I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this motion. It is a timely motion and I commend the Fine Gael Party for tabling it.
On the Order of Business this morning, a Cheann Comhairle, you said we cannot use the word "lie" in the House any more. That is unfair. To be truthful, bare faced lies were told by the Fianna Fáil Party during the course of the general election campaign, particularly about cutbacks. On 13 May the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, said there would be no cutbacks and on 13 May the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, said there would be no cutbacks whatsoever, planned secretly or otherwise. No sooner was the general election over than the floodgates opened and the avalanche of cutbacks began to pour from Government Buildings on a daily basis.
The first of those miserly cutbacks was the increase in income eligibility limits for the drugs refund scheme. Of all the vulnerable groups to be targeted to bear the brunt of the spending cutbacks, the long-term ill, who rely on the scheme, should be exempt from the axe of the Minister for Finance. By raising the limits the Government is hitting at those with long-term illnesses, many of whom are on expensive medication and low incomes. This is a sinister and cynical attack on the vulnerable and is a hallmark of the Government.
I can deal only with a couple of the cutbacks in the short time available to me. I condemn outright the proposal and the threat to re-introduce third level fees. Despite what the Tánaiste said this morning, and what the Taoiseach states, I still believe the Government will re-introduce third level fees. The manner in which the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Dempsey, has handled the matter is a thundering disgrace. He threatened to re-introduce third level fees days before thousands of students received their offers from the CAO. This appalling attack on students came at a time when many were stressed. Many of those students may have been influenced as to their chosen course given that the Minister raised the issue of the re-introduction of third level at that time.
Last week the Minister was told off by the Tánaiste and we were promised that it was not the Government's policy to re-introduce fees. However, yesterday, in another policy U-turn, the Minister again threatened not to rule out the re-introduction of third level fees. It is time the Taoiseach got a grip on the issue. Is it, or is it not, the policy of the Government to re-introduce third level fees? If it is the Minister's policy to slam the gates of colleges on many thousands of students by re-introducing fees, the Labour Party will fight it tooth and nail.
Has the Minister for Education and Science any understanding of the significant costs entailed when a family member takes up a place in a third level institution? It is obvious the Minister is not from a constituency like Kerry South where every student who wishes to attend a university has to travel away from home. Instead of re-introducing third level fees it would be more in the Minister's line to increase the maintenance grant for students who struggle to live, study and work to keep themselves in college.
The Minister has to be condemned outright for increasing registration fees. His only interest is in saving a few miserly pounds in his Department. He is not encouraging students who have worked hard to enter third level with a view to securing a proper future for themselves.