I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive, together.
Progress on the Government programme is kept constantly under review. Deputies will be aware that for every full year of the previous Government's term of office, we published an annual progress report. Last summer, we published the first annual progress report of the current Administration and it is my intention to publish a further report later this year. I am pleased to have this opportunity to make a statement to the House on the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.
Our programme for Government is both clear in intent and specific in detail. It is the agreed agenda for this partnership Government over five full years. The starting point for the current programme was rooted in a recognition that, in an ever-changing world, the reform process is never over. As a Government, we are determined to keep driving forward. In implementing this programme for Government, we will not rest on past successes. Instead, we will build on the solid foundations we have put in place since 1997.
In setting out to implement our commitments, we will bring forward and progress the most ambitious legislative programme in the history of the State. Since the present Government took office on 6 June 2002 some 90 Bills have been published, 78 have already been enacted into law and 38 are before the Oireachtas. Given the scale of the Government's legislative programme and the large number of specific commitments set out in the agreed programme, it would be impossible in the time allowed to detail fully the amount of progress already delivered. It would be more appropriate for individual Ministers to answer that.
The cornerstones of An Agreed Programme for Government are based on our desire to build a better Ireland for everyone and our promises to protect and expand prosperity for all, strengthen peace and reconciliation, guarantee improved pensions, reform and develop our health services and invest in better public services. Without economic strength, there will never be an Ireland where everyone can prosper and fulfil their potential. A key objective of our programme for Government is to sustain a strong economy and "keep the finances of general Government close to balance or in surplus". Our prudent management of the economy has meant that Ireland has come through the worst world recession in 20 years stronger than most countries and as good as the best. This was shown again in recent weeks by figures which indicate we have maintained one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe as well as the budgetary figures which show real strength.
Since 1997, when the Government was first formed by the current parties, there are more people working in Ireland than ever. The policies the Government has implemented have supported the creation of 420,000 extra jobs and positioned us among the top countries in terms of global competitiveness. We have also substantially increased real incomes and introduced major reform of the taxation system. The OECD recently highlighted that workers here now enjoy one of the lowest taxation regimes in the developed world.
Our overriding priority as set out in the programme for Government is to secure lasting peace in Northern Ireland and we have worked towards it. We will continue to apply our energies in support of the Good Friday Agreement, as it remains the template for political progress.
Our other key commitments are to run a proactive EU Presidency and I wish to acknowledge the efforts of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Roche. We are committed to addressing Ireland's infrastructural deficit in a coherent way. Capital envelopes totalling €33.6 billion for the period from 2004 to 2008 were introduced in the last budget. The capital envelopes include a commitment to keep the level of Exchequer-funded capital investment at 5% of GNP during the period. The envelopes will allow for an even flow of investment projects, facilitate better value for money and provide greater certainty in tackling the infrastructure deficit. The total capital envelope for roads and public transport projects is €9.4 billion.
We are committed to implementing a multi-stranded approach to addressing housing needs right across the spectrum, with up-to-date figures showing the success of our policies in increasing housing supply. Now approximately 70,000 houses a year are being built, which is three times the level of ten years ago, three times the EU average and five times the UK average.
We are committed to encouraging a better spread of jobs throughout the country and people should not forget that the rate of unemployment is among the lowest in the European Union. The 2002 census showed that employment has grown strongly in every county since the last census in 1996. The Government is determined that strong national employment growth will continue to be felt throughout the regions. More than 53,000 new jobs were created last year. Ireland has recently secured major foreign direct investments.
We are committed also to bringing forward a programme of fundamental reform of the insurance industry. A comprehensive set of interrelated measures, designed to improve the functioning of the Irish insurance market have been brought forward by the Tánaiste. We are committed to rural development, in particular the widening of the CLÁR boundaries.
We are committed to the implementation of the penalty points system, which has had an impact on road safety. The penalty points system has been operating since October 2002 for the offence of breaching a speed limit; from 1 June 2003 for insurance offences; and from 25 August 2003 for seatbelt wearing offences. The system was recently extended to include the offence of careless driving with effect from 4 June 2004.
We are committed to putting in place open access broadband on a national basis. The 19 town metropolitan area network broadband programme is on time and on target. A radical €140 million broadband action plan was launched in December. This extends the current programme of local authority infrastructure to 19 regional towns with the aim of bringing low-cost broadband to every Irish town with a population of more than 1,500 people. The other schemes will be set out in the booklet of actions, which will be delivered shortly.