the end of 2001 and notes the extensive consultation and participation arrangements related to the development of the Strategy which the Minister for the Environment and Local Government has put in place.".
–(Minister of State at the Department of
the Environment and Local Government,
The Labour Party has a long list of items in its motion and there is also a long list from the Government in its amendment. It would be physically impossible in my time to deal with each item.
My main complaint about the current Minister is his failure to delegate any real authority to local councils. Some of the old practices from 20 years ago are still in force, which is a great mistake. The upturn in the economy has generated much activity and there are numerous areas where the Minister could have delegated responsibilities to local councils. For example, the Minister and his Department insist on having approval over the building of a single rural cottage. That makes no sense whatsoever. We have a housing programme in Wexford and the Minister must approve of each house built, which is a desperate situation. Surely with all the expertise built up in local councils over the years people are competent to make such decisions rather than going to the Minister or his Department for formal budget approval.
In addition, the Department price guide uses a price of £74,000, which is to include land costs, ESB, servicing, legal costs, administrative costs and other matters. The Minister must understand that all costs cannot be levelled at £74,000. He should allow councils to build houses within guidelines – I accept that a ceiling should be put on this.
We do not have time to discuss social housing but it will have to be addressed. Conditions are set which no council can meet and the playing field is not level. Tenants are not allowed to purchase their houses although those houses are built with 100% grant aid, or taxpayers' money, from the Department. Those tenants should be given the same conditions as those in ordinary council houses. Affordable housing is not going well at the moment but it may be the one way we can tackle the growing housing lists.
The Minister has failed miserably to deal with county roads. Wexford County Council only got 14% to 15% funding and the surface testing cycle is now 22 years.
Our care for the environment is certainly showing, particularly if one thinks of our waste management. The economy will suffer if we do not break the link between economic growth and environmental deterioration. Waste management is the single most important issue facing us. We have regional and county waste management plans but even though we have plenty of plans we see no action on the ground. The focus in every local authority area is on whether we should have landfill or incineration for our waste but there is no emphasis on developing a recycling culture. There were two million tons of waste produced in 1998 and 91% of that was consigned to landfill, with only 9% for recycling. Only 3% of domestic waste was recycled. We have no infrastructure to develop recycling and there is no encouragement for it. I follow the waste management arguments in every local authority area but I never hear anyone say: "Let's develop and encourage recycling." We have adopted aspirational target recycling rates of 35% to 55% depending on the waste one is talking about but there is no emphasis on recycling.
The average household has no means of recycling. We do not have enough bring sites; half our local authorities have one per 1,000 to 5,000 people, while other authorities have one site per 5,000 to 15,000 people. The European average is one bring site per 500 people, so we are far short of that target. We must have more bring sites and we must also develop the financial means of encouraging recycling, as that will not happen by a miracle. We must intervene financially to ensure recycling works and that a recycled piece of paper is not more expensive than virgin paper, which is the situation at present.
There are no collection facilities for plastic in the country. Wellman International in Cavan processes four million bottles a day but it must import them. There is no means by which waste plastic can be collected. We have heard much about the proposed tax on plastic bags and it will be interesting to hear how the Minister proposes to collect this 10p levy. Will the onus be on small retailers throughout the country? We read in today's newspapers that 8,000 sheep were smuggled over the Border in the past two months, which shows how easy it would be to bring plastic bags across the Border or from the UK without notifying the authorities. There are serious problems with the practicalities of collecting this proposed levy. That levy does not encourage the use of biodegradable plastic bags and in any case plastic shopping bags are a small part of the total plastic waste generated in Ireland if one looks at the plastic packaging we use. I agree with the principle of encouraging consumers to reduce the amount of plastic bags they use but I have serious concerns about how this levy is to be collected.
I have read the Minister's statements on plastic bags and anti-litter measures but putting a levy on plastic bags will reduce the amount of plastic going to landfills, which is where environmental damage is created. Plastic survives for a long time in landfills and damages the environment – that should be the focus of the tax, not a litter tax.
I welcome Deputy Clune's support for recycling. Perhaps she could spread the word to councillors around the country. Then they could engage positively in the waste management planning process rather than try to disrupt it at every available opportunity for political purposes. Perhaps in her new position, on which I congratulate her, she will be able to exert some influence.
Perhaps the Minister might also do that with his party's councillors.
In the past year or so there has been a virtual assault by the Labour Party on the people of Ireland in relation to the need for a renewal of confidence in the political system, to ensure high standards in public life and to enforce high standards of integrity and honesty. At the same time, it has launched a series of highly personalised attacks on members of the Government, thinly disguised as political charges. The Labour Party has attempted to mislead this House and the public with false accusations of conflicts of interest at a time when that party believes it occupies the moral high ground and when it lectures everybody else on standards.
On a point of order, is the Minister's script available?
I have limited time so I will not respond to heckling. The script will be given to the Deputy later. I am working from notes at the moment.
The Minister has been working from notes for four years.
To crown that, the Labour Party has put this motion before the House. The motion is misleading, inaccurate and untruthful. It displays either a depth of ignorance about what is happening or a frightening level of political dishonesty, many times worse than anything its members have condemned during this current period of virtue.
If that party is interested in restoring confidence in politics and raising standards, its members should act in an exemplary manner. All Members of this House have a duty to ensure that what they do or say does not add to the public cynicism that currently exists. The approach of the Labour Party for some time has been to throw accusations wildly in the House, to cast aspersions and to use innuendo and untruths in the House. Its members have sunk to the depths, hoping that if they throw enough mud, some of it might stick. In the recent past, they have done more to increase public cynicism and to lower standards in politics than anybody else in the House.
More than Burke, Haughey or Lawlor?
These are the actions of a desperate party, a party that has sunk so low as to hold itself up to public ridicule by organising a mini-march to the headquarters of the Fianna Fáil Party, clutching posters and leaflets based around a stolen logo. This is a vivid demonstration of the Labour Party's concern for ethics. It is also a vivid demonstration of its lack of imagination and ideas.
It must have struck home.
It was a very good demonstration.
What we are looking at in this motion is not serious politics but dressed up, cheap PR. It is all show and no substance.
The Minister would know about that, the man from Cow's Lane.
Take the housing issue as an example. The Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, dealt with the areas within his remit last night and I will not repeat his contribution. However, I will again remind the Opposition of the mess the rainbow coalition left in the housing area. Much as the Opposition might care to deny it, it left office when house prices were rocketing—
People could afford to buy.
—fuelled by increasing demand. Did its members act? They only made matters worse. I am glad Deputy Quinn is present. It was he, as Minister for Finance, who introduced swingeing increases in stamp duty on mid-priced houses, prevented home owners from trading up and distorted the market which was already under pressure.
However, at least the rainbow coalition did not display the rank hypocrisy in which the new improved Labour Party, complete with its former Democratic Left members, now specialises. Its performances in relation to housing are a good example of this type of hypocrisy. How often have we seen Deputy Gilmore in this House almost frothing at the mouth in self-righteous indignation? There was a good example of it last night. One would think he is a man who is deeply and passionately consumed with ensuring more houses are built and that more people are taken off the housing lists.
The reality is different, however. Throughout the length and breadth of this country, Labour Party councillors consistently oppose the efforts of their local authorities to provide housing. In his own local authority, how many times in the past three to four years has Deputy Gilmore written or spoken to his councillors asking them to make more land available for housing?
The Minister took the land from us and put a motorway through it.
How many times has he voted against proposals which would facilitate housing? How many times has he asked his councillors throughout the country who have opposed halting sites, hostels or much needed local authority housing developments not to oppose them?
How many times has he or his colleagues faced local communities to explain that the provision of this type of housing is absolutely essential?
Never. That is not how Deputy Gilmore voted or how Deputy Ryan in Fingal voted.
The Minister is being inaccurate.
Why does the Minister not tell the House about his record?
How many local area plans have been opposed and held up while this Government has provided more and more funding for local authority housing, social housing and affordable housing programmes, the servicing of land and multi-annual programmes to maximise housing output?
The Minister has built fewer houses.
Precisely. That is the result of Labour Party opposition at local level.
I must take issue with some points in Deputy Gilmore's contribution last night. He spoke of people who are accommodated in bed and breakfast premises in Dublin being forced onto the streets during the day. I am surprised the Deputy is so out of touch on this issue, given that he raised it on the Adjournment last November. The current position in relation to Dublin Corporation is that all private emergency accommodation allows residents to remain in occupation 24 hours a day.
How many homeless children are there in Dublin?
In all newly contracted accommodation, the Corporation insists on free access for residents as well as high standards and 24 hour security. Those are the facts and the Deputy would do well to acquaint himself and his party with them before he comes to the House to make unfounded accusations.
The Minister is out of touch.
Furthermore, the Deputy accuses the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, of falsely debunking a survey that purported to show that house prices rose by over 20% last year. He went on to say that the increase exceeded 20%. The actual increase was closer to 10%. As so often in the past, all Deputy Gilmore succeeded in proving is his capacity to be well off the mark. He went on to state:
The Minister and his colleagues have rejected the many proposals made by the Labour Party to deal with the housing crisis, including our proposals for publicly owned land banks, a national housing authority, fair price certification, legislation to protect tenants and house buyers and a major social housing programme. Instead, they continue to insist that housing is a market problem and that if supply is increased prices will moderate.
It would be hard to find a better list of facile solutions.
The Minister has no solutions.
It implies, in the face of all logic and the views of every independent commentator, that the solution to the housing situation lies somewhere other than in increasing supply. It also ignores the fact that this Government has undertaken an unprecedented multi-annual social housing programme that local authorities are finding hard to keep up with but which will deliver 25,000 additional local authority dwellings in four years.
It will not be on the Minister's watch.
He also advocated publicly owned land banks. Are we to suppose that land held by local authorities, the public bodies charged with delivering social housing, is in some way not publicly owned land? What are we to make of their call for a national housing authority? What will another statutory body contribute to the construction of even one social housing unit? Would the Labour Party members who oppose local authority housing at local level be happier if a national body were to build the houses?
Fingal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.
The Deputy voted against it. The Deputy is so out of touch he does not know what his backbenchers are doing.
Much as it might upset the Labour Party, this Government has not been afraid to take advice and action and adjust its policies in light of changing circumstances. We are maximising housing supply while protecting the interests of first time house buyers. We are stabilising house prices and we have provided record funding for local authority and social housing. We are dealing with the private rented sector and we are providing a guaranteed supply of land for social housing under the Planning and Development Act.
Since this Government took office we have taken an unparalleled range of actions in the housing area. Those who accuse the Government of failure in this area would do well to examine their own records while in office. Do they think that forced emigration due to a lack of economic success was a satisfactory strategy to ensure that everyone had access to a house? That is what the high tax and spend policies of the Labour Party meant in the past and with over £5 billion extra expenditure already promised by the Labour Party if it returns to power after the next election, it is clear it has learned nothing and would lead us back down that route again.
The Labour Party's dishonest approach to politics is also demonstrated by its lip service to resolving problems and its backing off in a cowardly fashion from making a difficult decision. A classic example of this sort of behaviour is in the area of waste management. In this it has been joined by its equally hypocritical friends, the Green Party. That party believes in the Paul Daniels solution to waste and now the Labour Party seems to believe in the Walter Mitty approach.
Incredibly two parties in this House have decided to abandon the cornerstones of waste management policy adopted throughout the world. The Green Party has abandoned the waste hierarchy and the Labour Party no longer believes in the principle that the polluter pays. Both parties have consistently attacked the Government for the lack of a waste management policy, yet both have plagiarised large portions of the Government's waste management policy document Changing Our Ways.
At local level the Green Party opposes facilities for waste recovery. It allegedly supports the waste hierarchy, yet refuses to support waste to energy recovery which is supported by its colleagues throughout Europe. Its brilliant solution for residual waste is to build hundreds of stores and depots around the country to hold the waste.
The Labour Party opposes every proposal for a landfill facility and then publishes a policy document which advocates at least one landfill in every county.
At a time when the thrust of national and EU waste policy is aimed at reducing reliance on landfill, the Labour Party proposes the exact opposite over and above the requirements identified in the waste management plans prepared by the local authorities.
To cap it all, the Labour Party would also apparently wish to see the abolition of domestic waste charges, even though they are mandatory under EU waste policy and legislation—
—and clearly have a role to play in resourcing local authorities and incentivising good waste management practice.
No Minister has been more committed to renewing local democracy than I have been.
Therefore, I find it laughable to be criticised by Members opposite on this issue—
So does Deputy Healy-Rae.
—particularly by Deputy Howlin who waited until the last minute to produce the Better Local Government document which he would not have to implement.
The Minister has been working on such a document ever since. I did more in two and a half years than the Minister has done in four years.
The progress made on my major programme of local government renewal is there for all to see. Local government, a constitutional amendment and planning Acts were enacted in each of the past three years. Many real, tangible and practical initiatives have been taken in the drive to renew local government. As the time available will not permit me to list these initiatives, I will remind the House that constitutional recognition has been given to local government as an intrinsic, distinct and separate part of our democracy, and with a fixed electoral cycle. A proper funding system to secure the necessary resources for the ambitious programme of local government renewal has been put in place in the context of the local government fund which, this year, is providing funding for discretionary spending to local authorities which is 63% up on the equivalent 1997 figures.
Under my guidance, the partnership model has been introduced to the local government system by way of strategic policy committees which are now largely established in all county and city councils. A further initiative has seen the establishment of county and city development boards. A wide range of measures to promote efficiencies in local government have been put in place in the interests of customer service generally.
All from Better Local Government.
In addition, the Local Government Bill will provide a modern basis for local government in this country. It is one component of a comprehensive programme of measures. Above all, it is a programme of action, not rhetoric, to renew our local government system.
I spoke earlier about the Labour Party's often expressed desire to restore confidence in the political system. I share that desire. The Labour Party also states that the public perception of politicians and the political system continues to deteriorate, and I agree. Where I disagree with the Labour Party is on its so-called solution to the problems we face. It believes such issues should become a political football and an opportunity for political point scoring.
I regret that the Labour Party's attitude to this matter does nothing to counter the current cyni cism. In setting preconditions for any discussions on political funding, it is not only acting in a manner which was common in another jurisdiction and which was roundly condemned for 30 years by all parties in this House, but it is further undermining public confidence in the political system.
We need to seriously address all the issues regarding the funding of the political system, including corporate donations to political parties. If we cannot reach agreement on this issue before the next election, the odium of the electorate will not only fall on this side of the House but on all of us.
The Taoiseach and I have consistently asked the Labour Party to join other parties in the House to discuss all issues concerning funding the political process, including corporate donations. There are constitutional issues relating to the rights to free speech, free association and freedom of expression which need to be addressed, and the parties opposite know this from the advice they received during drafting of the Electoral Act, 1997.
Furthermore, one must consider the views of Mr. Justice McCracken in his tribunal report when he stated:
The tribunal does not consider it practical to prohibit all political contributions and rely solely on public funding of political parties. Indeed, to do so might give rise to serious constitutional difficulties.
What has been suggested by the Labour Party, and more recently by Fine Gael, is not a ban on all contributions, but a ban on those coming from corporate sources. Even so, this would also be legally suspect. For a start, what does the term "corporate donations" mean?
It is explained in the Bill passed by this House. For a start, what does the term "corporate donations" mean? Some people in this House have used the term interchangeably with "commercial donations" as if they mean the same thing when they clearly do not. What is the basis, other than self-interest, for the Labour Party's proposal that donations from trade unions would continue to be allowed?
The Minister has not read it.
There is a second point which should not be missed. We consistently hear from the Opposition benches that the issue, as far as they are concerned, is primarily about the public perception that there is aquid pro quo for the business community in giving corporate donations. If that is the problem, however, why is there any less a perception problem with the main players in business life making similar donations personally?
In its paper for discussion with party leaders, published last May, a document I welcomed at the time as a useful contribution to the debate, Fine Gael made a very interesting statement as follows:
We believe much greater discussion is required on the distinction, proposed by Labour, between corporate and other donations, and their treatment as entirely separate categories, which we contend is both artificial and easily negotiated around. Donations to political parties by wealthy individuals, unincorporated businesses, groups lobbying for particular interests or causes, and professional partnerships . . . are not much different from corporate donations and should hardly be treated differently from them in legislation.
In a separate discussion document on the funding of political parties, also published last May, Fine Gael stated that it "does not believe it is possible to distinguish between corporate donations and individual donations".
Fine Gael is no longer accepting corporate donations.
These are not policy statements that can legitimately be changed by a new Fine Gael leadership.
Wait and I will tell the Deputies. These are statements of fact, outlining the serious issues involved.
They are issues which need to be addressed today, just as much as they needed to be addressed last May. They underline exactly what the Taoiseach and I have been saying, which is that the issues involved are serious and complex.
We are taking them seriously.
For the sake of the democratic process in this country, let all the parties sit down together and deal with the issues comprehensively and quickly. I hope that all parties can agree to this and get on with the serious business involved, with no further delay. I have already made it clear that I am not asking the Labour Party to change its stance on corporate donations. I am simply asking it to join a committee without preconditions, to look at all the angles and tease out all the consequences that changes to the funding system will involve. These include the possible consequences of asking the taxpayer to foot the bill for electoral expenses and the day-to-day running costs of political parties.
Specifically, I am asking the Labour Party to drop the preconditions—
—and join an all-party committee to identify the best course of action and to enable the matter to be resolved as quickly as possible. It is as simple at that. I am suggesting a three month timescale for the committee to deliberate on the matter and make its report. I will also ensure that the necessary back-up will be available to the committee to look at constitutional and any other issues that need to be addressed.
The Taoiseach ruled that out yesterday.
If Labour takes up this offer, as a gesture of goodwill, I will drop, at this time, the current proposal in the Electoral (Amendment) Bill to increase expenditure limits for candidates at an election.
The Minister should drop it anyway.
Confidence in politics can only be restored if politicians behave with due respect for the people, the political process, the institutions of the State and their fellow parliamentarians. What a pity then to see the Labour Party and the Green Party using valuable Dáil time to table a motion that was so transparently unworthy, inaccurate and untruthful. Indeed, the weakness of this motion could be easily judged by what I can only describe as the embarrassed contributions from Fine Gael. Is it too much to hope that this House can now turn itself to the task of debating real issues, acting in a dignified manner and using its time to best effect?
That is what we are doing.
I am making this plea, particularly to the Labour Party which was the prime mover behind this current sham debate and which instigated what I can only describe as a campaign of wilful disobedience on the Order of Business, which has also wasted very valuable time. The Labour Party is subverting what it claims to believe in. We are seeing a political party claiming high standards while demonstrating the lowest possible standards. We are seeing a party supposedly devoted to boosting public confidence in politics, but actually destroying that public confidence without any justification. What we are witnessing is all show and no substance—
That is certain. Write it down.
—but what would be new about that? Labour has justified its position as the second largest Opposition party through its second-rate motion, and there it is destined to remain on foot of muddled thinking, lack of attention to facts, attempts to mislead and an outdated philosophy.
This is a bad, secondary type of debate.
As for the Green Party, I hope it is disappointed it had to resort to tagging its members' names to another party's motion. I thought that, quite recently, they were seeking my resignation rather than a report. Deputy Sargent will be glad to hear, however, that my resignation is not on the agenda, and not just for tonight but until the election in 2002.
Maybe the Minister should read our policy documents.
You will have your chance to reply.
I am resigning myself all right to hearing those kinds of self-righteous and ill-founded attacks that have come from the other side of the House.
Maybe the Minister should read things before he comes in here.
Having dealt with what I would laughingly call the substance of the motion, I want to make a strong personal point. Like many people in this House, I became involved in politics to try to change and improve things, and to make a difference. I genuinely believe in the political process. I also believe passionately in opposing corruption of all kinds, as I hope most people in this House do. I have proved that by taking action, which at one stage would have put my career at enormous risk. I believe in Dáil reform and I believe that politicians should be seen as valued professionals with very high standards. That is why it angers me so much to see the Labour Party creating sham debates and instigating a campaign of wilful disobedience. In that context, today's cynical performance gives me no pleasure. This is not political cut and thrust. It is poorly researched, unsupported smear stuff, being done in the hope of making a quick-fix contribution to their sagging opinion poll figures.
As I said in the Upper House recently, I have been accused by the Leader of the Labour Party, Deputy Quinn, of being in a conflict of interest situation.
However, he has refused to put a substantive motion down so that I can defend myself in the House on that matter. It is a shoddy way of treating a fellow parliamentarian.
When Deputy Quinn was Minister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, he introduced "reforms" to the Leader's allowance system in the House. Peculiarly enough, those reforms were designed for no other reason that I can see but to give the Labour Party a massive advantage at the taxpayers' expense.
Deputy Quinn devised a system in this House—
In consultation with Fianna Fáil.
The Minister, without interruption.
—that gives the Labour Party £22,000 per Deputy, £8,000 to Fianna Fáil, and £12,000 if we were in government. If I adopted the standards that Deputy Quinn adopted—
Agreed and endorsed at Fianna Fáil's request.
—to benefit the Labour Party and to place Fianna Fáil at a disadvantage. I have in my possession the relevant papers. The Deputy should tell no more lies.
I propose to share time with Deputies Howlin and Michael D. Higgins.
The Minister is rattled and angry. He seems to be developing a siege mentality about personalised attacks. He is like the man who sees the ghost of Gerry Hickey coming in the night.
In what was a calm, devastating, rational contribution last evening, Deputy Gilmore made it clear that he was engaging in an assessment of the political track record of the Minister and not launching a personalised attack. In any event, a mild mannered man like Deputy Gilmore would never make a personal attack on a man with 11 brothers. The Deputy was merely highlighting the gap between the promise and performance of the Minister. In no area of Government responsibility is that gap so wide as in the areas for which this rattled Minister is responsible.
The list of inaction read out last night by Deputy Gilmore would make a member of the Opposition blush.
Only one with a neck as hard as Deputy Rabbitte's.
Earlier the Minister seemed to say that issues such as housing, waste management, road safety and local government reform are not worthy of debate in this House. He referred to this as a sham debate.
Deputy Dempsey is the Minister who, in photo opportunity after photo opportunity, has committed himself to the ideal of home ownership, but who has allowed the price of houses in this city to more than double in just over three years. People who could aspire to owning their own home before the Minister came to office have now been condemned to paying exorbitant rents in the private sector, rents which, over the same period in my constituency, have risen from £400 per month to £800 per month. This is the Minister who has made home ownership a luxury.
When the Minister moved into the Custom House there were 26,000 people awaiting public housing. One year ago, the last assessment of housing need showed that the figure had increased to 39,176 and 12 months later it is approximately 50,000.
In the jungle of the Celtic tiger, more people are homeless, fewer can afford a home of their own and the numbers awaiting public housing have almost doubled.
Two weeks ago, the accounting officer for the Minister's Department told the Committee of Public Accounts, in error, that the affordable housing scheme was a considerable success. Not a single affordable dwelling has yet been built. My own local authority this week had its first consultative meeting on the housing strategy required under the Minister's Planning and Development Act and has not even begun to consider the revision of the development plan. Ours is probably the first local authority in the country to approve an affordable housing scheme, but, as yet, not a sod has been turned. There are 3,500 people on the waiting list for public housing and last year the total new public housing build in the county was 103 units.
The Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, also has a central responsibility for the gridlock in a city where all that can move during peak times are the homeless, searching for a sheltered doorway, removed from the noise of yet another telecommunications company digging up the public road.
Meanwhile, we have a waste crisis and the Minister's response is to wring his hands and promise the introduction of a Waste Management (Amendment) Bill later in the year. As local authorities and businesses panic about the waste mountain, the closure of landfill dumps and invigilation by the EU, the best the Minister can offer is to threaten a war on plastic bags. There is still no sign of his promised spatial strategy and the push is on to implement the £40 billion national development plan and worry about the shape of the physical development of the country after the event.
The insurance sector, the Garda Síochána and all concerned citizens are screaming for legislation on road safety, but the Minister has abandoned the Road Safety Bill, as a priority, in fav our of taking out an each way bet on the general election by facilitating a higher spend for Fianna Fáil. Ireland, with 1% of the population of the EU, is responsible for 10% of the environmental complaints to the European Commission. Under the Minister's stewardship, this country has failed to meet its commitments under the Kyoto protocol.
The last local elections were postponed because the new bushy tailed Minister for the Environment and Local Government was going to reform local government. The elections came and went and the great reformer was still cogitating. Abolition of the dual mandate is the height of his ambition, but that now is to give way to a compromise worked out with the group described by Deputy Gilmore as the "Fianna Fáil Independents". When it comes to protocols, it is not our commitments to Kyoto that preoccupy the Minister but rather Fianna Fáil commitments to Kilgarvan and Kilcoole. When the bogged down Bill re-emerges, existing Deputies will be allowed to retain their council seats until retirement or defeat at the polls. So much for local government reform.
The Minister has persuaded the media that he is the great reformer held back not by limitations on his own capacity as a visionary but by the hidebound traditional conservatism of proponents of proportional representation and multi-seat constituencies. If only the Minister was given his head. We would have a smaller Parliament of 100 super-paid superior men and women, safely insulated and protected from real live voters, whose minds would be focused on the litter war, the rate of deceleration of accelerating house prices, how to increase corporate donations and design new street signs with legends such as "Cow's Lane". "Bull's Lane" or "Poppycock Parade" would be more appropriate because, when it comes to housing, waste management, road safety, environmental protection and local government reform, all we get from this Minister is bull and poppycock.
The Deputy would recognise that because he spews it out most of the time.
The Minister has shown indifference for any proposal that does not benefit builders and developers. He has, for example, ignored Labour Party proposals for publicly owned land banks, a national housing authority, fair price certification, legislation to protect tenants and house buyers and a major social housing programme. However, the one area in respect of which the Minister has been consistent and tenacious is that of protecting business funding for politics and legitimising higher spending for Fianna Fáil. Have corporate donations become the core principle for which he and Fianna Fáil are prepared to take a stand?
Are Deputies Howlin and Higgins also sharing time with Deputies Healy and Ó Caoláin?
That is correct. In his opening remarks, the Minister referred to the attitude of the Labour Party. This is a House of accountability. The Minister was very strong, even within his own party, on demanding accountability in the past. After almost four years in office, it is time he was called to account, not in a personalised way but on the list of 15 specific charges outlined in the motion. The Minister ignored those charges—
I did not. The Deputy should read the amendment.
—which relate directly to his stewardship. The Minster spoke for 30 minutes and he did not refute any of the charges.
The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, was a man full of promise when in opposition. He had plans and documents, schemes and proposals.
All of which are being implemented.
He was going to do the devil and all. Of a Government made up of lacklustre Ministers, he is the most tarnished. I have no explanation as to why that is the case because the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, is very intelligent and hard-working. I believe him to be as straight as a die.
I thank the Deputy for those remarks.
However, he seems incapable of bringing any proposal, of which he has many, to a satisfactory conclusion. The litany of failure is set out in the Labour Party motion – 15 key issues which impact on the quality of life of every citizen of this nation, 15 unanswered and unanswerable failures.
It has already been stated that, in terms of his views on house prices, the Minister must be living in cloud cuckooland. I am aware, from my time there, that the view from the Minister's office in the Custom House is not very good because of the opaque windows. He stated that house prices are under control, when the most recent figures, released only today, show that the average house price in this city has risen by £100,000 since the Minister took office. That represents an increase of more than 100% since he took up his portfolio. More and more people are being forced to put their names on local authority housing lists, the numbers on which are ever-increasing and, we estimate, have reached 50,000. It was 26,000 when he came into office. Throughout the country, local authorities are struggling with ever increasing lists and we are building fewer houses as the statistics given to this House by Deputy Gilmore last night prove. Fewer local authority houses were built in 1999 than in 1995, despite an economy, in the Tánaiste's words, that is awash with money. It is a disgrace.
The Minister promised action on litter. Ireland, urban and rural, is festooned with litter. The last legislative measure introduced in this regard was the Litter Pollution Act brought in by myself as a member of the Rainbow Government. When will plastic bags be eliminated? We are sick and tired of promises and press releases from a Minister incapable of action.
Probably his greatest failure in the whole long list is on waste management. Again, the relevant overarching legislation was introduced by the previous Rainbow Government, that is, the Waste Management Act. The Minister proposes new amending legislation but apparently the new amending legislation is a State secret because he will not tell us what is in it. I do not know whether he is afraid to tell us or he has decided to simply put it on the long finger and let local authorities struggle as best they can to address this critical issue in the absence of any coherent national waste strategy.
I will make a prediction tonight. The failure to deal with waste management, above all others, will damage the Irish economy; above all others, this failure will be a grievous blow to Irish economic prospects. On our obligations under the Kyoto Agreement, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has proven entirely indifferent. He did not negotiate them. He went to Kyoto but he had recently come to office and the European position was largely agreed but he has done nothing to reach Ireland's position. I do not know whether it is indifference or he is just ineffective and his Cabinet colleagues—
What about the national climate change strategy?
—must drive the policy. The other line Ministers obviously ignored the Minister's view on this area. The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, added the title "Minister for Local Government" to his name tag when he moved into the Custom House. We might have expected some real energy then in bringing about local government reform, especially when the blueprint for that reform, Better Local Government, was actually on his desk when he arrived. The Minister is almost four years in office, one of the longest terms of any recent Minister for the Environment, yet we still have not had the enactment of the local government Bill. In fact, all we have seen is a succession of kite flying from a Minister whose kites invariably crash land, whether they are proposals to directly elect mayors, abolish the dual mandate or his other more vaunted proposals on list system elections and single seat constituencies. They were all announced with fanfare and promptly forgotten.
They were never announced.
He is more like an electoral think tank than a Government Minister. He throws out an idea and then abandons it to the point now where there are few at either local or national level who have any regard for any of his pronouncements.
I seem to annoy the Labour Party enough anyway.
There is one issue, however, on which this Minister is deadly serious. He fought tooth and nail as Opposition spokesperson against the Electoral Act of 1997.
He and his current Government colleague, the Attorney General, who was then the PD spokesperson, fought it and held it up for months in committee.
The Attorney General said that that Bill was unconstitutional and unalterable. It was so bad he could not even submit amendments and he had to fight it line by line, as they did and as others of the Minister's party did, for months on end.
I was aghast to read a statement on the Fianna Fáil website last week from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform not only saying they support the Electoral Act of 1997 but that they introduced it. That is what it said on the Fianna Fáil website last week. It was a PD-Fianna Fáil invention. That is quite incredible. He is now proposing to tear that legislation apart.
He is now proposing his own amending Bill to destroy one of the two key principles of that Bill which was to put modest thresholds on electoral spending. The other key provision was to have disclosure thresholds for political contributions.
On a point of order, Deputy Howlin should not try to mislead the House. The motion is misleading enough.
Is that a point of order?
The point of order is that he is misleading the House.
That is not a point of order.
The Minister will be required to withdraw that remark.
There is no proposal in my elec toral amendment Bill that minimises or reduces the requirements for disclosure.
No, Sir. Withdraw the accusation and read the blacks.
The Minister must withdraw the remark.
Does the Minister not even have the good manners to do that?
There are rulings of the Chair's predecessors that one may not call a Member of this House a liar. You must ask the Minister to leave the House or withdraw the remark.
I did not call the Deputy a liar. I said that what he said was a lie.
If the Deputy examines the precedents and rulings of the House he will see it is a political charge that I do not have to withdraw.
Without letting the Minister trespass any further on it, I think less and less of this Minister every time he stands up in this House. He is a disgrace.
If the record shows that Deputy Howlin did not say I was interfering with disclosure—
The Minister should not be qualifying like that.
—I will come into the House tomorrow and withdraw it.
I will wait for the withdrawal of it. I was explaining the two key principles of the Bill. I said the Minister was tearing up one of them and he should have the good manners and the good grace to withdraw the remark.
On that basis I withdraw the remark.
We are seeking that this Minister account for himself. He has made no effort to do that other than to exacerbate the charges against him tonight. The 15 failures listed in the motion will prove in the fullness of time to be an under-estimate.
I would like to use the time available to me to address one issue in particular which is central to the motion before the House, that is, the performance in relation to the housing crisis in this country. As we look back over the past few years on this Government's response to the housing crisis, a number of very definite points arise. The first reaction was to suggest there was no housing crisis. Then the Labour Party suggested forming a housing commission.
That was the Rainbow Coalition.
I have listened to the Minister long enough and before tonight—
The Deputy, without interruption.
I would like to use the time to make a contribution in relation to housing but I have had these little arguments with this Minister for a long time before now.
Deputy, your time is limited.
The Deputy should do what I usually do when the Labour Party Members heckle me – ignore them.
I will take the last sentence of the Minister's speech as a starting point. He refers to our out of date philosophy. I heard this Government's philosophy clearly and honestly articulated by the person described inThe Daily Telegraph as the Celtic Thatcher only last week. He said that he believes the market will solve problems such as housing, health and education. I have an honest difference with him. I believe he holds a dangerous philosophy and this Minister, coming along like a little acolyte, is now repeating it in relation to those areas for which he was given responsibility. This Government's response to the housing crisis, which has driven over 50,000 people on to waiting lists, was to say that the market will do it for them, they should just wait and so forth but its first reaction was to deny a crisis existed at all. We then proposed a housing commission. The Government rejected that as well and then it commissioned Dr. Peter Bacon's reports one, two and three which, whether we agreed with them or not, are now in shreds.
It is very interesting that this Minister who has the final responsibility for housing did not come into the House tonight to tell us how he was convinced by the Minister for Fin ance, Deputy McCreevy, that there was merit in keeping capital gains tax at 20% for speculative land. I listened to my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, on his hind legs again and again telling us that the first second and third Bacon reports were an adequate response. I did not hear from him when these reports were thrown out the window. We will remember that their first comments were on capital gains tax – that there was an argument against reducing it from 40% to 20% for land being hoarded by speculators. It was suggested that we go with the 20% but by 2001 we will increase it to 60% unless the land is released. Where is the evidence that the land was released?
Where is the justification for removing the threat to the speculative class to increase it from 20% to 60%? What has happened in the meantime? Has the land been released? We will never get the answers. There is a common core to the response which is that things have improved. For whom, have they improved? Last week they improved for those who bled the country dry. The people who saw the prospect of a 60% tax removed. They also saw the 2% tax removed. They now can laugh at those on the housing lists.
The Minister suggests that our philosophy is outdated because we believe that it is a matter of right to have a roof over ones head, to have a house. If he believes that, then there is a clear distance between us. There is something else. He spoke so directly tonight that I have to say something to him. He spoke about our proposals to restore confidence in politics. One does not need a high IQ to know where those people who arrived with their bags and bundles of money came from. They came from the speculators who knew they would have an advantage and knew where to go.
Lest the Minister wants to expand on his suggestion to restore confidence in Government, I tell him what people in Galway think. I arrived there in 1960 and was elected to the local authority in 1974. This is the first time local authority applicants are being told not to bother coming back for five years. What is causing the housing shortage is the site cost. It is a disgraceful argument that the Minister introduced, suggesting that Labour councillors hold up the provision of building land.
They do. They oppose everything.
The Minister and his colleagues down the country are trying to force on them the suggestion that they must accommodate his speculator friends with bad planning and contraventions of planning or they will not have any houses. It is a classical old core value of Fianna Fáil and that subversive section of the Construction Industry Federation that will not remove itself from the party.
The Deputy's party did not ever have the courage to do anything.
They are bonded so cleverly together.
Regarding the other issues mentioned, particularly in waste management, I plead with the Minister to stop insulting the councillors and the public. The public, who are interested in reduction and recycling and in alternative waste management, want to participate in defining the problem, in waste management or transport, for example. They do not want Ministers telling people to show the public what has been decided and call that consultation. It is time he woke up.
He is the first Minister to do anything for councillors.
The clock is ticking. When the history of this administration is written, Deputy Dempsey will be described as the Minister who promised the most and delivered the least. His failures are the collective failures of the Government.
I am totally opposed to the Minister's proposal in the electoral Bill to greatly increase the spending allowable at elections.
What about foreign donations?
It is a blatant attempt to buy votes. This spending splurge would allow Fianna Fáil to produce a number of extra posters which will end up on the roadside or in overflowing landfill sites. There they—
They will not be paid for with foreign money.
—will highlight not Fianna Fáil's candidates but the most glaring of the Minister's failures – the deepening waste management crisis.
The Minister and his Department devised a spurious waste management strategy which depends mostly on a network of incinerators. When local authorities rejected or amended draft regional plans, the Minister threatened to remove their powers. His message is that we can debate or amend the plans but if one does not decide as the Government wishes, ones powers will be taken away.
This is the Minister who promised root and branch reform of local democracy. In May 1999 he promised to "put local government back at the centre of local democracy and put councillors in a pivotal role in the new system." The same Minister yesterday repeated his threat to local authorities. This Government wants incinerators and some very wealthy people will make a great deal of money from them. The Government did not want the flak from imposing them on communities so councillors were given the rubber stamp and asked to do the dirty work. Now that plan is in trouble and—
The Deputy is another Walter Mitty.
—the investors are getting restless so he must dispense with the pretence of local democracy and impose the incinerators directly. That is shameful. The electorate and the councillors have given their views. They are to be rejected.
Sinn Féin published a detailed viable alternative to incineration based on the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle. Our reasoned arguments and those of others have been ignored.
The Deputy should read the regional plans.
The Minister and the Government are beyond hope of recycling and safe disposal is the only option.
The Deputy's colleagues should dispose of their arms. He should talk to the IRA about safe disposal of them.
There has been an increase of more than 40% in recent years of families on housing lists. Only 8% of building is social housing. There are 50,00 families on housing lists. In my constituency the numbers have doubled to almost 1,100 on housing lists in South Tipperary. Only 120 houses are being built despite numerous requests to the Minister to approve an increased allocation of land. In the era of the Celtic tiger a family is at least entitled to a roof over its head. Many families will wait up to ten years or more in some major urban centres. In my constituency a family can wait four years to get a local authority house. This can be resolved by the Government's increasing the approvals to local authorities. The land and resources are available.
The Deputy's corporation did not build on the land that was approved.
The political will is missing in this Minister and the Government. The effect of 1,100 families on waiting lists in South Tipperary is that there are developers and landlords reaping the benefits from families in apartments, many of which were built under the urban renewal scheme. Huge amounts of money are paid by the tenants and the health boards. If that money was spent on the housing stock, the housing situation would be improved. I urge the Minister to increase the number of approvals for local authorities. He has been asked to do that on numerous occasions, but he has refused.
I wish to place on record my view, and that of the vast majority, that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, has done a fine job on behalf of this country for the past three years and more.
The Minister should make sure he does not ask the people.
I doubt if there has ever been a Minister in that Department with a finer record than his, which speaks for itself.
Almost as good as the Deputy's own record.
The Labour Party's feeble and dispirited attack on the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, has been joined by their allies in Fine Gael. Many could be forgiven for believing that it represents little more than a diversionary bonfire.
It is nearly as good as the Minister's own bonfire.
While Fine Gael is by no means the only party in the history of the State who knows about bonfires, it is nonetheless particularly good at them.
The Progressive Democrats.
Their financial records which were relevant to the beef tribunal were torched. The destructive bonfire is no longer an option, so tonight the Opposition have reverted to the diversionary bonfire. I have watched the recent attacks on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government regarding corporate donations with a sense of cynical amusement as nobody has defined what they are.
It is in the Labour Party Bill.
Does the Minister not remember?
I suspect Deputy Quinn will not accept the invitation of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to join a committee to discuss the issue because it is a political football.
The Minister would know nothing about that.
The Minister would recognise a political football.
It is perfectly clear that Deputy Quinn does not want to play with a burst football.
The Minister voted for the Bill.
I mean this with no sense of amusement, but—
There is a good one coming here.
—it is a pity that the Government is not in a position to ask questions of the Leader of the Opposition during the debate on the Order of Business each morning.
There are a number of matters related to corporate donations which need to be answered by certain Members. This particularly applies to the new Leader of Fine Gael who has specific questions which should be answered. These are questions Deputy Noonan would have us believe he has not asked. I challenge Deputy Noonan to come clean and tell the public what inquiries he initiated to ascertain if the $50,000 donation was an isolated incident.
The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, should be sent to investigate.
Perhaps the donation was a now visible part of a covert corporate campaign. How many previous donations travelled the same or a similar covert route through Jersey to Dublin, to a second Irish account before reaching Fine Gael?
What other moneys did Fine Gael accept from Mr. Denis O'Brien, Telenor or Esat, directly or indirectly? Has Mr. Noonan asked the executors of the late Mr. David Austin's estate whether other funds, covertly destined for Fine Gael, passed through offshore accounts controlled by Mr. Austin?
What about the Minister's party's own donations?
How was the $50,000 donation receipted by Fine Gael? Whose name was on the receipt? On what date was it issued? To whom was it sent? If someone believed that the donor was an individual, surely the party leader would be told and in turn would have the courtesy to thank the person who gave it?
Very good. The Minister is showing zero tolerance.
If the late Mr. Austin received such a communication, written or oral, surely he would have explained that he was not the real donor at all. In these circumstances, it is difficult to understand how the general secretary could have misunderstood it.
What did Fianna Fáil do with £50,000? They put it in their pocket.
How was the purported refund treated in the Fine Gael accounts? When did Deputy Noonan first become aware of the irregular donations? Why did he not immediately direct that the Moriarty Tribunal be informed? Why did Deputy Noonan wait until after the matter had been made public byThe Sunday Tribune before he gave directions for disclosure to the Moriarty Tribunal? Is he satisfied that no other covert donations of this nature have been received by Fine Gael? Has he asked the Fine Gael members of the Rainbow Government if they were aware of the donations? Is the Deputy Leader, Deputy Jim Mitchell, still an adviser to Esat? Whether or not he is, has Deputy Noonan asked him for any knowledge he may have in relation to the affair?
The Minister should sit down and not be making a fool of himself.
These are the questions the Leader of Fine Gael fears and we can only wonder why. The lame attempts of the Leader of the Labour Party to play political footsie with the important issue of the funding of the democratic process will be seen for what it is by the Irish public.
The Minister's time is up.
The Minister has embarrassed himself.
What a contribution to make in respect of housing.
There is a vacancy in the Abbey Theatre.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Quinn. As I explained last night, this motion was put down to bring the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to political account for a range of failures. We have listed 15 failures in our motion. The Minister's response has been extremely disappointing; he has offered no defence or explanation why there are so many cases being taken by the European Commission against this country for his failure. He said that the Kyoto target was achievable by 2008; but it has already been exceeded – the Minister has no explanation for this nor can he explain why most of the measures in his delayed national climate change strategy are not to be implemented until after 2002.
He has offered no defence against the damning criticism of him by the chairman of the National Safety Council for his failure to deal with road safety or to introduce road safety legislation. He cannot explain the shortage of staff in the plan ning system, which has led to chaos, nor the delay in implementing the planning Act. The national spatial plan has not yet been produced. He did a U-turn on the moratorium on GMOs. He has not taken effective measures to deal with the problems of traffic and road openings. Legislation promised by the Minister to put a tax on plastic bags and to help deal with the litter problem has not been introduced.
My party leader will deal with the issue of political funding, but I want to return to housing, which the Minister dealt with in greatest length in his speech which was laced with more invective than fact. He accused me of giving wrong information to the House last night. I admit that I did give inaccurate information in relation to house prices. When I spoke here last night, I was not aware that the Government had published the most recent statistics regarding house prices. They show that the average price of a new house in this country is £141,772 and not £133,459 as I claimed last night. Therefore, the increase in house prices since this Government took office is 93%, and not 82% as I said here last night.
The increase in the average price of houses in Dublin is now 120%, and not 107% as I claimed. The position is worse than I believed. The average price of a new house in Dublin, which was £84,000 when the Minister took office, is now £184,000, driving tens of thousands of people away from the possibility of owning a home. In his contribution, the Minister asked us to pay attention to the text of his amendment which said that the Government has secured house price moderation and balance in the housing market. How can the Minister tell somebody who cannot afford to buy a house of their own because he has priced them out of the market that there is house price moderation? How can he tell somebody who is on a council housing waiting list, in some cases for many years, living in overcrowded conditions, with their relationships and their families under stress, that there is balance in the housing market? How can he claim there is balance in the housing market when the property pages of newspapers are advertising luxury dwellings at £1 million and more while at the same time there are families who cannot get access to housing because they cannot afford to buy or rent and cannot get a house from a local authority, and when there are so many who are homeless? How can the Minister justify the fact that 1,000 children in this city are homeless?
The Minister described the passion with which I have previously spoken on these issues. I have done so because people are suffering in this rich country that we hear so much about, in this economy that Ministers tell us is so prosperous in these good times for which the Government claps itself on the back. Tens of thousands of our fellow citizens are living in misery because they cannot have a home of their own. The Minister is primarily responsible for that because, after four years in office, the measures he has taken to address the problem have not been sufficient. They have been inadequate and have ended up putting more money into the coffers of property speculators and developers and taking it out of the pockets of people who are trying to buy a home of their own. Nothing can explain or justify this year's Finance Bill in which the package of measures recommended for landlords is being implemented immediately while the measures intended for tenants are being postponed for two years so that people who have already made massive gains from the kind of land rezoning that is being discussed in Dublin Castle will now end up having their tax reduced through a reduction in capital gains tax. This is not bringing balance into the housing market. It is causing an imbalance which benefits those who already have, takes from those who do not, and deprives families of the right to a home.
The Minister's performance – and this is not a personal charge but a political one – his leadership of his Department over a range of areas has been lamentable and poor, but nothing has caused so much suffering, grief and pain as the failure to deal with the housing crisis which has left so many people suffering.
I have known the Minister for a long time and I fully endorse Deputy Howlin's regard for his qualities. This is not a personal indictment. It is a political, forensic analysis of systematic failure over nearly four years in office. The Minister is one of the longest serving Ministers in a wonderful Department with which I am somewhat familiar. He has responsibility for changing the lives of many people at a time when the Administration of which he is proud to be a part has more money than any previous Government has ever had. However, his attempt to refute the 15 failures cited yesterday was pathetic. It was an indication of the scale of his embarrassment that he was unable to refute a single statistical fact.
I want to refer to the one area where the Minister wants our co-operation, the funding of political parties and corporate donations. He is allowing himself to preside over the corruption of Irish politics by bringing forward as a priority the Electoral (Amendment) Act, 2000, that will enable Fianna Fáil and other parties to increase by approximately 50% what they can spend on elections – in the case of Fianna Fáil, from £2 million to £3 million. As long as the Minister insists on doing this at a time of sickening revelations of wrong-doing in Dublin Castle, of so called legitimate political donations being given to politicians, he is aiding and abetting the corruption of the political process, and I find it hard to understand why he is allowing himself to be so used.
I suspect the Minister does not believe in corporate donations, but the Taoiseach does. The operation of this Taoiseach, his refusal to engage in debate in respect of corporate donations, is inexplicable. I am told I cannot call him a coward, but I can say that he did not have the political courage, nor did any member of Fianna Fáil, to oppose the Bill we introduced last year. Instead a time lock was put on it which would ensure that it would not be passed on the night on which it was voted upon but would be passed at Second Stage later in the year, December of last year.
If the Taoiseach had in his possession legal advice to the effect that the banning of corporate donations was illegal and unconstitutional, then he was honour bound to put that on the record of the House. The Minister has hidden behind quotations from the McCracken report, but Justice McCracken does not say that the banning of corporate donations would be unconstitutional and, in fairness, nor did the Minister, unlike the Taoiseach. Any constitution that allows for freedom of association must follow the consequences and allow people who freely associate to donate to the union, club or party in which they are freely entitled to associate. We addressed that in the Bill. If the Taoiseach has legal advice to the effect that the banning of corporate donations would be unconstitutional, and that is the sole position Fianna Fáil is adopting at present, that advice should be published. We do not believe he has such advice because we do not believe any serious lawyer, certainly not the present Attorney General, would furnish such advice.
The Taoiseach, to whom the Minister must give his allegiance as a loyal member of Fianna Fáil, is fundamentally committed to corporate donations as a permanent part of the political landscape. However, the lessons coming from the tribunals are such that if corporate donations continue in the form the Minister is purporting to regulate, in amounts of £20,000 per year, that will confirm the corruption of the process of Irish politics as it is perceived by so many people. We are the most openly traded country and most dependent upon international perceptions of how we do our business. The perception of corruption, which the Minister wants to institutionalise in legislation through corporate funding, will be seriously damaging not only to the prospects of Fianna Fáil but to the fibre of this Republic. The insistence of Fianna Fáil in maintaining corporate donations on the one hand and its refusal to publish—
That is hypocrisy. If the Deputy wishes to discuss these matters in committee we will do so.
—so-called legal advice on the other is manifestly a cover and we will not engage in that kind of charade.
The Deputy is being hypocritical.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 72; Níl, 66.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Browne, John(Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.
de Valera, Síle.
Kitt, Michael P.
McGuinness, John J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Belton, Louis J.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Question put: "That motion, as amended, be agreed to".
The Dáil divided: Tá, 73; Níl, 66
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Question declared carried.
Browne, John(Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.
de Valera, Síle.
Kitt, Michael P.
McGuinness, John J.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Wright, G. V.
Belton, Louis J.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Browne, John(Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.